Title The Greatest (Matador)
Release date January 24
Advance buzz Indie rock's grande dame of suicide balladry bares her soul with Memphis session players.
As a follow-up to the gothic folk-rock of 2003's You Are Free, Chan Marshall holed up in Memphis with a handful of Hi Rhythm heavy hitters, smokin' horn and string players and her own hallucinatory narratives, emerging with a spectacular set of plaintive, haunting siren songs. Not the retro-fitted straight-up Memphis soul album that the hype would have you believe, The Greatest captures Cat Power's characteristic fallen-woman angst, but swaps the eerie starkness of earlier discs for quietly lush backdrops with a funky edge - kinda like an pared-down indie tribute to Dusty In Memphis.
Title Please Come Back EP (Secretly Canadian)
Release date January 26
Advance Buzz Hairy Chicago skater dudes discover soul.
The most promising new act on the Secretly Canadian roster is Chicago's Catfish Haven, who've made good on the promise they showed at their 2005 CMJ showcase with the Please Come Back EP. They might look like your average emo drips, but Missouri-raised frontman/crooner George Hunter has clearly been schooled on deep Southern soul, and his pals Miguel Castillo and Ryan Farnham make for a righteously tight rhythm unit. These boys have got it.
Title Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino)
Release date January 30
Advance buzz Sheffield kiddos deliver the choons.
It's been an amazing rocket ride for the Arctic Monkeys, who went from south Yorkshire house-party obscurity to the top of 2005's UK charts in a matter of months. Now it's time to put up or shut up, and their revved-up 13-track full-length debut proves they've got top tunes to spare. Watch for a Toronto return date in March.
Title Security Screenings (Warp)
Release date February 6
Advance buzz Abstract post-hiphop producer returns to his roots.
He describes this as a transition album between last year's Surrounded By Silence and what's to come, and early reports say it's something of a return to the noisy, intricate slice-and-dice breaks he made his name on. Featuring collaborations with Four Tet as well as Babatunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, it's a response to the experience of dealing with American airport security while travelling to promote his last album.
Title This Old Road (New West)
Release Date March 7
Advance buzz The storyteller up close and personal.
Stripped of all the usual Nashville glitz, This Old Road - produced by Don Was with unusually understated tastefulness - focuses on the captivating songs and voice of Kris Kristofferson, who shows he's got more than a few good tales to tell. "If I had to describe it in a word, I'd say it's honest," Kristofferson explains. "It's all pretty close to the bone, about my personal journey. It's about what sense I've made of my life up to now."
YOUNG AND SEXY
Title Panic When You Find It (Mint)
Release date February 14
Advance buzz BC pop posse trade twee for trippy.
Back in 2002, Van City five-piece Young and Sexy blew the roof off Rancho Relaxo when they capped off a packed NXNE showcase with their killer cover of the Velvet Underground's I Found A Reason. That stellar moment proved they had a knack for psyched-out, garagey jangle rock that never quite surfaced on their relatively tame sophomore effort. On Panic When You Find It, the rejigged Y&S team finally find the cojones they've been missing, digging in with soul-charged harmonies, righteous guitar riffs and fractured melodies.
Title See You On The Moon! (Paper Bag)
Release date February 21
Advance buzz Indie heavyweights unleash their inner children.
It's like Pitchfork hits the playground: Sufjan Stevens, the perpetual adolescents in Broken Social Scene, Junior Boys, Mark Kozelek, the FemBots and a slew of their au courant pop peers contribute tunes for toddlers who like to wear 1-inch buttons on their diaper bags. With a larger proportion of twinkly, gentle types than loud, aggro acts on board, the disc is more sleepytime than get-up-and-go songs, but kindergarten clowns like Lederhosen Lucil and Kid Koala inject enough zaniness into their track Fruit Belt to entertain kids after the Ritalin wears off.
Title My Flame Turns Blue (Deutsche Grammophon)
Release date February 28
Advance buzz Diana Krall's plus-one sings jazz with a 52-piece orchestra.
You just know that the ever-competitive Costello has been racking his brain trying to come up with a scheme to somehow outdo his chart-topping partner, Diana Krall. So for My Flame Turns Blue he hooked up with the massive Metropole Orkest for a live recording at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2004. Song selections include Costello faves Clubland and Watching The Detectives along with Charles Mingus's Hora Decubitas and Billy Strayhorn's Blood Count, for which he wrote his own lyrics. If that isn't impressive enough, he's following it up in May with an as yet untitled recording with New Orleans piano great Allen Toussaint produced by Joe Henry.
Title Comfort Of Strangers (Astralwerks/EMI)
Release date February 7
Advance buzz British folktronica poster girl gets jacked by post-rock savant Jim O'Rourke.
Though her dusty alto purr is her biggest asset, the quality of Orton's recordings typically depends on who she's working with - that's why 2002's Ryan Adams-assisted Daybreaker disc was such a disappointment. Happily, with ex-Sonic Youth/Gastr del Sol dude O'Rourke and Portland strummer M. Ward on hand, and minimal arrangements of rusty acoustic guitars, marimba and brushed cymbals to complement her unadorned vocals, Comfort Of Strangers comes closer than anything else in her career to reaching the levels of folk/soul brilliance Orton achieved on her Best Bit collabo with Terry Callier.
Title Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Mint)
Release date March 7
Advance buzz Faith, Ukrainian folktales and feathered friends.
It's been four years since Neko Case's last studio recording, and for much of the past two she's been hard at work crafting, arranging, recording and tweaking the tunes of Fox Confessor Brings The Flood with the likes of Calexico, the Sadies, Howe Gelb, the Band's Garth Hudson and others. The adventurous album represents another giant step by Case toward gaining complete control of the entire recording process while defying all attempts to classify her as anything but an exceptionally gifted artist.
Title Supernature (EMI)
Release date March 7
Advance buzz Triphop prima donna duo glam it up with glossy electro-pop.
Since the ice-queen-crooning-over-sultry-beats shtick is now officially stale, Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have ditched the downtempo balladry that weighed down their uneven Black Cherry disc and gone straight for the dance floor's jugular, delivering a sweaty, glittery disco-ball clusterfuck. Aside from an odd swerve into bizarre saloon-y piano, Supernature should have frowny types with asymmetrical haircuts shaking their denim-clad asses.
Title Ringleader Of The Tormentors (Attack)
Release date March 20
Advance buzz The Moz just might be back.
When producer Tony Visconti (early David Bowie and T-Rex) posts on his blog that "I am two-thirds of the way through one of the best albums I've ever worked on," it's hard not to get excited. Morrissey himself is speaking as adoringly of the glam rock veteran, also a promising sign. It's been described as his most hard-rocking work and his most gentle. Somewhere in the mix is an Italian children's choir, so we're betting on gentle.
Title Garden Ruin (Quarterstick)
Release date April 11
Advance buzz Tucson twangers go pop.
Long-time Calexico fans may want to sit down for this: for their new album, Joey Burns and John Convertino have decided to ditch the mariachi horns and moody instrumentals. Garden Ruin, produced by JD Foster (Nancy Sinatra, Dwight Yoakam, Marc Ribot), finds Calexico picking up where their In The Reins collaboration with Iron & Wine left off, exploring more vocally oriented pop and rock structures while hanging onto the essential Calexico vibe for which they're so beloved.
Title TBA (Domino/KIN)
Release date Early 2006
Advance buzz Hamilton laptop pop duo strip it down.
Junior Boys rode a wave of blog-based buzz to some serious international acclaim in 2004, and they're promising a highly anticipated second album early this year. Where Last Exit was an experiment in computerized indie R&B, this time they're listening to more Italo-disco, new wave and, strangely enough, Tin Pan Alley-era songwriters. They're also pledging to strip down their sound and rely less on editing and other digital trickery.