Lianne La Havas
Outrageously talented multi-instrumentalist Lianne La Havas first came into the public eye in November, with a breathtaking solo set on Jools Holland in the company of Bon Iver, who she later supported on a US tour. She can be effortlessly soulful and downcast, as on “No Room For Doubt” – her duet with Willy Mason – but also more eccentric – just listen to her wonderfully warped new single “Forget”. With a world tour and new album penciled in for early 2012, expect to hear a lot more from this precocious talent in the months to come.
The word on the underground grapevine is all about UK artist ‘EJ’. And all because of a two-minute clip – barely more than a viral short – for a song called “Mama I’m Gonna Sing”. It is a propulsive, handclap-driven, beast of a track that is sure to feature prominently in clubs. The title is particularly apt, with EJ’s tough-as-old-boots vocals lending heft and authenticity – baring comparison to past greats like Etta James and Lauryn Hill. We wait with baited breath to see where she’ll take us next.
The brainchild of French wünderkid Antony Gonzalez (and former musical sparring partner Nicolas Fromageau, who left the band in 2004), M83 have always produced lush, fantastically over-ambitious soundscapes – they’re named after a galaxy and have the ability to create an all-conquering dream-pop phenomenon. The critical success of 2008’s “Saturdays=Youth” paved the way for their most impressive achievement yet, the “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” double album, which was a runaway success in 2011 and even spawned a bona fide hit single, the sax-tastic “Midnight City”. This will undoubtedly be the year that Gonzalez starts playing to the kind of massive crowds he has always catered to musically in his imagination.
Since being talent-spotted on Youtube by Patrick Keeler of Raconteurs fame, Malaysian singer-songwriter Zee Avi has chalked up a minor hit in the States with her self-titled debut album, and looks set to capitalize on the buzz generated by her music following the release of her second album “ghostbird” in August last year. Her ukelele- and guitar-based songs are as twee as you like – a recent cover of “Slow Hands” made Interpol sound like Jack Johnson – but she has the gorgeous voice and graceful simplicity to embed firmly into your subconscious – rare for music so laid-back.
North London-based four-piece Rev 78 offer up a retro-infused blast from the past, from their vinyl-referencing name to their stripped-down, anthemic rock sound. Leather-clad frontman Teddy Quick comes across as the anachronistic lovechild of Morrissey and Ian Curtis, warbling passionate nothings into the microphone on tracks like “Could Have Been A Dancer” and “Killing Me”, while the surprisingly delicate guitar work of Dave Gritzman provides an excellent foil to the histrionics. Is it too much to hope that the dark lad-rock days of The Enemy and Viva Brother are finally behind us?
Having burst on to the scene with the effervescent, delightfully foul-mouthed “212”, Harlem-based rapper Azealia Banks topped off a fantastic year by taking top spot on the NME Cool List – a dubious award for sure, but not one to be sniffed at either, and in this case probably deserved. Not reliant on any of the zanier-than-thou gimmicks of Nicki Minaj or (whisper it) Lady Gaga, Banks seems to have commandeered a small army of fans on ebullient charm and effortless flow alone, and looks set to emulate and even upstage her contemporaries as the year progresses – watch this space!
Like her Swedish compatriots The Knife, Lykke Li specializes in sparse, intense pop music that can come across as both alien and yet utterly captivating. Two albums into her blossoming career and fresh from the success of her best single yet (the Lynchian Motown of “Sadness Is A Blessing”) the Scandinavians upwards itinerary marks a significant triumph for stubborn and eccentric individuality in the face of bland, production line pop. Those late to the party should investigate her richly rewarding back catalogue, in anticipation of what promises to be a champagne year for Ms. Li.
Hailing from Morden in South London, Good Shoes are perhaps the only known artists to commemorate London’s forgotten district in song, on their 2007 single of the same name – and what’s more, they pulled it off with panache and energy to spare (although even they struggled to say anything nice about the place, primarily associated with waking up having fallen asleep on London’s Northern tube line.) Somewhat neglected following a lukewarm second album in 2010 and the insidious rise of charmless indie juggernauts like Scouting For Girls and the Wombats, the four-piece are poised to return with a new line-up and new tales of city life, love and dissatisfaction – it’s about time too.
Kyla La Grange
With her pin-up good looks and blue eyes, Kyla La Grange could probably have taken the easy route to musical fame on any number of reality TV shows. Instead, she has opted for a much more interesting trajectory, releasing a remarkably consistent set of dark, brooding torch songs (including minor hit single “Heavy Stone”) and garnering word-of-mouth recognition whilst opening for I Blame Coco, Wolf Gang and the Guillemots in 2011. With a yearning, elusive presence and minor chord laments that bring to mind Stevie Nicks or the pagan chic of “Hounds Of Love”-era Kate Bush, it’s surely just a matter of time before Kyla La Grange is a star in her own right.
Of all the “bedroom producers” currently surfing the blogosphere, none have captured the imagination in the same way as Silver Swans. This is the name given to the intimate and ephemeral collaboration between singer Anne Yu and DJ Jon Waters, whose ghostly vocals and minimalist beats respectively add up to a dreamy, half-awake sound that was apparently born of restless creative urges and sleepless nights in San Fransisco. Could 2012 be the year they build on the raw promise of the widely-praised “Secrets” EP and lull us all to a blissful slumber? We’ll have to wait until February and the release of their first album, “Forever”, to find out.
Led by their wonderfully odd frontman Christopher Owens – a former cult member with the nasal sneer of early Elvis Costello and a fixation with ’60s and ’70s rock – San Fransisco-based outfit Girls are the uncontested kings of retro in 2012, with their new album “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” offering up a potent mixture of Floydian atmospherics, Stones swagger, Sabbath riffs and even some quaint Buddy Holly tomfoolery in its lighter moments. Groundbreaking it ain’t, but in a scene starved of straight-up, visceral guitar pop, Girls are a veritable godsend, and remain intriguing and singular enough to transcend their potentially stifling influences.