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From Marling To Modest Mouse, A Look At 2015's New Music

Laura Marling's Short Movie comes out March 24. (Courtesy of the artist)

At the end of each year, most music writers are tasked with assembling Top 10 lists, gathering up themes and milestones, and otherwise contextualizing the 12 months that came before. But in recent years, that task has been complicated by the advent of sneak-attack December releases: At the end of 2013, Beyonce showed up out of nowhere, while in 2014, in one December week alone, listeners could choose from important new releases by D'Angelo (his first album in nearly 15 years), Nicki Minaj and J. Cole.

For NPR music writer Stephen Thompson, it's hard to look ahead without acknowledging the reverberations of 2014's final weeks. D'Angelo's sprawling Black Messiah, for example, is sure to loom large over the year that follows its sudden, unanticipated release.

Arun Rath, host of weekends on All Things Considered, recently asked Thompson to highlight some likely highlights of the next few months, and Thompson offered four: Modest Mouse's Strangers To Ourselves (out March 3), the band's first album in eight years; Laura Marling's bold and aggressive Short Movie (out March 24); a likely breakthrough from the massive-sounding New Jersey rock band Screaming Females, called Rose Mountain (out Feb. 24); and The Lone Bellow's sleek and soaring Then Came The Morning (out Jan. 27), which makes excellent use of the Van Morrison playbook.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

For any music critic that released a best of 2014 list before December, they found themselves scrambling to add this one. It's by D'Angelo from an album called "Black Messiah." And a few weeks ago, it was one of the sneakiest, stealthiest releases of all time. Nobody saw it coming. We originally asked Stephen Thompson from NPR Music to come talk about the albums he's most looking forward to this year, 2015, but it seems only appropriate that we start with one of the final releases from 2014. Stephen, welcome.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, thank you for having me.

RATH: So this D'Angelo album has an interesting story behind it because it was supposed to be one of 2015's releases you were anticipating.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I mean, we've been anticipating it for something like 15 years.

RATH: Yeah.

THOMPSON: And then it drops after we're done with all of our year-end coverage. And it's - not only is it oh, it's one more record we have to consider, but it is this massive expanse of a record. It's this very full-blooded kind of mysterious album. And so as we're thinking about 2015, we're still left scrambling to unpack 2014.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUGAH DADDY")

RATH: It's weird. It's the album that a lot of us have been waiting for for a long time. But isn't it kind of weird to sort of slip it in there almost. It could be overlooked - well, not though.

THOMPSON: It's weird, like...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: No, this record is not overlooked. I don't think there's too much danger of that. But it is weird when these records come out with no warning. And sometimes if they don't hit the right nerve, they can be very, very quickly forgotten. I mean, everybody forgot that Thom Yorke from Radiohead put out a solo record in the middle of last year, just 'cause it didn't connect with anybody. And then it was gone as quickly as it came.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUGAH DADDY")

RATH: That song is "Sugah Daddy" from the new D'Angelo album "Black Messiah." Now, let's go back to what we'd planned on doing. Let's talk about some of the big albums you're looking forward to in this new year.

THOMPSON: Yeah, well, one of the first records I'm incredibly excited about in 2015 is this record called "Strangers To Ourselves" from the band Modest Mouse that comes out in March.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAMPSHADES ON FIRE")

MODEST MOUSE: (Singing) Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh-duh-dah. We’re all goin’, we’re all goin’. Well, the lampshade’s on fire when the lights go out. The room lit up and we ran about. Well, this is what I really call a party now. Packed up our cars, moved to the next town.

RATH: Now, Modest Mouse has been going for a while, but they still sound fresh.

THOMPSON: Yeah, and this is their first new record in eight years, their first new studio record of all new material. And, I mean, it's not quite as long a gap as the D'Angelo record, but still, you know, our cultural memory is so short nowadays, it's nice to see another artist pick up exactly where it left off. I mean, this is just as jittery and propulsive and nervous and weird as the best Modest Mouse stuff. So I heard this song "Lampshades On Fire" they we're hearing now, and I'm just thrilled. I can't wait to hear the whole record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAMPSHADES ON FIRE")

MODEST MOUSE: (Singing) Ah, this one's done so where to now?
Our eyes light up, we have no shame at all. Well, you all know what I'm talkin’ about. The room lights up, well, we're still dancing around. We're havin’ fun, havin’ some for now.

RATH: That's Modest Mouse with the song "Lampshades On Fire." It's taken from their new album "Strangers To Ourselves," which comes out on March 3. What do you got next for us, Stephen?

THOMPSON: Well, an English singer named Laura Marling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHORT MOVIE")

LAURA MARLING: (Singing) I'm paying for my mistake. That's OK. I know when I will pull in.

THOMPSON: She's still not yet 25 years old and this is her fifth album. She started recording when she was like 16. Her last record, "Once I Was An Eagle," was one of my favorite albums of 2013. And I love the way album after album she continues to get more aggressive, more aggressive in her tone, more aggressive in her sound. She started out as this very soft folk singer and now she's just this destroyer of worlds. And I just absolutely love her. This record is called "Short Movie." It comes out March 24. And it's electric. She's not usually electric. But it is electric in every way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHORT MOVIE")

MARLING: (Singing) I got up in the world today, wondered who it was I could save. Who do you think you are? Just a girl that can play guitar.

RATH: Again, that's Laura Marling. That's the title track to her forthcoming album "Short Movie." I'm talking with Stephen Thompson from NPR Music about some of the albums he's looking forward to in the new year. Stephen, what else you got?

THOMPSON: Well, I've got a band from New Jersey called Screaming Females. They've been around for about 10 years. This is their sixth record called "Rose Mountain." And it comes out in February.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPTY HEAD")

SCREAMING FEMALES: (Singing) You went and put salt in my drink. Now I’m cross. You got nothing to say. You give me the gun and I think I’m a mess, and I need you to stay.

THOMPSON: Their lead singer Marissa Paternoster is this very, very tiny woman. We had her play a set at the tiny desk in the NPR offices a few years ago. And she's a powerhouse with a voice, you know, just like a hundred times the size of her physical presence. And what's interesting to me about this record - it's very slick and massive. It's clearly designed to be this shot across the bow where like everybody is going to know about this band in 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPTY HEAD")

SCREAMING FEMALES: (Singing) Sit outside from this ring system, cover me in dust where magic lies with a fool’s wisdom just below the cross.

RATH: Just some great rock 'n roll - reminds me of a lot of great female bands that have this - they can be sort of rough and smooth at the same time.

THOMPSON: I think rough and smooth is a perfect way to describe it. It still sounds like the band that fans know, but it's very slicked up and polished to be like a radio anthem.

RATH: That is the awesome Screaming Females. Their new album comes out on February 24. It'll be called "Rose Mountain." And that song we heard is "Empty Head." Stephen, we have time for just one more. You got a lot to choose from though.

THOMPSON: God, there are so many. I mean, there's a new Dan Deacon, Decemberists, Belle and Sebastian, Sleater-Kinney. I mean, there are all these amazing bands putting out records in the beginning of 2015. The one that I thought I would highlight is a band from New York - this really charismatic band called The Lone Bellow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEN CAME THE MORNING")

THE LONE BELLOW: (Singing) Then came the morning.

THOMPSON: Their sound to me, particularly this song, is just right out of like the Van Morrison playbook. It's just right down the middle, hits this perfect sweet spot. The album and the song are called "Then Came The Morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEN CAME THE MORNING")

THE LONE BELLOW: (Singing) Like a flood from the storm that you cut from my heart. Take the dawn with you when you leave. Wash my hands of all this broken heave. Never forget what you thought you'd never be.

RATH: Nice, big sound - definitely a retro feel there, too.

THOMPSON: Yeah, it could be from a bunch of different eras, and I always love that. I mean, it's a timeless song. Even though we're talking about a very specific point in music history, I feel like it belongs to many of them at once.

RATH: One more time, that's The Lone Bellow with the title song from their new album "Then Came The Morning." That's coming out on January 27. If you want a longer listen to any of those tracks, go to our website nprmusic.org. Stephen Thompson has been our guide. Stephen, this was great. Thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Arun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEN CAME THE MORNING")

THE LONE BELLOW: (Singing) Take my words, breathe 'em out like smoke. Burn every single letter that I wrote. Let the pages turn to ash, I don't want them back. Everything you've always said to me starts to sound like broken glass on speakers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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