Covid — or should we simply say Omicron now? — continues to cast its shadow on all aspects of life, including the simple pleasures of music. Happily, there are few signs of artists, or record labels, delaying releases like they did in the first year of the pandemic. And there’s plenty of tantalising music just waiting to be heard.
Elvis Costello and the Imposters
The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories)
Forty-five years on from a debut album that announced the arrival of one of the great tunesmiths of his generation, the ever-busy Declan McManus — as he is known to HM Revenue & Customs — returns with another collection of hyper-literate songs.
The album title encourages curiosity. Here’s an explanation from the man himself: “If is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own.”
The beauty of Eels’ slippery career to date is just how hard it is to pin down mainman Mark Oliver Everett, aka E. He has taken the listener on numerous unexpected turns and even when his songs don’t hit the mark, you’re rarely bored.
Album number 14 arrives with an intriguing prospect: it’s the first time that PJ Harvey’s go-to producer John Parish has worked with Eels since the standout Souljacker album back in 2001.
No Veteran Dies Alone
(January, date TBC)
The veteran Dublin singer released an acclaimed memoir, Rememberings, last year and seems to be firing on all cylinders creatively. This 11th album will be her first in seven years.
She has opted for a new producer — Belfast DJ and movie soundtrack composer David Holmes. It could be an enthralling union.
Meanwhile, Nothing Compares, a new documentary tracking O’Connor’s golden years between 1987 and 1993 will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month.
The US art-rockers have been comparatively quiet of late, but this first album in six years is eagerly awaited. Lead single Prester John, which was spliced together from two songs, offers a good taster.
In the words of their record label, Domino, the album “feels like listening in on a conversation among four old friends, just as it felt during their inchoate early days or their Strawberry Jam heyday”. That was a defining album for the band.
Once Twice Melody
Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are in ambitious mood. This will be the American duo’s first double-album. An 18-song suite, it’s presented as four distinct chapters, with the first of those released in November.
For years, critics have predicted that each new album would push the pair into mainstream appeal, but it really feels as though their time has come. Listen to new track Superstar — it’s exceptional dream-pop.
Tears for Fears
The Tipping Point
They may have been one of the great British pop bands of the 1980s, but Tears for Fears’ reputation has only grown as time has elapsed since their heyday. This first album in 17 years is partly inspired by the death of Roland Orzabal’s wife, Caroline.
A pair of lead singles bode very well. Intriguingly, Orzabal and Curt Smith tried to record this album with a series of young producers. Unhappy with the direction it was taking, they scrapped it and started over.
For the Sake of Bethel Woods
The Texan outfit were on the radar of music lovers everywhere in the 2010s, thanks to brilliant folk-rock albums The Trials of Van Occupanther and The Courage of Others.
The departure of lead vocalist Tim Smith threatened the future of the band and now, eight years after their last album, Eric Pulido takes frontman duties once more.
Lead single Meanwhile is a retro-leaning, psychedelic-tinged folk delight, inspired by a dream a band member had about his late father.
Father John Misty
Chloe and the Next 20th Century
Joshua Tillman has been prodigious in his output. There were eight albums under the J Tillman moniker and then, after four years serving as Fleet Foxes drummer, he struck out on his own again, this time under his current stage name.
There have been some lows, but mostly his symphonic pop craft has reached remarkable highs, especially on his finest album, 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear.
Tillman has teased scant details about this forthcoming album, but regular producer Jonathan Wilson returns.
Fear of the Dawn
You wait four years for a new Jack White album and two come along in quick succession. The White Stripes man has opted to release Fear of the Dawn first and then, three months later, Entering Heaven Alive will get its outing.
White has insisted that both albums come from different areas of inspiration, although the thread binding them together is a pair of lead singles: the glam-rock stomp of Taking Me Back is the opening track on Fear of the Dawn while the mainly acoustic Taking Me Back (Gently) will close the second album.