2023 is finally here, and with it, one hopes for a platoon of exceptional new projects from artists we love and debuts, leading to fresh discoveries. However, since Beyonce released her self-titled album, we’ve been getting many more unique rollouts, far from the apropos single, single, eventual album model. Often, we don’t get announcements till closer to; other times, they just drop surprisingly with a little word in edge-wise. It makes it harder for one to properly talk about what we can anticipate without sometimes looking like Charlie – from It’s Always Sunny – in that meme where he has his hands over a board that’s connecting dots to a mystery. I won’t be him today; instead, I’ll be talking five albums with surefire, or set releases in stone, that I’m anticipating for this year.
Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – Lana Del Rey
While many loved the lavish, overly produced tempo of Norman F**king Rockwell, it didn’t feel as refined, unlike Lana Del Rey’s subsequent album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, which bolstered her vocals exponentially. It hit me instantly on the standout “White Dress,” which continued throughout this album, and the subsequent Blue Bannisters, which continued to let Lana expand her horizons with more minimalist, but decadent production. The first single off the new album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – the self-titled track – opens the floodgates toward this more melancholic and operatic divide. Her vocals have distinct textures within similar stylistic sounds within chamber-pop-like production. It feels reminiscent of the work done early in her career, along with what Lana Del Rey has been brewing since Chemtrails. I’m excited to see what this new album takes us, especially with Del Rey’s unique and petty promotion with the billboard in her Ex’s residential area.
Don’t Be Dumb – ASAP Rocky
When news came out about A$AP Rocky’s upcoming release, pre-name change – from All Smiles to Don’t Be Dumb – my eyes and ears stayed glued to anything relating to the album, especially when we heard Rocky is working with Morrissey. The idea of two arrogant, egotistical, no-filter artists coming together to expand on their musical strengths just sounds like something to behold. Granted, it won’t automatically equate to greatness, but with the music Rocky released over the past couple of months, I was intrigued. We got two singles that maneuver his direct nihilism in flow and lyricism, feeling reminiscent of early 2010s ASAP Rocky – playing less with melodies and more with multi-layers songwriting. It keeps my eyes and ears perked for any news, especially with the hype Rocky has been bringing in performances and more; it’s now only a wait-and-see as fans indulge in his latest two singles and feel the vibe Rocky is most likely aiming for with Don’t Be Dumb.
Cracker Island — Gorillaz
Dropping single after single appears like the new approach for Gorillaz as of the release of their last album, bewildering us with unique tunes and delivering a tracklist with standout features; unfortunately, the wait can be ever-long. Unlike Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, Cracker Island shifts the clock back a bit, looking to release and find equilibrium between its use of features, and retaining a sense of individualized identity on their solo tracks. Here, we see both, but the solo tracks get rounded out by unique features; Gorillaz have shown us how fluidly they can make these combos work, like when they did a song with Elton John and 6lack. Cracker Island gives us a few to hold over, like the funkadelic “Cracker Island,” which incorporates luscious bass grooves and vocals from Thundercat, who adds a decadent, and softened layer that oozes in a soulful undercurrent that keeps Damon Alburn’s melodies vibrant.
Gorillaz’s feature-laced albums are a few in between, but when Gorillaz come with an album that isn’t all Damon Alburn for 50%+ of the album, they have excelled in creating something more artistically profound. We heard it on the fantastic Humanz and Plastic Beach, and hopefully, glimpsing a crisp equilibrium in the tracklist of Cracker Island, along with the singles I’ve heard, leaves me with some impression that it will be a hit like 3/5 of their albums between 2010 and 2020.
Utopia – Travis Scott
Utopia has been in discussions for months, and years, seemingly leaving us bewildered by when and what. Travis Scott has released singles like the darkly atmospheric trap track “Highest in the Room,” co-opting collaborations with his label Jack Boys, and settling the fires of the Astroworld tragedy. Being in the public eye can skew decisions made, and it isn’t surprising that his name doesn’t have the lightest presence, further pushing Utopia’s release until 2023. Though, to be honest, it could be a product of Scott’s ever-growing teasing and constant business ventures, from working varying avenues of the music industry to fashion and fatherhood, one could find reasons for the delay. However, the promotion leading to has been nothing short of excellent before the Astroworld tragedy; plus, a week-long residency in Vegas this past September and some Billboards certainly helped too. I’m curious to see how different Travis Scott comes, specifically to see if he slightly reinvents himself sonically to reflect the constant musical growth he’s gone through.
This Is Why – Paramore
After a five-year hiatus from making music as a collective, Paramore left 2022 with the news of a new album after the remarkably vibrant synth-pop/dance-punk laced After Laughter (2017). It was a continuation of the aesthetic have them hitting a momentous stride, as you see their musical growth and assimilation with these new influences driving their decisions. When they started releasing singles for the upcoming album, it felt like a slight change of pace from the angsty emo/pop-punk sound of their first three albums. Paramore’s new album, This Is Why, seems to see another shift, or so I assume, with a more expansive influence getting brought to these songs, like the Math-Rock “The News” to the Funk and Dance-Punk latent “This Is Why.” It’s safe to assume we’ll see another shift in sound, which bolsters the band’s chemistry as they mesh new and past sounds from the past two albums that are nothing short of grand. It may be less than a month away, but I’m all souped up to listen ASAP!
Star line Gallery – Chance the Rapper
Chance The Rapper hasn’t necessarily been dormant since the criticism and fizzling out of his popularity since The Big Day (2019); the corniness and sometimes overly loose flows and features didn’t offer much of a platform to balance on. Come 2022, we saw a significant year for the Chicago rapper, dropping four singles that have shown us he has chosen to focus and whip up some of that pre-Coloring Book era where the lyricism matched the potency of the production. At first, Chance kept us focused with his intricate lyricism, but he brought me back with “Wraith,” significantly more on “Yah Know.” The bombastic Afro-Beat influence within “Yah Know” takes the listener to exponential lengths as the beat comes rich with a crisp Hip-Hop base, then escalates it with these rich drumlines and boisterous horn section. It’s an experience that feels like it’s yearning for a stage presence, where the sounds can get amplified and further entice the dance nerves in your body to force some jubilant movement.
“The Highs & Lows” and “Wraith” were two of the other four songs dropped by Chance the Rapper in 2022, but I bring these two up because Chance brings this unique cadence in his flows, seemingly guiding the music emotionally as he did with Coloring Book. There are deep seeded conversations within these songs; we hear Chance having with himself and the listener as he balances his faith and stability through life that we’ve seen tackle since the constant clowning post-The Big Day. “Wraith” had us listening to Chance focus on literal and metaphorical layering between bars to distinguish who he is in this world without feeling overly preachy. Similarly, with “The Highs & Lows,” we hear Chance challenging himself to bring captivating flows and lyricism to match the potency of featured artist Joey Bada$$. It leaves a door open full of intrigue as one awaits, like myself, for an album that explores new foundations and sees Chance shifting gears from neutral to Drive 3, or third gear.