This year has already seen a staggering amount of high-profile album releases, from Beyoncé's weighty Lemonade and Frank Ocean's ethereal Blonde to Kanye West's shapeshifting The Life of Pablo and Drake's chart-dominating Views. But the pace won't be slowing anytime soon. The fall schedule is packed with even more blockbusters, including the latest from Beck, Metallica, Alicia Keys, Kings of Leon and Green Day. Read on for the full rundown of everything you need to hear this season.
When he hit the road behind 2014's Grammy-winning Morning Phase, Beck started noticing a lot of younger faces in the crowd. "It felt like starting over," he says. That encouragement, along with listening to the music of Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, inspired Beck to return to the beat-driven sound of his classic albums like Odelay and Midnite Vultures. He teamed up with his former bandmate Greg Kurstin (who's worked with Adele and Tegan and Sara), shaping songs with big hooks and hazy harmonies, including "Seventh Heaven" and "Wow." "We'd go off on a Talking Heads kick, and then we'd come back six months later listening to something else," says Beck. "The record started to find an identity. My constant overriding thing was to find that affirming feeling – energy and joy."
After two years singing standards with Tony Bennett, Gaga has been quietly working with artists like Elton John, Nile Rodgers, Tame Impala's Kevin Parker and RedOne on her fifth LP, which her producer BloodPop calls "soul-rooted, [but] pop at heart." He describes writing its upcoming single "Perfect Illusion" – "a big rock song that makes you want to dance" – with Gaga, Mark Ronson and Parker in Malibu: "They started at noon and wrote into the night. Every few days, a lyric would change and it would get better and better."
Drummer Nathan Followill admits the Kings overthought 2013's Mechanical Bull: "We had a shitty time trying to chase a hit." For Walls, they headed to L.A., bringing in producer Markus Dravs (Florence and the Machine), and aimed for a no-pressure vibe. Arena-pounders such as "Find Me" now share space with moodier tracks like "Muchacho." And unlike the old days, there were no studio brawls. "We're getting too old," Followill says. "We're out of the physical game."
Metallica played their 1983 debut, Kill 'Em All, in its entirety at 2013's Orion Festival, which drummer Lars Ulrich points to as the genesis of the "punky" sound of their first album since 2008's Death Magnetic. The double LP is the result of more than 1,500 ideas the band narrowed down at its California studio over the past year and a half. Thrashers include "Murder One" and "Now That We're Dead." "There's a lot of dark stuff about relationships," says Ulrich. "Not just with other people, but the hidden personalities within."
"Most people don't say, 'Hey, we're having a fucking party – let's put on a Ryan Adams album!'" admits the singer. Adams wanted to change that. Drawing from his Eighties heroes – from AC/DC to Jefferson Starship – he recorded more than 60 songs, playing every instrument except drums. Many of the lyrics address a broken relationship – possibly his recent divorce from Mandy Moore. "It's about the big questions of somebody my age who's been through the things I've been through," he says. "But I didn't feel I needed to make something that was dark and heavy."
On their 11th album, the most politically charged collection of their career, the Athens-based band offers a dose of angry, punk-fueled protest. "A lot of our records are set in another period of time, whereas this record is really about the 'right now,'" says frontman Patterson Hood, who's lately been inspired by Black Lives Matter–era statements like Beyoncé's Lemonade and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. With songs that address gun violence and racially motivated police shootings, American Band is a fitting soundtrack for this fall's dystopian election cycle. The Truckers revisit themes involving Southern identity first addressed on their 2001 breakthrough Southern Rock Opera, but "What It Means," which ponders the shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, has already aroused controversy. "Me and [co-lead-singer] Mike Cooley have been pissing people off for 31 years," says Hood. "If someone wants to control what we say or do, fuck 'em.
After spending decades writing all her own material, Melissa Etheridge headed to Memphis to delve into her musical roots on her 14th album. Recorded with a group of legendary local musicians, Memphis Rock and Soul is a collection of Stax covers that includes both Otis Redding hits and underrated gems by veteran songwriter William Bell. "When I heard 'Any Other Way,' I went, 'Oh, my God, every Bruce Springsteen song can thank William Bell,'" says Etheridge, who tends to perform the 60's Southern R&B tracks in slowed-down, rock-leaning arrangements. One of the more inspired performances is the reworking of the Staples Singers' "Respect Yourself," which uses the song's original backing track and includes new lyrics written with singer-songwriter Priscilla Renea that update the civil-rights anthem for "a more modern ear." "Memphis is this bridge between rock and roll, r&b, gospel and country music," says Etheridge. "It all comes from the same wellspring."
Jones has ventured into upbeat indie rock and country on recent LPs, but playing a 2014 concert celebrating her label, Blue Note, led her back to the piano-based jazz that won her eight Grammys in 2003. A band, including sax legend Wayne Shorter, backs her on several slow-burning originals, in which she says "melodies float over the top." (She also covers Duke Ellington and Neil Young.) "I'm sure people who dropped off after the first record would relate to this more," she says. "But that's not why I made it."
After finishing up touring for 2013's Damage, Jimmy Eat World decided to shake things up. For the first time in 20 years, the band took a full year off, and when they began work on Integrity Blues last fall, they reconvened at a new studio with a new producer, eager to "push themselves away from their zone of comfort," as lead singer Jim Adkins puts it. "The record is about becoming willing to accept that the best any of us have at any given time is to just be in a state of progress," says Adkins. The album's 11 originals include a tasteful mix of tender balladry and heavy shredding, but talk of fresh beginnings aside, "It's still a guitar-based melodic rock album," says Adkins. "Deep down inside we're all eighth-graders who love metal."
For her first solo album since 1999, Alison Krauss compiled an assortment of roots standards she'd grown up listening to. "I said, 'I'd love to sing songs that are older than I am,'" says Krauss, who recorded stately renditions of songs by artists like Willie Nelson, Brenda Lee and the Osborne Brothers with a group of Nashville session pros that included members of her band Union Station. "There's a real romance in other people's stories."
The fourth album from Danny Brown, the wry Detroit rapper with the swagger of a post-punker, sounds like a return to the noise-flecked, sample-crazed delirium of his 2011 breakthrough XXX – the MC says he spent $70,000 clearing plundered music. "A lot of people cheap. And that's why their music sounds cheap," says Brown, whose album took inspiration from Raekwon, early Björk, Joy Division, Talking Heads and System of a Down's Toxicity. "I wanna make timeless stuff, so you're gonna have to spend a couple dollars. You could have Rolex or you can have a Swatch."
Last fall, Oberst says, he "crashed and burned." In the middle of a tour, he ended up in the hospital for anxiety, exhaustion and laryngitis, and returned home to Omaha, Nebraska, to rest. "Out of the blue, songs started to arrive," Oberst says. The result is a spare, emotional set recorded in just two days, with Oberst accompanying himself on piano, guitar and harmonica. "There was nothing to hide behind," he says. "The songs are forced to stand on their own."
Sum 41 singer Deryck Whibley almost died from alcoholism. When he got out of the hospital in 2014, he had so much nerve damage that he lost his ability to play the guitar. "I knew what I was supposed to do but I couldn't quite make my fingers make the chords," he says. After two months of playing every day, Whibley went to his home studio and started working on 13 Voices, Sum 41's first album in five years. "I didn't even know if I could write songs anymore. I could barely play guitar and I was in this very terrified state," Whibley says. "I started playing movies like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands with no sound and writing guitar riffs to all these images. I was calling it 'hard-score punk.'"
For the past two years, Keys has been working with her husband Swizz Beatz and two other collaborators (calling themselves the Illuminaries) to create a body of work that pushed her beyond her comfort zone. "I found myself in a place where I was finally able and ready to be the bravest I've ever been musically," Keys says. "It's for sure the best music I've done." Her follow-up to 2012's Girl on Fire will have a political edge, inspired by Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and a world that's "lost its mind," she says. "I think we're going to have a lot of dialogue about the issues," adds Keys. "It's really, really dope."
A few years ago, Spektor – who became the gritty piano-ballad queen of the Lower East Side during the early 2000s – decided to take some time off to become a mom. "For a minute, I didn't want to do anything else," she says. "But then the feeling came back, and I could hear what it sounded like." That includes big orchestral arrangements, which take avant-pop anthems like "Obsolete" over the top. "They were written during a lot of new emotions," says Spektor. "And lots of sleep deprivation."
Tinashe's Joyride has taken several detours since it was announced in 2015. After a January release date was delayed, the singer, songwriter and dancer ended up taking some time off from a spring tour to complete the highly anticipated project. "Looking back on it now, delaying the release inspired me to create stronger material," she says of the new songs, which include the bubbly throwback jam "Superlove." "The delay was really more about creating new material and adding to the project," she reveals. "The adventure — the highs, lows, setbacks and triumphs — most influenced me during the process of creating this album. Joyride is about embracing the crazy journey life throws at you."
After writing alongside Max Martin as part of his Wolf Cousins songwriting team, Tove Lo broke through as the darkly mysterious voice behind 2014's moody pop banger "Habits (Stay High)." Now, the Swedish singer is looking to take her career over the top with her second album, some of which she wrote in Nicaragua while obsessed with "minimal techno." The result is a concept LP that tackles heartbreak and deals with deep identity issues: "There's me and my relationship to my self-destructive side," she says. "I've created a character who represents that side of me but who is also my worst nightmare."
Following up her trippy, hypnotic debut Goddess, alternative R&B star Banks has prepared the bewitching, intoxicating new album The Altar. Led by singles "Fuck With Myself" and "Gemini Feed," the album documents themes in her own life ranging from self-empowerment to sisterhood. "The Altar is full of my heart," she reveals.
Eighteen-year-old Mendes became a teen idol by posting covers of Taylor Swift and One Direction on Vine. Now, after scoring a hit with 2015's strummy "Stitches," he's aiming to become a pop star as big as the acts he used to cover. Throughout recording his second album, Mendes bounced ideas off his hero John Mayer, who influenced the breakup ballad "Three Empty Words" and even gave Mendes the guitar he plays on the bluesy crooner "Ruin." "John inspired the album more than anybody," Mendes said.
While 2015's Grammy-winning Dale was Pitbull's Spanish-language salute to the Caribbean, Climate Change is a rollicking thesis on anglophone pop, bolstered by a multi-generational cast of all-stars, from Joe Perry to J. Lo. Recorded "on the run, around the world, in hotels, boats, et cetera," Mr. Worldwide's latest samples the hottest sounds in contemporary radio with ample nods to the Eighties: Kiesza rocks her best Pat Benetar impression on the title track, while Enrique Iglesias coyly pays respects to REO Speedwagon in "Messin' Around."
Weir hasn't released a true solo album since 1978, but jamming with the National (who recently released an extensive Grateful Dead tribute album) at Weir's TRI Studios made him want to give his solo career another shot. Members of the National back him on Blue Mountain, which revisits his obsession with cowboys (evident in classics like "Mexicali Blues"). Highlights on the album, co-written with Josh Ritter, include "Ki-Yi Bossie," a campfire singalong with Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Weir, 68, impressed the younger musicians with his energy, especially when he brought a sledgehammer to the studio to lift between takes. Says the National's Scott Devendorf, "He was showing us how to work out!"
Before forming the E Street Band, Springsteen ruled Jersey bars with the Castiles, Steel Mill and the Bruce Springsteen Band. Five never-released songs by those bands will appear on the "audio companion" to Springsteen's upcoming memoir, Born to Run. The highlight: the Castiles' "Baby I," a jangly garage-rock kiss-off howled by a 16-year-old Springsteen, who was already showing he had wit to spare ("I got someone new/Someone better than you," he shouts). The set also includes 13 other songs, from a 1972 demo of "Growin' Up" to 2012's "Wrecking Ball."
Four years after Green Day's wildly ambitious ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! album trilogy, the pop-punk superstars have scaled things back with a 12-song collection that spotlights a nation in turmoil. Lead single "Bang Bang" is written from the perspective of a mass shooter, while the title track was inspired by Black Lives Matters protest marches. The album wraps up with the gentle "Ordinary World." "After all of the chaos that's on the album, whether it's pop culture or whatever new apps we're using, everything gets so complicated and at some point you want something simple," says Armstrong. "That's sort of what 'Ordinary World' is about."