With touring still on hold for part or potentially all of 2021, we’re standing on the edge of unknown terrain. Will big-name artists like Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, and Kendrick Lamar continue to hold (presumed) albums back while waiting to be able to tour again, or will they finally release them?
Will artists embrace their wildest dreams and write un-tour-able albums, whether meticulously tracked tracks or with collaborators who would never be able to tour together?
With most of the albums that were recorded pre-pandemic already released, will we see a flood of subdued “quarantine albums,” or will artists still be able to write danceable anthems even when we’re losing the memory of what it’s like to be in a room full of strangers?
Will artists who released albums in 2020 release “quarantine albums” in 2021, even though they didn’t get to tour behind their 2020 releases?
How many bands are we losing because bands can’t gain funds through touring? Or will the pandemic bring us new musicians who wouldn’t have been able to produce music if they were expected to be on the road?
Will Bandcamp Fridays help us return to paying artists for their music? Will TikTok continue to yeet single songs to viral fame and change the music industry’s prerogatives?
Most importantly…will Taylor Swift release yet another album? (Big Red Machine fans beg Tay to leave something behind!)
Below, read about the Chicago Haze staff’s most anticipated albums of 2021, including those we’re hearing rumors about and those we’re wishing for.
January 29 – Arlo Parks / Collapsed in Sunbeams
While it seems like Arlo Parks seemingly came out of nowhere, she’s been releasing music since 2018, signing to Transgressive Records in 2019 following the release of her debut single “Cola.” Parks was longlisted as a breakthrough act of 2020 in an annual BBC poll of music critics and was set to embark on a solo tour in early 2020 before COVID hit. Arlo Parks’ work as a poet influences her songwriting as well as artists like Portishead and Earl Sweatshirt. – Kristin
February 12 – Claud / Super Monster
Last Release: Sideline Star, October 2019
Just a couple years ago, Chicago-suburb grown, New York bred Claud was releasing music independently under the pseudonym Toast. Fast forward to 2020, where they became the first artist signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ new label, Saddest Factory (an imprint of her label Dead Oceans). Claud’s debut project features collaboration from former bandmate Joshua Mehling, Clairo, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jake Portrait. Although there are no signs of live music coming back anytime in the US, I will be anticipating a tour from Bridgers and Claud in the near future (fingers crossed for 2022).
February 19 – Wild Pink / A Billion Little Lights
Last Release: Yolk in the Fur, July 2018
With their 2018 release Yolk in the Fur, Wild Pink upgraded their sound from the fairly run-of-the-mill indie rock on their 2017 self-titled album to a unique sound that’s thoroughly pastoral but also fully rock. They sit in a niche carved out halfway between the folk guitar and aerial hooks of idyll naturecore acts like Kishi Bashi, Mappe Of, and early Bon Iver, the woozy layers of Phosphorescent, and the driving chug of The War on Drugs.
A Billion Little Lights, due out February 19, seems poised to continue the sparkling indie rock energy from Yolk in the Fur, if singles “The Shining But Tropical” (featuring backing vocals from Chicago’s own Julia Steiner of Ratboys) and “You Can Have It Back” are any indication. Wild Pink already has a lot of critical support, but I’m excited to see them break through to a new audience with this album. – Brittany
February 26 – Julien Baker / Little Oblivions
Last Release: Turn Out the Lights, October 2017
I watched Julien Baker’s 2015 Tiny Desk Concert and I fell in love. Her Sprained Ankle-era spare guitar loops and understated but powerful voice made everything out of nothing. I watched her 2018 Tiny Desk and I fell in love again; for her sophomore album Turn Out the Lights, Baker added violinist Camille Faulkner and a piano to her arsenal. Now, on her third album, Little Oblivions, Baker is poised to go back to her Forrister/The Star Killers roots and embrace a full-band sound. Her recent performance of lead single “Faith Healer” on Stephen Colbert included no less than five musicians, a number that would have been downright claustrophobic on any of her previous tours. On “Faith Healer,” Baker has added synth samples, extra guitars, and–yes–even drums to her poetic and thoughtful lyrics. I’m anxious to hear this new Julien Baker era…which hopefully promises another Tiny Desk. –Brittany
February 26 – Madison Beer / Life Support
Last Release: As She Pleases EP, February 2018
I won’t have to wait very long for my final anticipated album of 2021, as Madison Beer’s next project is slated to release in February. This selection may not be a surprise for the masses, but it is for me, as I’ve only recently fallen in love with Madison’s sound. I’m sure her nearly 14 million monthly Spotify loyalists would agree that I was late to the party.
Stained Glass was the track that solidified my anticipation — while the three other singles are also worth several spins. I’m looking forward to giving Life Support the album effect (listening straight through repeatedly). –Sean
March 19 – Lana del Rey / Chemtrails Over the Country Club
Last Release: Norman Fucking Rockwell, 2019
Lana del Rey’s eternal fascination with the Americana mythos will be resurrected yet again this March with Chemtrails Over the Country Club. Finding herself in the unique situation of having to simultaneously follow up 2019’s critical darling Norman Fucking Rockwell and a deluge of ill-advised comments on gender and race in the music industry, Lana is somewhat of an uphill climb with her newest project. Jack Antonoff, the producer behind NFR, is back to work on Chemtrails, and the two singles released so far are soft, understated, and eerie. Hopefully, her 2021 release will shed some light on Lana del Rey, the person and the persona, and add to the acclaimed pile of work she already has to her name. Regardless, Chemtrails and its reception will be a crucial indicator of how Lana will function as an artist in the 2020s. –Emma M
March 19 – Middle Kids / Today We’re The Greatest
Last Release: Lost Friends, May 2018
If you’re a fan of indie rock music, odds are you’ve listened to an album by Middle Kids. If you haven’t…well…you should. Australian-based trio Middle Kids’ debut album Lost Friends dropped in 2018 and received strong reviews from publications across the board, resulting in appearances on late night talk shows and a string of US tours with artists like The War On Drugs and Local Natives. It’ll be a treat to get a new album from Middle Kids, who have only released a handful of songs since their first album release. – Kristin
April 9 – London Grammar / Californian Soil
Last Release: Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, June 2017
You ever realize you have a handful of artists in your back pocket that consistently release solid music but are a musician you really don’t DIVE into the way you do with others? That’s exactly how I would describe my relationship with London Grammar, an English band who’s been releasing music since 2009. Lead singer Hannah Reid has been very vocal about her battle with stage fright: I would be curious to know what that feeling will be like post-covid and how, if at all, influenced the way the band has created music during quarantine. – Kristin
April 16 – Greta Van Fleet / The Battle At Garden’s Gate
Last Release: Anthem of the Peaceful Army, 2018
After the release of strong singles “My Way, Soon” and the slow-building “Age of Machine” earlier in 2020, Greta Van Fleet’s upcoming album, The Battle at Garden’s Gate, is an album I’m very much looking forward to. There are very few bands that capture the classic-rock sound of the 70s as seamlessly as Greta Van Fleet does. Frankly, not many others care to try – which is what makes the band so worthwhile to listen to. Greta Van Fleet shows that pure, instrumental energy still has a place in the modern age, and simple, electrifying guitars have never sounded so good. –Mitch
TBD June – Beach Riot / Subatomic Party Cool
Kristin sent me a pitch from Beach Riot at the tail end of 2020 and I’ve locked my sights onto the UK-based ensemble ever since. Having had the opportunity to interview Rory O’Connor in 2020, I can assure you that Beach Riot is ready to make a splash in 2021. From O’Conner’s own mouth, the band is ready to drop, “SEXY FUZZY LOUD ENERGETIC POP NOISE — with a couple of unexpected dreamy gems thrown in that you might not think we’d have in the collection” (Interview with Rory O’Connor, Chicago Haze).
I’m in need of some bassy workout material, and I believe Subatomic Party Cool will satisfy that void upon release in June of 2021. –Sean
Last Release: 25, 2015
Adele has gone through a LOT of changes since her last album was released, including a massively reported public divorce, where it was reported that her now ex-husband received well over half of her net worth. If losing the love of your life and a large chunk of your net worth is not grounds for making incredibly heartbreaking music, I’m not quite sure what is. The amount of awards that Adele’s two previous albums, 21 and 25 won, is nearly impossible to count on two hands, so it’s safe to say that her next album will have to exceed incredibly high expectations. – Kristin
Aly & AJ
Last Release: Sanctuary EP, 2019
Rise up, 2000s kids: Aly & AJ are releasing a new album this year. The pair of sisters, Alyson and Amanda Joy Michalka, announced via TikTok that they have a new LP—their first in 14 years—slated for 2021, which will reportedly draw inspiration from the music of the 1990s. Nostalgia often proves a powerful marketing tool, as evidenced by the pair making headlines for their re-recording of their 2007 track “Potential Breakup Song,” complete with previously unused f-bombs. However, it does not appear that Aly & AJ are content to cash in on their Disney Channel days, as evidenced by the album’s first single “Slow Dancing.” The track, a dreamy indie-pop ballad showcases a legitimate artistic identity outside of their Disney-approved pop-rock of the past (which still slaps). While it’s too early to tell the album’s quality as a whole, Aly & AJ have certainly started off on the right foot. –Emma O
Last Release: Gone Now, 2017
Jack Antonoff has been pretty busy over the past three years on what it seems like is everyone else’s music besides his own. It took just over three years for Antonoff to release music for Bleachers, when he released two singles (one with his self-proclaimed hero Bruce Springsteen) this past November. While nobody knows what else he’s currently working on (fingers crossed for Lorde LP 3??) It would certainly be nice to get a third Bleachers album in 2021. According to a statement he made about the third project, it will be about “thinking you know yourself and where you are from,” and “having to see yourself through somebody who you want to stay.” – Kristin
Last Release: Immunity, 2019
If anyone can come out of this pandemic making music entirely in quarantine, it’s certainly Clairo…who initially got started creating music in her bedroom, uploading it to Youtube for the hell of it. Towards the end of 2017, the music video for her song “Pretty Girl” became a viral sensation on YouTube, leading to a record deal with FADER Label. Immunity was made with songwriter/producer/musician Rostam Batmanglij, who has been described as one of the greatest pop & indie-rock producers of our generation. Clairo has been hinting that new music is coming on social media and released music with band Shelly just a few months ago, so we’ll see what’s to come for her solo work. – Kristin
Dua Lipa / Future Nostalgia B Side
Last Release: Future Nostalgia and Club Future Nostalgia, 2020
Following the vastly popular release Future Nostalgia, the undisputed top pop drop of 2020, Dua Lipa teased the release of the B Side to this album in a YouTube fan chat on November 6, 2020. The message, cropped and shared by Pop Crave on Twitter, confirms that the flip side will release in 2021 (Pop Crave, Twitter).
Dua didn’t miss on her initial 13 track installment, and I expect that the B Side will pack the same punch. Her most recent collaboration with Angele fills me with confidence and high hopes, as Fever acts as the first potential single for the project at the time of this article’s inception. –Sean
Last Release: Vacation in Hell, 2018
The weirdly wonderful Flatbush Zombies are looking like they’ll be dropping a new album this year. Although nothing has been officially announced, they dropped their now, more than ever EP in June 2020 (top tracks include “iamlegend” and “when i’m gone” with Sophie Faith) to hold us over until a more definitive release arrives. The real crown jewel of 2020, though, was “Afterlife,” a maniacal onslaught of lyrical brilliance. Produced by James Blake, the song sounds familiar to those who have listened to Blake’s recent outputs in 2020, and the music video is great, featuring X-rayed versions of the Zombie entourage. –Mitch
Last Release: Golden Hour, 2018
With her Grammy Album of the Year laurels now two years old, Kacey is due to release the fourth album in her nearly-flawless discography this year.Though she has only lightly teased the arrival of new music in 2021, her recent duet with Troye Sivan on “Easy” gave a glimpse at the possible electro-pop experimentation in her future. But after her divorce with Americana singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly earlier this year, she might also go in a more forlorn direction for the new project. Luckily, no one is better at blending the two than Kacey. –Emma M
Last Release: Imploding the Mirage, August 2020
After their glorious return to banger form with 2020’s Imploding the Mirage, Brandon Flowers said in an interview with NME that there would be “another [album] in about 10 months” and that “it might be better than this one.” The 2021 Killers album is starting to materialize already, with the band posting what looks like a track listing on their social media at the end of December. Flowers’ 10-month mark would put the album release sometime near the beginning of the summer.
As a fan of The War on Drugs (who also have been working on a new album), I loved The Killers’ lean toward their heartland rock side. The driving rhythms underwriting the songs, the fantastic synths, and overall Drugs-y sound were a fantastic look on The Killers’ bombastic pop formula; I’m curious to hear what a Killers album “better than Imploding the Mirage” sounds like. –Brittany
Last Release: Melodrama, 2017
2021 hasn’t had the best start. While it’s unclear what fresh hell the new year will reap, there is a potential silver lining: Lorde is releasing new music.
Despite very little solid information about the new release—reportedly inspired by her 2019 trek to Antarctica— a new Lorde album may be just what we need in order to endure the coming year. Who better than Lorde— often thought to be a pioneer of thoughtful, moody pop music that defined the latter half of the 2010s— to contribute to the collective soundtrack of our existence at a time like this?
While fans and critics alike will wait on bated breath for her new material, Lorde’s previous works will inevitably loom over this project. Will she be able to continue to outdo herself, as she did with her first two albums? Or will nothing she releases compare to the pop perfection of Melodrama? –Emma O
Last Release: Historian, 2018; 2019 EP, 2019
During most nights on the November 2018 boygenius tour, Lucy Dacus opened her set by asking the audience not to record the song she was about to perform. The song was unreleased and wouldn’t appear on a record for a while, she said, but she wanted to share it now. That song, “Thumbs,” about wanting to kill a loved one’s abusive family member, has gained such a following that it has its own Twitter account: Has Lucy Released Thumbs Yet?
It’s been almost three years since Lucy Dacus released highly lauded Historian, an album full of simmering guitar rock and Dacus’ incisive lyricism. In an interview with Spotify, Dacus shared that she was going to start recording an album soon and that these songs were “very scary” in terms of vulnerability. I look forward to hearing what Dacus has to say on her next album…and I hope it has “Thumbs.” –Brittany
Last Release: Night Time, My Time, 2013
How Sky Ferreira released Night Time, My Time in 2013 then disappeared for seven years is completely mind-blowing to me. It may have something to do with her record label, who delayed her debut several times after a handful of disputes. However, the album reached critical acclaim, earning Ferreira (then 20-years-old) festival slots and a spot on Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz tour. Any insights on her follow-up album have been a mystery, including why she tweeted about working on it back in 2014. There’s been movements from her social channels since, but no concrete information on what, if anything, is coming in 2021.
Last Release: Ctrl, 2017
I can admit that I jumped on the SZA bandwagon a bit late past Ctrl was released, but at least I got there! In my opinion, Ctrl is easily one of the most impressive debuts of my generation, if not all time, and her long awaited return from a break from music (and talks that she was going to retire altogether) is going to be worth it once this album drops. She’s already released two singles ahead of any album announcement, so we’ll see where she takes this—maybe all the way to the 2022 Grammys. – Kristin
What We’re Wishing for:
Last Release: Funk Wave Bounces Vol 1, 2017
I remember my anticipation for the first installment of Funk Wave Bounces like it was yesterday; jamming my phone into the aux connection I rigged into my 2005 Accord, I rolled the windows down and vibed to Adam’s release during the hours of an early summer day. Songs like Slide and Heatstroke led the charge, but all of the new releases resonated with me for a long time after listening.
Calvin Harris has released new music under the “Love Regenerator” alias throughout 2020. His recent releases paid homage to his club roots — straying away from the party anthem sounds of One Kiss, Giant, and Promises, all of which will likely appear on his next collection. I’m all for Adam rekindling his love for music and can patiently wait for his next project to drop.. –Sean
Last Release: Blonde and Endless, 2016
OK, let’s face the truth. We’re probably not going to get an album from Frank anytime soon, although it’s long overdue. Blonde and the visual album Endless, both released in 2016, are exceptional, era-defining projects, and the world’s eyes are constantly fixed on Frank, hoping to catch glimpses of what’s to come. He released “Cayendo” and “Dear April” earlier in 2020, but eventually scrapped plans to release certain 7” vinyls a few months ago. Tragically, his younger brother passed away in a car accident in August, with millions of fans, friends and fellow artists giving him an outpouring of support. It’s been a difficult year for us all, but losing a family member is something else entirely. While we’re excited to hear new music from Frank, his fans can certainly wait a little longer – when he’s ready. –Mitch
Last Release: Lush, 2018
We all know how young Billie EIlish was when she was breaking records with her debut album in 2019, but another impressive feat was accomplished by 21-year-old Lindsey Jordan, AKA Snail Mail. Jordan’s first music was being made back in 2015, when Jordan was only 14. Snail Mail (now comprised of a full band), first released an EP in in 2016 on Polydor Records, later releasing the debut LP Lush in 2018 on Matador Records. According to Rolling Stone, Jordan has been working on the follow up to the band’s debut, so we’ll see what’s yet to come. – Kristin
Last Release: True Colors, 2015
…While I can give Calvin Harris a pass, my patience for Zedd’s next album is fading…
We are approaching the sixth anniversary of True Colors, a complex yet approachable masterpiece. It’s one of those records you can pop on, close your eyes, and let the music whisk you through Anton Zaslavski’s mind. It’s a treat from start to finish.
Zedd tweeted, “[The album]’s coming out when it’s done and perfect. Same philosophy as my other albums,” in March 2020. In a December 2020 Reddit AMA, he explained he will devote his attention to the album when the world stabilizes.
My satirical lack of patience comes from a place of love and admiration. Zedd’s previous projects both influenced my life considerably, including my first exposure to Logic, now one of my favorite artists, on the track Transmission.
I hope Zedd takes the time he needs to compose his next work of art. –Sean