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by Stephanie Benson

January 18, 2014

Rhapsody's Most Anticipated Albums of 2014

by Stephanie Benson  |  January 18, 2014

Below, you'll find our editors' picks for the albums we're most looking forward to in the first half of this year. Click on our attached playlist to hear a sneak peek of many of the albums spotlighted.

POP

Mariah Carey, The Art of Letting Go (Spring)
The first single was last summer's hair-tastic, song-of-the-summer duet with Miguel, "#Beautiful." The second, the album's title track, is a slice of vintage Mimi high-drama soul. And a third is rumored to drop on Valentine's Day. It's the Mimi-est of Mimi albums for Mariah's fourteenth. [Rachel Devitt]

Robyn, TBA (TBD)
It's been a long four years since the Swedish queen of alt dance pop graced us with her critical darling trilogy Body Talk, and she made America cry when a new one didn't come out last year. But she's been in the studio with Norwegian electro outfit (and frequent collaborator) Röyksopp, so, you know, call your girlfriend and all that. [R.D.]

Lily Allen, TBA (Spring)
We knew we missed the queen of the cheeky Brit pops, but we didn't realize just how much until she put out her biting slice of candy-colored social commentary, "Hard Out Here," last year. She followed it up with the just-dropped light-and-fresh "Air Balloon," demonstrating both the potential range of album No. 3 and just how this girl keeps us riveted. [R.D.]

Charli XCX, SuperLove (Spring)
She wrote Icona Pop's unavoidably infectious "I Don't Care" and put out her own critically acclaimed studio debut last year. No rest for this British dance diva, though. She's said to have been writing and recording furiously, starting with roller rink electro-pop lead single "SuperLove." [R.D.]

Adele, TBA (TBD)
Nicki Minaj, TBA (TBD)
Rihanna, TBA (TBD)
Taylor Swift, TBA (TBD)
Rumors abound about these way-unconfirmed, way-anticipated Big! Pop! Albums! that should? might? WILL happen in 2014. We don't have any concrete info either, but we're keeping our fingers crossed and our breaths bated. [R.D.]


RAP/HIP-HOP

Rick Ross, Mastermind (March 4)
There was never much love between Rick Ross and mainstream America, and he may have squandered the last of it with his widely condemned date-rape verse on Rocko's "U.O.E.N.O." last year. But dyed-in-the-wool rap fans still bump the Boss' tracks, as proven by his latest insta-hit with Jay-Z, "The Devil Is a Lie," and they'll probably buy Mastermind, too, unless it's a turkey. But don't discount the latter possibility, either: 2012's God Forgives, I Don't was a solid but unspectacular retread on Ross' familiar drug kingpin formula. [Mosi Reeves]

Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron (February 25)
Schoolboy Q is the next to bat for Top Dawg Entertainment after Kendrick Lamar's universally hailed good kid, m.A.A.d city. The thuggiest member of Black Hippy writes great hooks and catchphrases, but he's less dependable when it comes to compelling lyrics. Oxymoron could still be fun. As Ol' Dirty Bastard and, uh, Jim Jones have proven, you don't have to be the best rapper in a crew to make great songs. Last year's "Collard Greens" was a promising start. [M.R.]

Future, Honest (TBD)
Everyone loves Future, the man who blended Southern trap with Auto-Tuned soul. His 2012 debut, Pluto, landed on countless best-of-year lists, but its sales didn't live up to expectations. So cue up the Miley Cyrus cameo (via "Real and True"). We can't really see Future going the B.o.B route, and if he does, we think -- OK, we hope -- that Honest strikes a comfortable balance between pop instincts and street raps. Buoyed by a welter of expectations, goodwill and Mike Will Made It beats, this may be his best shot at superstardom. [M.R.]

Lupe Fiasco, Tetsuo & Youth (TBD)
When Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 didn't go gold like Lupe Fiasco's first three albums, it was a sign that his radical left statements had overshadowed his music career. At least that's how he interpreted it, since he's promising that Tetsuo & Youth won't be as controversial. With guests like Ed Sheeran (on the first single, "Old School Love"), Ty Dolla $ign, Rick Ross, Chris Brown and Big K.R.I.T., he hopes to reintroduce himself to a mainstream rap audience. Don't expect bottles-and-models raps, though. Whether he's assailing government politics or social politics, Lupe always has something to say. [M.R.]

Azealia Banks, Broke with Expensive Taste (TBD)
If you feared that Azealia Banks was too fabulously eccentric for the major-label system, the innumerable delays plaguing Broke with Expensive Taste confirm it. Its teaser singles, like the Pharrell Williams-produced "ATM Jam" and "Yung Rapunxel," didn't catch fire like her 2011 breakout moment, "212." But the thing's got to come out at some point, right? And if it's likely that she's destined for a one-and-done big league rap career, she'll probably flame out in a blaze of glory. [M.R.]


ROCK

Beck, Morning Phase (February 14)
Not counting his post-modern exercise in sheet music publishing, 2012's Song Reader, the always mercurial Beck Hansen hasn't released a proper album since 2008's Modern Guilt. Making the jump from Interscope to Capitol, Beck apparently has several albums' worth of material already in the can. The first of these arrives on Valentine's Day in the form of Morning Phase. "Sources" (to borrow one of ESPN's favorite words) claim the record echoes the sublime tunesmithery found on 2002's Sea Change. Beck unloaded a trio of singles in 2013: "Gimme," "Defriended" and "I Won't Be Long." Yet none of them appear on the new record. [Justin Farrar]

Ed Sheeran, TBA (February 17)
The funky troubadour from the United Kingdom arguably is pop's No. 1 singer-songwriter these days. But let's be frank: He's been riding the success of a debut album, +, that's now two years old. Fans will be tickled to learn that the vivacious redhead has announced a specific release date for his new full-length: February 17. Even better, it's being produced by none other than sonic guru Rick Rubin. When recently asked by journalists for an album title, Sheeran replied, "It doesn't start with a letter." Hmm ... [J.F.]

The Fray, Helios (February 25)
With lead singles "Love Don't Die" and "Hurricane" already dropped, there's little music-biz gossip surrounding Helios, which is due out February 25. Falling somewhere between Kings of Leon and The Killers (sort of), those singles find the Denver-bred piano-rockers beefing up their aesthetic a wee bit. "Love Don't Die," specifically, boasts big, soaring choruses that call to mind Mumford & Sons at their most bombastic. We have coproducers Stuart Price (The Killers, Madonna) and Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic, Adele) to thank for these new developments. [J.F.]

U2, TBA (April)
A title for U2's forthcoming full-length still has yet to be leaked (much less revealed). As for a release date, the month of April has been bandied about by those close with the group, yet that feels tentative. Here's what we do know: It's being produced by Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys, Beck), and lead single "Invisible" is due sometime in the next several weeks. Another key factoid: The album will be released by Island Records, with whom U2 parted ways nearly nine years ago. (Island originally signed the group all the way back in 1980.) In recent news, U2 took home the Golden Globe for Best Original Song for "Ordinary Love," their contribution to the soundtrack to the 2013 biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. [J.F.]

Limp Bizkit, Stampede of the Disco Elephants (Spring)
That quirky album title -- Stampede of the Disco Elephants -- seems to imply that Fred Durst and the boys are itching to hitch their wagon to the EDM boom, not unlike Korn, whose forays into "brostep" have helped rejuvenate their career. But if lead single "Ready to Go" is any indication, that's overthinking things. Featuring fellow Cash Money cohort Lil Wayne front and center, the cut finds the Bizkit re-embracing the crunchy rap-metal that made both Significant Other and Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water platinum juggernauts. [J.F.]


ALT/INDIE

Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues (January 21)
The premier champions of folk punk return from their major-label stint with their most anticipated and most personal album to date, largely inspired by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace coming out as transgendered. Replacements-inspired anthems like "True Trans Soul Rebel" may well end up making punk history. [Dan Weiss]

Broken Bells, After the Disco (February 4)
Danger Mouse and James Mercer return after four years to ride the disco coattails of Daft Punk and Arcade Fire, offering, as the title suggests, a pleasantly sobering post-party soundtrack. Lead singles "Holding on for Life" and "After the Disco" fold Mercer's best Bee Gees falsetto into Danger Mouse's woozy, otherworldly production. Are they too late to the disco, though? We shall see. [Stephanie Benson]

St. Vincent, St. Vincent (February 25)
Fans have known for years that Annie Clark can secretly shred a guitar to bits, and her fourth offering is promising to finally let that cat -- along with some new tricks -- out of the bag. Lead single "Birth in Reverse" is her noisiest (and possibly catchiest) tune to date. [D.W.]

The Notwist, Close to the Glass (February 25)
More than 10 years ago, these German innovators split the difference between glitchy electronics and linear pop rock tunes before The Postal Service and Owl City took it mainstream. Now they return on Sub Pop, more abstract (and danceable) than ever. [D.W.]

Withered Hand, New Gods (February 25)
On his endlessly smart and shakily tuneful debut, acoustic-strumming Scotsman Dan Willson skewered both the religious right and death metal fans in equal measure. For New Gods he recruited local legends, from Belle & Sebastian to The Vaselines to Frightened Rabbit for -- what else? -- jangle-pop bliss. [D.W.]

The Men, Tomorrow's Hits (March 4)
Having started out with doomy, turgid hardcore on Leave Home, and slowly working toward country-pop workouts on the following Open Your Heart and New Moon, nobody knows what Sacred Bones' most exciting band will do next. But everyone's listening. [D.W.]

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (March 18)
On last album Slave Ambient, Kurt Vile's former bandmate Adam Granduciel got dreamier and (slightly) more rocking with a Philadelphian's dream of E Street gone shoegaze. This one promises to be even more seismic and sexy. Your move, The National. [D.W.]


ELECTRONIC

Feadz, Instant Alpha (January 21)
Ed Banger has had a quiet couple of years, but the label gets off to a strong start in 2014 with the debut album from Feadz, a Parisian producer long affiliated with Ellen Allien's Bpitch Control label. While Justice inch closer to full-on prog rock, Feadz shows his love for old-school electro, '90s hip-hop and French filter house. The result: deeply rooted party jams that bounce jubilantly into the future. [Philip Sherburne]

Actress, Ghettoville (January 28)
Following 2012's R.I.P., for Honest Jon's, the London producer Actress returns to his own Werkdiscs label for his fourth album. He sounds as cryptic as ever, veiling slow-motion techno beats beneath layers of static and hiss; the mood hovers somewhere between somber and downright sullen, but a sneaky, playful spirit beckons you to follow him down the murky, menacing rabbit hole. [P.S.]

Katy B, Little Red (February 3)
In 2011, Katy B called her first album On a Mission, and Little Red finds the British singer still in search-and-destroy mode, winning over hearts and minds (and dancing feet) while she knocks aside all pretenders to the U.K.'s dance pop throne. Her voice has never sounded stronger, whether she's inciting a club revolution on "Next Thing" or baring her soul on "Aaliyah," and she rolls deep with an impressive cast of collaborators including Jessie Ware, Sampha, and the producers Geeneus, George FitzGerald, Jacques Greene, Joker, Route 94 and Magnetic Man's Artwork. [P.S.]

The Glitch Mob, Love Death Immortality (February 11)
Since releasing their debut album, Drink the Sea, in 2010, Los Angeles' The Glitch Mob have toured relentlessly. And as they've found themselves playing larger and larger stages, they've beefed up their sound accordingly. Love Death Immortality tackles the big themes in a big way, with searing synthesizer riffs, shuddering dubstep rhythms and seismic bass drops. It's hard rock, essentially, made with electronic instruments. [P.S.]

Tensnake, Glow (March 10)
Hamburg producer Tensnake's 2010 track "Coma Cat" helped kick off the current craze for house-tinged, '90s-leaning dance pop; in March, he'll return to take up the baton from Disclosure, Duke Dumont and AlunaGeorge. Nile Rodgers lends a disco flicker to "Love Sublime," and Jacques Lu Cont, Jamie Lidell and the singer Fiora, who features on roughly half the album's songs, round out the list of collaborators. [P.S.]


COUNTRY

Eric Church, The Outsiders (February 11)
These days, Eric Church has all his bases covered, rebelling against the mainstream while taking advantage of every opportunity provided by it, opening for Rascal Flatts but playing too loud and too long, and playing the CMAs without ever taking off his signature sunglasses. Maybe this makes him a badass; maybe it makes him a prima donna; or maybe his accomplished, hard-edged songwriting makes you forget all about such possibilities. If singles "The Outsiders" and "Give Me Back My Hometown" are any indication, his fourth album will rock even harder than his previous three. [Nick Murray]

Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else (February 18)
This spirited country gal impressed with the raw, overheated Indestructible Machine, where her boisterous distortion was as intriguing as her heart-on-sleeve twang. Loveless is an honest, open songwriter, and her "done me wrong" songs are as rough-and-tumble as they come while her straightforward self-examinations hit the emotional mark nearly every time. We can't wait to hear what Somewhere Else holds for this young hopeful. [Linda Ryan]

Dierks Bentley, Riser (February 25)
Though he lacks the star power of a Shelton or an Aldean, Bentley has proven himself one of the most reliable country artists of the past decade, a guy who can sing about drinking ("What Was I Thinkin'," "Am I the Only One") and driving ("Free and Easy," "Every Mile a Memory"), while getting deep on album tracks like "Beautiful World" and "Hope for Me Yet" and going bluegrass for the entirety of Up on the Ridge. If Riser isn't his breakthrough, odds are it will still be one of the year's best LPs. [N.M.]

Drive-By Truckers, English Oceans (March 4)
It's been two years since Drive-By Truckers released Go-Go Boots, and their swampy, Southern rock has been sorely missed. English Oceans was reportedly recorded in two weeks, with mainstays Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley splitting the writing duties evenly. Hopefully this means a loose, live sound with some stompin' songs and some deliciously dirty, down-and-out charmers, too. [L.R.]

Eli Young Band, 10,000 Towns (March 4)
For a while, the Eli Young Band were a Texas secret, gigging around the state and topping the local radio charts with gritty songs that could never quite enter national rotation. Then came "Crazy Girl" and "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" -- the first two singles off 2011's Life at Best -- a one-two punch of platinum singles that established the group as one of the most interesting national acts around. With 10,000 Towns, we'll find out if they're here to stay. [N.M.]

Sara Evans, Slow Me Down (March 4)
Sara Evans albums are always a treat, but these days, they're an unfortunately rare one. Real Fine Place, released in 2005, went platinum, but we didn't get a follow-up until 2011's even better Stronger. Three years later, we're finally getting another album. Country radio has yet to take to lead single "Slow Me Down," but don't let that dissuade you. [N.M.]


SOUL/R&B

Chris Brown, X (TBD)
Chris Brown inspires a special form of celebrity-bashing, but he's still one of the most popular R&B singers, as proven by last year's hits, "Fine China" and "Love More." When X was slated for last August, Brown tried to present himself as a reformed bad boy, but a subsequent assault charge and retreat to anger-management classes upset that equation. His newest single, "Loyal," a raunchy example of the growing "ratchet R&B" movement, suggests that C-Breezy isn't pretending to be a nice guy anymore. It's just as well; some people will never forgive him for what he did to Rihanna. [M.R.]

Jhené Aiko, Souled Out (May)
Last November, the top 10 debut of Jhené Aiko's Sail Out shocked the music industry. It didn't have any major singles, but sold well purely through an online following that has admired Aiko ever since her 2011 mixtape Sailing Souls. With Souled Out, Aiko has the potential to become the female answer to Frank Ocean, an R&B singer whose popularity is determined by great songwriting instead of hits. [M.R.]

August Alsina, Testimony (April 15)
August Alsina is still riding high on "I Luv This Sh*t," even though it hasn't led fans to check out his more-than-decent Downtown: Life Under the Gun. The question now is if he can land another breakout moment to launch his full-length debut, Testimony. Since 2014 has shaped up so far as the year of the R&B lothario, my hunch is that he'll be more than just a one-hit wonder. [M.R.]

Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce (February 4)
Let's be honest: Toni Braxton hasn't released a headline-worthy album in over a decade … right around the time she stopped working with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, the songwriting icon behind her biggest hits. So Love, Marriage, & Divorce may constitute a long-overdue collection of quality material. There are other forces propelling her toward a major comeback, too, from her reality TV series, Braxton Family Values, to the way little sister Tamar reminded us with Love and War how much we love a Bic-lighter-waving, scenery-chewing R&B diva ballad. [M.R.]

Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit (March 25)
Don't hate on Aloe Blacc for utilizing the power of TV commercials -- featuring Kevin Garnett and Colin Kaepernick, no less -- to land his first solo top 10 hit in "The Man." The L.A. singer has journeyed far from his roots as a neo-soul iconoclast, and even further if you count his early years as an underground rapper. He's more of a pop singer with soul elements now, but you'd be deaf to ignore the gospel-like Sam Cooke inflections that informed his turn on Avicii's "Wake Me Up." Give Lift Your Spirit a chance. [M.R.]


LATIN

Romeo Santos, Formula, Vol. 2 (February 11)
The bachata king has had a banner couple of years with the release of his gajillion-platinum solo debut, Fórmula Vol. 1, and hit single after hit single. If "Propuesta Indecente" -- the super-dramatic lead single off his follow-up and easily one of 2013's biggest smashes -- is any indication, Vol. 2 will probably do all right. [R.D.]

Wisín, El Regreso del Sobreviviente (January 28)
Yandel dropped his solo debut last year, and now Wisin follows. We're still mourning the dynamic duo's (un-)breakup (they swear they aren't splitting, but...), but Wisín's high-energy, highly danceable new lead single "Que Vida La Viva" goes down smooth. [R.D.]

Shakira, TBA (March 25)
If we were setting the stage for our first album in four years (not to mention our return to recording after time off to judge -- and birth -- young stars), we would totally do it with Rihanna in tow on a ska-fueled lead single. Shakira is rumored to have worked on over 25 songs since she started putting this album together in 2011 (and discarded a good chunk of them to start over on this version). "Can't Remember to Forget You" sounds like she has chosen wisely. [R.D.]

3BallMTY, TBD (TBA)
The wunderkinds who helped build the globe-trotting electro-folkloric sound of tribal haven't confirmed anything yet. But they have been putting out a stream of hot new synthed-up singles, including their latest, the glossy, cocktail-smooth "La Noche Es Tuya." [R.D.]


CLASSICAL

Gustavo Dudamel / LA Philharmonic, Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary (March 11)
Just one of the world's top conductors leading a great American orchestra through one of the most ambitious works in the career of composer John Adams. This modern-day setting of the Christ story has a provocative, liberal-humanist bent (it opens in the LA County jail, with a drug search), but Adams' powerhouse music gives the narrative all the gravity of traditional oratorios on similar themes. I saw this orchestra's performance at Lincoln Center in 2013 and have been awaiting a recording ever since. [Seth Colter Walls]


JAZZ

Ambrose Akinmusire, The Imagined Saviour Is Far Easier to Paint (March 11)
The trumpeter's 2011 debut on Blue Note turned plenty of critical heads. But he's not doubling down on a successful formula; this release sees the leader self-producing a set of mostly original works, while augmenting his working quintet with a bevy of vocalists and a string quartet. [S.C.W.]

The Bad Plus, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (April)
This po-mo piano-jazz power trio has already proved that it can cover Nirvana and atonal classical composer Milton Babbitt on the same release. So why not try a full-length rendering of Stravinsky's raucous, riot-starting ballet? The band has been playing its arrangement live in recent seasons, so this should be fully workshopped and ready to wow. [S.C.W.]


WORLD

Tinariwen, Emmaar (February 11)
The poignant desert blues ambassadors couldn't record near the Sahara due to violence in their home country of Mali, so they cut their sixth album in another desert: Joshua Tree, Calif. Three gorgeous singles have been released in advance, each one showing off a different aspect of the group's evocative, thought-provoking range, from the political gut-punch rock chant "Toumast Tincha (The People Have Been Sold Out)" to the mournful blues meditation "Imidiwan Ahi Sigdim." [R.D.]

Angelique Kidjo, Eve (January 28)
Benin's reigning queen of Afropop is back with an umpteenth new album, a celebration of the power of African womanhood. The album is named for Kidjo's mother and features several African women's choirs, Kronos Quartet, Dr. John and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, among other guests. [R.D.]

Fanfare Ciocarlia and Adrian Raso, Devil's Tale (February)
One of the groups that put Roma brass band music (and especially the contemporary, rock 'n' rollier version of Roma traditions that paved the way for Gypsy punk) on the global map teams up with legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Adrian Raso in an innovative combination of the two most famous strains of Roma music. [R.D.]


CHRISTIAN/GOSPEL

Kari Jobe, Majestic (March 25)
The Grammy-nominated worship leader recorded her new album of congregational worship anthems live at the historic Majestic Theatre in her hometown of Dallas, Tex. Cowriters on the project include Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Reuben Morgan, Brian Johnson, Jason Ingram and Paul Baloche, a veritable Who's Who of worship leaders. [Wendy Lee Nentwig]

Needtobreathe, Rivers in the Wasteland (April 15)
We can't get enough of Needtobreathe's earthy, authentic sound, and promising early tracks from this upcoming release are only making it harder to wait. Recorded at the band's own Plantation Studios in Charleston, S.C. (as well as Fairfax Recordings in Los Angeles and Nashville's Blackbird Studio), the album promises some eclectic, accessible rock. [W.L.N.]

Rhett Walker Band, TBA (June)
Their 2012 debut, Come to the River, was a nostalgic mix of Southern rock and Americana that caught us off guard, so naturally we can't wait to see how this once-rebellious preacher's son manages to top himself. [W.L.N.]

Chris Tomlin, TBA (October)
This worship rock star is a perennial chart topper, frequent award winner (he has a Grammy, 21 Dove Awards and two Billboard Music Awards) and a regular on Passion compilations. Add to that the fact that everything he touches turns to gold (make that platinum), and how could he not make the list? [W.L.N.]


METAL

Within Temptation, Hydra (January 31)
"Paradise (What About Us?)," the lead single off the Dutch opera-metal band's sixth album, is belted out by Tarja Turunen, formerly of Nightwish, and soars like Evanescence cubed. Other Hydra guests include Xzibit, Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum, and Howard Jones from Killswitch Engage. [Chuck Eddy]

Grand Magus, Triumph and Power (January 31)
The Swedish power-trio's previous album, The Hunt, was mythic übermensch-metal with arctic-winter folk parts. The forthright title-track single of their new one, a clod-hopping march 'til dawn for spoils of war, portends more of the majestic same. [C.E.]

Sunn O))) / Ulver, Terrestrials (February 4)
Seattle drone-metal druids Sunn O))) and Norwegian electro-avant-folk ex-black-metal magicians Ulver -- two of the genre's more adventurous bands this century -- join forces for the first time on this collaborative album. There are reportedly three songs -- long ones, probably. [C.E.]

Hirax, Immortal Legacy (February 25)
The biracial Southern California thrash veterans, still fronted by the high-drawling hydraulics of Katon W. De Pena, return with their first full-length in five years. Judging by annihilating and apocalyptic advance single "Hellion Rising," it's due to shred like nobody's business. [C.E.]

Bigelf, Into the Maelstrom (March 3)
This L.A. art metal outfit were mixing Beatles (plus T. Rex, Queen, Floyd, Alice Cooper, etc.) into their Sabbath years before bands like Ghost and Uncle Acid made the hybrid fashionable. Their fourth album features ex-Dream Theater dude Mike Portnoy on drums. [C.E.]

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