2011: A Musical Odyssey

Our very own Nostradamus potentially inaccurately prophecises the freshest sounds of 2011

According to Mayan prophecy, 2011 will be the last year of our human inhabitation of the planet. The mythistorical tome ‘Popol Vuh’ (not to be confused with the similarly mystical krautrock group) predicts 2012 to end a 5,125-year-long calendar cycle, bringing an apocalypse our way. This makes what you listen to in the next 12 months all the more important. The next year could well be the last in which you’ll be able to listen to new music, while you’re building a bunker in which to hide with all the food and records you can manage. Thus, in the wake of predictions by the BBC and others, I thought I’d use my Nostradamus-esque powers to suggest a menagerie of acts to cater to as many tastes as possible, for the purpose of investigation over the Christmas break. So here are eight acts I’ve carefully selected, stretching from hip-hop to folk to anarcho-punk to shiny pop. I’m not claiming they’re all going to be world-beaters, but they’ll definitely be making some tasty sounds in the coming months. Some of these suggestions may well end up soundtracking your grisly meteor-based death, so you’d better like them…

JAMES BLAKE

Half the artists getting hype-honchos drooling this year seem to be rather normal looking dudes with laptops and normal sounding names. I’d quite happily take Jamie Woon, Alex Clare or Luke Abbott to tea with my parents, as long as they promised not to flatten the scones with filthy dubstep bass. James Blake is the crown prince of these average white electronically-minded boys, but comes from an interesting angle. Far from being a grotty little urchin steeped in the streetwise grime of London’s dubstep scene, he’s a clean-cut student who spent most of his musical life being taught in the ways of jazz and classical, before finding an interest in soul during his teens. If was just before he ended up at Goldsmiths (a university that has its fair share of legendary alumni – John Cale; for instance) that he heard Digital Mystikz and began to absorb a host of electronic influences. His progress on a just a small clutch of EPs is staggering; his stunningly minimal, sparse arrangements and marriages of cold, hard beats with array of screwed, slowed, ghostly samples from our generation’s collective pop R&B youth sounding more and more majestic with each release. A cover of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ proves his versatility; presenting himself without studio trickery, a fragile and stripped down piano track with crisp, chilly vox in the vein of Bon Iver. The debut album is reportedly coming soon, and frankly, I haven’t been this excited since a Waitrose was erected down the road from my house.

TRISTRAM

You know the world’s gone folkin’ mental when a large drunk man with a fauxhican and fairly threatening neck tattoos approaches you outside Yates bar in town and tells you that you resemble Mumford & Sons. I felt this might well be grounds for a fist fight, but when he muttered ‘I fuckin’ love Mumford & Sons’ my fears were calmed, and a point was made. Of course, this came after a year of folk invasions on campus, URY’s ‘A Little Too Twee’ showcasing some intriguing acts as well as the pleasing convenience of Stornoway’s gig in Derwent. 2011 promises just as much ramshackle acoustic strumming from a plethora of acts hoping to hop in the boot-prints of Bellowhead et al. Out of the selection, I’d check out Tristram, whose members also feature in the sonically similar Peggy Sue and The Mariner’s Children. Having played a deft set to a reverently silent crowd at Stereo earlier this term, they’ve been adored by the likes of the Guardian and seem poised to gather more steam. While their shanty-like frivolities and gratuitous violins bring an English Beirut to mind, they also have shades of post-rock influence, with clouds of Godspeed-flavoured guitar clinging to some tracks. Single ‘Dust Disturbed’ breaks the mould, showing that they can play gritty, upbeat baroque & roll just as easily.

BALAM ACAB

Of all the internet-borne pseudo-genres this year ‘witch house’ (also known variously as gravewave, coldwave, or tosspot) was the most recognizable. Sadly, it was actually a re-hash of slowed-down gothic electronics in the open vein of Skinny Puppy, who everybody seems to pretend never existed. Oh well. This guy was lumped in with Salem et al, but really has more in common the aforementioned and similarly fresh-faced James Blake. He’s like Blake’s transatlantic cousin, a student at Ithaca University whose haunting soundscapes are clearly influenced by the IDM happenings in London in the last five years. Each track swims in liquid dub bass, forcing danceable elements into the mix while consolidating the ethereal atmospheres. It’s spooky; ‘See Birds’ has an unidentifiably sourced beat and creeps like a dragged out Burial remix of an undead R&B slow jam. Unlike the robotic starkness of a lot of current electronica, this stuff seems soulful and strangely organic. For a 19 year old who’s balancing these adventures in sub bass and wraithlike reverberations with school, this is astonishing and, appropriately enough in the light of the upcoming apocalypse, the moniker comes from a Mayan demagogue.

ODD FUTURE

While we were begrudgingly saddled with a wave of stagnant releases from once-shocking hip-hop stars such as Eminem and Lil Wayne this year, there was some genuinely fresh, sick shit cooking up in Los Angeles which, over the summer, went virally massive. Odd Future are a crazy-ass collective of blunt-toking skater teenagers whose lyrics are possibly some of the most ridiculous I’ve ever heard. If you thought Method Man’s testicle butchering monologues on 36 Chambers were gross, or Necro needed some Mary Whitehouse justice, Odd Future (full title Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All or OFWGKTA) will probably make you cry. With their bewildering saturation of content, blitzing the online world with slogans and prolific releases, it’s only a matter of time before this phenomenon makes stabs into the mainstream consciousness. The video for ‘Earl’ shocked people who (clearly never having heard of the concept of fake blood) mistook it for snuff – the kids chugging a drug cocktail before bleeding from mouths and nipples while teeth and fingernails fell out. What all the hysteria overlooks is the fiercely original beats and rhymes; grim flows like that of a younger, more talented D12 backed with menacing, minimal and melancholy synth that has more in common with MF Doom than any standard horrorcore or gangsta instrumentation. Their leader Tyler The Creator’s ‘Bastard’ was one of the great hip-hop records of this year, equal parts moving despair and shock power, hinting at far greater things to come. They made their UK debut last month, and, judging by the amount of releases they’ve already got penciled in for next year, 2011 will be the year of the wolf.

FLATS

If you want punk, you got it. There have been a few notable UK punk bands that capture the fire of the wannabe anarchy of the early days, The Shitty Limits and Thee Spivs for example. But Flats conjure a different, almost extinct breed; that of crusty two-chord bastards like Discharge, Flux of Pink Indians and Deviated Instinct. Rather than simply settle for smelling of piss and cider in murky venues in South London, they grave-dig anarcho-punk corpses and give them a modern sheen, looking forward just as much as back. Covering unearthed single ‘Mucky Pup’ by Puncture on their first EP showed the depth of their obsession for any gnarled bargain bin 7”. Dare I say it, they may well suck up all these obscure influences and spit them out in the same way as The Horrors did with their affection for freakbeat and mod. Although Flats despise mods. They wrote a song about it, ‘Rat Trap’, which lambastes Messrs Daltrey, Townsend, Weller et al in a brilliantly stoopid and profane way. The singer is Alan McGee’s son, and there’s a whiff of insincerity about it, mainly thanks to skeptical bloggers. But the tunes and interviews refute that, and there’s nothing more refreshing to see than a bunch of black-clad, patched-up kids brutally smashing their way through the elite hipster-hating-hipsters of Dalston and Shoreditch with armfuls of sludge riffs and D-beat machine-gun percussive destruction. The perfect soundtrack if anyone wants to do any more rioting. These guys should have been swinging from the cenotaph amidst burning cars and sirens, not David Gilmour’s son for fuck’s sake.

YUCK

Yuck have a rather atrocious name, but blew me away when they supported Times New Viking at Stereo earlier this year. They’ve been suggested as a ‘Sound of 2011’ by the BBC, whose other indie recommendation is The Vaccines, a band our delectable deputy music editor Sam Briggs interviewed in our last edition. They’re a hard-line indie gang, with the likes of Generation X slackers Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. their heroes. A phoenix from the ashes of Cajun Dance Party, who came from the same school (of rock) as Bombay Bicycle Club, they join bands like Male Bonding and Japanese Voyeurs (who we also interviewed recently) in spearheading a re-ignition of shambling grungy sounds in the capital. The unreasonable expectation put upon the band’s teenage shoulders in their former incarnation has again raised its head, but this time, bolstered by a drummer they found in the desert – really – and a bassist from Hiroshima, they’re hopefully not going to implode. Their debut album is apparently finished and ready for release; its mix of Teenage Fanclub fuzz and narcotic drawling hardly re-invents the wheel, but makes a suitable soundtrack for gazing at your shoes while you wait for Armageddon in 2012.

ANNA CALVI

When Brian Eno calls someone ‘the biggest thing since Patti Smith’ people are either extremely skeptical or immediately crank up the hype. One listen to this lady and you’ll probably be immediately converted, unless you’re as resolutely unromantic, cynical and bitter as half the people commenting on this website. That said; she’s not in any way comparable to the godmother of punk’s mercury poetics and scorching rock & roll, but no-one is. Calvi’s résumé does, however, make someone like me get a musical hard-on; she’s a swooning gothic half-Italian chanteuse, who has toured with Nick Cave and seems like the kind of girl Leonard Cohen might write about falling in love with. She inspires much mention of PJ Harvey, due to her collaborator Rob Ellis lending production duties to Calvi’s debut album. There is definitely some of the raw carnal literacy of our Polly in Anna, who cites Edith Piaf as well as Claude Debussy as touchstones. With Zola Jesus, Esben and the Witch and innumerable goth revivalists making this year one of the most musically melancholy and dramatic since the 80’s, Calvi makes her contemporaries look rather unsophisticated by comparison. In this age it often seems like histrionic high romance has died in pop music; Anna might just be the woman to bring it back.

WILLOW SMITH

Yeah. This last suggestion is Willow Smith. Will Smith’s daughter. If anyone’s going to challenge Justin Bieber’s attempts at world domination it’s this pre-teen super-hip dance-pop crunk mini-ninja. Since Bieber may well be a puppet of the Disney corporation, sent by reptilian overlords to destroy planet earth by hypnotizing its youth, we need some form of musical resistance. Willow Smith may be the only hope for humanity – as I’ve re-iterated several times throughout this feature like a crazy hippie in a trailer, 2012 marks the end of the world, which is probably going to be brought about by Biebz, the smiling, airbrushed, vacant-eyed antichrist. Willow’s been signed to Jay-Z’s label. Her song ‘Whip My Hair’ took over the internet and charts in recent months, and she’s now recording an album. It is my strong belief that ‘Whip My Hair’ could unite humanity and bring peace to the world. If everyone whips their hair back and forth repeatedly, all peoples will surely be united. The girl is ten years old. She’s already a superstar after one youtube upload. That’s depressing. In fact, nearly everyone on this list is a teenager or barely out of college. I feel shitting old. I haven’t done anything at university. I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. I could have spent the time I spent writing all these articles and queuing to get into Ziggys making super cool chillwave on my laptop. I could be the toast of the industry by now. Instead I’m just a bum. Bring on the apocalypse.

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