Spring Music Preview 2010

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Band of Horses
"I think it's a Friday-night record," says Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell of the upbeat vibe on the indie rockers' third album. Recorded over the past year and a half in Muscle Shoals, Alabama; Asheville, North Carolina; and L.A., the disc was produced by the five-piece themselves, which led them to go, as Bridwell says, "a little bit bonkers sometimes." One tune has a three-piece horn section and strings, another has a doo-wop feel, and there's a trippy, stoner-rock anthem. Other tracks include "Laredo," "On My Way Back Home" and "Bartles and James," which Bridwell says is "not influenced by the alcoholic beverage of the same name."

Big Boi
The OutKast rapper hasn't released an album since 2006's Idlewild, but his first solo set doesn't stray too far from the Atlanta duo's sound: It's heavy on trunk-rattling funk beats and wriggling, spacey synth lines reminiscent of ATLiens. Old rhyme partner André 3000 cameos on "Lookin 4 Ya"; the ominous, R&B-tinged "Hustle Blood" features Jamie Foxx; and "Shine Blockas," a booming, soulful jam with Gucci Mane, is already an underground hit. The release has been repeatedly delayed as Big Boi negotiates with his record label, but that's given him time to live with the music. "If I can listen to it every day for years," he says, "I know fans will wear it out when they get it."

Drake's LP is a reflection of how the upstart Toronto MC has become hip-hop's new leading man. "I tried to capture every great moment I've had in the last year," he says. "It's triumphant." To wit: He raps about a presumed love affair with Rihanna and his friendship with mentor Lil Wayne on "Fireworks." Drake mostly eschewed big names in favor of home-town producers (Boi-1da, Noah "40" Shebib) and a collaboration with New York indie rockers Francis and the Lights. "It's gonna be interesting," he says. "I hope it's pleasing to the ear."

Jack Johnson
On his fifth album, Jack Johnson exposes his tougher side, ditching his acoustic strums for thick, choppy riffs. "I've been listening to a lot of Radiohead and White Stripes," says Johnson, who rocks out on the jubilant, Beatlesque "You and Your Heart," the likely first single. "But don't get the wrong idea — it's not my big electric album." There's also mellotron, Wurlitzer and hand claps, like on the upbeat "At or With Me." But the most mellow man in rock doesn't totally abandon his trademark sound. "A few songs are just my voice and the acoustic," says the singer, who cut most of the LP at his solar-powered studio in Oahu, Hawaii. "If it was a quiet enough night, I'd just get my guitar and record outside in the carport."

Christina Aguilera
On her fourth LP, Christina Aguilera didn't want to sound like herself. "I'm not interested in giving it this 'Christina' sound," she says. "I want to make my voice more relaxed, less soulful." So Aguilera invited synth-punk trio Le Tigre, Ladytron, singer Sia and M.I.A. producers Hill and Switch, among others, to her L.A. studio, where they cut tunes packed with futuristic synths and singsong chants. Aguilera got sentimental on "All I Need," a ballad written for her two-year-old son: "It's a sweet, sweet song."

Blitzen Trapper
Get ready for a new American epic: The Oregon folk rockers' latest was inspired by the storytelling in For Whom the Bell Tolls, East of Eden and Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding. "There's an overarching narrative about a prodigal son," says frontman Eric Earley of tunes like "The Man Who Would Speak True" and "Below the Hurricane." "Lyrically, it's more advanced than our last record." The music, produced by Earley in Portland, is just as ambitious, with multisong suites, big Seventies-rock anthems and string sections. "We're not as low-fi as we were," Earley says. "The songs mean more to me now."

Gaslight Anthem
On 2008's The '59 Sound, New Jersey's Gaslight Anthem delivered soulful punk tunes about working-class dreamers, earning plenty of Springsteen comparisons. But for the follow-up, Gaslight looked across the pond. "We've been influenced by early Stones," says frontman Brian Fallon of the LP, which Gaslight are cutting in New York. Fallon compares the title track to "Gimme Shelter" and says "The Queen of Chelsea" recalls the Clash's "Straight to Hell" and the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket." "It would be easy to write The '59 Sound again," says Fallon. "We wanted a new road map."

Against Me!
This Florida foursome's roaring breakthrough and major-label debut, 2007's New Wave, got them branded sellouts in the punk scene that birthed them. On the follow-up, recorded in L.A. with producer Butch Vig, they're in a disgruntled mood. "We wanted to top ourselves," says frontman Tom Gabel. "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" is a revved-up renunciation, and the anti-anti-abortion title track is slick and defiant. "At a certain point," says Gabel, "you gotta throw your hands in the air and say, 'Fuck it.'"

Maroon 5
Maroon 5's last album — 2007's double-platinum It Won't Be Soon Before Long — wasn't exactly a bomb, but singer Adam Levine says he wasn't happy with it. "It sounded more like other people than us," he says. To switch things up, the band traveled to Switzerland to work with legendary AC/DC and Def Leppard producer Robert "Mutt" Lange. "There's never been a more Mutt-friendly band than us," he says. "He's into pop, he's an amazing rock producer, and he pushed us — really kicked my ass." The result: a purposely eclectic third album that borrows from Motown ("I Can't Lie"), country music ("Out of Goodbyes") and Amy Winehouse-style throwback soul ("Give a Little More"). "This is more like our debut," says Levine. "We're less interested in moving the machine and more concerned with writing music naturally."

Mark Ronson
"When I make a record, I draw on inspiration I get from other people," says producer Mark Ronson, who invited members of Kaiser Chiefs and the Zutons, and former Pipettes singer Rose Elinor Dougall, among others, to collaborate on his third solo album. The disc — recorded in New York and London over the past year — reveals Ronson's newfound fascination with vintage keyboards. (He fell in love with them while producing Duran Duran last summer.) The synths brought out Ronson's inner studio geek and helped him find a new way to channel his influences into songs that are both retro and futuristic. "There are all these synth plug-ins for your computer," he says, "but I believe in the real shit, if you can get your hands on it."

Jamey Johnson
Country outlaw Jamey Johnson will release two albums in 2010: A "white album," due first, will focus on upbeat material, including the hard-rocking singalong "California Riots" and the title track, which is sung from the perspective of old guitars hanging on a wall. (A more somber "black album" — featuring songs about money troubles — will follow in the fall.) Johnson says the abundance of material reflects a hot streak he's been on for the past year or so. "It's an epic journey through honky-tonk-ville," he says. "If I record all this material, I fully intend to get it out."

Katy Perry
"I want to evolve like Madonna," says Katy Perry. "If I had to be the fruity pinup girl another day, I would jump off the Hollywood sign." Perry's follow-up to 2008's smash One of the Boys has her re-teaming with hitmakers Dr. Luke and Max Martin and delivering more hypercatchy pop in the vein of "Hot N Cold" and her Number One single, "I Kissed a Girl," while also delving into deeper matters: "My faith, my conviction and awe of the supernatural world." And thanks to her recent engagement to Russell Brand, the album also boasts its share of love songs — 50 percent, by her estimate. Still, the pop tart hasn't gone totally chaste. In the Prince-influenced "Dressing Up," Perry coos, "You wanna pet my kitty?" "You're such a dirty doggie" and "My cookie monster wants a taste," of which Perry says, "I think those lyrics are cute!"

Ra Ra Riot
Chamber-pop six-piece Ra Ra Riot moved to an upstate New York peach farm to write their self-produced second album. They spun plenty of Wings and Genesis — and added more synth to their sound. The disc also features a collaboration with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij. "It sounds like another version of Ra Ra Riot," singer Wesley Miles says. "It's got a bit of Rostam's personality and a bit of ours.

The Walkmen
For their sixth album, New York indie-rockers the Walkmen holed up in Clap Your Hands Say Yeah frontman Alec Ounsworth's studio in Philadelphia to cut a disc inspired by classic artists like Elvis, Roy Orbison, Fats Domino and Johnny Cash. "All those guys plus Jane's Addiction," adds singer Hamilton Leithauser. "That influence came out of left field, but we all loved Jane's when we were younger." Of the roughly 25 tunes the Walkmen have written, Leithauser is stoked for the tentatitvely-titled "Eating Puppies" ("It's got a surf rock vibe") and the horn-powered "Heffer" ("That one bounces around"). Leithauser also hopes that leftover tracks will make it onto a pair of EPs following the album's release. "We'll have some quality shit leftover," he says.

Reporting by Steve Appleford, David Browne, Patrick Doyle, Josh Eells, Jenny Eliscu, Nicole Frehsée, Caryn Ganz, Andy Greene, Shirley Halperin, Brian Hiatt, Christian Hoard, Melissa Maerz, Kevin O'Donnell, Jayson Rodriguez, Austin Scaggs, Evan Serpick, Christopher R. Weingarten. Album information and dates confirmed as of press time.

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

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