The 1975’s progress from cult status to platinum-selling stadium-fillers has looked swift and straightforward, at least from the outside, but it hasn’t come at the expense of their desire to experiment. New album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships teems with ideas from cool jazz to glitchy electronica, brash 80s pop to Drake-ish Auto-Tune, house music to the kind of ballads designed to raise the roof at venues like these.
Tour begins 9 January, SSE Arena, Belfast
The line up of this year’s Celtic Connections festival is impressively eclectic – everyone from traditional folk acts to Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier to Graham Nash. World music is strongly represented too: a collaboration between Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita and harpist Catrin Finch, Portugese fado singer Mariza, Malian ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyate and Basque accordionist Kepa Junkera.
Various venues, Glasgow, 17 January to 3 February
Canada’s Fucked Up have spent years exploring the parameters of punk rock to vast acclaim. Their last album, Dose Your Dreams, was an 18-track conceptual work that returned to the character of David, from 2011’s similarly sprawling David Comes to Life, and took in everything from prog rock and psychedelia to industrial music and disco. Cerebral, inventive and unpredictable on record, they’re reliably ferocious live.
Tour begins 20 January, Ruby Lounge, Manchester
Azealia Banks is such a constant, controversy-generating presence on social media (and apparently she is launching her own social media platform, called Cheapy XO) that it’s easy for her abilities as a rapper to get overlooked. Whatever you make of her trolling on Twitter, her music has been sporadically fantastic, and the sense that anything could happen when she performs live adds a certain piquancy.
Tour begins 24 January, O2 Ritz, Manchester
Death Cab for Cutie
Frontman Ben Gibbard and his hardy US indie perennials return to the UK in the wake of their ninth album, Thank You for Today, a more autumnal, fortysomething take on their trademark melancholy sound. New ground remains unbroken, but Death Cab are the stuff of which undying, rabid cult followings are made of, and a certain familiarity is part of the appeal.
Tour begins 25 January, Albert Hall, Manchester
Massive Attack: Mezzanine XXI
Massive Attack’s third album may well have been dance music’s answer to Radiohead’s OK Computer. Both seemed out of step with the mood of the times: islands of bleak paranoia and darkness amid of a sea of perky Britpop, and beatifically stoned (and indeed Massive Attack-inspired) trip-hop, respectively. Twenty-one years on, the band take it on tour, apparently reimagined “using custom audio reconstructed from the original samples and influences”. The question of whether the “special guests” will include elusive vocalist Liz Fraser looms large.
Tour begins 28 January, SSE Arena, Glasgow
There is something deeply improbable about a band releasing their masterpiece 25 years into their career, but that was what Low did with 2018’s Double Negative, a claustrophobic, experimental and brilliant examination of life in Trump’s America that pushed at the boundaries of their long-established “slowcore” sound. It is not the easiest listen but it is an exceptionally moving and rewarding one, evidence of a rare artistic fearlessness.
Tour begins 29 January, Tramway, Glasgow
The Specials: Encore
A profoundly unlikely turn of events: 11 years after they reconvened without leader and chief songwriter Jerry Dammers, the Specials release a new album. In the intervening period, drummer John Bradbury has died, guitarist Roddy Byers and vocalist Neville Staple have left. How the remaining trio – vocalist Terry Hall, guitarist Lynval Golding and bassist Horace Panter – will fare without them is an intriguing question, although early reports are promising.
Released 1 February
The videos Jimothy Lacoste has uploaded to YouTube have become something of a talking point in recent months: are his optimistic lyrics, guileless rapping style and exuberant dancing for real, or one of those impenetrable millennial gags where irony is piled on irony? He insists it’s the former; whatever the answer, there is something undeniably charming and catchy about his music.
Tour begins 6 February, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
AJ Tracey: AJ Tracey
Expectations are high for the debut album by the rapper formerly known as Looney. Last year, his self-released single Butterflies made the Top 20, and its dancefloor inflections provide a clue to his eponymously titled album’s sound. Keen for his brand of grime to reflect his Trinidadian roots, he has said the album also features a soca influence and, perhaps a little unexpectedly, tracks inspired by country and western.
Released 8 February
A rare UK tour from a genuine soul legend – both as part of Motown’s world-beating Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team and as a solo artist whose 70s oeuvre, not least the oft-covered Going Back to My Roots, should not be overshadowed by the songs he wrote for others. The tour promises “reimagined” versions of his umpteen hits in an intimate, “unplugged” format, interspersed with Dozier telling the stories behind the songs.
Tour begins 13 February, Old Market, Hove
Should you ever wonder about precisely how much power critics exert over public taste, consider the case of Post Malone, the face-tattoo-bedecked Texan rapper. Released to a widespread yell of horror from reviewers, his second album, Beerbongs and Bentleys, went on to break streaming records on Spotify and reached No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, making this forthcoming arena tour look not unlike a victory lap.
Tour begins 14 February, 3Arena, Dublin
As pop stars who rose to fame on television talent shows go, Troye Sivan cuts a pleasingly irregular figure. His second album, Bloom, put his queerness front and centre, quoted Smiths lyrics, featured songs about Grindr and losing one’s virginity as a bottom, and was noticeably influenced by ethereal gothic collective This Mortal Coil. The world could use more pop stars like him.
Tour begins 23 February, O2 Academy, Glasgow
Twenty One Pilots
Trench, the darker, more intense 2018 follow-up to Twenty One Pilots’ multi-platinum breakthrough album Blurryface – home to ubiquitous millennial moping anthem Stressed Out – attracted surprisingly strong reviews. The inevitable subsequent arena tour reaches Britain this year: apparently their live show tends towards the spectacular and comes packed with stunts, including something called “vertical crowd surfing”.
Tour begins 27 February, Genting Arena, Birmingham
Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo has been talking about the US alt-rock quartet’s 12th studio album since before their 11th studio album came out. Intended as a darker counterpart to 2016’s Weezer (The White Album), it was briefly put on hold in favour of the electronically inclined Pacific Daydream. It will be seeing the light of day in March, produced by Dave Sitek and apparently sounding like “the Beach Boys gone bad”.
Released 1 March
These are not the best of times for what would once have been called indie rock, but Brighton based Our Girl – another project from Soph Nathan of the Mercury-nominated Big Moon – bucked the trend with Stranger Today, an atmospheric, potent album packed with great songs recalling the kind of thing 4AD would have released in the late 80s. You can catch glimpses of Pixies and shoegazing about their sound, but there’s a uniqueness and character to it that transcends their influences.
Tour begins 4 March, Jacaranda Records Phase One, Liverpool
It’s perhaps unfair to lay a resurgence of mainstream interest in jazz at the door of one artist, but there is no doubting the impact of Kamasi Washington’s two sprawling albums, The Epic and Heaven and Earth, and his collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels. The proof that he draws in a far wider audience than usual without compromising his sound or ambition is that he’s playing a venue the size of Brixton Academy.
Brixton Academy, London, 5 March
Of all the fresh-faced, gravel-voiced, acoustic-guitar-toting singer-songwriters who emerged in Ed Sheeran’s wake, George Ezra, perhaps unexpectedly, has proved the most successful. His second album, Staying at Tamara’s, spawned last summer’s most ubiquitous single, Shotgun, and sold half a million copies – evidence of his ability to unite a section of the market that would once have been called teenyboppers with a more mature, Radio 2-friendly audience. So the crowd at these gigs should be intriguing.
Tour begins 7 March, Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
A one-off date from Larry Cummings Kiala, yet another east London rapper who has stormed the charts without the aid of a record label. His career kicked off with a dancehall remake of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You; his sound juggles trap and drill, afro swing and bashment; the screams from the crowd evident at his 2018 gigs suggest pin-up status is upon him. This London show will be his biggest British solo gig to date.
Brixton Academy, London, 15 March
Nao’s second album, Saturn, was among 2018’s most charming. Less synth-based than her debut, beautifully poised between mainstream R&B, funk, heartstring-tugging ballads and something more psychedelic and leftfield, it avoided the obvious in favour of forging a gently eccentric individual path.
Tour begins 20 March, Albert Hall, Manchester
Of all the artists to emerge from the sprawling Odd Future collective, the Internet are, by some distance, the most musically intriguing. While Tyler, the Creator is still capable of grabbing the headlines through his lyrics, Syd and Matt Martian’s band have taken a less controversial route, releasing a string of hugely inventive and futuristic funk/soul albums: last year’s Hive Mind was typically great.
Tour begins 21 March, Brixton Academy, London
Idles’ second album, Joy As An Act of Resistance, made a big enough impact to warrant some writers dubbing them “the most important band in Britain”. Certainly, their arty, jagged take on punk carries a ferocious power, while Joe Talbot’s lyrics hold up a mirror to contemporary Britain with slashing wit and a real tenderness. But they’re a band who are really best experienced live in all their chaotic, tumultuous glory.
Tour begins 26 March, Leadmill, Sheffield
Julia Jacklin’s 2016 album Don’t Let the Kids Win was a minor masterpiece of off-kilter singer-songwriter quirkiness, its idiosyncrasies charming rather than irritating: witty songs about drugged-out boyfriends and wishing Zach Braff and Catherine Deneuve were her parents, with a country-ish lilt to the music. The forthcoming follow-up, Crushing, promises a “rejection of expectations” – starker, more personal, fewer laughs – but the single Body was still spine-tingling, and a handful of UK dates last November sold out.
Tour begins 26 March, Haunt, Brighton
Ray BLK won the BBC’s Sound of 2017 poll, the first unsigned artist to do so. As perhaps should have been expected from an artist whose debut release was an EP based on Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations, the path she has followed since has been intriguingly serpentine, some distance from the standard pop-R&B approach. Last year’s Empress, an eight-track project that featured Stormzy, offered ample evidence of her talent.
Kentish Town Forum, London, 28 March
This sounds compellingly bizarre: the 78-year-old electronic pioneer heads out on his first tour, in which he will “conduct, play the vocoder, electronic effects and sounds, play the piano” and “share personal stories that have never left the walls of his studio before”. Titled A Celebration of the 80s, it will also feature a tribute to his most famous collaborator, Donna Summer.
Tour begins 1 April, Birmingham Symphony Hall
Stefflon Don is one of the few British MCs who appear to be making headway in the US, thanks partly to her collaborations with Demi Lovato, Future and French Montana, and partly, one suspects, because her flow is less obviously London-accented than her grime peers. She is the first UK artist ever to be included in hip-hop magazine XXL’s prestigious Freshman Class guide to future stars. Her live performances, too, are more spectacular and pop-facing than her grimier peers.
Tour begins 13 April, Stylus, Leeds