Pharrell Williams, G I R L
Despite producing every other radio smash for the past decade and a half, Pharrell Williams failed to deliver with his relatively hitless (though still pretty enjoyable, all things considered) 2006 solo debut In My Mind. Certainly Williams doesn’t lack for skill—the effortlessly hooky “Happy” sounds like something he cooked up in an afternoon. Alternately, his contribution to Future’s “Move That Dope” shows he can still hold his own on a verse. Pharrell contains multitudes, which why you can expect his new LP to be something of a mishmash of competing personalities under the veneer of spit-shined future-soul. See “Happy”‘s pre-K anthem butt up against the icky, lecherous “Gush”.
Essential track: “Gust of Wind” (featuring Daft Punk) (lots of sites are embedding the below stream)
Future Islands, Singles
The synth-driven Baltimore band has been kicking around for a bit now—the group came up with the Charm City’s circa-2007 class of arty acts like Dan Deacon and Ed Schrader. Like those bands, the group has a singular approach to live performance, hinging on singer Samuel Herring’s commanding voice. Above a bed of synths and echoey guitars, Herring projects like a possessed Morrissey, his cathartic yowls pure, inescapable magnetism to which you must yield. Singles comes out March 25 on 4AD.
Essential track: “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
The Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams
Teeth is a comeback album of sorts for the Hold Steady after a few transitional releases (the meh “Heaven Is Whenever” and singer Craig Finn’s shaky solo effort). A decade in and the guys are finally growing up—consider it the shift from seedy house parties to the bar at Chili’s (where one song could be set). It’s more polished and tuneful; Finn’s voice has a new compressed sheen that suits the approach. Compared to another band with Minneapolis roots, the Replacements, this could be their Pleased to Meet Me: hard-drinking barroom rockers starting to act their age without turning down. Teeth Dreams comes out March 25 on Razor & Tie.
Essential track: “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You”
Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron
Post-Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, it’s Schoolboy Q’s turn to keep the Top Dawg Entertainment team’s momentum going into 2014 (a group album and a new Kendrick Lamar album are both due later this year too). Following up his excellent Habits & Contradictions, Schoolboy Q combines party cuts and more introspective gangster’s laments. Pharrell-produced “Los Awesome,” dubby Kendrick collab “Collard Greens,” minimal street rap “Blind Threats” (with a Raekwon assist) all find a home under his charismatic banner.
Essential track: “Los Awesome”
Migos, No Label 2
The Atlanta trio have a freakish knack for simple hooks. Their breakout, “Versace,” continues to set the template, testing its 15 minutes, and why shouldn’t it? “Migos flow” has multiplied and borne much fruit (see Drake’s The Language and every “Versace” remix). This 25-song mixtape offers a surplus of tracks, some previously released, that keep their streak hot with memorable one-liners (“The streets is a jungle, gotta watch for the koalas” from “Ounces”) and solid beats (“Versace” producer Zaytoven puts in work on a half-dozen). Even if you skip over half, there’s plenty to dig into. No Label 2 is available now, where fine mixtapes are downloaded.
Essential track: “Ounces”