Artists aren’t obligated to do much. Let’s get that out of the way. Like, if you buy a ticket to a concert, they’re obligated to perform. If you pay for an album, they’re obligated to make sure you get it. But that’s about where it ends. If an artist wants to take their sweet time in getting a new album together (like Lorde) or inexplicably retire after one album (looking at you, Postal Service), then that’s their right.
That said, come on, people. We are all literally starving out here. And while the first half of 2021 has been a great year for new music, with terrific offerings from the likes of girl in red, Japanese Breakfast, Wild Pink, Tyler the Creator, Julien Baker, Lana Del Rey and so on (we made a whole list!), we’re still hungry. And the only thing that can satiate our mighty need is some long, long, long awaited new music from a few artists who are overdue for a new album.
In 2017, SZA turned the hip-hop world upside down with one of the more stunning debuts in years, an elegantly constructed collection of odes to the ups and downs of romance. Ctrl signaled the arrival of a remarkable, genre-defying new talent, but SZA has mostly stuck to collaborations and guest appearances ever since, frequently teasing new music but clearly enjoying taking her time. Take as much as you need, SZA. But also, you know, be efficient.
The Japanese House
Admittedly, it’s only been about two-and-a-half years since Japanese House’s full-length debut Good at Falling landed, but that feels like a decade for the famously prolific singer/songwriter. Amber Bain can write a catchy melody in her sleep, and her secret weapon are brutally honestly lyrics that reflect on heartbreak and depression with wit and wisdom. Bain’s dropped a couple great singles since Good at Falling, including an excellent collaboration with Justin Vernon, but we’re ready for another full album.
When Noname released Room 25 in 2018, she quickly felt like the sort of artist who’d always been around. Admittedly, you may have already heard her guesting with artists like Chance the Rapper, but Room 25 signaled the advent of a thoughtful new talent. Noname uses her music to explore issues like racism, misogyny, income inequality and religion, and she does it all without it ever feeling forced or try-hard. That’s not easy — just ask obvious influences like Lauryn Hill and Andre 3000 — but that’s how good she is. We could use more of her.
Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time released in 2013, promptly set the world on fire and has more or less left it there, with Ferreira getting involved in a vast array of other projects (collabing with Charli XCX, acting in Baby Driver) and constantly teasing a follow-up. The new album even has a name, Masochism. A single dropped in 2019 and the full thing is rumored to land sometime this year, but we’ll believe it when we see it. And we’ll be grateful too.
In 2017, the fearsome Frenchsome released Ti Amo, a very good album that never quite charted the same success as 2013’s Bankrupt! or 2009’s inescapable Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but nevertheless proved these guys still have some terrific songs in them. Four years is enough time to get another batch ready to go, but frontman Thomas Mars crafts albums with a patience and meticulousness that would make his wife, filmmaker Sofia Coppola, jealous. We’re ready when they are.
Rihanna spent several years turning herself into one of the maybe half dozen most famous people in the world and then, in 2016, dropped ANTI, the sort of aggressively non-commercial bit of alt-pop you’d expect a ferociously talented newcomer intent on making their mark to release. “I’ve got to do things my own way, darling,” she explains on spotty opening track “Consideration,” and if ANTI is Ri’s own way of doing things, than she should stick to it. Sure, there were singles (“Work” has over a billion streams on Spotify. A billion.) But it was also thoughtful, compelling, revolutionary in its way. Since then, she’s mostly stuck to doing the sort of things celebs do when they know they’re too big to fail — fashion, films, that sort of thing. She’ll doubtlessly return with another collection of radio ready singles soon, but here’s hoping we get another ANTI, too.
Few bands have cast a longer shadow over the last decade of pop music than The xx, even if they never reached quite the same household name recognition as many of the acts indebted to their influence. Rihanna, Drake and Lorde have all cited them as inspiration, and they’ve written for pop stars like Halsey and Dua Lipa. But where are The xx now?
Working hard, according to them, and prepping some new music. There’s no whisper of a release date or anything, but word is it’ll be a bit more colorful than the sparse, monochromatic sounds that put them on the map. Can’t wait.
Look. You’re waiting for a new Adele album. We’re waiting for a new Adele album. Your mom’s waiting for a new Adele album. Your neighbor’s waiting for a new album. There’s not much we can add to the situation. Rumors were flying in October of last year when she showed up to host Saturday Night Live and while she did a pretty good job, she did not release any new music or even serve as the episode’s musical guest. Surely something is coming. But we don’t know anything about it. Yet.
Nobody on this list does things on their own time or in their own way like Frank. channel ORANGE changed the game in 2012 in a way few albums have, drawing a bright line in the sand that makes it easy to tell now whether the pop song you’re listening to came before or after Frank Ocean made his presence known. He followed it up with Blonde in 2016, which had nearly as big of an impact — but slower, more like a creeping vine than a firecracker. He’s been releasing regular singles ever since and they’ve all been good, but we’re ready for another collection.
Yeah, there was really only one way this list could end. Between 2011 and 2017, Kendrick Lamar dropped five world class albums. You could argue six if you count his Black Panther project. He’s been quiet since 2017, largely sitting the Trump years out, which is exactly the time when America could have used his moral force. But Lamar is a man who keeps his own counsel, and while we’ve heard lots of rumors about what he’s been up to in the studio, we’ve got nothing tangible for the time being. Patience, America. Kendrick is coming.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.