The light of music

A look ahead at what’s shiny and new in early 2014

“Best of” lists are soooo 2013. So how about looking ahead to 2014? Here are 20 albums on my radar for the first quarter—heavy on rock, with some pop, and a Cherry on top.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags (Jan. 7, Matador): After a stint living in Berlin, Stephen Malkmus has returned to Portland, and with his first record since 2011’s excellent Mirror Traffic. Less jam, more pop.

Mogwai – Rave Tapes (Jan. 21, Sub Pop): “Remurdered”—the lead single from Mogwai’s first album in three years—owes more to the band’s recent soundtrack work for the French TV show Les Revenants. It’s proggier and synthier (i.e., moodier and more understated) than the guitar explosives Mogwai normally lob at us.

Dum Dum Girls – Too True (Jan. 28, Sub Pop): Bigger production, with influences from some of the usual suspects. As frontwoman Dee Dee Penny put it: “Do you hear Suede? Siouxie? Cold-wave Patti? Madonna? Cure? Velvet and Paisley Undergrounds? Stone Roses? Cuz I did.”

Pontiak – INNOCENCE (Jan. 28, Thrill Jockey) These brothers make some propulsive psych-rock. And this new one’s got muthafuckin’ swagger! There’s a good reason the title is in all caps.

Mean Creek – Local Losers (Jan. 28, Old Flame Records): This Boston four-piece cranks things up on their second full-length. Hand-clapping punk rock with hooks aplenty.

Neil Finn – Dizzy Heights (Feb. 11, Lester Records): I love Neil Finn. His first solo album in more than a decade is more experimental than probably anything he’s done (strings, electronica flourishes). And you still get those sweet hooks and that voice. Oh, and I love Neil Finn.

Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors (Feb. 11, Sargent House): After listening to the first single, “Tumescence,” I told a friend it sounded like metal ABBA. I’m sticking with it.

Cheatahs – Cheatahs (Feb. 11, Wichita Recordings): This band comes straight outta London, although the members are international. They play sharp, jangly pop with a shoegaze haze.

Neneh Cherry – Blank Project (Feb. 26, Smalltown Supersound): Electronic musician Four Tet produces the new album by the Swedish siren (known by many for her 1989 single “Buffalo Stance”) who returns a sassy and textured dance record that features guest vocals from Robyn. This album makes even me want to dance.

The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits (March 4, Sacred Bones): Last year, these dudes came out with New Moon, a more subdued record that leaned heavily on Crazy Horse-era Neil Young. There’s no telling what these prolific Brooklyn rawkers have in store this time around. A recent blog post on the band’s site simply stated that it’ll be their highest fidelity record to date, and that “things will be different.”

Reigning Sound – title TBA (April, Merge): It’s been five years—five years—since Reigning Sound’s last LP, Love & Curses. Sure, we got an Oblivians record from main man Greg Cartwright and co. last year, but man alive! The band’s first on Merge promises to be something special.

Old 97’s – title TBA (April, ATO Records): Frontman Rhett Miller says to expect a record heavy on the garage-rock influence. With some twang, of course. Two things are certain: It’ll be rowdy, and it’ll be good.

Tilts – Cuatro Hombres (spring, Robotic Empire Records): Guitarist Andrew Elstner was playing in this St. Louis four-piece years before he joined Florida pop-metalists Torche. Their 2011 debut conjured the spirits of early Van Halen and Tight Bros from Way Back When. Riff rock at its riffiest.

Body Count – Manslaughter (release date TBA, Sumerian): The Ice T-fronted hardcore outfit has released a few albums since their 1992 self-titled debut, although none have matched its intensity or controversy (only the silliness). We’ll see if a more chill Ice T can pull off songs like “Bubble Full of Bullshit” and “Pray For Death.”

Spoon – title TBA (release date TBA, Merge): Coming off a spell with Divine Fits, Britt Daniel and his cohorts are finishing up the first Spoon record since 2010’s underrated Transference. Expect some R&B influence, and expect greatness.

Others to look for: Broken Bells – After the Disco (Jan. 14, Columbia); Warpaint – Warpaint (Jan. 21, Rough Trade); Crosses – Crosses (Feb. 11, Sumerian); Beck – Morning Phase (February, Capitol Records); Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (April 14, Prowling Death Records Ltd.).