When the first minutes of the new year are soundtracked by Kanye West and Paul McCartney collaborating on an honest-to-god ballad, you know it’s going to be a weird one. Five days in, 2015 is positively strewn with our hopes and dreams. Some tremendous comebacks are already locked in: Sleater-Kinney’s set to release their new one in just a couple weeks, and the Decemberists are finally back from hiatus. Others, like Grimes and Frank Ocean, remain murky. But with new Kanye, new Kendrick, and new Radiohead on the horizon, who says we can’t be hopeful?
PANDA BEAR – PANDA BEAR MEETS THE GRIM REAPER
Release date: January 13th via Domino Recording Company
Why We’re Excited: Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox, akaPanda Bear, always seems to find a new tunnel into the psychedelia of the subconscious. His brand new solo full-length already feels heady with a title like Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, but the beautiful packaging suggests it could match his 2011 LP, Tomboy. The crisscrossing of pink and green lettering unfolds like an intricate envelope, showcasing the innards of Lennox’s bright vision of death.
We’ve already heard “Mr. Noah” and the rest of his surprise new EP. The three non-album B-sides show a hazy side of Panda Bear where anxious thoughts and jovial singing swim around in a hurry while managing to feel relaxing, too. We can only imagine what songs like “Davy Jones’ Locker” and “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker” might sound like, but it’s likely they’re just as trippy and dark as they sound. –Nina Corcoran
Listen: “Mr. Noah”
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN – GIRLS IN PEACETIME WANT TO DANCE
Release date: January 20th via Matador Records
Why We’re Excited: After 18 years of pristinely crafted, airtight indie pop, Belle and Sebastian fans shouldn’t be blamed for thinking they’ve got the band’s sound pretty firmly under thumb. That only makes the impending release of the Scottish band’s ninth studio album all the more interesting. By all accounts, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance will not be your typical Belle record. Frontman Stuart Murdoch, in a recent interview with The Guardian, said the record is indebted much more to synthpop, electronic music, and disco than anything the band’s ever done. He’s not kidding. The record’s lead single, “The Party Line”, ventures closer to Simple Minds than anything you’ll hear on classics like If You’re Feeling Sinister or The Boy with the Arab Strap. The only common thread is Murdoch’s fragile speak-sing whisper, but damn if it doesn’t sound good. Whether or not the band will be able to pull off the shift remains to be seen, but it promises to be an interesting listen. –Ryan Bray
Listen: “The Party Line”
THE DECEMBERISTS – WHAT A TERRIBLE WORLD, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL WORLD
Release date: January 20th via Capitol Records
Why We’re Excited: It’s hard to believe that almost four years have passed since we last heard from Colin Meloy’s folk rock outfit The Decemberists. Following 2011’s The King Is Dead, Meloy and his bandmates took a well-earned break from touring and recording to focus on their families. According to the Portland singer-songwriter, this respite helped make their forthcoming LP, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, more personal and introspective than the band’s extravagant, outlandish back catalog.
Channeling the “bewildering, conflicting feeling” of raising one’s children in a world brimming with both terror and transcendence, lead single “Make You Better” sounds simultaneously disillusioned (“But we’re not so starry-eyed anymore/ Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters”) and staunchly optimistic. Peppered with buoyant keyboard lines and beaming female harmonies, the fulsome arrangement of longtime producer Tucker Martine (Thao, Laura Veirs) perfectly frames Meloy’s reedy, steadfast voice. As the track reaches its final chorus, he belts his lyrics atop the rising instrumental tide with a sense of resilience and fortitude: “It’d make you better, ohh hohh!” –Henry Hauser
Listen: “Make You Better”