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Fall Music Preview 2013: The 26 Albums You Need to Hear

Paul McCartney, Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga, Pearl Jam and 22 more of the season’s biggest albums

Every year, the music industry kicks into overdrive right around Labor Day. This fall is no exception: Get ready to hear brand-new music from some of your favorite stars – from Arcade Fire's epic return to Lady Gaga's freaked-out pop experiments to Paul McCartney's magical mystery album. Keep reading for the inside scoop on these and 23 more of the biggest, coolest and wildest records of the season.

Album information and dates confirmed as of press time. Reporting by David Browne, Matt Diehl, Jon Dolan, Patrick Doyle, Gavin Edwards, Adam Gold, Andy Greene, Steve Knopper and Simon Vozick-Levinson.

paul mccartney

MJ Kim

Paul McCartney, ‘New’ (10/15)

"I'm always loath to say, 'It's a fucking great album, man!'" says Paul McCartney with a laugh. "I try to be modest. But I think you're going to like this one." The star has been laboring for more than a year on his 16th solo studio LP, with help from a dream team of top producers, including Mark Ronson, Adele hitmaker Paul Epworth and Ethan Johns (who has worked with Kings of Leon and Laura Marling). Says McCartney, "It's been a really cool adventure."

He began by getting together with Epworth for some freewheeling sessions. "We just went mad," says McCartney, "throwing ideas at each other."

Next, he joined Johns in London. On their first day together, he recorded a ballad called "Hosannah" to tape using vintage instruments. Recalls Johns, "He walked in with this incredible song, we threw up a couple of microphones, and within four hours we had this great track."

Looking for dance music, McCartney called Ronson, who DJ'd the singer's 2011 wedding to Nancy Shevell. "With Paul, you learn to not ask too many questions," says Ronson. "He came in one day playing some baile funk/moombahton thing, asking, 'How do we get this energy?' Then he played me 'Climax,' by Usher."

McCartney cut more tracks with all three producers, plus Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin) – working everywhere from New York to London's Abbey Road to his home studio in Sussex. After a while, he started to wonder how the eclectic results would fit together. "I thought, 'Uh-oh, it's not a rock album, and it's not an acoustic album,'" McCartney says. "And then I thought back to the Beatles albums: There would be something like 'Why Don't We Do It in the Road?' right next to 'Blackbird,' or 'Something' right next to 'She's So Heavy.' I mean, we really ran the changes! This has turned out a little bit like that. The continuing thing throughout that pulls it all together, I think, is the fact that it's me."

Nine Inch Nails

Baldur Bragason

Nine Inch Nails, ‘Hesitation Marks’ (9/3)

Around 18 months ago, Trent Reznor started working on new songs for a Nine Inch Nails greatest-hits set. But he discovered he had more than just a few tracks in him. He thought hard about what was exciting him musically: "Is it rock  bands and guitars, is it noise, is it dance beats and electronics?" Reznor recalls.

Working mostly on a laptop attached to a "drum-machine type of compositional tool," Reznor crafted foreboding electronic textures reminiscent of his recent soundtrack work, although he says 1994's The Downward Spiral was a deliberate touchstone. One thing nobody could have predicted? A cameo by Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, who adds guitar to three songs. Says Reznor, "I thought his style might be so out it would be in, compared to the alien landscapes we were dropping him into."

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for New Hope Academy

Sheryl Crow, ‘Feels Like Home’ (9/10)

In 2011, a few years after Sheryl Crow moved from L.A. to Nashville, she parted ways with longtime label Interscope. "Nobody knew what to do with me," says the 51-year-old singer-songwriter. After encouragement from friend Brad Paisley, she decided to record her first-ever country album, working with a crack team of local session pros – and releasing it on her new label, Warner Bros. Highlights of the set include "Waterproof Mascara," about being a single mom, and "Drinkin'," about boozy nights at home. "I've been doing this for 20 years, and I feel more inspired than ever," Crow says. "The country songwriting format is stupefyingly great. It is intimidating – but so satisfying when you feel you've written a song that's a complete thought without any riffraff."

Courtesy PFA Media

Keith Urban, ‘Fuse’ (9/10)

"The thing I was driven to try with this record was to fuse elements together," says the Australian country superstar. After recovering from a vocal-cord injury in 2011, he was itching to push past his usual sounds – so he teamed up with A-list producers like Mike Elizondo (who's worked with everyone from 50 Cent to Fiona Apple). The resulting LP has plenty of Urban's usual stadium-ready hooks, but it also has touches of electro, alt-rock and even industrial music. Says Urban, "I can keep making the same record – but I don't want to do that."

Courtesy Wondaland Arts Society

Janelle Monae, ‘The Electric Lady’ (9/10)

"I started thinking about a new 21st-century breed of women," Janelle Monáe says of the process that led to her second album, The Electric Lady. "How does she make love? What are her feelings regarding politics, sexuality, religion, oppression? These questions led me to a portal into the future." The past was pretty important, too – she cites Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone as key inspirations. The disc also features a festival-worthy guest list, with spots from buddies Erykah Badu, Solange and Monáe's "musical icon and mentor," Prince. "Prince doesn't just appear on anybody's album," Monáe says. "To have him be a part of The Electric Lady was incredible – I'm still in disbelief."

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

2 Chainz, ‘B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time’ (9/10)

"I applied a formula to this album I call 'mainstream ratchet,'" says the Southern-rap star. "It starts in the smallest strip club in Atlanta, and goes all the way to London and Paris." 2 Chainz promises plenty of his usual "no-brainer rec­ords" built for late-night fun, but the album also features some new sounds – check the breezy Caribbean groove of lead single "Feds Watching," featuring Pharrell Williams. Chainz is proudest of the disc's more personal moments, like the song "Live and Learn," which he says was inspired by the wake-up call he experienced following the death of a close friend. "That record," he adds, "you're not going to hear in the strip club."

Emmett Malloy

Jack Johnson, ‘From Here To Now To You’ (9/17)

Jack Johnson doesn't mind his rep as rock's chillest bro. "My thing is so un-edgy I think it was kind of threatening to critics at first," he says. "But I didn't kill rock." His sixth LP, cut near his home in Hawaii with longtime producer (and Beastie Boys pal) Mario Caldato Jr., features sweet acoustic tunes that touch on emotional themes from fatherhood (the campfire-ready "Radiate") to marriage (the flamenco­flavored "Never Fade"), plus the biting environmentalist broadside "Ones and Zeroes." "I'm trying to make something along the lines of, like, Gregory Isaacs," adds Johnson. "Something really smooth."

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Avicii, ‘True’ (9/17)

Since becoming one of EDM's major stars with his 2010 Etta James-sampling smash "Levels," Avicii has been playing around 300 shows a year, making a reported $250,000 payday for each. As a result, he had a basically unlimited budget for his debut album, which ranges from rootsy singalongs to pummeling, vocoder-heavy EDM. He sought out some major talent to help: an eclectic crew including Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger; Imagine Dragons; 71-year-old Elvis songwriter Mac Davis; and legendary Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. Says Avicii, "I wanted to collaborate with songwriters who weren't used to electronic music, which was interesting from the start."

Danny Clinch

MGMT, ‘MGMT’ (9/17)

For their follow-up to 2010's experimental, divisive Congratulations, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden went even weirder – immersing themselves in synths, drum machines and Eighties house records. You can hear those influences in the electronic throb pulsing through avant-pop jams like "Your Life Is a Lie" and "Plenty of Girls in the Sea." "We used to think of crazy, improvised experimentation as a fun thing we'd do on the side," says VanWyngarden. "But this time around, we thought we might as well embrace it."

Danny Clinch

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, ‘Take Me to the Land of Hell’ (9/17)

"I didn't want old sounds," says Yoko Ono. "I was concerned with new sounds." On her latest LP, Plastic Ono Band's current lineup – son Sean Lennon, Wilco's Nels Cline, and Cibo Matto's Yuka Honda and Yuko Araki – gets assists from pals like Lenny Kravitz and Beastie Boys Mike D and Adam Horovitz. The highlight? "Little Boy Blue (Your Daddy's Gone)," about missing John Lennon. "Sean and I are always feeling this emptiness," she says. "But he's still with us."

Tamara Weber

Elvis Costello and the Roots, ‘Wise Up Ghost’ (9/17)

"It's a moonlighting album," Questlove says of the Roots' new LP with Costello. The adventurous hip-hop crew and the acerbic singer-songwriter bonded during a series of appearances on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, where the Roots are the house band. They considered doing an album of reimagined Costello classics; instead, they cut a spacious, genre-bending funk set with a political charge. "There's a lot of dub stuff in there," says Costello. "It creates a challenge to make something which can hold your attention for the length of time it takes to tell a story, even though it doesn't progress in a conventional way."

drake

Courtesy OVO Sound

Drake, ‘Nothing Was the Same’ (9/24)

"This album is about growth," says the Toronto MC. "When I play it for people, they ask, 'Who's that rapping?' I'm like, 'That's me.'" The LP also features all-star guests from Jay Z to Lil Wayne, plus superhot producers like Scottish DJ Hudson Mohawke. One highlight? The emotional "Connect." "That one hits you in the heart," says Drake. "It's painful and beautiful at the same time."

Kings of Leon

Dan Winters

Kings of Leon, ‘Mechanical Bull’ (9/24)

"We needed to take a little time off," says Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill of the band's yearlong hiatus. "But we knew it wasn't over." The Kings' new LP ranges from pile-driving rockers like "Don't Matter" to loose, funky cuts like "Rock City" to the U2-ish ballad "Beautiful War." "When we got that down," adds Followill, "we thought, 'Shit, we've got our pop song – now let's go have fun.'"

Joseph Guay

Elton John, ‘The Diving Board’ (9/24)

"Just one more time, for old times' sake, I'd like to go back home again," Elton John sings on "Home Again" – a standout cut from his first solo LP in seven years. The disc, produced by T Bone Burnett (who also helmed his 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell), spotlights John's vocals and piano over little more than bass and drums, the same way he used to record in the earliest days of his career. Another way the album is a throwback: "It was written in five days," says a proud Sir Elton, "and recorded in five days."

Courtesy Interscope

Sting, ‘The Last Ship’ (9/24)

Sting's first disc of original material since 2003 – which he's been working on for three years – is a concept album inspired by his British youth. Much of the music, which takes its cues from theater greats like Rodgers and Hammerstein, will be featured in an upcoming Broadway musical. So why a concept LP in the age of single-track downloads? "It certainly goes against the grain," Sting admits. "But I still feel there is a constituency that wants music to be more than just something consumed and discarded like a coffee or an ice cream."

Fredrik Etoall

Icona Pop, ‘This Is…Icona Pop’ (9/24)

The Swedish duo behind the inescapable pop earworm "I Love It" recorded their new LP between tour dates around the globe. "It's the sluttiest album in the whole world," says Caroline Hjelt. "It's been sleeping in every city and making love to all the different countries." Adds Aino Jawo, "It's influenced by punk, bittersweet melodies and a lot of chaos."

Tom Munro / RCA Records

Justin Timberlake, ‘The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2’ (9/30)

Justin Timberlake cut so many songs for his smash comeback, The 20/20 Experience, that he's releasing a whole other album just six months later. (He once again co-produced it with Timbaland and Texas-based talent Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon.) "The two albums are like seasons," says manager Johnny Wright. He says to expect a "darker" feel from tunes like "You Got It On" and "Not a Bad Thing" – but adds, "Even the midtempo songs have a groove to them."

haim

Bella Lieberberg

HAIM, ‘Days Are Gone’ (9/30)

"Of course we were nervous," says bassist Este Haim of recording the L.A. sister act's debut album. Between opening gigs for Mumford & Sons and Rihanna, the trio hit the studio with producer Ariel Rechtshaid (who has worked with Vampire Weekend and Usher). The resulting LP is packed with rich harmonies – check the Fleetwood Mac-ish single "The Wire," which the band recorded 10 times before finding the right groove. "We love organic and electronic instruments," says Haim. "The amalgamation of the two is what excites us."

pearl jam

Danny Clinch

Pearl Jam, ‘Lightning Bolt’ (10/15)

Pearl Jam were in no rush when they began recording their 10th LP, Lightning Bolt, nearly two years ago. "We cut six or seven songs," says the band's longtime producer Brendan O'Brien. "But they weren't quite ready to finish a record." This year, they finally got down to business, completing a set of supercharged rockers like lead single "Mind Your Manners." "They've really learned over the years," adds O'Brien, who first worked with Pearl Jam on 1993's Vs. "I take each record very personally. I feel like it's my job to help them put out a record where people say, 'Oh, them. I love Pearl Jam! I'd forgotten how much I liked them.' "

The Head and the Heart

Curtis Waye Millard

The Head and the Heart, ‘Let’s Be Still’ (10/15)

Singer-guitarist Jonathan Russell credits the Seattle indie-folk crew's experience on the road with bigger bands for inspiring them to aim high on their second LP. "When you open for My Morning Jacket, it blows your head wide open," says Russell. "Their sonic palette is way more interesting. You're like, 'Oh, right! I'm sick of just strumming my acoustic guitar.'"

Cass Bird

Katy Perry, ‘Prism’ (10/22)

"It's a real carving-out process," Katy Perry says of sessions for her third LP. "I'm always fighting for 'best.'" The pop star is cagey on further details, but lets slip that she's calling from Sweden – which, not so coincidentally, is home to producer Max Martin, who helped make 2010's Teenage Dream a multiplatinum hit. Martin returned to co-write the singer's new single, "Roar," along with Perry, Dr. Luke and Bonnie McKee. "It's a more grown-up Katy," McKee recently said of the disc. "It doesn't sound like the 'California Gurls' of yesterday."

Anton Corbijn

Arcade Fire, ‘Reflektor’ (10/29)

One thing's for sure about the mysterious follow-up to 2010's The Suburbs: The recording process was pretty hectic. The roof collapsed at Arcade Fire's Quebec studio early on; the band later switched to New York's DFA Studios to work with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. On top of that, the band's Régine Chassagne (wife of frontman Win Butler) gave birth to a baby boy in April. Despite the chaotic circumstances, Murphy has described the results as "pretty fucking epic."

Dominique Charriau/WireImage

MIA, ‘Matangi’ (11/5)

After nearly a year of release-date delays, the provocative Sri Lankan artist is finally finished with her latest set of hypercatchy electro-rap jams. Lead singles "Bad Girls" and "Bring the Noize" are wild future-funk anthems; other potential tracks for the new LP range from apocalyptic club grooves ("Universe") to tweaked R&B ballads ("Come Walk With Me," "Sexodus"). "The mood is a bit more playful," says Switch, who produced several tunes. "But there's deep stuff, as well."

lady gaga

Courtesy Interscope

Lady Gaga , ‘ARTPOP’ (11/11)

Expect the unexpected from Lady Gaga's fourth LP. "She does not have to please anyone," says Zedd, the German DJ-producer who worked on several potential tracks. "We do whatever we want, and we don't have to make a song that's three minutes and 30 seconds just to fit the radio." Gaga has been working on the project nonstop – even after a hip injury forced her to cancel tour dates. "She wasn't going to just lay in bed and have a morphine drip and pass out for three months," adds DJ White Shadow, who also contributed to the LP. "She doesn't sit down. She doesn't chill."

John Ricard/Getty Images

Rick Ross, ‘Mastermind’ (Fall 2013)

"Mastermind is my sixth album, and I'm a bigger boss than ever," says Ross. The album comes hot on the heels of the Miami rapper's 2012 LP God Forgives, I Don't, plus a string of street-hit mixtapes, compilations and guest appearances on tracks by everyone from Jay Z to John Legend. How does the Teflon Don plan to top all that? By bringing out some seriously big guns. Ross promises lots of cameos from his Maybach Music Group crew – which includes heavy hitters Wale, Meek Mill and Gunplay, along with R&B star Omarion – plus a track featuring vocals from Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. Beatwise, Ross has been leaning toward lush, soulful sounds: He gave fans a taste of the upcoming album's overall vibe earlier this year with an online trailer accompanied by Curtis Mayfield's classic early-Seventies groove "Give Me Your Love (Love Song)." Adds Ross, "Expect a masterpiece."

miley cyrus

Courtesy RCA

Miley Cyrus, ‘Bangerz’ (10/8)

"Sorry I ain't tweeting much," Miley Cyrus recently tweeted. "Focused on #BANGERZ." Say what? "If you don't know why my record is called BANGERZ, you'll know as soon as you hear it," she added. "Nothin but #BANGERZ." The former Disney star's latest hit, "We Can't Stop," trades in the sugar-rush pop of her past LPs for a booming beat from hot hip-hop producer Mike Will and rap-slang-studded lyrics about partying; other collaborators on the disc include Pharrell, Will.i.am and Future. "This is the first time people have heard my new sound," she recently told RS. "I'm not just trying to make music for teenagers."

Avett Brothers

Danny Clinch

Also Released

Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight . . . (9/3)

Jimmy Webb, Still Within the Sound of My Voice (9/10)

Kaskade, Atmosphere (9/10)

Jonny Lang, Fight for My Soul (9/17)

Willie Nelson, To All the Girls . . . (9/24)

Deer Tick, Negativity (9/24)

CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe (9/24)

Mazzy Star, Seasons of Your Day (9/24)

Pusha T, My Name Is My Name (September)

The Blind Boys of Alabama, I'll Find a Way (10/1)

Amos Lee, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song (10/8)

Cage the Elephant, Melophobia (10/8)

Lee Ranaldo and the Dust, Last Night on Earth (10/8)

Panic! At the Disco, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! (10/8)

Of Montreal, Lousy With Sylvianbriar (10/8)

The Avett Brothers (pictured above), Magpie and the Dandelion (10/15)

White Denim, Corsicana Lemonade (10/29)

James Blunt, Moon Landing (11/5)

R. Kelly Black Panties (11/11)

Chris Brown, (November)

Future, Honest (Fall 2013)

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