lthough brighter days are on the horizon, the timeline for when musicians can safely resume touring is still hazy. The situation has forced many artists to stay productive by focusing on studio projects, with many being released in the early part of the year. From indie upstarts to established legends, here’s a look at 10 new albums coming by spring.
Fruit Bats leader Eric D. Johnson has been on a hot streak lately. In 2019, he hit a creative peak with his main band’s soulful album Gold Past Life, and last year, he debuted Bonny Light Horseman, a new side project with fellow folk innovators Anaïs Mitchell and Josh Kaufman that earned two Grammy nominations. Not slowing his pace, Johnson is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Fruit Bats by releasing the band’s eighth overall studio album, The Pet Parade, in March. Johnson brought Kaufman onboard to produce the album, and although it was made during quarantine with supporting players adding their parts remotely, it doesn’t sound like an isolated effort. Lead single “Holy Rose” is a powerful pop-rock song with orchestral sonic textures.
Same Spark: In February, Brooklyn upstart trio Wild Pink will release its anticipated next album, A Billion Little Lights. The effort blends earthy roots songcraft with indie inventiveness that will please fans of The War on Drugs.
The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady is back with more heavy riffs and vivid tales on its eighth studio album, Open Door Policy. Frontman Craig Finn’s narrative lyrics still dig into the dark side of the party, but with keyboardist Franz Nicolay permanently back in the mix, the band’s tight rock arrangements provide anthemic swells of cathartic redemption. “Open Door Policy was very much approached as an album vs. a collection of individual songs, and it feels like our most musically expansive record,” Finn says of the new album, which was released on February 19.
Same Spark: Another stalwart rock act with a loyal following, roots heroes Lucero made its new album When You Found Me at the famed Sam Phillips Recording studio in the band’s hometown of Memphis.
The great news first: Willie Nelson, 87, has been vaccinated. Now the good news: the country legend is releasing his 71st album this year. That’s Life is Nelson’s second collection of Frank Sinatra covers, following 2018’s My Way. Nelson has said that Sinatra had a big influence on his singing style, and he made part of his latest tribute to the late crooner at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios, where Sinatra recorded many of his beloved standards. The songs of Ol’ Blue Eyes sound relaxed and comforting through the mellow voice of the Red Headed Stranger, especially the well-known title track and the breezy “Cottage for Sale.” It’s a record perfect for chilling out during our remaining days of hunkering down at home.
Same Spark: Singer-songwriter Pete Yorn also went the covers route on his new LP, Pete Yorn Sings the Classics, a Bandcamp exclusive release that features takes on the Pixies, Bob Dylan, and The Beach Boys.
Julien Baker is known for her confessional indie rock songs usually delivered with sparse guitar arrangements and disarming vocal crescendos. Following a long touring cycle supporting her acclaimed 2017 album Turn Out the Lights, she took a break from music to finish college and reassess her priorities. When she returned to the studio to record Little Oblivions, Baker’s vision expanded, and new tracks like the standout “Hardline” feature crashing drums and emotive keyboard layers. The full sound adds new depth to her unflinching lyrical revelations.
Same Spark: Danielle Durack offers similar intimately intense songcraft on her new album No Place.
Valerie June’s breakout album, 2017’s The Order of Time, was a roots-driven project, with tracks featuring the singer-songwriter’s alluring voice placed among primitive banjo tunes and jangly blues cuts. The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers—the much-awaited follow-up made with producer Jack Splash (Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keys)—finds June honing her stylistic leanings into celestial R&B that fits the record’s searching themes. The album’s opening three-song sequence, “Stay” / “Meditation” / “You and I,” is a sublime astral-soul suite that contemplates relationship dynamics.
“With this record, it finally became clear why I have this dream of making music,” June said in a statement previewing the new album. “It’s not for earthly reasons of wanting to be awarded or to win anybody’s love—it’s because dreaming keeps me inquisitive and keeps me on that path of learning what I have to share with the world.”
Same Spark: Lake Street Dive went into the studio with Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Fiona Apple), who helped shape the band’s next set of retro-minded soul-rock tunes. Obviously will be out March 12.