Considering January is usually a dry spell when it comes to new music, we’re doing alright. We’ve found our groove anthem of the year in Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk (if measured on dancebility alone). Several rumoured comebacks have proved that despite what the haters may say, you can bounce back; eg. Sleater-Kinney, D’Angelo, Björk, Marilyn Manson, Paul McCartney and even Missy Elliot – all of whom have put social media into meltdown mode with new material (or, in Missy’s case, a Superbowl co-performance and the hint of new material). Perhaps even better news is that these comebacks are actually decent – it’s not all hype.
Mark Ronson, Uptown Special (Columbia Records)
“No matter how my taste in music and DJing veers over the years, I always find myself coming back to that music I would play out in hip-hop clubs in NY in the late ’90s/early 2000s,” says Mark Ronson about the genesis of his forth album. “Biggie, Chaka Khan, Amerie, Boz Scaggs, Missy, Earth Wind & Fire, N.O.R.E.” Uptown Special is an all-star ode to the dance floors and block parties of yore. With cameos from Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, iconic session guitarist Carlos Alomar (David Bowie), Trombone Shorty, Mystikal, newcomer Keystone Starr and lyrics by author Michael Chabon, this Minneapolis funk and Motown Records throwback promises to get even the coolest cat craving a lit-up spot to groove in.
Björk, Vulnicura (Pod)
Heartbreak, motherhood, femininity and raw emotion are all features of this album that was made after the collapse of a partnership and the journey of healing afterwards. Björk’s dazzling ninth album, Vulnicura, is a chronicle of the breakdown of her 11-year relationship with artist Matthew Barney. For anyone with a fragile heart, be warned: Vulnicura is loaded with tiny, sharp spears in the form of vivid string arrangements, soaring synths and, at times, marching-band-esque battle beats. Over nine songs the Icelandic artist covers protecting her family, the ghosts that haunt her bed and the role of the mother versus the role of the lover. Though she often exists among the abstract it bravely sees her at her most mortal.
Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (Domino)
Dizzy and disorientating, rhythmic and relentless, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Panda Bear being Animal Collective co-founder Noah Lennox’s solo moniker) is destined to be one of those records that critics try to intellectualise and purists overthink. Is he exploring morality because he is the only member of Animal Collective to be a father? Is the Grim Reaper a reference to being a “middle-aged” rockstar? It matters not. Death is change and change is a necessity if an artist wants to evolve. In comparison with his previous, darker record, Tomboy, his fifth studio album features a new-found softness, some lushly arranged lullaby-like elements and an aquatic beauty we haven’t heard from Lennox before. This delicately psychedelic record is too much of an immersive journey to overthink, instead, lock yourself up and let his Grim Reaper take you.
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)
After a decade-long hiatus, feminist punk’s most cherished trio returns to prove you can defy the odds of a turbo-anticipated reunion with a release that is a) not a “best of” compilation and b) not a disappointment. On paper, this record had everything going against it; time, hype, the fact that when it disbanded in 2006 the band was riding a seven-album streak of critically acclaimed releases and were yet to step a foot wrong. But record number eight, No Cities to Love, is really, really good. It’s mature, fierce, disarming, addictive and real. Sonically, it’s cleaner than many of its previous releases, but it’s never been more obvious how missed these Washington-bred Riot Grrrls have been.
Hanni El Khatib, Moonlight (Pod)
For his 2013 album, Head In the Dirt, LA rocker and ex-skateboard designer Hanni El Khatib enlisted the swagger of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach to help bring out his now-signature raw and effortlessly slick sound. This time around, however, El Khatib found his groove by boarding himself up in an LA studio for 30 days to emerge with a gritty, drone-y and totally sexy new brand of rebel rock that stomps the line between desert blues, old-skool hip-hop and the kind of blood-pumping, primal Americana rock oft aligned with the devil.