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2012 music preview: 10 albums we can't wait for

Releases from Carrie Underwood, Mumford & Sons, Nicki Minaj, and more

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Carrie Underwood
The wait for the country superstar’s latest is almost over; she tells us why her upcoming album gives her ”chills”

Ax excited as millions of fans may be for Carrie Underwood’s still-untitled fourth album, due this spring, they’ve got nothing on the star herself: ”The first time I heard one song in particular,” she tells EW, ”I swear I got chills and goose bumps all over my body. I immediately called my manager and said, ‘I have to have this!’ I don’t think I have ever been that excited about a demo before. And seeing it all come together to become so much more than that demo has been really special.”

Considering she’s got 11 No. 1 country hits under her bedazzled belt — Reba McEntire is the only other female artist in the genre to match that feat — ”special” is something Underwood, 28, has obviously developed a knack for recognizing since she graduated from American Idol in 2005. Her most recent album, 2009’s Play On, yielded four major singles, three of them chart-toppers. And though it’s been more than two years since Play‘s release, the singer has hardly been idle: In addition to promoting the album on extended tours of North America and Australia, Underwood scored a Golden Globe nomination for co-writing and performing ”There’s a Place for Us” from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, made her big-screen debut in Soul Surfer, and officially became the top earner in Idol history. And somewhere in there she also found the time to get married, wedding NHL player Mike Fisher, 31, in July 2010.

Not that there aren’t other men in her life, at least professionally: In the past year, she’s collaborated with Steven Tyler (they performed ”Walk This Way” at the ACM Awards), Tony Bennett (she cooed ”It Had to Be You” for his Duets II album), and Brad Paisley — who has not only been her CMA Awards cohost four years running but helped her land that 11th No. 1 with their smash ballad ”Remind Me.” So don’t be surprised if you hear some of their influence in her new material: ”It is amazing to see how different artists work,” she says, ”and impossible not to take something away from working with each of them. For instance, Tony only records in an open space with his musicians, which was a new environment for me.”

There are other new — and more unusual — influences at work on the upcoming album: ”Something that may surprise some fans is that there are a few darker songs on this album,” says Underwood. ”I have always been a fan of songs that have attitude, but the ones I’m talking about have a darker story line. It seemed to be what the album wanted, so I decided to roll with it.” (TBA 2012)Kyle Anderson

Mumford & Sons
Last year was a big one for the banjo-toting British quartet: collecting Grammy nominations, collaborating with Bob Dylan and Ray Davies, hitting personal milestones (cough! Marcus Mumford getting engaged to Carey Mulligan, cough!). Somehow, though, they’ve managed to work on the follow-up to their stealth 2010 smash Sigh No More in spots ranging from a Nashville farmhouse to a U.K. studio. Bassist Ted Dwane has described the still-untitled upcoming album as ”doom folk, kind of like Black Sabbath meets Nick Drake,” though we might detect some cheekiness there. Judging by the new songs that have already become live staples — ”Hopeless Wanderer,” ”Below My Feet,” ”Lover’s Eyes,” ”Lover of the Light” — fans can expect to Sigh over more gorgeous folk-rock hymns. (TBA 2012)Melissa Maerz

Nicki Minaj
The deceptively titled Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (it’s a whole new album, not a deluxe edition of her 2010 debut) focuses on Minaj’s sociopathic alter ego, Roman Zolanski. Expect the sophomore effort to eschew radio-friendly jams like ”Moment 4 Life” in favor of manic tracks like the breathless single ”Roman in Moscow,” which Minaj considers an ideal entry point. ”It’s like a trailer to the movie,” she announces. ”I just wanted to touch the surface.” If the outside is that insane, expect the center to be extra nutty. (Feb. 14)Kyle Anderson

Dierks Bentley
Home
After delving into bluegrass, Bentley’s back to his country roots. (2/7)

Sleigh Bells
Reign of Terror
The party-noise duo return with more metallic(a) synth riffs and crushing choruses. (2/21)

Usher
Mr. Entertainment has hit the studio with a slew of big-name producers. (May)

Madonna
Guests Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., and Euro dance maestros galore: Her Madgesty loves good company.(Spring)

Maroon 5
Fans of sex-crazed singles from rock’s Jagger-mover-in-chief Adam Levine, rejoice. (Spring)

The Killers
Brandon Flowers & Co. have tapped producer Steve Lillywhite (U2) for their fourth full-length. (Summer)

Ke$ha
The pop hellcat promises less party, more ”vulnerability,” in 2012. (TBA)