Music

Listening Ahead: 15 Albums for Early 2015

Matthew Fiander and Arnold Pan
Photo: Composition of headphones. Image via Shutterstock.

Get an early glimpse of the best and most eagerly anticipated albums of the new year, including new efforts from Sleater-Kinney, Father John Misty, Belle and Sebastian, and Viet Cong.

2015 starts out with a bigger batch of highly anticipated albums in the early part of the calendar than most years. It's a record release schedule highlighted by the returns of indie's most acclaimed and beloved bands, especially Sleater-Kinney and Belle and Sebastian. Just as eagerly awaited is new work from acts who are continuing to build up impressive profiles, like Father John Misty, Jessica Pratt, and Matthew E. White, not to mention standout debuts by Viet Cong and Natalie Prass. Below are 15 albums that should keep you entertained through the first few months of 2015, if not the whole year.

 

January 20

Artist: Belle and Sebastian

Album: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

Label: Matador

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Belle and Sebastian
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

You get the sense that Belle and Sebastian are living out their daydreams of what it must be like to be pop stars on their new album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. While there are more than enough of the lovable quirks that still classify Belle and Sebastian as cult favorites instead of chart-toppers, Girls in Peacetime veers in a bold new direction for a band whose identity has already been so well defined. Although the Scottish collective has continually expanded its folk-tinged indie-pop palette over almost two decades, Girls in Peacetime is the most drastic shift in their sound yet, and we're not just talking about the unabashed disco-pop numbers, either. Whether it's due to a more willing sense of showmanship or a helping hand from Gnarls Barkley-associated producer Ben Allen, Stuart Murdoch and company come off more confident and open than before on Girls in Peacetime, boasting more vibrant tones and a crisper feel. Even quintessentially B&S pop symphonies like "Nobody's Empire" and "The Cat with the Cream" have an added zip and richness that make Murdoch's introspection feel more vivid, even dramatic. Perhaps more telling is how longtime unsung hero Sarah Martin comes through as a not-so-secret weapon on the album's dancefloor rave-ups, singing like she's Saint Etienne diva Sarah Cracknell's little sister grown up. Maybe these dimensions are ingrained in what Belle and Sebastian have been doing for a while now, but Girls in Peacetime brings them front and center like never before. Arnold Pan

 

Artist: Erase Errata

Album: Lost Weekend

Label: Under the Sun

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Erase Errata
Lost Weekend

Erase Errata has three albums full of angular songs, songs with angles so sharp they can slide right between your ribs just to make the rhythms pulse deep in your chest. But the post-punk band's new record following a four-year hiatus, Lost Weekend, shifts the formula in brilliant ways. The album is only seven songs and 22 minutes, but it feels much bigger than its run time. "Don't Sit/Lie" splits open and melts, stretching tightrope hooks and sweet vocal melodies out into expansive power-pop atmosphere. The growling low-end of "Galveston (Dark Tides)" rumbles confidently along like some bizarro '70s funk jam. "In Death, I Suffer" starts in the band's edgy wheelhouse, only to stretch out in jangling textures. Lost Weekend is, in short, an excellent return, one that reminds us of Erase Errata's strengths by showing their versatility. The album luxuriates in the previously terse danceable grooves and muscles up the layers of sound. And yet in all this newfound space, there's no slackening of the trio's immediate and smoldering energy. Lost Weekend suggests that maybe Erase Errata wasn't on hiatus at all -- the band was just evolving behind closed doors. Matthew Fiander

 

Artist: The Go Betweens

Album: G Stands for Go Betweens

Label: Domino

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The Go Betweens
G Stands for Go Betweens

Even though it consists of 4 CDs and 4 LPs, the vault-clearing boxset G Stands for Go Betweens isn't so much about yielding new surprises as it is about deepening your knowledge and appreciation of the revered Australian act. The key here is the context that collecting the Go Betweens' first three albums, early singles, and unreleased recordings in one place can provide, both in tracing the band's development as well as how the duo of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan was plugged into what was happening in the late '70s and early '80s. The earliest material here bears out their obvious touchstones, particularly the Lennon-McCartney dynamic of the Forster-McLennan partnership, but it also begs to retrace their connections to their contemporaries, like when you hear an angular riff that brings to mind Talking Heads or a precocious melody as twee as the Television Personalities or an underground pop ramble that's more often associated with what was starting in New Zealand around that time. But even as you make mental note of these fleeting resemblances, what comes through ever more clearly is how distinctive the Go Betweens' approach was, as you notice their raw material beginning to be molded with the contours of the baroque-pop they'd be known for, coming into form with the defining singles "Cattle and Cane" and "Bachelor Kisses". Even more, it says something about the Go Betweens that something as monumental as G Stands for Go Betweens is only the beginning of their story. Arnold Pan

 

Artist: Sleater-Kinney

Album: No Cities to Love

Label: Sub Pop

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Sleater-Kinney
No Cities to Love

With the world going to pot in 2014 and needing someone to stand up for something, the return of Sleater-Kinney feels more timely and galvanizing than ever. Sneak-peeking the single "Bury Our Friends" as a no-one-saw-it-coming treat tucked into last year's career-spanning vinyl boxset Start Together, Sleater-Kinney made it clear that it wasn't getting back together for a victory lap as the trio took aim at "our own gilded age". So, no, No Cities to Love isn't your typical just-for-the-heck-of-it reunion, because Sleater-Kinney wouldn't be making new music that couldn't live up to its legacy. And that No Cities certainly does, hearkening back to Sleater-Kinney's most charged and engaged albums, like 1999's The Hot Rock and 2002's post-9/11 meditation One Beat. Now as before, no ensemble of players is able to make you appreciate how the personal is political like Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss can, training their righteous indignation on consumerism and our increasingly alienated lives. And while the buzzsawing guitars, gut-punching beats, and the uncanny interplay between all the parts make you think that the three couldn't ever have been apart -- much less for eight or so years -- they may have actually sharpened their edge in the interim, sounding heftier at points on No Cities, but also more melodic at others. The best way to appreciate No Cities to Love, then, is to understand that Sleater-Kinney has changed with the times, while staying constant to what's truest about the band, the essence of what it is. Arnold Pan

 

Artist: Viet Cong

Album: Viet Cong

Label: Jagjaguwar

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Viet Cong
Viet Cong

If you heard Viet Cong's excellent debut EP in 2014, then it should come as no surprise that the band's eponymous Jagjaguwar debut is, well, full of surprises. The combination of tight turns, tense angles, and complicated textures are still there, but the band pushes them in new and fascinating directions. "March of Progress", with its dynamic move from percussive, droning sound experiment to shimmering, off-kilter pop gem, is the clearest example of the album's unpredictability. "Bunker Buster" turns the same alien approach on blues-rock and post-punk to great effect. Somewhere in the mesmerizing squall of "Continental Shelf", and on other excellent moments in this record, Viet Cong sounds simultaneously otherworldly and earthen. Rarely does music feel both this strange and this approachable at the same time. These are clear-cut songs, but together they become a musical world to get lost in, one with textures that can feel so visceral it's almost as if they coat your skin while you listen. There's plenty of dark corners in these songs, plenty of gems to uncover, and that is the process that will keep you coming back, listen after listen, to this impressive, singular record. Matthew Fiander

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