Every year, around the time that the kids go back to school and the barbecues come to an end, the albums start to flood the shelves. Fall never fails to produce high profile albums in droves, and in most cases, many of these albums are among the year’s best. We observed that almost half of our 2004 year-end best album picks were released in the fall, and looking back at 2005, and around 14 or 15 of last year’s were as well. This year proves to make an even bigger impact on our favorites of the year, judging by the artists who have their selections lined up this coming season. We didn’t have time to write about all those who have albums coming out, including The Rapture, Outkast, The Walkmen, Sparta, These Arms Are Snakes, Portastatic, Clinic, Robert Pollard, Micah P. Hison, Califone, Blood Brothers, The Hold Steady, Thunderbirds Are Now!, Kooks, Damien Jurado, Scissor Sisters, Hidden Cameras and Woven Hand. But we did compile many of our picks for our most anticipated albums of the fall.
My Brightest Diamond- Bring Me the Workhorse (Aug. 22; Asthmatic Kitty)
It seemed that after the success of Sufjan Stevens’ state-themed albums, the public was clamoring for everything having to do with the Michigan native. Denison Witmer’s album, which featured Sufjan, garnered more attention that it might otherwise have had it not. Danielson, by their association with Sufjan, also gained a more significant following. Add to that list Shara Worden, now playing solo as My Brightest Diamond. Worden was one of the Illinoisemakers, namely the short and cute guitarist (not to be confused with the statuesque goddess that is Katrina Kerns), who somewhat stole the show with her sultry guitar dancing during the zombie song. Bring Me the Workhorse is Worden’s debut, and she’s taking the show on the road with Sufjan this fall as his opening act. Worden’s work has been mentioned in the same breath as P.J. Harvey, Portishead and Kate Bush. I can’t wait.
Bob Dylan- Modern Times (Aug. 29; Columbia)
It’s been five years since Dylan proved he was still the master with Love & Theft. Now, Dylan is contemplating Modern Times on his latest album release. On his last two outings, Dylan has shown he is more than up to the task of continuing to make timeless classics and there’s little doubt in anyone’s minds that Modern Times will continue the tradition. Reportedly, four of the songs top six minutes in length, with one clocking in at eight minutes, and the closing number timing at over nine. Plus, there will be a version with a DVD that will contain four extra non-album tracks.
The Roots – Game Theory (Aug. 29; Def Jam)
After playing house band for Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, The Roots are re-energized for the release of their sixth album, Game Theory. As its predecessor, The Tipping Point had ambition yet few of the hooks, thought-provoking lyrics or, basically any of the interesting aspects of their prior discs, it should be a treat to hear the group getting back to what they do best, namely smart and groovin’ hip-hop jams. Already causing a stir for being ballsy enough to sample Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army,” it’s a safe bet that this will cause endless discussion and theory on their work. As long as the songs hold up, that’s all that really matters.
Grizzly Bear – Yellow House (Sept. 5; Warp)
Further pushing Warp Records into the blurry realm of pop music and away from strictly electronic acts is Grizzly Bear, one of the UK label’s newest signings. The Brooklyn psych-folk band received attention for their debut Horn of Plenty which was essentially made up of bedroom recordings, albeit quite fantastically written ones. Yet their sophomore release finds them expanding their sound to a wider, full-band approach, with headier atmosphere and fuller sounds.
Junior Boys – So This is Goodbye (Sept. 12; Domino)
This one has already been released in the UK, so those across the pond might already be familiar with its icy cool electronic sounds, but Canadian duo Junior Boys still have a few weeks before they stun American audiences. The follow up to their 2004 breakthrough, Last Exit, So This is Goodbye takes that album’s stutter-stepping new romanticism and morphs it into a dreamy pop excursion with soothing lullabies and synth squelching dance singles. It’s most certainly a recognizable effort from the group, only with its gaze cast toward the future. Expect something quite advanced.
Kasabian- Empire (Sept. 12; RCA)
When I spoke with Leicester natives Kasabian on their last Seattle tour stop, supporting their debut album, the prospect of writing songs for the follow-up was completely foreign. Riding on a tour bus and reveling in their first American jaunt was not entirely conducive to the creative process. Plus, it would be a mere matter of weeks before songs like “Club Foot” and “L.S.F.” would pepper the airwaves as soundtracks to commercials and television shows. Yet even with a few hit songs, album longevity isn’t what it used to be. Back in the day, one could milk an album of singles for two years if the album was good, and Kasabian was fantastic! So, the partying with the Gallagher brothers had to stop for a while. Rather than hole up in a farmhouse like they did with the debut, Kasabian stayed in the city and hammered out a group of tracks that are reportedly Gallagher approved! Empire is one of the most hotly anticipated albums this year in the UK, and anglophiles in the US are on pins and needles as well. One of the most quoted comments about the album comes from singer Tom Meighan, claiming the title track sounds like “Marc Bolan smoking crack with Doctor Who.” Now that’s entertainment!
Justin Timberlake- Future Sex / Love Sounds (Sept. 12; Jive)
While most indie kids will claim that they were dancing to the sounds of the Postal Service, the Rapture and M.I.A., the windows on their iPod would have told a different story. In reality, they were grooving to J.T.’s “Rock Your Body” and loving it. After four long years without new J.T. material, watching from the sidelines as his former flame became a mushroom cloud of bad publicity, he’s bringing “Sexy Back.” The new album, whose title sounds like he’s trying to ape Outkast’s double CD affair, was produced by J.T. himself with a little help from Timbaland and Rick Rubin. The big question will be whether or not he can top the success of Justified, and judging by the strength of the aforementioned first single, he’s got a shot. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the last few years has made it seem as though when he was with Britney he was slumming, with J.T. now looking positively cosmopolitan, and Ms. Spears looking like a long lost `tetched’ cousin of the Beverly Hillbillies.
Xiu Xiu – The Air Force (Sept. 12; 5 Rue Christine)
Xiu Xiu’s The Air Force proves to be one of the most fascinating releases of the Fall, for a variety of reasons. For starters, the title was chosen so that their fans, doing searches for the album on Google, would waste the US Armed Forces’ money by bringing up their ads. Second of all, the song “Hello from Eau Claire” features the first lead vocal performance by Caralee McElroy. Closing track “Wig Master” was meant to be used in a Vincent Gallo film, but after main songwriter Jamie Stewart discovered Gallo was a Republican, he refused to work with the director. And lastly, each and every release by Xiu Xiu is honest, beautiful, harsh, unfiltered and stunning, and this proves to be no exception.
Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Sept. 12; Matador)
I’ll be damned if that isn’t the album title of the year right there. But I digress, Yo La Tengo, after having scored science films and released a record of sloppily played covers by request, return with their follow-up to Summer Sun. Bookended by two ten-minute-plus epics, it’s a grand and eclectic set from one of Jersey’s finest bands. There’s bouncy pop, such as on “Beanbag Chair,” which is currently available for download on Matador’s web site, distorted psych-outs like “The Room Got Heavy,” and sweet piano-centric waltzes like “Sometimes I Don’t Get You.” As with any YLT release, it’s all over the map, but provides a thoroughly strong listen from beginning to end.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy- Then The Letting Go (Sept. 19; Drag City)
What does it take to get a new Bonnie “Prince” Billy album around here? Although Will Oldham has released an album a year over the past four years (sort of), none of them have been true BPB solo recordings. It’s really been since 2003’s Master and Everyone since the great bearded one has released a bona fide solo album. First we were teased with reworkings of old Palace songs. Then we had something close with Superwolf, his collaboration with Matt Sweeney. More recently he teased us again with a live album. Finally we have the real deal and Oldham went all the way to Iceland to bring it to us. Employing the help of Icelandic producer Valgier Sigurdsson, a longtime collaborator of, you guessed it, Björk’s, as well as engineering for Múm, Bonnie Billy has recorded what is sure to be one of his finest, sparest and most contemplative works to date. Of course, people have said that about every Oldham release.
DJ Shadow – The Outsider (Sept. 19; Universal)
DJ Shadow doesn’t release records often, but when he does, it’s worth paying attention. Taking a bit of a turn away from his soundscapes on Endtroducing on The Private Press, Josh Davis gave an indication that we should know better than to make assumptions about his output. On The Outsider, there’s even more reason to believe that the sound of Endtroducing will not be revisited, as guests such as Q-Tip, E-40, David Banner, Keek da Sneak and Christina Carter from ambient rock group Charalambides make appearances. It’s bound to take on both the crunk and the dreamy, leaving little room for assumption, speculation or even expectations. At the very least, we’re curious.
Akron/Family – Meek Warrior (Sept. 26; Young God)
It’s going to be hard to top 2005 for Akron/Family, the Brooklyn art/psych/folk outfit who stunned us all by releasing not one, but two outstanding records. One was, technically, shared space with Michael Gira, a.k.a. The Angels of Light. But all in all, the whole band was playing on two full-length releases, and that’s pretty impressive. Now, they have a seven-track “special” album to deliver, and though its not as numerous in tracks, it’s still the length of an album, thus showing that the band’s penchant for stretching out into lengthy jams doesn’t stop at the venue. Some of the album was recorded in Toronto “with the Do Make Say Think/Broken Social Scene guys,” according to the band. And on top of that, there’s another one in the works after the group returns from touring in the fall. Now that’s dedication!
Emily Haines- Knives Don’t Have Your Back (Sept. 26; Last Gang)
This year BSS will stand for “big stunning solos” rather than Broken Social Scene as both Amy Millan (also of Stars) and Emily Haines (also of Metric) will release their solo debuts. Whereas Millan’s was drenched in alt-country / folk, Haines’ is piano pop balladry that is being compared to the likes of Tori Amos. Difficult topics such as the recent death of her father contribute to the songwriting, making it Haines’ most personal effort to date. But Emily didn’t have to make a go of it completely on her own, members of Metric, Stars, Sparklehorse and Broken Social Scene make appearances.
My Morning Jacket- Okonkos: Double Live Album (Sept. 26; ATO / RCA)
I’m not usually a big fan of live albums, but I’ll make an exception for the extraordinary live power of My Morning Jacket. Jim James and company shake off the beard sweat during this two CD compilation of concert tracks, the first disc featuring some of their newer material off of Z, the second disc mining their past records. So grab a PBR or an IPA and listen to MMJ as presented by ATO and RCA. TTFN!
Sparklehorse – Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Whale (Sept. 26; Astralwerks)
It’s been a while since we heard from Virginian gentleman songwriter Mark Linkous. In fact, it’s been five years. Sparklehorse’s 2001 effort It’s a Wonderful Life is where we left off, and much like that record, Dreamt boasts some notable guests, including Danger Mouse, with whom Linkous partially collaborated on the DangerDoom project, The Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd, the almighty Tom Waits, and that producer who does wonders with dreamy pop albums, Dave Fridmann. They certainly keep good company, now don’t they!
Dears – Gang of Losers (Oct. 3; Arts & Crafts)
With their latest release, Gang of Losers, Montreal’s Dears have joined the well-respected, admired and just plain cool Arts & Crafts family. And with this shift comes a promise of new directions in sound for the band. The band has said that instead of the orchestral, lush sound that marked their previous albums, Gang of Losers will consist mainly of “stripped down” rockers, as they hone in on more of a visceral live sound. Though their big, cinematic approach was what made their previous album, No Cities Left such a stunning masterpiece, this writer has confidence in their ability to make a successful transition.
The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (Oct. 3; Capitol)
The major label debut for Portland’s favorite storytellers proves to be an ambitious affair, containing a 12-minute song, “The Island,” placed, peculiarly, at track two. If that’s not ambitious enough for you, there is also the eleven-minute “The Crane Wife parts 1 and 2,” near the end of the album. However, there also promises to be a fair share of accessible and whimsical pop, and Colin Meloy’s ever-present Morrissey-isms. Fellow singer-songwriter Laura Veirs also adds her talents to the album, singing on one track. Like previous album Picaresque, the album was produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla. No word on a first single, but if any of them have the appeal of previous gems like “16 Military Wives” or “Billy Liar,” we’ll have our toes tapping for the rest of the season.
The Killers- Sam’s Town (Oct. 3; Island)
Oh, don’t act like you didn’t like the Killers. The people who adamantly and ferociously attack the Killers for no other reason than their popularity with high school girls annoy me more than the high school girls themselves. Hate the game, not the player, and all that. Be sure to expect more retrograde summer fun (though its being released in the fall) from the Las Vegas foursome, this time around steered by pop producer masterminds Flood and Alan Moulder.
Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3- Olé! Tarantula (Oct. 3, Yep Roc)
Well, the Egyptians might have been entombed, but now British folkster Robyn Hitchcock has a new band! And just who are the Venus 3? Here’s a hint: they’re down with Wilco. Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin of R.E.M. and the Minus 5 fame are backing up Hitchcock on his latest release, sure to be as entertaining and accomplished as music from the rest of his storied career. Hitchcock calls it the rockingest album of his career, claiming that the band sounds like a garage band when it plays live. He also describes the album as “sadness cloaked in fun. But under that sadness, more fun.” Besides his already stellar backing gents, the new project also features members of Hitch’s former band, the Soft Boys, a member of the Faces, Sean Nelson from Harvey Danger and Chris Ballew of the Presidents. Jeez, sounds like everyone in Seattle was invited to play on this thing but me!
Chin Up Chin Up- This Harness Can’t Ride Anything (Oct. 10; Suicide Squeeze)
This Chicago band will probably have more stories written about their personal tragedy than their music, but the strength of Harness just might change all that. They started creating a buzz with their self-titled EP, earning supporting slots for the likes of Broken Social Scene, Pinback, Smog, Pedro the Lion and the Appleseed Cast before their bass player was killed by a hit and run driver after a gig. For a long time, the band didn’t even think about making music again, but eventually got back on the horse to complete songs for their sophomore album. Plus, with a producer like Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine) on board, how can they lose?
Jeremy Enigk- World Waits (Oct. 17; Sony / BMG)
While the world was reveling in grunge, clad in flannel and growing greasy hair, Jeremy Enigk was busy godfathering what is now known as emo in Sunny Day Real Estate. His cultish following with that band, plus side project the Fire Theft, is enough to maintain consistent record sales for future projects, but since Enigk is always changing things up, new fans flock all the time. For me, it was Enigk’s powerful songs that made up the soundtrack to the film, The United States of Leland. His powerful voice and subtle guitars drew me in, making me almost pay more attention to the music and lyrics than to the images in the film. If his new album is anything like the music he wrote for Leland, he’s sure to find a fan in this humble critic.
America- Here and Now (Oct. 17; Sony / BMG)
Are you reading that correctly? Does that say America? As in 70’s soft rock radio mainstays America? As in “I rode through the desert on a horse with no name” America? That’s right. So why are they here on this fall previews list? Not only is America back, they’re back with an indie rock backbone. Here and Now marks the triumphant return for the band as produced by the Fountains of Wayne and Ivy’s Adam Schlesinger, and Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha. Aside from those superstars helming the project, you can expect guest appearances from Ryan Adams, Jim James and Patrick Hallahan from My Morning Jacket, and Matthew Caws and Ira Elliott from Nada Surf. The double album will please fans both old and new as the first disc will be made up of the new material with the above mentioned guests, and the second disc will be a collection of their greatest hits as rerecorded for XM radio. It should at least be interesting, that is, unless you firmly believe in my friend’s theory that every band named after a location (America, Boston, Chicago, Asia, etc.) truly bites.
Bright Eyes- Noise Floor (Oct. 24; Saddle Creek)
Not that Conor Oberst hasn’t flooded the market already, but his fans are so rabid that 2007 seemed much too far away for another Bright Eyes release. So, like a rodeo clown drawing the attention of the dangerous bull away from the unseated rider, there is Noise Floor, a collection of rarities that only the most die-hard fan would have already collected. The songs are mostly culled from various rare 7-inch singles and compilations from 2000 to the present, twenty-one tracks in all, and sure to please the morose loner in all of us. This is the type of release aimed directly at me, the kind of record buyer who loves buying albums, but won’t go out of their way to plunk down major bucks on import singles or a new record player so I can start collecting 7-inches again.
Curtains – Calamity (Oct. 24; Asthmatic Kitty)
Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty label just keeps on expanding, in October seeing the release of the debut by Curtains, the new band formed by Chris Cohen, formerly of Deerhoof. His right hand lady on the project is Bay Area singer/songwriter Nedelle Torrisi (a.k.a. Nedelle), and live, the band expands to a five-piece. On Calamity, one can expect shades of Cohen’s art-rock past, as well as some dreamy balladry and moments of garage fervor. Considering the combined resumes going into this one, it’s sure to be an adventurous set.
Swan Lake – Beast Moans (Nov. 21; Jagjaguwar)
When you take three of the quirkiest sounding Canadian singers with some of the strongest track records in indie rock and put them all together, what do you get? Swan Lake is what, a “supergroup” of sorts, consisting of Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade, Dan Bejar of Destroyer, and Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes. Judging by the subdued, yet haunting preview track, “All Fires,” this project may actually prove to be a powerful combination of ingenious songwriters, rather than three frontmen all fighting for their chance to take the lead.