Friday, May 11, 2012

On the Horizon: My Most Anticipated Albums for the Rest of 2012

2012 has been a pretty solid year thus far, as far as music releases have been concerned. The overall output of great records to grace my ears this year has actually surprised me quite a bit, considering the fact that a large percentage of my favorite artists put out material in 2011, and I thought for awhile that last year's embarrassment of riches my lead to a dearth of greatness for this year. But I should have known better: I've been discovering progressively more music than ever before during each of the years since 2008 or so, and this year has been no exception: making my end-of-the-year list is already going to be a battle. As close as I can figure, about 3 or 4 of the slots in my top ten are already spoken for, with Springsteen almost guaranteed to be sitting in the top spot. That leaves plenty of room for great new discoveries, not to mention late-year arrivals of favorite artists. And of course, there's the summer season, which generally brings out the albums that capture my consciousness the most.

Anticipation is a difficult thing: expectations can color your opinion of an album to a degree that it would never hit you as hard as it could have otherwise, but they also lend a valuable aura to the releases they surround. Very often, an artist can never top the "first" album you heard from them: I know this has proven true for a number of my favorite acts, Butch Walker, Jimmy Eat World, and Jack's Mannequin, to name a few, and year after year, I start my listens to albums from artists of that level with disappointment, and move toward elation as time goes on. I always need a few listens to shed my pre-ordained expectations of what the album should be so I can start to appreciate what it actually is. And although there are some albums that do, ultimately, end up on the "letdowns list" at the end of each year, more often, the albums that I looked forward to the most end up somewhere near the top to the list. Which brings me to the topic of this post: my top five most anticipated full-length releases on the horizon for the remainder of the year. For this group, I tried to steer towards albums that had titles, tracklists, and release dates already announced, and left the more "speculative" picks for the section at the bottom, but in a few cases, my adoration for a specific artist, plus a few hopeful indications, overpowered that impulse.

1. The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten (out July 24th)

It's only taken about four years for Brian Fallon to evolve from a respected indie-punk frontman to a potential savior of the rock 'n' roll art. That transformation began on 2008's massive The '59 Sound, where Springsteen references, big choruses, and Fallon's desperation-laced vocals built a nighttime drive record for the ages. 2010s American Slang and last year's side project, The Horrible Crowes, were only slightly less stellar, but if "45," the first single from Handwritten, is any indication, Fallon and company might be poised to drop their masterpiece. The song sounds like vintage-Fallon, channeling equal parts Springsteen and punk-rock, and delivering an opus of crisp electric guitar tones, elegantly nostalgic poetry, and soaring vocals that suggest that, yes, Brian Fallon really might be the guy to save rock 'n' roll. I've been dying to see these guys live since the first time I heard "The Backseat," the colossal and emotional closer from The '59 Sound, and I'm hoping this record will finally bring them close to me (or, at very least, SOMEWHERE IN THE UNITED FUCKING STATES), but if nothing else, I have a very strong feeling that Handwritten could end up playing the part of my fabled "summer soundtrack" record this year, and if that's the case, then it could even have a shot at my album of the year title (against, who else? Springsteen).

2. The Wallflowers - TBA (out Fall 2012)

It's been 7 years now since The Wallflowers moniker got its last full-length release. They've toured since (I saw them for the first time in 2009), and frontman Jakob Dylan was been busy (he's released a pair of folky, acoustic-based records), but for a long time, it seemed like the '90s alt-rock band was just going to fade off into dust. That last record, entitled Rebel, Sweetheart saw The Wallflowers at the top of their game, with Dylan embracing the poetic style of his father's writing, but doing so in a context and sound that never sacrificed the band's roots. Their breakthrough album, 1996's Bringing Down the Horse will always be my favorite work of theirs, but Rebel was a terrific and lyrically brilliant set of songs that, in the many times I have listened to it since then, has both made me yearn for new material and ruminate on how, if the band were to never reunite, it would be more than an appropriate swansong. But that's all for naught now, since the band has been in the studio all year, and plans to release a new record this fall. And while I enjoyed Dylan's solo material, he never sounds better than when he's got ringing electric guitars and Rami Jaffee's soulful B3 organ swelling behind him.

3. The Killers - Battle Born (tentative title, out Fall or Winter 2012)

It's been a long time since Day & Age topped my list of biggest letdowns for the year back in 2008, and a lot of things have changed since then, including my opinion of that album. While it's certainly their worst (and that ranking includes frontman Brandon Flowers' stellar 2010 solo debut, Flamingo), Day & Age still contains a lot of great work, and I rather unfairly wrote it off back in the day. Still, I'm hoping for a return to form on the follow-up, though I must confess, I don't really know what that form would be. The band traversed a lot of musical ground, from the new-wave synths and dance-floor beats of Hot Fuss, to the Bruce Springsteen worship of Sam's Town, all the way to the eclectic and bizarre collision of those things that took place on record number three. There's not a lot that's known about their fourth, but I think we can be pretty sure of one thing: Flowers' and co. love to surprise their fans, and even if there's a return to form here, anyone looking for Hot Fuss 2 or Sam's Town 2 is setting themselves up for disappointment.

4. John Mayer - Born and Raised (out May 22nd)

Ever since I bought a copy of Heavier Things back in 2003 (which, I'm fairly certain, was the first album I ever purchased for myself), Mayer and his music have been completely entwined in my musical evolution. Since then, he's dropped an album every three years, like clockwork, but his albums have always been September, October, or November releases, and never spring/summer ones. Mayer's records have always been the kind that I'm more likely to get lost in on a long autumn day than to blare, full volume, on a summer's night, but Born and Raised, with it's promised alt-country and folk tendencies, may make a compelling argument for the contrary. Mayer has never been content to make the same album twice, and I have very little idea of what to expect from this album, whether it will be full of sunny, folky jams, or steel-guitar laden slow-burns perfect for late-night drives, but either way, I can't wait.

5. Green Day - ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡TrĂ©! (out September 25,  November 13, and January 15, 2013, respectively)

I think it's audacious for bands to attempt double albums, but the concept of a triple-album goes right past that into insane territory. Because of that fact, and because all of Green Day's contemporaries that have attempted the double album (The Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters) have done so with distinctly mixed results, I have my reservations about this project. Green Day's last album, 2009's 21st Century Breakdown was decent but disappointing after the masterful American Idiot, and we don't know anything about this project, whether the albums will span the musical influences of the band's three members or just contain a bunch of songs from the same writing and recording sessions. Either way, the three album sequence, which will span a four month period and produce a pair of records eligible for 2012's end-of-the-year lists, is most certainly an indulgence in pop-music excess, and I'm excited to see what comes of it. It's doubtful that the band has a masterpiece on their hands here, but my highest expectations envision a ridiculously eclectic set of songs from a band that most people have always written off as distinctly one-note. Only time will tell.


The two without release dates and titles present a difficulty for a list like this, since it's easy for a band to promise a release one day, and change their mind a few months later. That said, the word from The Wallflowers just broke today, and I have faith in them, since they've been posting pretty regular studio updates on their Facebook all year, and since Jakob Dylan isn't a guy who tends to disappear for long periods of time. I'm a whole lot less sure about The Killers, since we haven't seen any decent updates since January (or so). But Flowers has released an album every two years like clockwork since Hot Fuss broke back in 2004, and you'd think that Island would be keen on getting one of their biggest properties back into action: my guess is that we'll see that record in November or December, right in time for the Holiday Season and the sales boost it provides.

Beyond those albums, the year is still a pretty open slate, but there are some pretty exciting things on the horizon, both confirmed and scheduled (Motion City Soundtrack's Go, The Tallest Man On Earth's There's No Leaving Now, Glen Hansard's Rhythm and Repose, Sun Kil Moon's Among the Leaves, among many others) to the much more speculative list (New stuff from U2, Matchbox Twenty...I'll believe that one when I see it, and Mumford & Sons). U2 has been all over the place in terms of release rumors recently, from saying they had three different albums in the works a year or two ago, to Bono hinting that the band might be ready to call it a day. In the wake of the biggest rock 'n' roll tour in music history, it's safe to say the band has earned some time off. But since they've been toying with releasing Songs of Ascent, an album of material from around the No Line On The Horizon era, since 2010, and since they teased fans with the interesting prospects of a Danger Mouse-produced reinvention, it would be a shame for them to close the doors before at least seeing where those roads might lead. As for Matchbox Twenty, it's been ten longs years since the '90s alt-rock darlings dropped their last full-length (More Than You Think You Are, which was also their best work), a hiatus that saw both a Greatest Hits collection and a pair of decent solo offerings from frontman Rob Thomas. If the band finally makes their return this year, it will be the long overdue arrival of an album I've been waiting for since I was 11 or 12 years old, and while I'm certainly not in the same place I was back then, musically or in any other way, I'd certainly welcome a new record from those guys any day of the week.

As of now, I don't think this year will be quite the illustrious display for music that 2011 was, but if all of the albums listed above live up to expectations, and if a few albums come out of nowhere and knock my socks off (which has been happening more and more recently), then who knows?


  1. A list very similar to mine. I completely agree with you on Handwritten, there is just no way it could disappoint. Also the paragraph about Green Day is very well written.

    By the way, my friend st. tropez got to hear Born and Raised in advance. You can read his review here

    On my list, there would also be the new Biffy Clyro double (!) album and of course new Muse. Hopefully, also My Chemical Romance album could be out by the end of the year...

    1. Enjoyed that Mayer article. A lot of what he said went a lot with my expectations, and only served to increase them. Should be hearing that in a few days, so I'll be excited to get my thoughts about it written down as well.

      There are a lot of maybes at this point, and I tried to focus on the ones that I have the most stock in, but really, I'm pretty much up for checking anything out. I'm not familiar with Biffy Clyro, and I've never been a huge fan of either of the others, but who knows?