It will be hard to beat 2016 as a landmark year in music, but with new music on the way from the likes of R&B singer Kehlani, Brit pop trio The xx, Canadian punk thrush Avril Lavigne, the coquettish Katy Perry, the always-sincere Ed Sheeran, the rumors of the return of heavyweights U2, Pearl Jam and System of a Down, 2017 is set to be a phantasmagoric year for new sounds and reinventions.
The xx, I See You (Jan. 13): Be prepared for a complete reset in British pop trio’s The xx’s sound on their third album I See You. The threesome have been working on the record since May 2014 with longtime collaborator Rodaigh McDonald and Jamie xx at the helm — with time off for Jamie to release his debut album In Colour. The musician insists that working on his dance-y solo album influenced the sound and aesthetic of The xx’s third offering. Reportedly it will be more “outward-looking and open” — if you don’t believe it, listen to their first single “On Hold,” which samples Hall & Oates’ tetchy 1981 classic “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).”
The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody (Jan. 13): After making a detour through Pepperland with The Beatles’ tribute With a Little Help from My Fwends, the reigning kings of psychedelia return with their first collection of originals in four years. Wayne Coyne spent late 2016 previewing cuts at yoga studios around Oklahoma City. That makes total sense; all three lead singles, the electronic-tinged “The Castle” especially, come awash in meditative vibrations.
Brantley Gilbert, Devil Don’t Sleep (Jan. 13) All indications are that this now consistently platinum-selling Georgian bro’s music is still tires-deep in a brand of Southern boogie built for off-road vehicles. “The Weekend,” a #23 has him backing up jacked-up trucks; “It’s About To Get Dirty” has his truck’s swampers helping him navigate through mud holes in the “dirty south” — whose crunk he’s never minded absorbing. The deluxe version ambitiously adds 10 more tracks on the album proper.
AFI, AFI (aka The Blood Album) (Jan. 20): If lead single “White Offerings” is any indication, the punk vets’ 10th full-length will find them balancing the neo-Gothic darkness of their most recent output with anthemic elements reaching back to their earliest efforts. The best of both worlds, basically.
Kehlani, Sweet Sexy Savage (Jan. 27): Kehlani’s “official” major label debut –- although it’s actually her third project if you count her mixtapes -– will finally answer the question: Is she the future of R&B, as Sean “Puffy” Combs called her? She scored plenty of viral tracks last year, including “Crzy” and “Gangsta.” But she hasn’t quite cracked the code to pop radio ubiquity… yet.
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Jan. 27): It’s been five long years since Celebration Rock. Signed to a new label, ANTI-, Brian King and David Prowse are set to unleash a third album that promises even more revved-up indie rock full of sing-along choruses and pounding drums. That said, the title track certainly feels more meticulously layered and produced than previous affairs.
Sevyn Streeter, Girl Disrupted (Jan. 27): Last fall, Sevyn Streeter made headlines when the Philadelphia 76ers thwarted her plans to make a #Black Lives Matter protest as she sang the National Anthem. It was a reminder that, despite the fact she hasn’t had a major hit since 2013’s “It Won’t Stop,” she’s still an artist to watch out for.
Bell Biv Devoe, Three Stripes (Jan. 27): With the arrival of Lifetime’s New Edition biopic on New Year’s Day, expect BBD’s comeback album to generate nostalgia for their ’90s New Jack formula of “hip-hop on the R&B tip with a pop appeal to it.”
LeAnn Rimes, Remnants (Feb. 3): By now, LeAnn Rimes’s audience is as much global as rural; she actually released this album in Europe last November. The first two singles out in the U.S. –- “How to Kiss a Boy” and a much-remixed remake of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” — lean unashamedly toward her big belted cabaret ballad side while the third single, “Long Live Love,” is the sort of blue-eyed R&B dance stomper Taylor Dayne could have hit with the ‘80s.
Big Sean, I Decided (Feb. 3): Big Sean may never earn the kind of acclaim Kendrick Lamar receives or the fan worship that Drake commands, but he’s carved out a lane as a dependable hitmaker. “Bounce Back,” one of the lead singles from his upcoming fourth album, is proof of that.
Dua Lipa, Title TBA (Feb. 10): After five steamy singles, Kosovian beauty and former model Dua Lipa is ready to drop her first album. She calls what she does “dark pop,” but it’s much more than that, with big sounds, even bigger themes, with anthemic choruses you can’t get out of your head, or your heart, as she traces the journey of a strong-willed girl trying to make it on her own, penning songs about love, sex and most of all self-empowerment. She’s a role model in the making with her seen-it-all voice. First single “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” is rude, bratty, insouciant and irresistible.
Lupe Fiasco, Drogas Light (Feb. 10): Lupe has threatened to retire before the release of every single album he’s made, and Drogas Light is no exception. As a sharp-minded radical progressive, he doesn’t fit into mainstream rap’s capitalist formula, and his acknowledgement of that fact makes him a hero to connoisseurs of lyrical hip-hop.
Fat Joe & Remy Ma, Plato o Plomo (Feb. 10): “All the Way Up” was one of 2016’s biggest surprises, a Top 40 smash from a Puerto Rican pioneer who has been in the game since the early ’90s, and a Bronx MC who spent three years in prison before joining the Love & Hip-Hop franchise. Plato o Plomo is an exclamation point for Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s career revival.
Nikki Lane, Highway Queen (Feb. 17): The proprietor of a vintage clothing boutique called High Class Hillbilly who dresses her sound accordingly, South Carolina-born expat to L.A. and N.Y.C. Nikki Lane hopes to push her third album’s hard-edged Americana through to Margo Price-level visibility. The title cut, out now as a single and regarding a tough woman roaming “16,000 miles of black top, countless broken hearts,” has a dusky edge and blues-rock guitars that bode well and other song titles give an inkling of what else is in store: “700,000 Rednecks” and “Muddy Waters.”
Ryan Adams, Prisoner (Feb. 17): Adams’ follow-up to his song-for-song reimaging of Taylor Swift’s 1989 promises be a record that’s as emotionally harrowing as it is sonically ambitious. In addition to his split with wife Mandy Moore hovering over the lyrics, the music reflects his interest in big, sprawling classic rock a la Bruce Springsteen and Electric Light Orchestra. Once again, Adams proves he follows his own muse.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Flying Microtonal Banana (Feb. 24): Over the last few years, the King Gizzard crew have to be one of rock’s best kept secrets thanks to their unique take on high-octane psychedelia and ecstatic live shows. Hopefully, this will change with the utterly hypnotic Flying Microtonal Banana, which could break the ambitious Aussies in the States.
Brad Paisley, Love and War (March 3): Judging from two moderately successful pre-release singles so far — the ‘70s soft rock Demi Lovato duet “Without a Fight” and the living-in-the-moment blissful “Today” — Paisley’s 11th album and first in three years would seem to be focused on domestic issues. Its title might hint at that, too. Judging from his previous releases, there will undoubtedly be some catchy melodies and a hot guitar solo or two, as well.
The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir (Mar. 3): Prepare yourself for another sprawling concept album from legendary indie pop composer Stephin Merritt. The autobiographical 50 Song Memoir boasts a song for each year of his life. Moreover, Merritt played no less than 100 different instruments during the set’s recording. Like we said: sprawling.
Sunny Sweeney, Trophy (March 10): After three good albums in the past decade but only one real country hit (2010’s excellent “From a Table Away”), but with women like Maren Morris and Cam seemingly loosening up the format lately, Trophy just might finally land Texas songster Sweeney on country radio. Her late-‘16 drunken holiday-party waltz “One More Christmas Beer” proves she’s still got what it takes. And Lori McKenna co-write “Bottle By My Bed” is said to be not about booze, but the baby bottle she wishes was there.
Nelly Furtado, The Ride (March 31): Five years after releasing the Spirit Indestructible, Grammy-winning Canadian singer Nelly Furtado is back with Ride, her second English language album since 2006’s Loose. One of the voices who defined the early 2000’s, she’s back with an album she calls “modern-pop alternative,” that some people have compared to Lana Del Rey, but that is selling it short. The 12 songs on Ride are irredeemably Furtado, without any of the nostalgia that seems to haunt legacy artists. Teaming up with Nashville-based writer Liz Rose for some of the album’s songs, she considers the penultimate moment of the album was when she went to Dallas to work with Grammy-winning producer John (St. Vincent) Congleton, who she says pushed her lyrically to dig deeper than she ever had before. “I think I grew as a songwriter on this album,” Furtado told Digital Spy. “I started doing a lot of things I always wanted to do — like sewing, ceramic and playwriting classes… I found joy again in art.” And you will too, especially on the album’s organ-based first single “Pipe Dreams.”
Charli XCX, Tentatively titled Girls Night Out (May): No one would ever accuse Charli XCX of being shy, that’s why were weren’t surprised when she told The Fader that she was hard at work with SOPHIE and Stargate to create “the best pop album of 2017.” Due out in May, the “Boom Clap” hitmaker confided that her third album is inspired by Paris Hilton and Japanese pop music and will sound like both “another planet up in the clouds” and “intensely weird and childlike.” Just like her countrymen and woman in The xx, Charli insists her new album will be completely different from her last album, telling i-D that “It’s going to be the most pop thing and the most electronic thing I’ve done.” Lead single “After the Afterparty” features guest vocals from Lil Yachty. Also look for a mixtape from the pop minx to tide you over until the album hits the streets.
More Upcoming Releases
Ed Sheeran: When Ed Sheeran said he was taking a year off from music, his phone and social media in a lengthy Instragram post last year, nobody really believed him. But we should have. We haven’t heard a peep from the shaggy singer save co-writing “When Christmas Comes Around” with X Factor winner Matt Terry. Now comes the news that he will headline 2017’s Glastonbury Festival Pyramid Stage, and that seems to suggest he will have something to promote — such as the third album he’s been rumored to be working on. Some even say he wrote most of the album while on a cruise ship, but with all that shuffle board and buffet tables, who has time? He’s also been booked for an appearance at this year’s Grammy’s — what better place for a big announcement? Perhaps the most telling clue was when the singer updated his social media accounts (which had previously not been touched since December 2015) with a strange image of a blue square, which many fans read as a assurance that a new album is on the horizon. Even more convincing is Sheeran’s songwriting partner Amy Wedge, who co-wrote “Thinking Out Loud” with him and confirmed, “His album is done,” adding that it will “break the Internet” when it’s released.
Drake, More Life: The Toronto superstar has described this upcoming project as a “playlist,” which could mean it’s a mixtape, or a compilation focused on his OVO roster. It was originally supposed to drop before the end of 2016, but it’s now most likely slated as a “surprise” release. The first single, “Fake Love” is already scaling the pop charts.
U2, Songs of Experience: A release date has yet to be leaked, but U2 have confirmed that the tentatively titled Songs of Experience (inspired by mystical poet William Blake) will be seeing the light of day in 2017. Even better, the alt-rock icons say a tour is forthcoming as well and The Edge has gone on to compare the music to the 1993 rave-drenched opus Zooropa.
Beck: The follow-up to Morning Phase was supposed to have arrived mere months after its predecessor. It’s now three years later, and all we’ve been treated to is a single (the Panda Bear-flavored “Wow”) and a co-songwriting credit on Lady Gaga’s new joint (“Dancin’ in Circles”). It will be cool to hear more from the alt-rock icon.
Father John Misty: Considering J. Tillman released an album in 2015, one wouldn’t normally expect rumors to be swirling about another so soon. However, at a recent benefit concert the singer/songwriter unveiled three new tunes (“When the God of Love,” “Two Wildly Different” and “Pure Comedy”) and reportedly told the audience that the record already is completed. On top of all this, he released “Holy Hell” last November. The politically charged number has led many to believe the forthcoming long player also will be rooted in similar commentary.
Rick Ross, Rather You Than Me: The first single from Rather You Than Me, “Buy Up the Block,” suggests that Rick Ross has evolved from his iconic image as a weaver of fantastical drug baron tales into a more nuanced image of a street philosopher, and a rich man who hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
Niall Horan: It’s been a year since One Direction broke up, so it’s not a real surprise that the members would be releasing their own albums, especially following the 2016 runaway success of former member Zayn Malik’s Mind of Mine. Niall Horan’s yet-to-be-titled album is due out this summer, in which he looked to the music his parents played when he was a tot for inspiration: classic rock titans like CS&N, the Eagles and the mighty Fleetwood Mac. But when it came down to the writing, he told iHeartRadio that the greatest influence on his writing has been Bob Dylan, The Lumineers and David Gray. He started work on the album on a month long back-packing trip to Southeast Asia following the band’s break up, translating the voice notes he collected along the way into full-on songs when he got home, like the sweet nostalgic first single “Our Town.” While no release date is set for his former One Direction-ites solo albums, it’s conceivable we could see new music from Harry Styles (who signed a contract with Columbia Records in June) and Liam Payne (who inked a deal with Capitol U.K. in July) sometime this year.
Pearl Jam: In recent interviews, guitarist Mike McCready has said Pearl Jam would like to release a new album in 2017 despite the fact that nothing is written in stone. It’d be awesome if they could get into the studio. After all, their last two, Lighting Bolt and Backspacer, contain a slew of career highlights.
Jacquees, 4275: It’s amazing that this dreadlocked, perennially shirtless sex symbol who weaves between singing and rapping has yet to drop an “official” album. But the Atlanta native has promised that his perpetually delayed 4275 will arrive in 2017.
Spoon: When Spin reported that Spoon had updated their social media profiles with what looks like an image of a black-and-white skull it set off a wave of speculation that the indie rock stalwarts were teasing the album art for their next album. The speculation proved correct. The Austin, Texas, outfit has since confirmed that Matador will be releasing their ninth full-length in 2017. They’re also planning a major tour.
Arcade Fire: When Win Butler and Régine Chassagne played an unannounced gig in France last May the pair unveiled a new song. One month later, Butler’s brother, Will, said the follow-up to 2013’s Reflektor could come as early as this spring. Now, having said all that, there still exist a slew of unknowns. For instance, we still don’t know how far along they are in the recording process. Until more info bubbles to the surface, it’s best to take a potential spring release with a grain of salt.
Lorde: It’s been three long years since the New Zealand born teenager put out her splashy debut Pure Heroine, cautioning us that “we will never be royals,” but we could call her Queen Bee. We’ve missed our pop potentate in abstentia, whose only appearance recently has been with a song on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay soundtrack and being a guest voice on Disclosures’ Caracal album. But good news that the now 20-year-old is putting an end to all our waiting, and has announced she will finally release her second album later this year. The long-tressed beauty has been working on new material since December 2013, but apparently hit a bump in the road after she parted ways with her manager Scott Maclachlan in 2015. But she’s been back on track, her producer and collaborator Joel Little revealing they’ve been in the studio, and Lorde herself Instagramming a photo of infamous remixer Harley Streten, known to most of us as Flume. Like Niall Horan, Lorde revealed that she had a massive breakthrough during a “wilderness walkabout.” Never underestimate the magic of fresh air and wide-open spaces on the creative process.
Kelly Clarkson: Fort Worth, Texas native and American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson recently signed with Atlantic Records, after a 15-year run at RCA Records, a record contract that was part of the prize package she won on Idol in 2002, the show’s first season. In an interview with Facebook Live the 34-year-old pop sensation explained her time at RCA like an arranged marriage: “[This] was the first time in my career, 15 years later, that I actually got to pick who I got to work with.” Also, it’s the first time she can make the kind of album she’s wanted to make: one inspired by the R&B and soul records she grew up listening to. “Everybody’s been asking me to make a soulful record for years and while we’ve always had soulful influences on my record, we’ve never actually made a soulful record. So, that’s what Atlantic Records and I are about to do.” Don’t look for any revenge relationship songs like “Since U Been Gone” or “Stronger” — her new tunes come from more inspired places than her dysfunctional relationships of yore, and one tune takes its inspiration from Liane Moriatry’s novel, Big Little Lies.
The Killers: Not unlike James Mercer’s The Shins, it’s been five long years since The Killers unleashed a record. Singer/songwriter Brandon Flowers confirmed a release date some time in 2017 and over the last 12 months, no less than three producers have been associated with the project: Flood (behind the boards for Sam’s Town), Alan Moulder (who also has worked with the band in the past), and mixer Jacknife Lee. All that, however, is really nothing more than rumor. Listen to the lead single “Peace of Mind,” in the meantime.
The Shins, I Gleek on Your Grave: The new single, “Dead Alive,” is indie pop perfection as only tunesmith extraordinaire James Mercer knows how to craft. Hopefully, the rest of The Shins’ first long player in five years follows suit. As for a specific release date, Mercer has gone on record claiming “early 2017.”
Katy Perry: Although Katy Perry promised her fourth album would be out last year, it just didn’t happen. Campaign appearances for Hillary, battles with nuns over trying to buy a deconsecrated convent in Los Feliz, then her admission to the Associated Press that “It’s important for me to maybe start reinventing myself.” It all takes time. Plus, the diminutive singer recently admitted she ditched half of her fourth album so she could write songs about Donald Trump’s election victory. “It’s funny, sometimes people who disagree with me just say, ‘Shut up and sing,’” she said. “Boy, will I do so in a whole new way… next year. Hell hath no fury like a woman REBORN.” While there isn’t a confirmed release date yet, Perry has been tweeting studio updates.
System of a Down: The art metal miscreants haven’t dropped an album in over a decade. Considering our current political climate, we are in dire need of their staunchly anti-establishment jams. Luckily, the outfit have gone on record saying they have 15 tracks already recorded. Moreover, they want the album out this year. That’s a tight turn around. Hopefully, Serj Tankian and crew can pull it off.
Fergie: The Black Eyed Peas singer has felt awful about the time she’s taken before releasing her second solo album, going so far as apologizing to fans in an Instagram video for the seven-year wait, blaming it on her need for sleep. Something any new mother can appreciate. Even not-so-new mothers: “I’ve turned it in, it’s done and it’s coming out beginning of the year, and I’m sorry it’s taken so long. I’ve got a kid and a husband and I just need to sleep and I just really cared about it.” Don’t expect lullabies and paeans to the joy of domesticity though, a newly sleek Fergie comes out of the box with clubby tracks like the sultry “M.I.L.F. $,” “Hungry” and “Life Goes On.” During an interview with Mail Online, Fergie confirmed that just like the Dutchess, every album track will have a different character. So get ready for a heady mix of reggae, pop, hip-hop and throwback with production help from Charlie Puth, Jean Baptiste Kouame, DJ Mustard, Rock City, Mike WiLL Made-It and RoccStar.
Jhene Aiko, TRIP: After the relative disappointment of her 2014 album Souled Out, Jhene Aiko abandoned its dream-like sound for a more accessible and clubby pop/R&B style, resulting in her memorable “eat the booty like groceries” lyric on Omarion’s “Post to Be.” In November, she announced the title of her next full-length on Twitter; it was accompanied by the shibari-inspired sex jam “Maniac.”
The Strokes: The indie rock legends teased us with the excellent Future Present Past EP last year, but that appears to be just the beginning. Guitarist Nick Valensi recently said the group is aiming to release more music in 2017, yet he’s reluctant to say much more for fear of getting sucked into pop culture’s hype machine. We’ll just have to sit and wait.
Vampire Weekend: There are a slew of unconfirmed reports floating out there, namely that Vampire Weekend have made the move from British indie XL to Columbia for what will be their fourth full-length. This currently unnamed album is supposedly coming out “mid 2017,” but that’s hearsay for now. Then there’s the Rostam Batmanglij issue. In January, the multi-instrumentalist announced via Twitter that he had departed Vampire Weekend, yet he also said that he will continue to collaborate with the band. Uh, okay.
Avril Lavigne: Just ask Beyoncé, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When you get Lyme disease what do you do? In Avril Lavigne’s case you rethink life, make sure your health is the top priority — even if it means taking two years off — and look at life in a deeper, more profound way, which is something the Canadian punk pop princess admitted to her followers in a recent tweet. She’s been in the studio since the fall of 2015, and during that time released a single called “Fly,” in support of the Special Olympics, and wrote a song about her battle with Lyme disease, which may or may not be on her yet-to-be titled sixth album.
Taylor Swift: If there’s one thing we know about Taylor Swift is she’s consistent, and she drops her albums like clockwork: Every two years in October (with one exception, Fearless released November 11, 2008). In fact, this past October marked the two-year anniversary of the release of chart-dominating 1989, and much to all the Swifties dismay, something was wrong in the land of Taylor. I mean, the lanky blonde singer had already had two huge break-ups that could provide more than enough fodder for new songs. So should we block out this coming October, or did she really mean it when she told Vogue Magazine in May that she wanted to take a break? Although one of her besties, super model Gigi Hadid squealed to Entertainment Tonight on her friend, explaining that Swift took out time in the studio to come see Hadid’s nautical-inspired collection for Tommy Hilfiger during Fashion Week. “She’s obviously such a great friend, and you know she is starting to go back to work in the studio again, and really made time to be here for me, and I am so grateful for that.” So are we.
Queens of the Stone Age: QotSA are looking poised for a 2017 release. Super-busy guitarist Josh Homme (who worked with Iggy Pop on the critically acclaimed Post Pop Depression) revealed last summer that the group intended to begin recording before the end of 2016. Fleshing out some details, fellow six-stringer Troy Van Leeuwen has said that they’re trying to keep things a bit more simple after 2013’s extremely arty …Like Clockwork.
MGMT: Yes, we’ve been here before. The indie pop rumor mill had MGMT returning to action in 2016. That, of course turned out to be untrue. Knowing fans have grown impatient, the duo tweeted in September, “Meant to say MGMT re-dominates your mind hole in *2017.” We shall see…
St. Vincent: Annie Clark has yet to divulge a title, release date or even teaser single. Yet she did tell Guitar World that it will be released this spring. Furthermore, she was quoted as saying, “I think it’ll be the deepest, boldest work I’ve ever done.” That’s a lofty claim for one of the most probing and ambitious musicians of the last decade. Easily the most exciting bit of news leaked concerning the album is the strong possibility that it’s being produced by Sounwave, who worked on the Kendrick Lamar masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly.
Fleet Foxes, Ylajali: Apparently, Fleet Foxes have come off of hiatus. According to an unconfirmed news post via Stereogum, singer Robin Pecknold posted an image to his Instagram account that just may have leaked the title (Ylajali), cover art (a photograph by artist Hiroshi Hamaya) and label (Nonesuch) for their forthcoming album. This last bit of information is intriguing as it would signify a break with indie label Sub Pop.
Haim: Haim turned the pop world upside down in 2013. They then started vacationing with A-lister Taylor Swift. But while celebrity gossip is juicy and all, what we really want is a new album. The sisters revealed to Entertainment Weekly in December that a full-length is coming this summer. Moreover, they said it’s going to have a more “organic, live band feel.” Let’s hope the self-professed perfectionists from Los Angeles can get it finished in time.
Grizzly Bear: The band took to Twitter in October to announce that their new album is “90 percent done.” Of course, they followed that up with, ”Last update until you hear it.” So, who knows?
Bullet for My Valentine: Arguably the biggest metalcore act on the planet, Bullet for My Valentine released a crushing new single “Don’t Need You” in November. Does this mean the Brits are readying the world for a new album? Nothing has been confirmed, but where there’s smoke, there’s almost always fire.
–Compiled by Jaan Uhleszki, Chuck Eddy, Mosi Reeves and Justin Farrar