From Springsteen To St. Vincent, A Look At 2014's New Music

Jan 4, 2014
Originally published on January 4, 2014 6:54 pm

As the calendar flipped from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, music writers everywhere got to enjoy the transition from looking back — in year-end wrap-up after year-end wrap-up — to looking ahead. For NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson, it's meant setting aside stacks of 2013 albums and digging into a feast of forthcoming music by big names and up-and-comers alike.

NPR's Arun Rath recently asked Thompson to highlight some of the notable albums coming in the next few months, and Thompson brought four: Bruce Springsteen's High Hopes (out Jan. 14), on which the singer mixes new and old songs; Hotel Valentine (out Feb. 14), the first album in 15 years by Cibo Matto; Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! (out Jan. 21), the band's first album since singer Tom Gabel began identifying as Laura Jane Grace; and an inventive new self-titled album by Annie Clark, who performs under the name St. Vincent (out Feb. 25).

Hear their conversation at the audio link.

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Once again, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Monday morning runs to Sunday night screaming slow me down before New Year dies...

RATH: This is one of the most anticipated releases of the new year: Bruce Springsteen's latest, "High Hopes." You're listening to the title track right here. It's one of the records Stephen Thompson is already geeking out on. Stephen's with our NPR Music team, and he joins us now. Good to hear from you, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Good to hear from you, Arun.

RATH: So this new album from Springsteen, it's going to be a real treat for the hardcore fans, right?

THOMPSON: Yeah. I think every Springsteen album is a treat for hardcore fans of one stripe or another. But this is an interesting one. It's split about evenly between brand-new songs and songs that he has previously released or performed in some way before. Either he's showcased them in live performance, or in the case of songs like "Ghost of Tom Joad" or "American Skin," they've actually appeared as studio recordings before.

So there's a little bit of revisionist history, you know, looking at his own catalog. But especially, I think for the hardcore fans where, like, he's only played this twice in 1989, you know, are going to be very excited about it.

RATH: Along with some, like you're saying, gems from the vault which sound of exciting.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And it includes three covers, and not necessarily extremely well-known covers. The song "High Hopes" is by a singer-songwriter named Tim Scott McConnell. There's a cover of the band Suicide. It's got a real kind of deep cuts feel to it.


SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Give me love, give me peace, don't you know these days you pay for everything. Got high hopes, I got high hopes.

RATH: That's from a new Bruce Springsteen album, "High Hopes." It comes out on the 14th. Stephen, what else do we have to look forward to in the early part of this year?

THOMPSON: Well, it's interesting. You know, one of the big trends of 2013 to me was how many bands put out albums after incredibly long gaps, you know, 10, 15, 20 years. You suddenly had new music by The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine and Sebadoh and Luscious Jackson putting out very, very long-awaited records that a lot of people didn't expect. And we've got another one coming out on Valentine's Day by a group from New York called Cibo Matto.


CIBO MATTO: (Singing) Music from Africa from a dark hallway. Who can tell me something is up tonight?

THOMPSON: The two women at the core of the band put out a couple of records in, like, the late '90s and then broke up and has been broken up for the last decade or so. And, you know, if you remember the music of Cibo Matto, as I believe you do, it was this very sweetly atmospheric but also very light and kind of almost...

RATH: Silly.

THOMPSON: ...almost silly. You know, a lot of songs about food. You know, there was a little bit of a kitschy side to it as much as there was real craftsmanship put into it. This record, it's called "Hotel Valentine," and it's a rougher-edged record. It's got a darker quality to it. It's got more, kind of language to it. But it's still, you know, it still captures a lot of the lightness of the original band.


RATH: The band is Cibo Matto, and their new album is called "Hotel Valentine," coming out on Valentine's Day. My guest is Stephen Thompson from NPR Music. He's giving us a little preview of some of the most anticipated albums of the new year. Stephen, what do you have next for us?

THOMPSON: I've got a band from Florida called Against Me!. The album title speaks for itself. The title is "Transgender Dysphoria Blues." And for people who've been a fan of Against Me! for years, it's a big, big change. Basically, the lead singer, Tom Gabel, is pre-operative transgender.


AGAINST ME!: (Singing) Your tails are so obvious, shoulders too broad for a girl. It keeps you reminded, helps you remember where you come from.

THOMPSON: The words are very - are barked out, so just to do a quick reading: Your tails are so obvious, shoulders too broad for a girl. It keeps you reminded, helps you remember where you come from. And Against Me!'s music has always been very intensely political, very brainy and thought-provoking and very muscular and in your face. And this particular record is not necessarily as directly about politics, but it's all, you know, a concept record about the experience of changing gender. She now goes by the name Laura Jane Grace.


ME!: (Singing) You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress. You want them to see you like they see every other girl. They just see a faggot. They'll hold their breath not to catch the sick. Washed off on the coast I wish I could've spent the whole day alone.

RATH: That's the band Against Me!. Their new album is "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," and it comes out on the 21st of this month. Stephen, we have time for one more. And I know this one is a cool one.

THOMPSON: Yeah. This is just - oh, man, I'm really, really excited about this record. It's by a woman named Annie Clark who performs under the name St. Vincent.


ST. VINCENT: (Singing) The dogs will bark, so let them bark. The birds will cry, I'll let them cry.

THOMPSON: You know, every few years, there's a new St. Vincent record, and it kind of tops the one before. Each one is a little spikier and a little even smarter and more confident and powerful. And she's - Annie Clark is coming off of a record she made a couple years ago called "Love this Giant" that she did with David Burn from Talking Heads. And I think even that experience feeds into this interesting and very distinct-sounding music. It's her fourth album under the name St. Vincent. It's called "St. Vincent." The first single from it is called "Birth in Reverse."


VINCENT: (Singing) 'Cause what I'm swearing, I've never sworn before. Like a birth in reverse. What I saw through the blinds. You could say that I'm sane in phenomenal lies.

RATH: She is just brilliant. And you mentioned how St. Vincent, you know, she's got a completely unique sound as all her own. And I feel like each album is almost as different from the others as they are from every - all other music that's out there.

THOMPSON: Exactly, exactly. And they still sound so much like her. And I think partly that's a product of the fact that she is an incredible musician, an incredibly, just a great guitarist and just so, so smart.

RATH: Again, that's new music from St. Vincent. Her new album is self-titled. It comes out on February 25. Our guide has been Stephen Thompson from NPR Music. You can also hear him on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Stephen, thanks for all the music and Happy New Year.

THOMPSON: Happy New Year to you too, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.