We're one week into 2014, and I'll bet everyone reading this has a list of must-hear new releases. We're waiting for biggies like U2, Beck, Tori Amos and possiblyAdele; zeitgeist-y visionaries from art queen St. Vincent to rapper-singer Future and punk iconoclasts Against Me!; beloved veterans, including the Drive-By Truckers,The Hold Steady and — be still my heart — the slowly re-emerging Neneh Cherry; and young buzz generators like singer-songwriter Angel Olsen, electronic experimentalist Actress and rap weirdo Riff Raff. (Not to be confused with Hurray For the Riff Raff, also due to drop a great album early this year.) All this sonic wealth is enough to make anyone edgy with anticipation. But there's a way to keep calm and carry on — legally! — downloading.
Here's my remedy to the new-year rush: Commit to an album a week that isn't necessarily setting Twitter on fire, but which will provide the kind of pleasure and enrichment that serious listening generates. My 2014 list of under-the-radar releases includes familiar names alongside left-fielders, and ranges widely in terms of genre, making for a balanced musical diet. By the time South By Southwest, spring's musical milestone, rolls around, your ears will be toned and you'll be feeling great.
Robert Ellis, 'The Lights From The Chemical Plant' (February 11)
It's always thrilling to see a promising young artist take a leap and land brilliantly. With his second release, this Nashville-based Texan goes from Americana upstart to major sonic storyteller in eleven sensitively rendered tracks. It sounds like country — Ellis's jazz-like but homey vocal stylings recall Willie Nelson — but this collection of vignettes about love, pain and self-deception will resonate with anyone who's run toward a dream, or crawled away from one. I dare country radio to make this man a star this year.