During 2020, one thing that has stayed more or less a constant has been the release of new, and often excellent, music.
Of course, to say it’s been a constant is in comparison to the madness of the year — with everything that’s happened, an artist pushing an album back by a few weeks is pretty much par for the course.
But moving into 2021, with a vaccine here and hopefully something close to normality on the horizon, we can look forward to what the album release cycle has in store over the next few months.
There is a lot keep an ear out for (Nubiyan Twist, Cloud Nothings, Tash Sultana, Bicep, SG Lewis, Bicep, Viagra Boys, Rhye and Pale Waves are just a few of the artists with fresh material on the way) but here we’ve picked out 10 highlights that should be right at the top of your to-listen list.
Shame — Drunk Tank Pink (January 15)
The second album from south London four-piece Shame looks set to take them to the next level. Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford is producer — he’s previously worked with the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Haim and Florence + the Machine — in charge of honing the sound of an increasingly adventurous group. Early singles suggest something special could be in the offing, not least the track Snow Day, a huge, darkly majestic piece of shape-shifting post-punk.
Madlib — Sound Ancestor (January, exact date TBC)
One of the most revered producers in the game, American artist Madlib has teamed up with English electronic favourite Four Tet. It’s been a “couple of years in the making”, with Madlib providing “hundreds of pieces of music”, and Four Tet moulding together into a full-length release. An exact date is yet to be confirmed, so keep an eye out.
Arlo Parks — Collapsed In Sunbeams (January 29)
Without question one of the most hyped young artists of 2020 — a shoutout from Billie Eilish certainly didn’t hurt — the west Londoner is kicking off the new year with her long-awaited debut album. Her poetic, deeply felt lyrics on love, mental health and sexuality, delivered via a smooth, modern take on R&B and soul, have already won her a dedicated following. 2021 will surely take things up a notch.
Goat Girl — On All Fours (January 29)
Another south London band set to broaden their sonic horizons in 2021 is Goat Girl, who return with a follow-up to their 2018 debut album. The new era was ushered in by lead single Sad Cowboy, a dark and synthy jaunt, while the second instalment proved that they still know how to make a thumping guitar track. Dan Carey, the man behind the Speedy Wunderground label, is on production duties.
Foo Fighters — Medicine At Midnight (February 5)
The 10th studio release from Dave Grohl and the gang came about in slightly spooky circumstances. The album was recorded in a 1940s California mansion and, according to the band, something wasn’t quite right: guitars would mysteriously detune themselves, studio settings would go inexplicably awry and, after setting up a camera “to see if there was anyone there or anyone was coming to f*** with us,” the band “started to see things on the Nest cam that we couldn’t explain”. That’s all we’ll ever hear of it — the owner of the house was in the process of selling it, and therefore made the band sign a non-disclosure agreement — but what we do have is a suitably kooky first single, Shame Shame.
Slowthai — TYRON (February 5)
Northampton’s Slowthai is no stranger to provocation — from brandishing a fake model of Boris Johnson’s severed head at the Mercury Prize ceremoy, to those notorious outbursts at the NME Awards — but on his upcoming album, he’ll show there’s more than one side to him. Split into two parts, the first half will harness his lairy, crackling energy, while the second will be more introspective. James Blake, Skepta and A$AP Rocky are among the features.
Black Country, New Road — For The First Time (February 5)
This hotly tipped seven-piece haven’t even dropped a full-length release yet, but they’ve already shown a deep hunger for reinvention and expansion, pushing their guitar-based sound in directions that range from post-punk to klezmer. This debut album will feature reworked versions of two previously released tracks, as well as the twitchy, anxiously excellent lead single, Science Fair.
London Grammar — Californian Soil (February 12)
The lyrics on this upcoming third album from the Nottingham trio are inspired by vocalist Hannah Reid’s wrangling with misogyny in the music industry, and how she ended up “gaining possession of my own life”. Back with their first album since 2017, they marked the start of the new era with bouncing ambient-house of Baby It’s You.
Julien Baker — Little Oblivions (February 26)
American artist Julien Baker proved that less can be so much more on her most recent album, 2017’s Turn Out the Lights, a beautiful collection of sparse pianos and guitars. Here, she expands her instrumental breadth with bass, drums, keyboards, banjo and mandolin, paired with her typically honest and piercing lyricism.
Dodie — Build A Problem (March 5)
This is Dodie’s debut album, but the 25-year-old from Epping is certainly established — she sold out the Roundhouse back in 2019, and has been putting music on her hugely popular YouTube channel since 2011. Two tracks on this upcoming release have been cherry-picked from that online trove, but the rest is all new material, building upon her reputation for acoustic, intimate confessionals.