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Five for Friday: Anticipated Late-Year Albums

This week sees the release of what will doubtlessly become 2017's best-selling album: Taylor Swift's Reputation. While her tougher, more dance-focused makeover has spurred contentious debates among diehards and her enormously large casual fanbase, there's no denying that when Swift makes a move, the pop world shakes. The record also launches a robust end-of-the-year schedule, with many beloved artists releasing long-awaited works. Here's a preview of five hotly anticipated forthcoming albums.

U2 Songs of Experience
The rock giants have spent the past few years looking back. The band recently completed a tour that celebrated its 1987 album The Joshua Tree, which followed 2014's Songs of Innocence, a set that, lyrically speaking, focuses on nostalgia by tracing the band members' obsession with music through the ages. While featuring light nods to dance rock and even punk, the music remains genial in tone. The quartet, apparently, initially intended Songs of Experience – coming December 1st – to function as a bookend, but Bono has said the past year's political and social events – namely Brexit in the U.K. and the divisive U.S. presidential election – inspired the band to rework the album and get topical. If so, it could end up being more of a bookend to The Joshua Tree. The initial single, however, "You're the Best Thing About Me," is the musical equivalent of a Valentine's Day card.

Mavis Staples If All I Was Was Black
Soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples has experienced a career rejuvenation thanks to her work with the adventurous indie label Anti-. The imprint has paired her with the likes of Jeff Tweedy, M. Ward, and Ry Cooder, producers who alternately respected her heritage and gently prodded her to look to the future. (See 2007's still-poignant We'll Never Turn Back, which puts a fresh spin on Civil Rights Era songs.) Not, of course, that Staples needs nudging. Her lived-in rasp of a voice and experience remain treasures. With If All I Was Was Black, Staples stops reinterpreting other artists' songs and gives us 10 originals written for her by Tweedy. The pair has current events on their mind, as evident by the bluesy funk of "Little Bit." "They say he was fighting, so that's what we're told," Staples sings in a song referencing police brutality. "But we all know that ain't how the story goes." What's that saying? The more things change...

Charlotte Gainsbourg Rest
Charlotte Gainsbourg rarely tours and only sporadically releases new music. The French singer/actress' film credits far outnumber her songwriting ones, and she's been a longtime collaborator with director Lars Von Trier (Melancholia). That all makes Rest, due November 17, something of an event, given it's her first album since 2010's Beck-produced IRM, an odd but lovely set that mixes organic and synthetic sounds – even turning the hum of an MRI machine into something hypnotic. Early indications suggest Rest will be equally as weird and calming. The self-titled single unfolds like a nursery rhyme, with Gainsbourg alternating French and English vocals. She's not a polished singer, and her voice registers little more than a whisper. Yet an enchanting fragility distinguishes everything Gainsbourg touches. The album also boasts a guest appearance from Paul McCartney and production from Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.

Chris Stapleton From a Room Vol. 2
The bearded, burly, and husky-voiced Stapleton disrupted the Nashville mainstream with his 2015 debut Traveller, an album that came after years of him writing for the country establishment. The work pivots from the beer, gun, and pick-up-truck clichés that had become the norm, and instead drifts into quieter, more thoughtful territory – and does so with a tinge of Western soul. Think Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson, even if Stapleton's gritty songs lean towards the more personal than the outlaw fare of the aforementioned legends. Earlier this year, Stapleton issued From a Room Vol. 1, where the tales of tough luck and hard living take on a rootsy disposition. The follow-up, due December 1, looks to dive deeper into Stapleton's bluegrass lineage while still featuring the elegant, twilight-tinged guitar work that's become one of his hallmarks.

Björk Utopia
The always mysterious and experimental Icelandic artist turned heads when she described Utopia, out November 24, as her "Tinder album." That doesn't necessarily mean it teems with spur-of-the-moment crushes and bad late-night decisions. Coming in at more than 70 minutes, Utopia isn't built for the short-attention spans encouraged by the swipe-left-right app. Instead, Utopia concerns the search – the quest for love, happiness, and contentment. Lead single "The Gate" continues the serene and ambient path that Björk has followed of late, with stark electronics contrasting with delicate woodwinds. Björk's voice wafts over the arrangement like a cloud, and the song feels like a deconstructed hymn. A happy Björk doesn't necessarily equal a peppy Björk, however. Utopia will likely keep fans guessing and wondering as to what warped sound will come next.

Photo credit: Santiago Felipe

November 10, 2017

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