Spoon

(Photo: courtesy of the artist)

I'm not a big fan of January. I find little to like about a month-long Monday, much of which is spent fighting off a holiday hangover. Add to that coldness, darkness and a generally slow live music schedule, and you've got a month I'd rather sleep through.

The month's one saving grace, as with most things in life, is the new music that springs to life with news of releases in the weeks ahead and their initial samplings. This year seems to have offered up more than usual thus far and -- one month in -- we're swimming in new music.

While I generally pride myself on digging up those proverbial diamonds in the sonic rough, the prevailing theme for this month's Waking Life is the return of familiar names. This might make for a more predictable batch, but not necessarily -- the best artists have ways of continually surprising us.

Speaking of surprises, I could not have predicted how much an Elliott Smith recording that had been kept under wraps for over two decades would affect me, but that's not the surprising part. What's most surprising about "You Figured Out," is that it somehow stayed hidden for as long as it did. Originally written for Mary Lou Lord and released on a 1997 EP she recorded, the song transcends its demo status in every way. It's the return of a voice that has emotionally waylaid us so many times before, back to do it yet again. It's difficult to not get a little choked up hearing it. 

Likewise, it was 22 years ago that Slowdive last released any new music. The seminal British shoegazers morphed into the roots-inflected Mojave 3 -- in addition to various solo projects -- not long after the release of 1995's "Pygmalion." But their live reunion and touring in recent years made new music increasingly likely. Luckily, "Star Roving" is a more than worthy return. It captures all of the gorgeous, hazy hallmarks of the band's heyday, but with the kind of driving tempo rarely heard from them back then. They can gaze wherever they want if they sound like this while doing so.

On the other end of the continuity spectrum, I'm not sure I can think of two more consistently brilliant acts over the past 17 years than Spoon and The New Pornographers. The pair have released 12 studio albums between them in that time, becoming standard-bearers of the brand of indie rock that rose after everyone stopped calling it "college" and/or "alternative" rock. Genre nitpicking aside, the first songs we hear here from their upcoming respective releases (Spoon's "Hot Thoughts" and The New Pornographers' "Whiteout Conditions") do nothing to stifle that legend. 

Those are but a few highlights from this month's 33-song selection (Pro tip: It's all highlights). And while you know many of the names  -- Arcade Fire with Mavis Staples, Father John Misty, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Ryan Adams -- maybe the trick is to listen first and worry about whose song it is later. Early year fruits of waking life.

Listen to the playlist below: