As difficult as it is to believe, it's time once again to start taking a look at the numerous albums being released this quarter.

Putting these lists together is never an easy task, because, just when you think you've finalized what you feel is a pretty accurate summary of the most noteworthy releases coming out, you almost always find yourself feeling torn over having to leave out a few essentials that you simply don't have any room for. Which means that someone's favorite artist or band is inevitably going to be left out, or at the very least, be relegated to "Honorable Mention" status.

In the end, no one is ever completely satisfied, including yours truly, and making the task especially difficult is the fact that 2015 ended on an especially high note in terms music releases and, from the looks of things, 2016 is picking up right where 2015 left off. Keep in mind this list only reflects first quarter music releases alone and there are still plenty more to look forward to. Enjoy.


David Bowie - ★ (Blackstar) (January 8th, Columbia)

For a while it seemed like David Bowie's long and colorful career had come to an unceremonious end. Following a backstage collapse during his 2004 A Reality Tour and subsequent emergency heart surgery for an acutely blocked coronary artery, he remained mostly out of sight for the rest of the decade with the exception of making one-off appearances on stage and in the studio, and released no new music during that time. So it was surprising to say the least when he reappeared almost out of nowhere in 2013 with his first new studio album in a decade, The Next Day. It was a much welcome return that found Bowie consolidating various strains of his career and reshaping them into something contemporary sounding.

The experience must have sparked a creative resurgence though, because the stunning lead single (and title track) from his forthcoming album Blackstar, is the most ambitious song Bowie has written in two decades, and it pretty much makes anything from The Next Day feel almost mannered by comparison. Inspired by everything from jazz and Boards of Canada to Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips, Blackstar is poised to be one of the most experimental and inventive albums Bowie has released since his sadly undervalued Outside/Earthling period.


Hinds - Leave Me Alone (January 8th, Mom & Pop/Lucky Number)

Hinds are one of those rare young bands who capture the essence and attitude of punk through their music while thankfully sidestepping slavish revivalism in the process. If you take a good look at the cover art for their forthcoming debut Leave Me Alone, it paints a pretty accurate picture of what to expect: Four young women who almost sound as if they are drunkenly bashing out crude rock tunes with a bratty disposition for the sheer joy of it. The music the Madrid four-piece makes is a mix of shambolic three-chord garage, twangy surf, and bubblegum harmonies played with a kind of brash sincerity that helps make the arrival of Leave Me Alone something worth being excited about.


Savages - Adore Life (January 22nd, Matador)

I was fortunate enough to witness Savages' Los Angeles debut back in April of 2013, just a month before the release of their explosive debut album Silence Yourself. Despite technical issues plaguing their set, they still managed to deliver one of the most intense performances I had witnessed from a rock band in some time. (Drummer Fay Milton's hands were bleeding a mere three songs in from pounding her kit so ferociously.)

Later on this month, Savages are releasing their sophomore album Adore Life, and have made it clear that it will contain their "loudest songs ever". Album singles 'The Answer' and 'T.I.W.Y.G' are both pretty loud, but they also mark a noticeable shift from the post-punk of their debut toward a heavier and more turbulent sound that also taps into a newfound sense of aggressiveness. These might also be some of the most vulnerable songs the band have written as they essentially play out as love songs, but without all of the sappy greeting card clichés. For a band that arrived with such a fully formed sound and vision, it's almost exhilarating to see Savages confidently sidestepping the whole sophomore slump and continue to evolve and push their music well beyond its comfort limits.


Chairlift - Moth (January 22nd, Columbia)

Four years is a bit of a stretch between releases for a group these days (in the digital age, even a couple of years alone can seem like an eternity) but Chairlift have made good use of the time that has lapsed between 2012's Something and its forthcoming follow up, Moth, by further honing their already growing sense of pop songcraft.

Caroline Polachek released an album of experimental pop music under the name Ramona Lisa, but the real revelation came from an in-studio collaboration with Beyoncé which resulted in Chairlift contributing the track 'No Angel' to her 2013 self-titled album. Originally written by Polachek on her laptop while on tour, its slinky and sultry rhythms marked a significant leap from the slick and sparkling '80s inspired electronic pop music they were making on Something. Their first new single from last year, 'Ch-Ching', builds off of 'No Angel' with its rolling clapped beats, brass flourishes and warm rumbling bass. It's one of the most hip-hop flavored songs the duo have written and it sees them further pushing their sound in a bolder and blownout mainstream pop direction.


Sunflower Bean - Human Ceremony (February 5th, Fat Possum)

Counting bands like Black Sabbath, the Velvet Underground, and Neu! among their influences, Brooklyn-based trio Sunflower Bean pull off the neat trick of incorporating those influences into their music without sounding like just another young band nostalgic for decades-old musical trends that passed long before they were even born (members Jacob Faber, Julia Cumming, and Nick Kivlen are all in their late teens/early twenties).

Probably the most exciting thing about their new single 'Wall Watchers' (from their forthcoming debut Human Ceremony) aside from the fact that it is one of their best songs to date, is that it perfectly captures how much the band have grown since releasing their excellent Show Me Your Seven Secrets EP last year, as they are beginning to blur the lines between their influences enough that they are creating music that sounds both familiar and uniquely their own.


DIIV - Is the Is Are (February 5th, Captured Tracks)

It seems at first that DIIV haven't really altered their musical approach too much for their new album Is the Is Are. The band still makes the kind of woozy shoegaze that can easily cause its listener to unintentionally zone out in the midst of whatever it is they are doing (hopefully it doesn't involve operating heavy machinery or a motor vehicle). But for DIIV, the smallest of little details often make the biggest difference.

On new singles 'Dopamine', 'Bent (Roi's Song)', and 'Under the Sun', they sound tighter and more immediate than they did on their debut Oshin. Lyrically these new songs reflect Zachary Cole Smith's struggles with substance abuse, exploration of the "struggles along the path to clarity, sanity, and sobriety," and possibly personal relationships. Yet these darker themes do nothing to dull the otherwise hazy brightness of the music surrounding them. Smith pointed out in one of his many lengthy Tumblr posts that Is the Is Are is meant to serve as "a perfect bridge" between the music they released in the past and the music they plan on releasing in the near future, which is promising to say the least.


School of Seven Bells - SVIIB (February 12th, Vagrant)

When Alejandra Deheza announced in a recent Noisey interview that she would release one last School of Seven Bells album, it felt somewhat bittersweet considering the circumstances. In 2013, the band's co-founder Benjamin Curtis tragically passed away at the age of 35 after having been diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma barely a year earlier. For Deheza, she lost more than just a bandmate, she also lost her soulmate as the two shared a unique and nearly spiritual connection that went beyond simple romantic involvement.

SVIIBwill be the first School of Seven Bells album since 2012’s Ghostory, and most of its lyrics and melodies were written during the summer of 2012 with Deheza making use of the material Curtis had recorded prior to his death and fleshing it out with her own new recordings. Naturally, their shared connection and how it developed over time serves as the album's predominant theme. The gorgeous lead single 'Open Your Eyes' for example, chronicles their painful breakup, but it's written in such a way that it feels universal, and, considering the tragedy surrounding the album, it takes on a near spiritual kind of quality. Even without those circumstances, 'Open Your Eyes' easily stands on its own as possibly one of the most heartbreaking but uplifting song the band have ever written.

How we deal with loss and the grief that follows is an individual experience, and, for Deheza, the process of slowly coming to terms with her own loss has in a way meant finishing the work both her and Curtis had begun. In that sense, SVIIB is likely to be as much of a cathartic experience for the rest of us as it was for her, one that finds beauty in heartache and triumph in tragedy, regardless of how much all of that may hurt.


Wild Nothing - Life of Pause (February 19th, Captured Tracks/Bella Union)

Like most transitional documents, Wild Nothing's Empty Estates EP didn't come without its share of growing pains. Though Jack Tatum attempted to expand on his familiar dream-pop sound and shake things up a little by tossing subtle hints of things like electro-pop and the groovy jerkiness of Talking Heads into the mix, it didn't always work out as well as he had probably hoped. It did, however, signal a shift in direction that feels a little more fleshed out on 'To Know You'.

The new single taken from Life of Pause retains enough of the ethereal dream-pop Wild Nothing is known for but also pushes it further into the realm of gleaming groove-laden electro-pop. Of Life of Pause Tatum has said that his goal is to progress his sound and "reinvent" his sound while still sounding like Wild Nothing. You can't always have it both ways, but if 'To Know You' is any indication, Tatum may wind up just doing that while writing another incredibly gorgeous album in the process.


Other Notable Release:

  • Migos - Young Rich Ni$$a$ 2 (January 18th, Quality Control)
  • Ty Segall - Emotional Mugger (January 22nd, Drag City)
  • Sia - This Is Acting (January 29th, Monkey Puzzle)
  • Junior Boys - Big Black Coat (February 5th, City Slang)
  • Animal Collective - Painting With (February 19th, Domino)
  • Santigold - 99¢ (February 26th, Atlantic)
  • La Sera - Music for Listening to Music To (March 4th, Polyvinyl)
  • Poliça - United Crushers (March 4th, Mom & Pop/Memphis Industries)
  • Thao & the Get Down Stay Down - A Man Alive (March 4th Ribbon)
  • Primal Scream - Chaosmosis (March 18th Ignition)
  • Underworld - Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future (March 18 Caroline)