In the beginning of September, Beyoncé celebrated her birthday and Justin Timberlake brought the sexy back. For the rest of the month, we’ll have to make do with releases from more, ahem, autumnal performers: Janet Jackson, if you’re nasty; Alan Jackson, if you’re Nashville; and the earnest singer-songwriting of the Indigo Girls and Elton John.
Another songwriter who’s been plugging away for some time, who can match meaningful verses with quietly gorgeous melodies, is Bonnie “Prince” Billy (the nom de disque of Will Oldham). The Letting Go is Mr. Oldham’s first album of new solo material since the spare, melancholy folk of Master and Everyone (2003). The new album’s first single, “Cursed Sleep,” features pretty strings and harmonies, but puts a little more swagger into the strumming and singing.
For another solo artist masquerading behind a band name, try Sparklehorse’s first album in five years, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. A spell of hibernation may have been just what Mark Linkous needed to refresh his sleepy psychedelia.
On Oct. 3, Beck gives us a new album produced with Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich, who also helped polish the ballads on Beck’s syrupy Sea Change. The new album, The Information, promises to be livelier—a better match for Beck’s electro-funk hipster-hop chic.
Also on Oct. 3, the Decemberists make their major-label debut with The Crane Wife, a concept album based on a Japanese folktale about a man who marries an injured crane with an arrow stuck in her. The crane is actually a beautiful silk-weaver, overworked at her loom by her husband. Or the crane is actually a crane, and it flies away. Or something like that. Capitol Records funded the whole production. (If there’s any justice in this world, the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy will be scoring the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie.)
And capping off an amazing musical day for gangly heartland teenagers and the balding thirtysomething men who enunciate their ennui, the Hold Steady release their third album, Boys and Girls in America. The title hints that the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Minneapolis quintet—already so literate and literal—might finally be embracing its destiny as this millennium’s Springsteen, though anyone who’s heard pale, portly, bespectacled front man Craig Finn sing-scream live knows the truth: This guy might just be one of the best rappers in the game.
Later in October, Squarepusher greets the world again with Hello Everything. Pushing buttons, twiddling knobs and shredding on bass like an over-enthusiastic robot turned onto Bitch’s Brew, the veteran electronic-music whiz is still churning out moody soundscapes and manic man-versus-machine freak-outs. The blippy tune of one sneak-peek single sounded like someone spilled a can of Coke onto the Atari during a particularly heated climax of Asteroids.
Less excitedly, Kanye West–endorsed crooner John Legend plays a mean piano and guest-stars a mean Gap ad, so don’t be surprised to see respectable older couples bopping along to tunes from Once Again next time you find yourself in an Upper East Side elevator.
Young harpist Joanna Newsom ushers in an eccentric November with Ys, her sophomore album. Her innocently excessive falsetto can sound like a kid in a bathtub, though her elegant harp and dreamland songwriting make up for rookie folksiness. Ys has five tracks but stretches to nearly an hour. No one could fill in all that space more luxuriously than arranger Van Dyke Parks, the man who co-wrote the Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains,” rewrote Trinidadian pop—on Discover America (1972)—then sprinkled orchestral glimmer over Rufus Wainwright’s debut album decades later. He’ll shine again here.
Just before Thanksgiving, members of Destroyer, Frog Eyes and Wolf Parade band together as Swan Lake, in what amounts to a pas de trois for some of Canadian indie rock’s finest. Expect literate, possibly obscure lyrics set to shambling, chiming guitars and organs on this appropriately titled collaboration, Beast Moans.
Speaking of moaning, Tom Waits digs out what he calls his “scared, mean, orphan songs of rapture and melancholy.” Orphans is the title of his new box set of rare songs: Its three CD’s are called Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards. How better to summarize the hoariest troubadour since Billie Holiday? If Brawlers fits Mr. Waits’ smarmy 70’s shtick (“Warm Beer and Cold Women”), then Bastards suits his 80’s alter ego Frank (who “hung his wild years on a nail / that he drove through his wife’s forehead”). But his Bawlers are always the best: tattered, velvety, unironic and maybe all-knowing.
Further afield, we can look forward to an as-yet-unnamed effort, in the not-unbearably-distant future, by Andrew W.K., which, if nothing else, will restart the eternal debate: Is Mr. W.K. a sincere hard-partier or somebody’s art project? Seems terribly unfair that no one asks that question about, say, Matthew Barney. Or Axl Rose—Guns N’ Roses’ much-delayed Chinese Democracy is scheduled (again) for release this fall. Call the Guggenheim.