At times, Canadian country-rock outfit Blue Rodeo can feel like two bands sharing a stage. Boasting a pair of the most distinctive songwriters and vocalists in the game, Blue Rodeo records don't just have two discrete authors; they often seem to have two separate, and maybe even competing, sounds.
On the one hand, you have Greg Keelor, grizzled troubadour in the Neil Young mode, all bloodshot eyes and ragged glory, a man born to rock a late-night barroom with unbeatable story songs and delicious, earwormy melodies. Then on the other hand you have Jim Cuddy, a tight, professional writer and performer, a stunning vocalist capable of an acrobatic range, the apparent straight man to Keelor's bendiness, whose best compositions rank among the very finest songs I can name.
So, yes, there's a Lennon/McCartney thing happening here. Always has been, ever since Blue Rodeo emerged on the scene with 1987's "Outskirts," a classic early shot in what would soon be dubbed the "alt-country" genre. Tangling Beatles-esque jangle with elements of punk, folk, and traditional country, Blue Rodeo was an immediate success, and they've remained hugely popular in their home country ever since.
Now, 26 years and 11 records later, they have returned with a warm, engaging, but ultimately troubled record. Overflowing with images of dimming lights, of glowing embers drifting off into an ineffable sky, this is Blue Rodeo at its most contemplative, at its most introspective. Despite the sometimes divergent flightpaths these two artists have followed with their writing, with their crafts, they have landed in similar places here, on their first record after celebrating a quarter century in rock’n’roll.
HuffPost Canada Music’s Stuart Henderson sat down with Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor at The Rivoli, a venerable Toronto haunt, for a cup of coffee and a long talk about "mortality and the waning light of the journey."
The new record is called "In Our Nature". On the one hand, we could be talking about human nature, which usually means our flaws. But Blue Rodeo is often associated with the "nature" we see outside our windows.
Greg: I think we were aware of both of those interpretations and we avoided trying to decide. I guess it is a little play on words. But you know, we made the record at my place [in rural Ontario]. And it is a beautiful little valley. There's something inspiring about just, you know, hanging out. And you know… someone told us it's our 13th studio record.
Jim: You're stuck on 13. Seems like it's more.
Greg: Yeah, I don't think that's including live and greatest hits and that sort of thing. And so, it's funny: after all these years, this is just what we do, you know?
Jim: I think also there's a certain history in rock'n'roll of this self-reflection. "In Our Nature" appealed to me for that reason. That essentially all songs, all art, is some kind of investigation of nature. Because that's all you can reflect on.
But it was a little problematic, too, because [the song we titled the album after] has lyrics written by Damian Rogers, a wonderful, beautiful poet. And I struggled a little bit with that. Should we be naming the record somebody else's words? How can you call it "In Our Nature" if it's somebody else's words? Those little conundrums are also part of it. So, we put it out there to see how it resonated with everybody else in the band. It was the one that everybody was drawn to.
There's this tendency among even your most devoted fans to see Blue Rodeo as a feel-good band, a good times band. And yet, throughout your career one of the most persistent themes in both of your lyrics has been darkness. Trying to find some light in the gloom. Still, I was struck by how much that word "darkness" appears on this new album.
Jim: It's death.
Jim: Mortality is certainly a big part of it. But I think that if anybody were to examine their own experience, they would recognize that as sunny as the veneer can be, what’s most interesting is that there are shafts of darkness that just peak through. I’m not interested in writing things that are gloomy, but after a while it’s hard to avoid the things that we hide. That’s what you try to reveal in songs. And usually those are the things that you’re not comfortable sharing.
Interesting. That idea comes up again and again [in your work], I mean all the way back to 1990's "Til I Am Myself Again." That idea of there being both this happy public face, and this private darkness. Your first lyric on ["In Our Nature"] addresses this head-on. ["Maybe now we could be lovers? Share all the darkness in our souls?"]
Jim: Well, I think that's about love as a way of allowing yourself to share that darkness. The couple in that song is actually fighting. But once you recognize a kindred spirit, somebody who can share some of the darker or fearful parts of your personality, you don’t want to lose that connection.
Speaking of connection: The first half of this record alternates between songs written by Greg and songs written by Jim. But then on the second half of the record, Greg has a few more songs than Jim. When you sequence your records, are you thinking consciously about who's singing this song, about balance, or is it more about the song itself?
Greg: It's both. We try to keep it as a balanced thing. I ended up with a couple more songs on this record [than Jim]. I had a lot of songs when we were going in to record this record. And because the last record was so long, a double record, we went: "Let's keep this one short, you know? Let's keep it down to 12 songs." And everyone was agreed on that and we were all working towards that.
But when we got to the end of the record, [we had] "In the Darkness" and "Tara's Blues" [left over]. We had recorded the tracks, but we never went back to them. There was talk about iTunes, and doing some bonus tracks for downloads. But [instead] we went back and finished them. We liked them so much, we just put them on. It's very self indulgent, 14 songs. It's almost an hour of music on the CD. And you know, there're some people in the band who really don’t like long CDs. They want them to be over in 45 minutes, 40 minutes.
Even within the band?
Greg: Oh yeah! And I being one of them. Bazil [Donovan, bassist] was really adamant about it. But you hear the songs – you know, it's our first record in three or four years – and you just think: These are really good recordings. What's the point in leaving them off?
I think the people that like Blue Rodeo, the people that want to buy the record, they're not going to complain about having two more songs on the record. It's just us in the band who want to have twelve songs on it. So I ended up with a couple of extras.
Q&A Continues After Blue Rodeo Video Gallery
Blue Rodeo - "Mattawa / New Morning Sun" - Official Music Video
'Lost Together' by Blue Rodeo and Friends
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Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy on Q TV
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Blue Rodeo - "C'mon" [Official Video]
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Blue Rodeo - "5 Days In May" [Official Video]
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Blue Rodeo 'Never Too Late'
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Blue Rodeo 'Mattawa'
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Blue Rodeo 'New Morning Sun'
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I think in the age of digital music the length of records… I don't know how much people care anymore. I'm a short album kind of guy, but when I say that to people they're always like: What's the difference? What do you care? Just download the songs you want. And so I wonder whether those kinds of arguments have become kind of academic.
Jim: I don't really care. Like when I buy a record, I only want a short record if I don't like the band, and then usually I dump it anyway. If I like the band, I don't even care if I don't get through the whole record. With an hour-long record, there's no way I can absorb all that at the same time, anyway.
No, I’m probably going to listen to 40 minutes, 45 minutes and then I’m going to go back, and gradually, I’m going to get to know those songs as the end of the record. And I like that. I mean when I like a record I spend a lot of time with it. So you know, I like to make a joke about how Greg bullied his way into doing so many songs on this record, but...
I also recognize that once you record songs, if you like them, to not use them on the record, to use them as specialty disc or whatever, they’re gone. They’re gone. They can’t be used again and that’s it: limited listenership, you know? Put them on the record. People don’t like it, they can stop listening after 45 minutes. Whatever.
And again, that is the thing about the iTunes generation, right? Now we can just uncheck a song, and then it doesn't come up anymore.
Greg: But the LP itself has become such a nice boutique item. A lot of young bands think so much about the vinyl and what the vinyl's going to sound like. And if you pile up a lot of minutes on vinyl, you’re going to lose sound quality.
Jim: Our vinyl [for "In Our Nature"] only has twelve songs.
Oh yeah? So which are the two songs that got left off?
Greg: "In Our Nature" and "Out of the Blue."
That's funny, you cut the title track.
Greg: Because it was so long! And "Out of the Blue" was so long.
The two of you have distinct voices in Blue Rodeo, and yet you also both make solo records. When you’re sitting down to write a Blue Rodeo song, are you wearing a different hat than when you’re writing, say, a Jim Cuddy song?
Jim: I think that every record is very event specific. That I could say. [A record comes from] a time and a place, when people are in certain moods, and people are in certain times of their lives. And so you don’t have to work very hard to make it different than what came before and what will come after. […]
But I think Greg will agree that [what’s different about] solo records is writing without having to consider the band. Blue Rodeo is a very imprintable band, like you know, they’re going to be a voice in your song. That’s different than when you’re writing for yourself. I’m a bit more of a clear voice in my band. And so when I’m writing Blue Rodeo stuff, I imagine that Greg will sing on it, I imagine what everybody would do, and so things end up being guided in a different way.
But, you know, more specifically it’s about how you make the record, what time of year it is, what state everybody’s in. I think that’s what defined this record, you know? Being out at Greg’s and being in the nice weather.
That’s where it was recorded. But, wasn’t a lot of this album written on the road?
Greg: For me, it was.
Jim: Not for me.
Greg: I think of times in my life when the band has been playing a lot, and for whatever reason, the band’s playing well. They’ve been singing, you know, 80 nights in a row type of thing. And your voice is in good shape. You know how to reach an audience with your voice. You know what’s working. I don’t always write on the road. But on this record, I wrote “Tara’s Blues” and “Wondering” on the road.
And it’s also really nice to bring a song into the band when it has that vibe, like I had the road in me. You know, I just had the energy of the road in me. And the band had the energy of being on stage every night. And there’s a certain confidence, relaxed confidence with it because you sort of know what’s working.
Can we step back for a second to what you said about your state heading into the record, Greg? “Never Too Late” has a kind of “Positively 4th Street” vibe to it. But there’s a sneaking suspicion I have as I listen to it that you’re talking to yourself.
Greg: Yeah. It’s one where… I have a few songs like that. “Like Palace of Gold”  where I’m just sort of like: “Careful, you’re going a little too far.” And “Never Too Late” is me just sort of licking my wounds a bit.
Is there a catharsis to that, being able to get it down on paper? To sing about it?
Greg: You know, I think one of the greatest catharses in life is just singing. It's something; I can really notice it if I don't. I like to sing every day. And the great thing about writing songs is that you are singing every day. You're singing a long time every day. And you're really focused, and it’s a great thing. If I go a few days without singing, I can feel sort of a general drop, a lethargy. Your brain gets a little thick.
Singing is, um, in your nature?
Greg: [We all groan.] That’s right, yeah, for sure.
On "Paradise," there's this great lyric, something about how paradise is found in the light from these embers drifting up, only to go out. All through the record you both play with these images of light and dark, of being in the dark, looking for lights, lights disappearing on us. What is it about this emphasis on contrast, 26 years and 13 records in?
Jim: Yeah. Well, we’re closer to the extinguishing of the light than we were when we started.
Greg: I think that makes a big difference.
Jim: You know, mortality and the waning light of the journey is a lot more present than it ever was. It’s hard to be completely analytical about your own song writing, but I mean I certainly notice it. In the last five or six years, that’s a lot more of what comes out. There’s a lot more sense of fragility in the band. You know, it’s not a physically robust bunch of people anymore! It’s certainly not invulnerable, you know. We’re, like, very vulnerable.
So I think that's bound to make its way into it. But, it's also what we've done, and what we've seen, and what we've experienced together; all those things are reflected in those contrasts. I think that maybe those contrasts were more… the balance was more towards the light before. And I think now it’s more towards darkness. But not, I don't mean gloom. I mean, you know, the dusk.
Greg: Yet to me, those sparks rising up were very positive.
Jim: But it's an interesting song. I found it interesting. I heard it and I thought, this is about realizing that at some point, you will forfeit this paradise on Earth, not like you’re thinking, oh yeah, soon I’m going to have the paradise with the vestal virgins. This is like: This is an awesome thing and I don’t want this to end.
This is what I mean! There's nothing more fleeting, image-wise, than an ember that's gorgeous for a second but it's soon going to be gone. And it doesn't come back once it's gone.
Greg: No! To me they were things of beauty, almost like souls being released into the universe. So they're not extinguished. Actually, it's a transformation into something better.
Jim: Good Catholic boy. Good Catholic boy.
Lady Gaga - ARTPOP - Nov. 11
Pop's reigning queen of the delightfully odd recently revealed seven new songs off her forthcoming album-cum-iPhone-app, and everything we've heard so far suggests "ARTPOP" will be her most diverse outing yet. (She raps with T.I. and Twista and Too $hort makes an appearance!) A lot has changed since Gaga released "Born This Way" two years ago, and Katy Perry's "Roar" handily defeated Gaga's "Applause" in first-week singles sales, but anyone counting Gaga out is probably sorely mistaken.
Drake - Nothing Was the Same - Sept. 24
We'd be remiss if we didn't <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=drake%20album%20from%3Aernestbaker_&src=typd" target="_blank">point you in the direction of Ernest Baker's "Drake album about to be that _____ music" series of tweets</a> (example: "had a conversation with the guy you cheated with to get the full details"), but honestly, we'd be lying if we weren't just plain excited for Aubrey Graham's third studio album. Every song that he's released this summer has been a hit in one capacity or another ("5AM in Toronto," "All Me," "Hold On, We're Going Home," "Started From the Bottom," "The Motion," etc.) and his remix to the Migos' "Versace" became the defining club hit of the summer. Count him out as many times as you want, but if this album impresses, there's no doubt that Drake will be remembered as one of this generation's most dynamic talents in rap.
Katy Perry - Prism - Oct. 22
You've already heard her "Roar," and whether or not Perry's lead single sounds too similar to Sara Bareilles' "Brave," one thing is for certain: Perry will return with some new version of Dr. Luke, Bonnie McKee and friend's golden cocktail of pop hits. Perry's messaging (the burning of her "Teenage Dream"-era wig, etc) seems a bit overbearing for music that has yet to surprise, but perhaps Katy Kat has some tricks up her sleeve.
Eminem - "MMLP2" - Nov. 5
In a year that's already seen LPs from some of rap's biggest names (Jay, Kanye) and most talked about newcomers (J. Cole, Meek Mill, Wale, etc.), Eminem's project remains something of a holy grail (a different one than JT was singing about). The wildly anticipated project will feature "Berzerk," Eminem's first solid single in a long time that doesn't sound like he's playing preacher. Expect some fire, but whether or not Rick Rubin can fully stoke the embers of Marshall's creative energy to full force remains to be seen.
Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt - Oct. 15
"Lightning Bolt," Pearl Jam's 10th studio album and first since 2009, is obviously highly anticipated among the band's die hard fans, but it's the newbies who might want to take note. "I think it's a great representation of their work right now," <a href="http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/5679998/pearl-jam-shares-lightning-bolt-track-list" target="_hplink">producer Brendan O'Brien told Billboard</a>. "If you like Pearl Jam, you'll love this. And if you haven't listened to Pearl Jam in awhile, I think it's going to bring you in. That's the whole idea." The album's lead single, "Mind Your Manners," is a good representation of that edict: the song is a straight-up rocker that also recalls the band's often experimental work on 1994's "Vitalogy."
Beyonce - TBD - TBD
There's neither a date nor a title for Beyonce's supposedly forthcoming fifth studio album, but we've seen glimpses of what it could sound like: Anthemic ("Grown Woman"), sugary ("Standing in the Sun") and perhaps even angry ("Bow Down," which likely wont' appear on the album). We've heard rumors of B having collected some of music's biggest heavy hitters around her for the effort, but no matter how many hits The-Dream puts to paper, it's Beyonce who's going to have to pull it all together and give the Beyhive something to rock with.
Miley Cyrus - BANGERZ - Oct. 8
Oh, Miley. The young star has spent the summer mingling with rappers and slurring her way through songs about doing drugs and not stopping, so expect a handful of Mike Will Made It-produced strip club jams mixed with emotional sing-song anthems like "Wrecking Ball." Cyrus has done a good job of making sure all eyes are on her, and she hasn't done it in the most respectable way, but perhaps on Oct. 8 she'll make good on all the attention-seeking and put out something listenable.
Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience Part II - Sept. 30
JT couldn't just make one comeback album, he had to make too. Expect plenty of Timbaland's instantly recognizable drum work here, and though it's too early to really tell how the LP will sound, lead single "Take Back the Night" is a strong first offering.
2 Chainz - B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time -- Sept. 10
Of all of the work Pharrell Williams has put in this year, "Feds Watching" might just be the most enduring product. The party anthem freakishly told you that you weren't the only one reading your emails and listening to your lover's voice on the phone before Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald got around to it, but that's not all surprising given that we're talking about the rapper who brought back leather pants and Versace tees a full year before every other rapper followed suit. Tauheed Epps isn't one to sleep on.
Avicii - True - Sept. 13
Tim Bergling's first studio album debuted as a bit of a downer. The Swedish phenom behind EDM's largest song of the past half-decade, "Levels," was headlining Miami's Ultra Music Festival when he stopped DJ'ing mid-set to allow for instruments and live performers to come on stage and work through "True," his major label LP that's an interesting blend of soul, folk and dance. The Aloe Blacc-assisted lead single "Wake Me Up" has been an interminable summer anthem, and a number of people who worked on the project have told us that Bergling seems to have pulled off the nearly impossible.
Arctic Monkeys - AM - Sept. 10
Alex Turner never really became John Lennon (or Paul McCartney), but he's turned into quite a charming Alex Turner. He's said he wants his album to get to a place where he can do things that would be seen as cheesy if they were done by others (his reference for this was Aaliyah, do with that what you will), while also making Real '70s Rock.
Britney Spears - TBD - Sept. 17 (Maybe)
Like Lady Gaga, Britney hasn't released a true album since 2011. Unlike Lady Gaga, she's already delivered a full body of work and tried her hand at a number of other careers. There's no official confirmation that Britney's releasing an album on Sept. 17, but a countdown clock on her website suggests that <em>something</em> will happen on that date. And honestly, in a year that sees likes of Cher and Celine Dion chugging some honey tea and jumping back in the ring, why shouldn't Spears step out again?
Cher - Closer to the Truth - Sept. 24
Cher has been doing more than tweeting up a storm of wildly confusing and enthralling missives. She's also been prepping "Closer to the Truth," her 26th studio album. Cher told the world the LP the best she's ever done, and also hinted that it will most closely resemble 1998's "Believe." The lead single, "A Woman's World," saw the 67-year-old toss together a smattering of wigs and girl-power themes for a competent song that didn't turn <em>too</em> many heads. Stay tuned.
Celine Dion - Loved Me Back to Life - Nov. 5
Celine Dion released the title track off her forthcoming LP earlier this week, and the track comes off as a refreshing lightning bolt of a single. The skittering dubstep combined with soaring vocals for something entirely new from Dion, but what's new isn't always popular on the internet, where the song was derided for sounding a bit too much like Beyonce or even Skylar Grey. It's still a refreshing tease, and one would be remiss to forget that Dion knows her way around a microphone.
Paul McCartney - NEW - Oct. 15
If a TLC (sans the "L") album doesn't seem like something you're down with, feel free to scoop up Paul McCartney's "NEW," which is out the same week. Macca tapped the likes of Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth and Ethan Johns for the project. It remains to be seen if the Beatle will follow down the dance-inflected path he stepped on with "Out of Sight," his collaboration with the Bloody Beetroots.
DJ Khaled - Suffering From Success - Oct. 22
A DJ Khaled album is a weird thing, because the producer doesn't seem to do much except get a crowd of usual suspects (Nicki, Wayne, Drake, Ross, Future, rinse, repeat) together for capable club anthems bookended by his incessantly shouted catchphrases ("We the best!" "I'm the best that ever did it!"). In a barrage of Instagram posts, Khaled promises the album will reveal what he has been "threw" and asks that we trust him ("jus kno"). "No New Friends" and "I Wanna Be With You" sound good enough, but unfortunately Khaled's iPhone snaps might be the best thing the producer has ever or will ever do.
Chris Brown - X - TBD
Breezy's summer has been anything but, a cavalcade of accusations (some true, others, not) have derailed his do-good mission. The singer has gone so far as to suggest he'll withdraw from the music industry after "X," saying that he's tired of being famous for his "mistakes." "Fine China" impressed his fans and didn't exactly offend those who shy away from Brown's brand of R&B. He's used Aaliyah's voice ("Don't Think They Know") and tapped perennial feature Nicki MInaj ("Love More"), so it will be interesting to see how the rest of the LP includes the Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke influence Brown claims inform the project.
MIA - Matangi - Nov. 5
It's hard not to love MIA, who took to Twitter with threats to leak her album and called out Interscope by name over release delays. (Shortly thereafter, the label set a date.) The "Bad Girls" singer seems to be staying mostly in her lane here, as "Bring the Noize" positioned her as the queen of an aggressively partying underground world. But there's always room for something new as well: On "Come Walk With Me," MIA spends half the track sing-songing her way through anti-party messages before flipping the record on its head with a thumping beat. Always fun, right?
Elvis Costello & The Roots - Wise Up Ghost - Sept. 17
The Roots don't really do collaboration albums that aren't worth at least one listen. Last year's "Wake Up!" saw Questlove's band teaming up with John Legend for a memorable outing, and Costello's voice seems like a wonderful foil for the Roots' funky jam-band sensibilities.
Kaskade - Atmosphere - Sept. 10
Dance music's enduring nice guy sings (for the first time) on his upcoming album's lead single, a bad idea that paid off shockingly well. In theory, DJing for millions of people over tens of years should endow Kaskade (born Ryan Raddon) with some insight into what it takes to make effective dance music, and his recent albums haven't disappointed. It's worth noting, as well, that Raddon took to Twitter to implore fans to consider <em>not</em> doing drugs in the wake of a string of deaths at dance music events. His reasoning was a refreshing burst of sincerity in a party-driven scene. (Raddon himself is sober.)
Arcade Fire - TBD - Oct. 29
It's hard to know what's really coming out of the Arcade Fire camp, especially since James Murphy -- the producer who first said he wasn't involved -- hasn't had much to say except that everyone in the group got along well during the creative process. Time will tell.
Jack Johnson - From Here to Now to You - Sept. 17
Johnson dragged himself off a surf board for long enough to record his sixth studio album. His past four LPs have debuted in the Top 3 on Billboard's chart, with the last two debuting at No. 1, so there's a heavy level of anticipation here. But if there's anyone who can stay calm and deliver something sunny enough, though, it's Johnson.
Lorde - Pure Heroine - Sept. 30
It's been a a long time since anyone has had as exciting of a pop debut as that of Lorde, a teenager who burst onto the scene with "Royals." The track, a snarky tune that sets the best of Lorde's brooding voice against a simple, almost spare arrangement, went off like a gunshot in the blogosphere -- for good reason. Since then, the 16-year-old has released a string of competent tracks and an EP that went platinum three times in Australia -- all while meticulously controlling her image and messaging. Expect greatness.
Elton John - The Diving Board - Sept. 24
This album marks John's first solo LP in seven years and will be split across 12 new songs and three interludes. "The Diving Board" is produced by T-Bone Burnett and comes with lyrics from John's longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin. “In many ways, I feel like I’m starting again, making records," John said when announcing the album. "Several years ago when beginning to work with T-Bone and being in the studio with Leon Russell for 'The Union,' I had to ask myself, ‘What kind of music do I really want to make?’, and I realized that I had to go back to go forward again. I needed to strip away the excesses and get back to the core of what I do as an artist."
Enrique Iglesias - TBD - November
The as-of-yet untitled project has already birthed Spanish ("Loco") and English ("Turn the Night Up") singles, a sign that Iglesias may be retracing his own footsteps (2010's "Euphoria was also bilingual). The album will feature Marc Taylor and the Cataracs and is produced by Iglesias' longtime collaborator Carlos Paucar.
HAIM - Days Are Gone - Sept. 30
It's nice to see sister act HAIM finally have their moment, especially on a project that seems as charming and powerful as "Days Are Gone." "Forever" and "The Wire" tease throwbacks to '70s rock, while the album's title track dips into classic R&B for influences. HAIM's will be a popular album, but don't expect it to be a one-note pop record.
Kelly Clarkson - Wrapped in Red - Oct. 29
Pop's darling returns with her first-ever holiday album, a mix of classics ("Silent Night") and original tunes for the season ("Underneath the Tree," "Wrapped in Red"). Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood stop by for features, giving the project a shot at being a classic Christmas effort.
The Weeknd - Kiss Land - Sept. 10
Abel Tesfaye, the no longer mysterious R&B crooner behind prescription drug-laden bedroom tales of lust and … lust, ups the stakes on "Kiss Land." A heavier project with hints of industrialism, the album sees Tesfaye strive for something new. Blame it on the fact that his earlier work (split across three EPs which were re-released as "The Trilogy" last year), but the singer's voice is too consistently trying to be cool and seductive to approach intrigue. Still, Tesfaye's die-hard fans (however many of them are left), will be impressed with the LP.
Panic! At The Disco - Too Weird to Love, Too Rare to Die! - Oct. 8
It's a good time to be a pop rock band from the mid-oughts. Fall Out Boy blazed their way back into the fore earlier this year, and Panic! is wise to quickly line up behind them. The band doesn't have many of its original members left (the original guitarist and bassist left to form the Young Veins and the group's drummer has taken a break to fight drug addiction), so frontman Brandon Urie basically stands alone. The lead single, "This Is Gospel," serves up exactly what listeners want from Panic! They can get plenty more when they buy tickets to see Fall Out Boy. Urie and whoever he collects for the tour are opening.
Sting - The Last Ship - Sept. 24
In <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sting/the-last-ship_b_3384993.html" target="_blank">a blog he wrote for The Huffington Post</a>, Sting describes his upcoming LP as a "musical play" and reveals its his first writing effort in eight years. "I'd lost the urge to create -- the urge that had driven me most of my life," he said. "But once I decided to turn these memories of my childhood into a narrative, and began to think of writing for other people -- for other characters, from other viewpoints apart from my own -- the songs came very quickly. I wasn't in the way anymore." As such, he hopes that the album whets the appetite of his listeners for the 2014 play.
Icona Pop - This Is… Icona Pop - Sept. 20
It's hard to follow up a smash hit single when you don't have much else to stand on, but Icona Pop has done a commendable job of releasing songs that function nearly as well as "I Love It." Of their latest efforts, "All Night" and the Tupac-quoting "Girlfriend," it's the former that makes the most sense for their brand, and accordingly so, that's one that you'll be hearing the most of this fall.
Future - Honest - Nov. 26
While Nicki Minaj is probably rap's most featured when it comes to guest verses, Future's hooks are have become the glue that keeps the industry's biggest club hits together. His warbled, robotic voice goes further than T-Pain and drips emotion in way that approaches beauty. "Pluto," Future's 2012 album, was a bit bloated at 15 songs, but if he can match the intensity of "Same Damn Time" with the emotions of the work he put in on tracks like Rihanna's "Loveeee Song," Future could have something special on his hands.
Keith Urban - Fuse - Sept. 10
Urban's eighth studio album features duets with Miranda Lambert and Eric Church and was written by over 30 scribe. Stargate, the duo behind Selena Gomez' "Come and Get It," Rihanna's "Diamonds" and a slew of other pop and urban hits, make an appearance ("Shame"), so don't expect typical Urban. The singer said he was inspired when he heard that Bono saw "Achtung Baby" as the opposite of "Joshua Tree." In a word, <a href="http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-615/1564963/keith-urbans-fuse-is-lit-talks-up-diversity-of-new-album" target="_blank">he told Billboard</a>, the album will be full of "diversity."
Kings of Leon - Mechanical Bull - Sept. 24
The group made up of three brothers (Nathan, Caleb and Jared Followill) and their cousin Matthew ended their last tour abruptly amid rumors of turmoil, making "Mechanical Bull" a highly anticipated return to normalcy. Early reads say it's going to be great.
Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady - Sept. 10
She's teamed up with the likes of Prince, so Janelle Monae is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. Miguel and Erykah Badu also stop by for appearances, pretty much guaranteeing that this is a can't-miss album.
MGMT - MGMT - Sept. 17
"I don't even know if it's music we would want to listen to," Andrew VanWyngarden told Rolling Stone of MGMT's forthcoming third album. "It's just what's coming out of us. We didn't make a single compromise." That's probably an endorsement, but whether fans are ready for more of MGMT's brand of psychedelic rock (which, it's worth noting, varied wildly between their first and second albums), remains to be seen.
TLC - TBD - Oct. 15
The famed trio remains down a member following the tragic death of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes in 2002, but T-Boz and Chilli are forging ahead with a compilation album that will also feature some new material. Songs written by Ne-Yo ("Meant to Be") and Lady Gaga ("Posh Life") have already been contributed, but not that much else is known at this time.