HEAD SCRATCHERS: Expect another work of genre-hopping, inscrutable genius from Of Montreal.
In a few decades, we’ll probably look back on the tumultuous days of autumn 2008 the way we now look back on the fall of ’68: as a tense political atmosphere subsumes all, the stirring pop hits of the day can’t help but reflect the refracting cracked mirror of our nation’s increasingly emotion-laden psyche. Or at least, that’s the conventional fable about why major labels and rock stars exist: to take our hopes and fears and produce the archetypes that will inspire us during the interesting times we hope to live in. But those broken mirror shards now resemble nothing more than the zillion smashed-out pieces of our pop culture, as everything from Disney tween pop to vinyl-only garage scuzz to low-down stripper krunk exists on its own little fringe island.
NELLY’s long-delayed Brass Knuckles (Derrty/Universal) sees the light of day on September 16, with the unlikely guest-list mishmash of Fergie, Chuck D, Akon, Snoop Dogg, Usher, and T.I. Being under house arrest on pending gun charges hasn’t slowed T.I. down — his new Paper Trail (Grand Hustle/Atlantic) hits on September 30. Swizz Beatz and Kanye are all over it, and watch for M.I.A.-sampling lead single “Swagger like Us” with Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. R. KELLY is another artist who hasn’t let his recent run-ins with the law slow him down: this fall will see the release of 12 Play 4th Quarter (Jive). Kelly dials down the outlandish tone of his last few albums, but if lead single “Hair Braider” is any indication, this isn’t going to be a chaste and penitent move for the R-Man. LUDACRIS’s new Theater of the Mind (Def Jam; October 21) is billed as “conceptual,” though we can assume that he’s staying away from the kind of political diss that got him in hot water with the Obama campaign.
Pop diva CIARA’s Fantasy Ride (Jive; December) is rumored to be a multi-disc extravaganza in three parts titled “Groove City,” Crunktown,” and “Kingdom of Dance.” This fall will also see two former Destiny’s Child solo discs: BEYONCÉ’s Virtuoso Intellect (Columbia; November 11) and MICHELLE WILLIAMS’s Unexpected (Columbia; October 7). And October 7 marks the release of two competing hipster-diva records: Norwegian electro-dance queen ANNIE’s Don’t Stop (Island) follows up on her 2004 Pitchfork-friendly debut, and LADY GAGA’s much delayed debut, The Fame (Interscope), shows her taking Kylie Minogue’s Eurosleaze throb and giving it an American twist.
Lady GaGa is also part of the songwriting/producing army behind the PUSSYCAT DOLLS album Doll Domination (A&M/Interscope/Polydor; September 23), where the production credits will include Timbaland and Cee-Lo. Likewise on the manufactured-pop front, there’s the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 soundtrack (Walt Disney; October 24), which will probably sell enough copies to allow the rest of the music industry to wheeze along for another quarter. November 11 will see the release of the as-yet-untitled fourth album by former American IdolKELLY CLARKSON, whose powerful voice and unpretentious vibe have, no surprise, doomed her to a drama-laden trip through the biz; we’ll all have to wait with bated breath to see whether Clive Davis has shackled her with an overbearing production and songwriting team as penance for the underwhelming sales of 2007’s self-written and gloomy My December.
Speaking of gloomy: October 13 marks the release of the CURE’s self-produced 13th long-player, 4:13 Dream (I Am/Geffen), which is rumored to comprise the more upbeat songs they recorded during a recent productive stint. (The darker tunes may be released on a future album.) Also look for a more stripped-down feel on the forthcoming third album from the KILLERS, whose Day and Age (Island; November) jettisons the overblown studio pomp of 2006’s Sam’s Town in favor of a Roy Orbison–influenced shimmering pop sheen under producer Stuart Price (Madonna’s Confession on a Dance Floor). OASIS return this fall as well, with Dig Out Your Soul (Big Brother/Sony; October 7), which, much like 2005’s Don’t Believe the Truth, is an expertly crafted rock album with crushing sonics, big hooks, stellar playing, and a winning glance back at rock’s history that’s being hyped as a return to form by a band who never fell off the horse in the first place.
AC/DC’s new Black Ice (Columbia; October 21, only at Wal-Mart — go figure) will shock fans by veering into trip-hop and sensitive balladry. Just kidding. Lead single “Rock N’ Roll Train” is pretty much what you’d expect: Highway to Hell riffage, Powerage production, and the glottal howl of Brian Johnson. Metal Blade spits up a few Viking-themed metal releases on September 30, with AMON AMARTH’s Twilight of the Thunder God and BISON B.C.’s Quiet Earth. And all hail the return of Brooklyn-via-Columbus stoner thrashers EARLY MAN, whose Jack Endino–produced Beware the Circling Fin EP (The End Records; October 14) finds them surviving their dumping at the hands of old label Matador and living to thrash another day.
Brooklyn’s VIVIAN GIRLS convert their garage-rocking out-of-print vinyl-only homonymous album to 1’s and 0’s on October 7 with the help of In the Red Records. Swedish ’70s psychedelic guitar-hero revivalists DUNGEN unveil their fourth long-player, 4 (Subliminal Sounds) on September 23, alongside TV ON THE RADIO’s dark, angry and yet glammy and funky Dear Science, (Geffen). Also on October 7: two head-scratching works of inscrutable genius, OF MONTREAL’s dense, genre-hopping Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl) and San Francisco punk-art weirdos DEERHOOF’s new two-act opus, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars).