We’re approaching that time of year when there will be no more new albums for New Music Friday. Best case is that there are four more such Fridays, but there are a few 2023 records still to be released. After December 8, the recorded music industry will go into Christmas hibernation for about a month. If an artist or a label wants to make any kind of impression before the end of the year, now is the time to get that music out there.
A huge chunk of new singles this week are holiday/Christmas songs, but there are a couple of secular things worth looking at. Let’s focus on those
1. The Lemonheads, Fear of Living (Fire Records)
When I first heard this song, I was a little surprised at the vocals. Evan Dando is singing in a lower register than fans are used to but the jangling guitars are exactly where they should be. Recorded in Sao Paulo Brazil, this is the first original Lemonheads song since…2006? The last two albums (Varshons and Varshons 2) were all covers. The Lemonheads have big plans for 2024.
2. J Mascis, Can’t Believe We’re Here (Sub Pop)
The Dinosaur Jr man is ready with his fifth solo album, What Do We Do Now, but not until February 2. This is his first solo album to feature electric guitars and full drums, but all the rhythm parts remain exclusively acoustic. The video is fun, featuring David Cross, Todd Barry, Fred Armisen, and a few more friends.
3. Porno for Pyros, Agua (Warner)
This is a surprise: The first Porno for Pyros song in 26 years. It comes ahead of the band’s “Horns, Thorns en Halos Farewell Tour” tour (Hadn’t they already bid farewell? I mean, it’s been 26 years…) that will run through the first months of 2024. (The sole Canadian date is February 29 at HISTORY.) This isn’t exactly a new song, though. It was written for the band’s second album, Good God’s Urge, back in 1997, and was released as a demo in 2014. It will be included on an EP next year. Before you listen, know that the song was inspired by encounters with dolphins the band had while surfing back in the 1990s.
1. Dolly Parton, Rockstar (Big Machine)
Good God, it’s finally here. How long have we been talking about Dolly’s rock album? It’s been at least a year, maybe longer. This project has its roots in her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when she quipped “I guess I have to make a rock album now.” So she did. And it’s a double set, too, featuring Elton John, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Miley Cyrus, Simon Le Bon, Steven Tyler, Peter Frampton, Stevie Nicks, Sting, Lizzo, Steve Perry, Joan Jet, Richie Sambora, John Fogerty, Pink, Debbie Harry, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, and a ton of others. Most of the 30 tracks are covers (Led Zeppelin, Prince, Pat Benetar, REO Speedwagon, etc.), but there are a few Dolly originals, too. This, by the way, is her 49th studio album.
2. André 3000, New Blue Sun (Epic/S0ny)
After spending decades as part of Outkast, André Benjamin is finally ready with his debut solo album and from the looks of the running time of this album (a full 87 minutes, well beyond the capacity of a standard CD), he’s got a lot to say. And this is not a rap record, something he makes clear with the lead-off track, “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time.” Translation: I hope you like flute music. Other titles include “That Night in Hawaii When I Turned into a Panther and Started Making These Low Register Purring Tones That I Couldn’t Control … Sh¥t Was Wild” and “Ghandi, Dalai Lama, Your Lord & Savior J.C. / Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy.” Singles? Doesn’t look like it. But I thought you should know about this record.
3. Madness, Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie (BMG Rights Management)
The British ska/pop legends (est. 1976) haven’t released an album since 2016, so their return is most welcome. Recorded in an industrial unit in the Cricklewood area of London, their guiding principle for the album was “Let Madness be Madness.” I think they’ve done that. When they announced the record on the BBC back in September, they had actress Helen Mirren give a dramatic reading of some of the lyrics.
4. Plain White T’s, Plain White T’s (Fearless/Concord)
The Hey There Delilah band (est. 1007) is up to nine albums but down to just one original member, singer Tom Higgenson. The goal for this record was to reach back to the days when the band was having Top 40 hits and winning Grammys. Four songs have already been released as singles and, as the band says, “e’re always trying to outdo ourselves or go somewhere we haven’t gone before. Somehow, we figured out how to go to a fresh spot and still sound like Plain White T’s.”
5. Vince Clarke, Songs of Silence (Mute)
A billion years ago, Vince was the chief songwriter for Depeche Mode, a gig that lasted for all of one album. After detours through Yazoo (with Alison Moyet) and The Assembly, he settled in with Andy Bell in Erasure, providing the music for nineteen studio albums. You’d expect, then, for his first solo record, he would continue with his poppy synth style. Nope. The music contained herein is most ambient and drone-y with zero hooks, key changes, or choruses. Vince was looking to create something therapeutic to help with anxiety and insomnia. One thing hasn’t changed, though: He uses only monophonic synthesizers and composes his material one finger at a time, adding layer upon layer until he’s satisfied. Here’s a sample.
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