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NPR music highlights some of the albums to look forward to in 2024

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Our friends at NPR Music have been asking which exciting new albums we should look forward to in 2024.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We listened in on a conversation between three contributors recently, and we're going to start with editor Hazel Cills. She mentioned Sleater-Kinney's new album, "Little Rope," and there's a devastating backstory behind how two of the band's founding members created this new music.

HAZEL CILLS, BYLINE: In the fall of 2022, Carrie Brownstein learned that her mother and her stepfather had been killed in a car accident while they were vacationing in Italy. And Corin Tucker had previously been listed as Brownstein's emergency contact on a passport form, who then had to relay to her that the Italian embassy, you know, was looking for her. And so some of this album had already been written. But, you know, the kind of tragedy, this intense tragedy that Brownstein and Tucker had both kind of experienced in different ways, began to seep its way into the recording of this album. And, you know, I've heard this album in full. And it is such a fierce, intense record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNTIDY CREATURE")

SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) I rattle and shake inside. I push against your arms tonight. And it feels like we were broken. And I'm holding the pieces so tight. You can try to tell me I'm nothing. And I don't have the wings to fly.

CILLS: That song, "Untidy Creature" - it's the first they wrote for the album, and it's such, like, a soaring, like, heavy track. The band has said over the course of writing the album that the track sort of became, like, somewhere to put their darkest fears and deepest hopes, and I think you can really hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNTIDY CREATURE")

SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) Looking at me like I'm a problem to solve, like an untidy creature that you can't push around.

MARTIN: That album is coming out January 19.

INSKEEP: Our editor Sheldon Pearce is looking forward to another album - "King Perry." It's a posthumous release from the superstar Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM A DUBBY")

LEE PERRY: (Singing) I am a dubby.

SHELDON PEARCE, BYLINE: Lee "Scratch" Perry was as essential to the development and expansion of Jamaican music as any other artist, whether in his band, the Upsetters, or in the studio he built in his backyard, the Black Ark. He was a prolific and also eccentric artist who sort of never stopped testing the limits of his sound. And, you know, that continued up until his death in 2021. In the fugue days of the pandemic, he sort of wrote and recorded this, which is being billed as his final album. So they don't seem to be intending to let anything else go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM A DUBBY")

PERRY: (Singing) I am a dubby. I am a dubby. I am a dubby. And then you go, and let it go, and there you go.

PEARCE: In this sort of last artistic statement, Perry wanted to push dub music, famous for its sort of stripped-down rhythm and bass sound, its chopped, overdubbed vocals - he's known for remixing a lot of songs, sort of reinventing them, transforming them, mutilating them in some cases. What reggae was before his influence and after are two entirely different things. In trying to push it in a new direction for his final iteration, he worked with the producer Daniel Boyle. Listening to the record, it's sort of exciting to hear an artist - at his age, a legend - with nothing left to prove, still trying to reimagine this thing that he helped create. And he just continues, even in his final breaths, to try to think of the next iteration of this thing, how it can be even bigger than the thing that he created.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM A DUBBY")

PERRY: (Singing, inaudible).

INSKEEP: Talking about Lee "Scratch" Perry there, whose posthumous release comes out February 2.

MARTIN: And finally, here is the host of All Songs Considered, Robin Hilton.

ROBIN HILTON, BYLINE: On February 2, there's a new Brittany Howard album that I'm very excited about. Of course, she's best known for fronting the band Alabama Shakes, you know, which, actually - Alabama Shakes - they haven't had an album out nearly a decade. Her first solo album - Brittany Howard's first solo album - came out almost five years ago. It's called "Jaime." That was in 2019. So I was very excited when her new one, "What Now," was announced just this last fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT NOW")

BRITTANY HOWARD: (Singing) I surrender - let me go. I don't have love to give you more. You're [expletive] up my energy. I told the truth so set me free.

HILTON: This is one of those songs - it's, like, immediately, oh, hell yeah. I mean, like, the second that you hit play on it, just incredible. You know, I think reinvention and big swings were both recurring themes of 2023. And from what I've heard so far of the Brittany Howard record, it sounds like she's absolutely doing the same. You know, I think there're - if you listen to "Jaime," there were inklings of the direction she was headed in. You know, I don't think you listen to this new record and it's like a colossal surprise or left turn for her, but just more evolved. You know, her sound is getting a little bit bigger. The grooves are so deep. You know, it's just bold and fearless and a big sound. I just absolutely love it.

PEARCE: To me, "Jaime" was such a personal statement for Brittany Howard - so deeply invested in her story, so close to the vest. It felt like she was making an album that she'd sort of been carefully holding on to for years. Listening to some of the songs on this new record, it feels like having the opportunity to set that aside has really opened her up and allowed her to explore the full range of her sound.

CILLS: I can hear that kind of freedom that you're talking about, Sheldon, in the music that she's making now. It seems like she's fully transcended the Alabama Shakes sound and style and can kind of, you know, really express more sides of her personality and more sides of her, you know, musical approach, like, on her own terms.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT NOW")

HOWARD: (Singing) I don't want to get used to all the tension. I don't want to worry what kind of mood you're in.

MARTIN: That was Hazel Cills, Sheldon Pearce and Robin Hilton, all with NPR Music, and you can hear their whole conversation with lots of other upcoming albums on the podcast All Songs Considered. That episode drops today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT NOW")

HOWARD: (Singing) It is what it is, I guess. I'm sorry. But I ain't sorry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Hazel Cills
Hazel Cills is an editor at NPR Music. Before coming to NPR in 2021, Cills was a culture reporter at Jezebel, where she wrote about music and popular culture. She was also a writer for MTV News and a founding staff writer for the teen publication Rookie magazine.
Sheldon Pearce
Robin Hilton
Robin Hilton is known as the host of NPR's New Music Friday podcast, the former co-host of All Songs Considered and for his name that appears in white bubble letters above every concert at the Tiny Desk, a series he helped start in 2008 with Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson. He produced several early acts, including the second-ever performer in the series, Vic Chesnutt, and suggested naming the series Tiny Desk after Tiny Desk Unit, a band Boilen was in in 1979. He's since produced performances at the Desk by everyone from Sharon Van Etten and Son Lux to Steve Martin, Harry Styles and Chance the Rapper.