May 19, 2022

Charlie Doodle

Unique Art & Entertainment

It’s already a good year for new music, with The Weeknd and Elvis Costello, and Mitski, Shamir, Spoon, and Soul-Glo

6 min read

The weeks after the holidays are usually the slowest of the year for new music, but this January has gotten off to a fast start.

That’s been true both for marquee acts like The Weeknd and Elvis Costello who have already released full-length albums this month, as well as for a wide range of artists who have put out new songs teasing upcoming projects and tours.

Though the live music industry is again fraught with COVID-19 uncertainty due to the omicron variant, with many tours being postponed, others, like Kacey Musgraves, who plays the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday and The War on Drugs, who are at the Met Philly Thursday and Friday, are carrying on.

It’s time, then, for digging into new music while looking ahead in hopes that the current COVID surge will soon peak and subside, and fans can get back to relatively anxiety-free communal listening. Here are a whole lot of new sounds to get through these chilly weeks of winter.

Elvis Costello & the Imposters, The Boy Named If. Any time an artist with such a significant oeuvre — this is the British songwriter’s 32nd album — puts out new music this good, the temptation is to call it his best album since … when? 1978′s This Year’s Model? 1986′s Blood & Chocolate?

Instead, let’s just say that Costello has been on a creative roll of late, starting in 2018 with Look Now and continuing in 2020 with Hey Clockface, and that The Boy Named If is clearly the best of the bunch.

The Boy Named If is a 13-track collection of thematically linked songs that hit hard from the opening thwack of Pete Thomas’ drums on “Farewell, OK.” The album’s full title is A Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Tales), and Costello has explained in the album notes thatIf” is the nickname a child gives to an imaginary friend, “your secret self … the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own.”

Never fear, though. You don’t need to follow the story to enjoy the songs, which are uniformly strong, as is Costello’s singing, on the self-doubting “What If I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and the particularly fetching “Paint the Red Rose Blue.”

The Weeknd, Dawn FM. Last winter, when The Weeknd announced his After Hours tour, which was scheduled to play the Wells Fargo Center this coming April, the jaunt named after the Canadian singer’s 2020 album was supposed to be a post-COVID arena tour pop celebration.

In the fall, the Canadian singer, born Abel Tesfaye, canceled those dates and announced they would be rescheduled as (still-unannounced) stadium shows. The Weeknd’s rise to world-conquering Starboy (to cite his 2016 album title) was so complete, it seemed, that only stadiums would do. But that the shows remained unscheduled seemed a depressing reminder that the pandemic wasn’t going away.

The surprise release of Dawn FM this month put all that into perspective. It turned out that it didn’t make sense for The Weeknd to go on tour for a project from 2020 when he was sitting on a new album that’s the most impressive of his career.

Dawn FM is compelling in many intriguing ways, starting with the album cover, a digitally aged photo of the 31-year-old singer with a salt-and-pepper beard.

The album contains a spoken-word interlude from Quincy Jones, recalling his mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, being taken away to a mental hospital when Jones was 8. The super producer’s presence underscores a link between Tesfaye and Michael Jackson.

And along with ubiquitous collaborators like Calvin Harris and Max Martin, the album’s “Here We Go … Again,” which features Tyler, the Creator, is cowritten with Bruce Johnston, the 79-year-old member of the Beach Boys.

Dawn FM, which has topped the Billboard album chart since its release, is also a concept album. It’s structured as a long listen to a mythical R&B radio station (hosted by Jim Carrey, who provides intermittent voice-overs), with the singer-driver stuck in traffic on the way to his presumed death.

But like The Boy Named If, Dawn FM carries its narrative loosely. The album works as a collection of melodic, freestanding songs that reach back to 1970s disco and 1980s R&B, shot through with the just the right measure of 2020s paranoia.

Along with Costello and The Weeknd, the new year has also seen the release of a handful of other worthy full-length efforts.

Chan Marshall, the sultry voiced singer who records as Cat Power, released Covers, with interpretations of Frank Ocean, Iggy Pop, the Pogues, and Jackson Browne. Her January date at the TLA has been rescheduled for April 17.

Odd Future rapper Earl Sweatshirt has released Sick! a 24-minute mini-album that is a return to form, expertly internalizing pandemic anxieties. And John Mellencamp’s Strictly a One-Eyed Jack is the Indiana rocker’s first album in five years. It’s notable for its solid selection of spare, unsentimental, mortality-facing songs, three of which feature Bruce Springsteen, with the frisky standout being “Did You Say Such a Thing.”

Here’s a look at highly anticipated projects due in the coming weeks:

Mitski, Laurel Hell. The sixth album by indie-rock singer Mitski Miyawaki is the follow-up to her acclaimed 2018 Be the Cowboy. Mitski has released four songs from the album so far, all of which draw power from her trademark mix of emotional tension and tactical reserve. The latest of which is “Love Me More,” which she has said was influenced by hearing Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” in the 1973 horror movie The Exorcist. Laurel Hell is out Feb. 4 and Mitski plays the Franklin Music Hall on March 25.

Shamir, Heterosexuality. The Philly indie artist’s new album is being billed as “the first to confront his queerness explicitly.” The songwriter’s pop-savvy skills are clearly apparent on his new single, “Reproductive,” which follows previously released songs “Cisgender” and “Gay Agenda.” Shamir opens for Courtney Barnett on Feb. 4 at the Met Philly and Heterosexuality is out Feb. 11 on his AntiFragile label.

The Delines, The Sea Drift. Fans of literary-quality, short-story-like songwriting and divinely understated soul singing can rejoice: There’s a new Delines album coming your way. The Sea Drift is the follow-up to 2019′s superb The Imperial. The Portland, Ore., band features the songwriting of novelist and former Richmond Fontaine leader Willy Vlautin and the subtle vocals of Amy Boone. Due out Feb. 11.

Spoon, Lucifer on the Sofa. Has there been a more consistent, never-faltering band working in any genre over the last 20 years than Spoon? The Britt-Daniel-led Austin, Texas, quartet have shared two typically economical and enticing new songs in “Wild” and “The Hardest Cut.” Lucifer on the Sofa is out Feb. 11 and Spoon play the Fillmore Philly on April 15.

Robert Glasper, Black Radio III. Genre-splicing, jazz-R&B-hip-hop pianist and composer Robert Glasper is set to release the third part of the trilogy which began with 2011′s Black Radio, which won a best R&B Grammy the following year. For the new single “Black Superhero,” Glasper assembled an all-star cast to perform with The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, including Rapsody, BJ the Chicago Kid, Philly’s own DJ Jazzy Jeff, and poet Amir Sulaiman. Black Radio III is out Feb. 25.

Soul Glo, Diaspora Problems. The West Philadelphia band Soul Glo has signed to storied Southern California punk label Epitaph Records. The “revolutionary hardcore” quartet of singer Pierce Jordan, guitarist Ruben Polo, bass player G.G. Guerra, and drummer T.J. Stevenson has provided a first taste of the album with the raging “Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!) (By the Future!!!)”. The album is out March 25.

Wet Leg, Wet Leg. “Chaise Longue,” the spoken-sung debut single by the duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, who hail from the Isle of Wight in England, was a staple of year-end best-of lists, and has been racking up millions of streams and lots of radio play. The band plays Underground Arts on March 12 and its self-titled debut is out April 8.

https://www.inquirer.com/entertainment/the-weeknd-elvis-costello-new-music-mitski-shamir-john-mellencamp-20220122.html

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