Spring Music Preview 2014: 27 Must-Hear Albums - Rolling Stone
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Spring Music Preview 2014: 27 Must-Hear Albums

The season’s hottest albums – from U2’s big return to Miranda Lambert’s country-pop blowout

The cold is slowly, gradually starting to subside, the leaves will soon be budding on the trees and the album release schedule is heating up. Yep, spring is on its way. The season is shaping up to be a good one, as it'll bring new albums by rock and R&B superstars, avant-garde favorites, Internet sensations and indie heroes. These are the 27 we're most excited to hear. 

Contributors: Mike Ayers, Patrick Doyle, Cady Drell, David Fricke, Andy Greene, Kory Grow, Brian Hiatt, David Marchese, Nick Murray, Matthew Trammell and Christopher R. Weingarten

Josh Olins

Lykke Li, ‘I Never Learn’ (May 6th)

Swedish indie-pop singer Lykke Li calls the tracks on I Never Learn, her third record, "power ballads for the broken." "I want to be my generation's guilty pleasure," she tells Rolling Stone. "I want to be the last song that plays at the disco for the outcasts." If the soundtrack to the preview video she released for the album is any indication, the record won't be so much a guilty pleasure as a proudly bittersweet chronicle of heartbreak. According to Li, austerity was her secret weapon this time around. "I've been really inspired by the great classics, the way one simple sentence can transcend generations," she says. "Songs like [Ben E. King and the Drifters'] 'Save the Last Dance for Me' or even Foreigner's 'I Want to Know What Love Is.' The whole record is me trying to live up to those types of songs; feelings and themes that we have all been through and can recognize." In the process of making songs meant to be timeless, Li says she obsessed over details and "almost lost [her] mind." 

Ray Lamontagne

Courtesy RCA Records

Ray LaMontagne, ‘Supernova’ (May 6th)

Ray LaMontagne played his biggest shows ever supporting 2010's funky, Grammy-winning God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise, but the singer was so depressed he considered quitting music. "I was in a bad place," he says. "I only knew how to use one form of fuel, which is, 'Nobody likes me." Coming to that realization led to a songwriting breakthrough, which in turn emboldended LaMontagne to send the demos that would become Supernova to Dan Auerbach, who wound up producing the album. The latter's stamp is on plenty of the expansive, jam-ready arrangements. There are spooky backup choruses, organs and swampy riffs on "Drive in Movies," which features a Sixties Brit-pop melody. But Supernova's highlight is "Pick Up a Gun," a psychedelic acoustic heartbreak waltz with four key changes. "The melody just kept shifting," LaMontagne explains. "I hope it stirs something up. There was a playfulness to the songs, they were just really fun to write. That's different for me."

Little Dragon

Courtesy Peacefrog

Little Dragon, ‘Nabuma Rubberband’ (May 13th)

Three unexpected influences on Nabuma Rubberband, the fourth album from the Swedish trip-hop quartet Little Dragon: Janet Jackson slow jams, the surprisingly great sound of a hundred-dollar children's drum kit and the way building a new studio forced the group to reinvent their working methods. (The band did the physical labor themselves, including installing soundproofing – part of why the sessions took eighteen months.) And the title, which marries a common Ugandan girls' first name with everyone's favorite office supply? "It means a lot of things," says drummer Erik Boden. "It feels free and hypermodern, and it's feminine and weird." Just like the album.


Courtesy Young God Records

Swans, ‘To Be Kind’ (May 13th)

Long-running avant-rock bludgeoneers Swans completed their 13th studio album, To Be Kind, by working 12 to 14-hour days in a studio just outside El Paso, Texas. "The music, it just has to be right, so I don't give up," frontman Michael Gira says about his grueling schedule. "It's fear of failure." Like the group's Homeric last album, 2012's The Seer, To Be Kind will punish and reward listeners for more than two hours. But Gira says there will be the occasional respite. "Some songs are quite melodic," Gira says, "and the emotions are not so severe." To help lighten the load and the mood, Gira enlisted some guest singers for the album, including St. Vincent's Annie Clark ("a very nice person, I might add") and cabaret singer Little Annie. The latter sings on a lighter track called "Some Things We Do," which sports orchestral strings. Gira says the aforementioned song is literally "a list of things that human beings do" but stops short when asked what his mood was when writing it. In typical Gira fashion, he only admits to having, "wild and unpredictable mood shifts."

Anton Corbijn

Coldplay, ‘Ghost Stories’ (May 19th)

After their high-concept work on 2011's Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay appear to going back to swooning basics on the upcoming Ghost Stories. Drummer Will Champion told the BBC that "there's only so far you can go without becoming pompous and a bit overblown, so we’ll tread that line very carefully. Reset. Recalibrate." Accordingly, the single "Magic" harks back to the keening and straightforward grandeur of past hits like "Clocks," while "Midnight" has a sparse, almost Bon Iver-esque feel. 

Butch Hogan

Conor Oberst, ‘Upside Down Mountain’ (May 20th)

After a prolific decade in which he wrote records everywhere from a Florida psychic colony to a Mexican village, Bright Eyes leader Oberst recently got married and settled in New York's East Village. Produced by Jonathan Wilson (Jackson Browne), this new solo LP is full of songs about growing up and staying off the road, with Oberst's sweeping folk-rock melodies augmented by Wilson's jammy lead guitar and harmonies from Swedish sisters First Aid Kit. "A lot of the words on this record are about getting older and being at peace, living the real shit," says Oberst, 33. "Eventually, the circus leaves town."

Sam Smith

Courtesy Capitol Records

Sam Smith, ‘In the Lonely Hour,’ (June 17th)

Smith, 21, has been having a breakout run. The Londoner sang on Disclosure's U.K. hit "Latch," topped the U.K. charts with "La La La" and even got Twitter love from Adele. Smith goes all in on somber elegance on his debut, mixing dance beats with elements of gospel, soul, classic pop and even country. Five songs were Adele-ishly inspired by Smith's unrequited love for one person. "But there's songs about other things – like one-night stands," he says. "I deal with all the different aspects of loneliness."


Courtesy Bleachers

Bleachers, Title TBD (Late Spring)

As fun. toured the world off 2012's hit Some Nights, guitarist Jack Antonoff spent his downtime recording music for his new project, Bleachers. "I wanted to bridge the gap between Disclosure and Arcade Fire," he says. "It's extremely over the top and extremely epic." Antonoff worked with producers John Hill (MIA, Jay Z) and Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yaz, Erasure) for bombastic synth-heavy singalongs, like "I Wanna Get Better," where he mines the scars of his past, from a damaging acid trip to losing his sister 10 years ago. "The record is all about finding a world where you can be kind to yourself."


Courtesy Epic Records

Future, ‘Honest’ (Spring TBD)

"Everybody thought it was going to be pop," says hip-hop's reigning hook master Future, who has robo-crooned with everyone from Miley Cyrus to Justin Bieber. "But we're gonna go so hood and so underground on 'em." Indeed, Honest, possibly the year's most anticipated rap release, will have the hard-edged, tear-the-club-up feel of recent tracks like "Sh!t": "T-Shirt" is an impassioned shout over slow-mo EDM, and elsewhere, Wiz Khalifa raps over a collision of Wagner and Miami bass. "It's gonna shock the world," Future says. 

Miranda Lambert

Randee St Nicholas

Miranda Lambert, Title TBD (Late Spring)

"This is the most stressed I've been about any record," says Lambert. "Everyone's like, 'You're one of the queens, you got it made.' Yeah, but I want to stay here!" The country star went all out for her fifth LP. It's her most diverse album yet, bouncing from hook-packed, Taylor Swiftian pop (the blond-ambition anthem "Platinum") to heartfelt moments like "Priscilla" (as in Presley), a rollicking tune about having to share your husband with the world. "Insecurity and tabloids are all addressed in this album," says Lambert, who's married to The Voice star Blake Shelton. "I've never hidden anything. I'm just a little bit more high-profile now." She also made her rootsiest track ever with "All That's Left for You to Do Is Leave," a bluegrass song she first heard on SiriusXM while driving home from her fifth Beyoncé concert. "My husband had the idea to do the song Western- swing-style," she says. "I hate it when he's right."


NPG Records

Prince, ‘Plectrumelectrum,’ (Spring TBD)

"No one can play like this band," says Prince. "People are going to try, but they won't be able to." The band in question is 3rd Eye Girl, a chops-heavy, all-female hard-rock trio who've been holed up with Prince at Paisley Park, recording one of his rawest, heaviest albums. "All played live, no punch-ins," Prince says. "You do it till you get the take you like." It's a true collaboration, with the band writing songs and Bonham-esque drummer Hannah "Ford" Welton offering delicate vocals that Prince compares to Wendy and Lisa's. Styles range from fusion-y funk rock to the ballad "Whitecaps," a reminder of how Prince-ly TLC's "Waterfalls" was.


Courtesy Mercury Records

U2, Title TBD (Spring TBD)

This is the current state of U2's new album, under construction with producer Danger Mouse since 2010: There are "about 30 songs we're really excited about, in various states of being finished," says guitarist the Edge. Of those tracks, "six or seven" are "mixed and ready to go." And there is a thematic connection. The first song issued from the sessions, the pneumatic electronica of "Invisible," started as a "Ramones-like" demo, the Edge says, adding that much of the album is rooted in the mid- and late-Seventies music that influenced U2 as they were starting in Ireland. "That's a rich period, one we've visited many times in the past," he notes. "But it's a very Dublin-centric record lyrically." U2 have not chosen an album title – "We have a few," the Edge says – and there is no release date yet. "But we're getting there," he promises. "We're not, as we say in Ireland, up our own arse. But we do not want to let go of anything if we are not 100 percent happy with it." 

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