Spring Arts - Pop Music: Listen up: A host of tours, albums

Posted: January 29, 2012

The season in music will be a busy one. Big-name acts of long standing such as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the reunited Beach Boys, and, it's expected, the Rolling Stones, will be on tour.

And everyone from Super Bowl headliner Madonna to agit-pop singer M.I.A. to Philadelphia street rapper Meek Mill will be releasing new albums.

The accompanying list highlights a selection of hotly anticipated albums and concerts, with newcomer Lana Del Rey and old lion Leonard Cohen starting off the season this week.

- Dan DeLuca, Inquirer music critic

Spring Arts - Pop Music:

Lana Del Rey, Born to Die (on sale Jan. 31). Does Lana Del Rey have just one great song in her? The debut album by the artist who used to call herself Lizzy Grant will answer the question. With her woozy, narcotic, addictive "Video Games," the singer jacked up expectations, but a lifeless performance on Saturday Night Live has harshed her buzz considerably.

Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas (on sale Jan. 31). "I'd love to speak with Leonard, he's a sportsman and a shepherd / He's a lazy bastard living in a suit," 77-year-old Leonard Cohen sings of his own persona in "Going Home," on his first studio album in eight years. If it's half as good as he was at the Academy of Music in 2009, it'll be brilliant.

Dr. Dog, Be the Void (on sale Feb. 7; plays the Electric Factory March 24-25). The second album on the Anti- label by the Philadelphia sextet led by Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman doesn't sacrifice catchiness in the slightest as it rocks out and adds touches of paranoid psychedelia to the band's repertoire.

Sharon Van Etten, Tramp (on sale Feb. 7; plays sold-out show at Johnny Brenda's on Feb. 10). Brooklyn songwriter Sharon Van Etten kick-started her career in 2010 with her haunting song "Love More," recorded at a session with Fishtown's Weathervane Music. Her third album backs up her luxurious voice most effectively without losing the intimacy that can bring a listener up short.

Van Halen, A Different Kind of Truth (on sale Feb. 7; plays the Wells Fargo Center on March 5; plays Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on March 24). Anyone who saw the 2007 Van Halen tour in which genius of camp David Lee Roth came back into the fold knows that these '80s rockers can still be ridiculous entertaining. But are they capable of making worthwhile new music? Early signs are inconclusive.

Chiddy Bang, Breakfast (on sale Feb. 28). At last, it's time for Breakfast. The Philadelphia hip-pop duo Chiddy Bang - former Drexel University students Chidera "Chiddy" Anamege and Noah "Xaphoon Jones" Beresin - first caused a commotion with their 2010 MGMT-sampling single "Opposite of Adults." The group, known for sampling alternative acts like Sufjan Stevens, will finally let loose its full-length debut, with renewed momentum from the single "Ray Charles."

Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball (on sale March 6; plays the Wells Fargo Center on March 28-29). Advance word on Springsteen's 17th album is that it's aggressive and angry in a presumably political way. The anthemic "We Take Care of Our Own" would seem to underscore that, though its intentionally ambiguous chorus leaves itself open to "Born in the U.S.A."-style misinterpretation.

Black Keys (plays the Wells Fargo Center on March 10). Is rock dead, as New York Times critic Jon Caramanica recently argued? The Black Keys, the Akron, Ohio, blues-rock duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, seem to prove otherwise. After breaking through with the 2010 album Brothers, thanks to song placements in TV commercials for lingerie and diamonds, they've blown up bigger still with their new, best album, El Camino.

Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (on sale April 3). This one's not an expanded version of Minaj's 2011 debut, Pink Friday, but a full-length showcase for the furiously foulmouthed rapper's raging male alter ego, Roman Zolanski. The Trinidad-born rapper's "Super Bass" was a contender for 2011's song of the year.

Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream (on sale April 10). Bonnie Raitt's been a redheaded stranger of late, but the singer - one of only two women named to Rolling Stone's 100 greatest guitarists - returns with her first album in seven years. Partly produced by Joe Henry, it features songs by Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwright, and Al Anderson, among others.

  Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls (on sale April 10). Southern-fried soul woman Brittany Howard grabs you by the shoulders and rocks you with the force of her vocals on "Hold On," the single that ignited a brushfire of buzz for the Alabama Shakes late in 2011. The Muscle Shoals-steeped quartet makes its full-length debut on Dave Matthews' ATO Records.

   Feist (plays the Academy of Music on May 8). With last year's Metals, the abundantly talented Leslie Feist made an arty-folk follow-up to 2007's The Reminder, which earned her a widespread audience due to her hit "1234" being used in an iPod ad. Metals doesn't serve up such easygoing pleasures, but as Feist and her band showed at World Cafe Live in October, she's a compelling performer.

Amadou & Mariam, Folila (on sale March 27). The "Blind Couple of Mali," who make effervescently pleasing music that reaches across geographic and musical borders, return with an album recorded in New York and Bamako. It features contributions from Santigold and members of TV on the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts (on sale in early May). Sultry-voiced sweetheart Norah Jones has been busy with musical projects, including her second album with country-covers band the Little Willies. Next up: Little Broken Hearts, with knob-twiddling handled by Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton.

  Santigold, Master of Make Believe (on-sale date to be announced). Santigold's genre-splicing debut album came out in 2008, so long ago that it was called Santogold - the name that Philadelphia-born avant-pop songwriter Santi White went by before she got sued by another Santogold. Master of Make Believe faces the challenge of staying ahead of the future-pop curve, and its first single, "Big Mouth," suggests she'll be up to the challenge.

Six more for spring

Adam Arcuragi, Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It . . . (on sale Jan. 31; plays at Kung Fu Necktie on Feb. 6). The third album from the Georgia-born, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Adam Arcuragi and his formidable folk-rock band the Lupine Chorale Society shares a name with a Cy Twombly painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The album builds on the scrappy American vernacular "death gospel" sound heard on 2009's I Am Become Joy.

Paul McCartney, Kisses on the Bottom (on sale Feb. 7). The title, not as pervy as you might think, comes from the 1935 Fats Waller hit "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." It's one of the 14 pre-rock-and-roll era covers on the cute Beatle's new album, which expands on the show-tune proclivities he demonstrated as far back as 1963's cover of "Till There Was You."

Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror (on sale Feb. 21; plays the Wells Fargo Center on May 11, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers). With their 2010 debut Treats, the confrontational noise-pop duo of guitarist-producer Derek Miller and charismatic front woman Alexis Krauss made one of the year's best albums, marrying aggressive hip-hop production and cathartic power chords with catchy pop tunes. They're back with Reign of Terror, which has been hyped as having an even heavier sound, a claim that is so far borne out on the singles "Born to Lose" and "Comeback Kid."

New Multitudes (on sale Feb. 28; plays Union Transfer on March 13). Woody Guthrie sure left a lot of lyrics behind. Jay Farrar of Son Volt, Will Johnson of Centro-matic, Anders Parker, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket (under his annoying pseudonym Yim Yames) go where Wilco and Billy Bragg have gone before in converting old Guthrie lyrics into ringing new folk-rock songs on their self-titled album New Multitudes.

Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea (on sale March 6; plays Union Transfer March 7). Ever since the wondrous three-CD 69 Love Songs was released in 1999, fans have been hoping that pop-savant sourpuss Stephin Merritt would again apply his funereal voice to such irresistibly droll synth-pop nuggets. Judging by the song "Andrew in Drag," this could be the time.

The Shins, Port of Morrow (on sale March 20). After the diversion of his Broken Bells side project with Danger Mouse, Shins' leader James Mercer is back in action with Port of Morrow. Its first single, "Simple Song," is an encouraging blast of aggressive power pop from the Portland-based band.

   - Dan DeLuca

Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628, deluca@phillynews.com, or @delucadan on Twitter. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/inthemix.

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