Returning this year are familiar faces armed with a new collection of songs. Looking ahead, here are a selection of those to be most excited about.
“Now that people know what Major Lazer is we can skip a lot of the ground work,” beams the globe-trotting chameleonic don of dance Diplo, who makes up one-half of neo-dancehall outfit Major Lazer alongside fidget-house producer Switch. The dynamic duo dropped debut ‘Guns Don’t Kill People – Lazers Do’ in mid-2009, a storming collaborative frenzy that fused authentic Jamaican riddims with modern bass-heavy hip-hop. Its successor, the Philadelphian explains, is set to pick up where they left off, and improve their model. “There’s plenty of obligatory club stuff but beyond that we wanted to make records that people really can love and ones that can last forever. We are doing a lot of songs about positivity as well, because that’s just the tip we are on,” he says, “plus plenty of ass shaking ones too.”
Vybz Kartel, T.O.K. and Santigold all return to contribute vocals, while Lykke Li, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Snoop Dogg, Bruno Mars and Pharrell all make an appearance this time around.
Three songs will be released this month as a taste of what’s to come. “It’s gonna be confusing at first,” Diplo says, flagging up the musical deviation ahead, “but they cover exactly what we are about with this album.”
When the former punk icon turned fifty back in 2008, he marked his half-century with ‘22 Dreams’ – an eclectic and progressive double album that explored jazz, poetry, electronica, and other exotic strains. Its breadth was countered two years later by ‘Wake Up The Nation’, a reactionary album of restless and insistent songs, fired by Weller’s burning desire to incite and provoke fresh voices in music. Following such a disparate yet impressive pairing will be ‘Sonik Kicks’, due on March 26th, which, its author makes clear, doesn’t compare to anything he’s done before. “‘Sonik Kicks’ is brand new music for the 21st Century,” he gruffly claims.
Apparently unaffected by the glowing response to its predecessor (‘Wake Up The Nation’ was nominated for the Mercury Music Award), Weller does suggest the music on his eleventh solo album will be “what the title suggests”; certainly taster track ‘Around The Lake’ (available on paulweller.com) offers shimmering Horrors-like psychedelia, spiky riffs, and a snarling attitude. With guest turns from Noel Gallagher and Graham Coxon on guitar, we are promised an expressive and adventurous record that’s set to mix “pop art punch with soulful communication”, and “dub with razor-sharp melodies with clear-eyed forest-folk”. Intriguing.
The week before release, Weller will be performing ‘Sonik Kicks’ in its entirety at The Roundhouse in London. Explaining his reasons for doing so, Weller says: “Because I’m bored with the whole nostalgia trip everyone seems to be on at the moment. I want to present something fresh and new to people. And I also think the new album is strong enough to showcase like this. But above all, it is a statement to try and encourage people to get their heads out of yesterday and back into tomorrow. No pun intended!”
Similarly dissatisfied with artists peddling their past glories is Jason Pierce. Subsequent to his recreating their 1997 opus ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ for 2009’s Don’t Look Back festival, he found himself questioning the popularity of nostalgia. “I just thought, ‘Why is everybody looking back? Why is everybody going ten years back to find classic albums?’ I didn’t want to make a classic album, but I wanted to make something that was epic and was now.”
The result is the visionary space rock band’s seventh album which, Pierce reveals, was designed to be a pop album. “I write pop songs, whether I like it or not – ‘Walking With Jesus’ is a pop song, ‘Soul On Fire’ – and I’m always kind of embarrassed by them; I feel like the way to move forward in music is leftfield, avant-garde, trying to make new steps, and yet a lot of the stuff that I love most were these lost gems.” He namechecks The Ronettes, Captain Beefheart, Suicide and The Beach Boys as influences. “I wanted to embrace that this time, and not try and drag the tunes I like into the leftfield.”
Expected in March, ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ was recorded in London, Reykjavic and Los Angeles, and features “beautiful and sassy” female backing vocals, a nod to Leonard Cohen and Ray Charles. It was premiered at a surprise appearance at the Royal Albert Hall, where a string and horn section plus a twenty-strong choir fought for room on the stage, and where the songs’ could reach their true hymnic heights.
“It sounds stupidly romantic, but it’s kind of like a thank you,” Jason says, of an album indebted to the pop music and artists that have continued to inspire him.“ This has been so important to me.”
Over a decade into their existence, America’s sparkling indie troupe still only have three albums under their belt. It’s been exactly five years since their last, the incredible ‘Wincing The Night Away’, which was a decidedly hazier and more mature development from 2003’s ‘Chutes Too Narrow’. Considering James Mercer’s tendency to experiment and evolve, he is hopeful The Shins’ fourth outing will still appeal to their fans. “I certainly hope so,” he enthuses. “There are some changes to the palette but it’s still me.”
In the interim between Shins work, Mercer has been busy working with uber-producer Danger Mouse (known to James as Brian Burton) as Broken Bells, and together delivered an album of slick, melodic pop. Clearly, it’s a union that has served Mercer well going forward. “I think I’ve gained some confidence from the work I’ve done lately,” he admits. “Brian is such a great supporter of The Shins and I’ve learned a lot working with him. So it’s more my attitude about what I do and how I go about it that’s changed.”
Recorded in Portland and LA, and produced by Greg Kurstin, the as-yet-untitled album is The Shins’ first on Columbia, having left Sub Pop, and will no doubt be as celebrated and dazzling as we’ve come to expect from The Shins. Therefore, with 2012’s schedule set to be packed and popular, Mercer has just one wish for the year ahead: “I hope to get through all the touring and support for this record with my liver intact.”
Signing to Domino Records in 2011 has proven to be hugely beneficial to fans of John Cale’s innovative deliverings. Being on an indie label, he says, is “pretty much essential” when you’re constantly riding the razor’s edge of avant-garde. “They hear all sorts most days and it increases your comfort level knowing that. They don’t know what they’ll get with me and they’re fine with it!”
A founding member of The Velvet Underground, Cale has forged a career as an unpredictable talent. His previous album, ‘blackAcetate’, was dark and claustrophic, where growling rock knocked heads with forays into electro soul and techno. More recently, last year’s ‘Extra Playful’ digital EP was Cale doing abrasive pop. Comparing his last album with his latest, John reveals the apparent differences. “The points of origin for the songs have shifted – not just keyboard-based but viola, bass and guitar-based ideas to begin with, then some which are noise-based.” And was ‘Extra Playful’, his first release on Domino, a sign of things to come? “‘Extra Playful’ is a conveyance of attitude – don’t take it so damn seriously, will ya?!”
Despite recent dalliances with like minds and collaborations in art and film, the new album looks to be strictly an in-house effort. “Being my first album in a while I wanted to make sure it was a strong individual effort that was a showcase for my band and my own personal style of playing,” John states. He is, however, excited about the artists who can follow his example and deliver the unexpected this year. “There are a number of new bands that apart from their fresh energy also show that awkward musical styles wear very easily on the ears – there are always unnerving new genres popping up but within rock and roll this persistent characteristic is always a sign of longevity.”
Work has begun on the decadent rockers’ tenth album, with Bobby Gillespie and guitarist Andrew Innes beavering away between live dates with Irish producer David Holmes. It will be their first since 1997’s ‘Vanishing Point’ not to feature bassist Mani, who has gloriously retreated back to the confines of The Stone Roses indefinitely. His leaving shouldn’t impact the new music greatly, says Gillespie, as he was never involved in writing the songs. “The songs are always written by Andrew and me. And no disrespect to Mani, but he’s a bass player, a great bass player. It won’t have any affect on the song writing.”
With a genesis stretching back to late-2009, the songs being worked on benefitted from the Scream’s tour of ‘Screamadelica’ through 2010 and 2011. “I think we took a lot of satisfaction from how well the band played. It was just a great vibe within the band, getting a lot of love from the audience and around the world. It was an accomplishment. If we were a football team we would have won the league champions, as they were consistently good performances.”
Bobby is also buoyed by the ripple effect from the political rackets that charged summer 2011. One rant on the ideologies of the Conservative party later, and the wiry frontman is enthused on the effect the government will have on young people and music. “This year is gonna fucking kick off,” he grins. “And the year after, and the year after…”
With twenty tracks in the can already, and another session this month to capitalise on Bobby’s revived vigour, Primal Scream’s “modern psychedelic” record will drop later this year.
Exploding out of bass bins around the world, The Bug’s third LP ‘London Zoo’ cleared up with critics and sleazy bass monkeys alike in 2008. Kevin Martin’s low frequencies seethe with discontent. And with 2012 looking like a ripe year for change, channelled anger and seismic cultural shifts, The Bug is poised to deliver a restless soundtrack for many micro revolutions.
“Both globally and personally 2011 has been a heavy motherfucker of a year,” says the producer. “The cracks of capitalism are showing clearer than ever, and the world is in a state of absolute flux, so yeah, there’s so much food for thought at present. To me the challenge is always to navigate the chaos and find some sort of safe path. And I have always felt the best music or art works as a catalyst for exorcising emotional friction and global upheaval. I can definitely say my new album is an absolute sign of the times, and all the intensity therein.”
Expect raw power and lyrics blurred to distortion with MC Daddy Freddy, one of the fastest spitters around. “The album is rapidly becoming a fucked up collision of violence, sex and madness,” rounds off Martin, as we look forward to his bass quake at the barricades.
STILL TO COME…
Officially there is no news on whether The Stone Roses will be producing anything physical in 2012, but having just signed to Universal last month (and Columbia in the US), it looks like the reformed Manchester legends may yet surprise us…
Stadiums will be prepped and cleaned ahead of new releases from The Killers, Madonna and Green Day…
Girl power will be out in fine force, as La Roux, Little Boots, Marina And The Diamonds, Santigold and the lovely Lissie all return to prove their worth with a second album, while Estelle, Bat For Lashes and Martha Wainwright all have something up their sleeves too…
A Johnny Marr-less Cribs will surface in 2012, as ex-Supergrass man Gaz Coombes and ex-Sonic Youth dude Lee Ranaldo both go solo…
Over in the dance world Hot Chip, Coldcut, Dirty Projectors, Orbital and Hudson Mohawke will no doubt be creating ripples with their electronic fare, while Phoenix will be on hand to slip some slick guitars into the mix…
Having wowed the Americans, Mumford And Sons will be quick to follow their debut, while Biffy Clyro will be intent on removing any memories of Matt Cardle…
Finally, a new record is due from Keane. You have been warned…
Words by Simon Harper