The singular upside of the “pandemic era,” the preserved topper on a wedding cake made from shit, has been entertainment. 2020 was a bumper year for music end-to-end, and while 2021 didn’t quite stack up, a few projects did some seriously heavy lifting. There’s hope on the horizon as we head into 2022, with rollouts already in abundance and a few big rumours for further down the line. Add the usual dosage of surprise drops, acts you wouldn’t expect otherwise to be serving bangers, as well as the addition of being able to see music back where it belongs on the stage again and it’s a truly delightful forecast. Now, touch all of the wood in your house.
Stromae – Multitude
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think there’d ever be another Stromae album. Barring 2018’s ‘Défiler,’ a song created for the clothing line he’s disappeared into since electropop bouquet Racine carée in 2013, it was safe to assume the Belgian/producer songwriter was done on the music front. This past October, a single surprised everyone.
A bizarrely askew rhythm spearheads ‘Santé’, drunk-sounding, with its drums sat outside the main groove. Much needed confirmation that things will be just as weird as they always were.
An album was announced shortly after in December, and last week (at time of writing) came single number two, ‘L’Enfer’ (hell, in English): a piano ballad about the artists’ enduring battles with mental health, including the anxiety that kept him from public view for so long. I couldn’t be more excited for Multitude in March. It’s great to have such a unique voice back.
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Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Big Thief were on a tear in 2019, releasing two albums, UFOF and Two Hands, to widespread critical acclaim.
It seems as if for their full-length return they’re cutting out the middle-man, so to speak, and releasing a double album in the form of Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. The 20-track album, coming just around the corner in February, already has eight singles out now and man, where to begin.
‘Little Things’ is as blurry as the memories that make it up…shoegaze-y in places. ‘Sparrow’ is straight-up front-porch folk. The groove of ‘Time Escaping’ might’ve escaped a Crash Bandicoot stage selection screen. The point is, I have no idea what to expect from DNWMIBIY (hell of an acronym) except everything.
Jack White – Fear of the Dawn/Entering Heaven Alive
In 2018, musical nutter and reformed analogue-fetishist Jack White opened a door to a brand new world. With Boarding House Reach, he took his first splash in the digital pool, and impressively did nothing by halves. It wasn’t just the production style that had switched up, it was the very instruments he was using it on; the vibe on display is “worlds-most-excited-luddite-turned-technophile”.
The two albums announced for 2022 seem to be going for different things. While the former, Fear of the Dawn, has cover art reminiscent of BHR, Jack’s made it very clear that the latter release, Entering Heaven Alive, will focus on his folk sound. If I’m correct in my suspicions here, I think the contrast of these releases will be very interesting indeed.
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Danny Brown – Quaranta
I’m sure Detroit hip-hop legend Danny Brown would’ve loved for Quaranta to release in 2021, but it just wasn’t to be.
It would’ve made all the sense in the world: release XXX in 2011 at age 30, Quaranta at 40 (the title meaning “40” in Italian), and being so close to the word quarantine (its etymological root). The stars simply didn’t align.
I can’t be too disappointed, not after the year he’s given me as the mind behind Bruiser Brigade. Needless to say, I can’t give Danny credit for the outstanding performances of Fat Ray, J.U.S and Bruiser Wolf, but regardless, every time he appeared on a track (and he did, on all three albums) it was worth a listen or ten. Beyond excited to hear him on his own stuff again.
Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia
Fontaines D.C. are getting better and better as every project passes. It’s scary. 2020’s A Hero’s Deathabandoned the garage-rock, punch-up feel of launchpad outing Dogrel before it got stale, and approached with caution, meaning every word – as the title track goes, “When you speak, speak sincere.” Skinty Fia was announced with a single, ‘Jackie Down the Line,’ and again sounds sharper than last we heard them.
They’re raising glasses to their influences, undeniably; the track mixes slacker vibes with that dark Josh Homme Feel™ that alt/indie bands kill for. It is entirely natural, however, that the lads from Dublin City have arrived here, at this cross-section of familiar and fresh. Their catalogue so far points at Skinty Fia to marry these ideas and I happen to think it will, excellently.
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Whatever Swans are up to
The revival-leg of Swans‘ insane career seemed all tied up after 2016’s The Glowing Man. It wasn’t, mercifully it never is, but head honcho Michael Gira made it clear that there’d be changes. Line-up, sound, everything.
Leaving Meaning seemed to begin that transition. The LP still existed in the vein of post-rock, but absolutely needed to; they’ve spent their most critically acclaimed decade leading that sound, their name synonymous with it… it couldn’t be an up-and-run job.
The hype regarding what’s next has ramped up now that the album cycle has started again. Swans’ content model since 2010 has involved crowd-funding a limited-run demo album, to prop up production of the real one. The demo batch, Is There Really A Mind?, ships out in a few weeks at time of writing. The actual album is currently slated to release early 2023, but, just… let me have this one.
Mitski – Laurel Hell
Mitski’s appeal is multiplicitous.
Her ear for composition flits between creator’s intent and what she’d want to hear were she not. Her lyrics exist on that same knife-edge: specific and unequivocally her, but expressed in such a clear manner that understanding is axiomatic… all this and her incredible voice gliding around the furniture.
Mitski releases are a cultural event now, every time to a bigger audience and every time deservedly. More and more people join the support group, join to hear real life offered up as comfort and consolation. Puberty 2 and Be the Cowboy are modern indie classics, and the oldest of the two would have just started school. Fiver says Laurel Hell is committed to the same hallowed halls.
Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century
If recent promotional release ‘Funny Girl’ is anything to go by, Father John Misty’s next adventure is going to be massive, glitzy and awfully sad.
The on-looking lyrics, orchestral backdrop, the aimlessness of the jellyfish floating around the music video, it’s all so apathetic.
Everything Joshua Tillman has unveiled about the project weaves a theme, a “Golden Age of Hollywood” glamour. It is, of course, masking an omnipresent sadness in a way that brings David Lynch’s Blue Velvet instantly to mind.
It’s not conventional lead single material, but speaking of the holistic package presentation, it’s a curious sample. A yellow brick road I’ll be tentatively walking down.
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Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There
When writing about Black Country, New Road’s debut in 2021, I finished the section with the words “buy this.”
It’s been a long, long time since I was that impressed with a first offering.
The eagerness of the experimental rock collective to keep up the work-rate is encouraging, and to hear singer Isaac Wood describe new single ‘Chaos Space Marine’ as the “best song [they’ve] ever written” shows they’re having a blast doing it.
I don’t agree with him, but that’s only because one of their other new singles, ‘Concorde’ exists.
Kendrick Lamar’s return/Oklama?
Kendrick Lamar has been absent from the world of hip-hop since 2017’s DAMN.
Whilst there’s been nothing official announced as yet for project #5, the Compton rapper is booked to play the fucking Super Bowl next month. There’s few things one could do to say “I’m coming back” any louder than that. He popped up a few times on cousin Baby Keem’s album last year, and his interesting-if-minimal website oklama.com certainly caused a rumble in August.
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Firstly, Kendrick was online so, there’s that. Secondly, Kendrick fans aren’t exactly the type to leave anything alone so the speculation began about what the title meant. Is that the name? Finally, the content itself: a statement confirming the production of an album… his last for Top Dawg Entertainment. So much has changed in the world since Kendrick last took it to task, and I can’t wait to hear what he makes of life in 2022.