Let’s Get Cynical About: The ‘BBC Sound Of 2011’ Longlist

Oh hey, is it really that time of year again? Yeah, the BBC have announced their Sound Of 2011 longlist, and I’m going to lovingly rip it to shreds/lavish it with praise (delete as appropriate). Let’s begin.

Anna Calvi

I’m not sure why, but there’s something about Anna Calvi that rubs me the wrong way – I think I just find her voice a little bit *too* melodramatic. This is most noticeable on her interpretation of popular 50s song ‘Jezebel’ – there’s something about those effortless, quivering bellows of “JEZEBEEEEEEEEEEL” that’s a little bit unsettling to my ears. Still, there’s some interesting stuff going on instrumentally on tracks like ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’, and I’m sure her voice will find many new fans in the coming year.

Clare Maguire

Claire Maguire is another artist in possession of a big voice, but will it be enough to get her music noticed? Probably, in the short term at least – debut single ‘Aint’ Nobody’ is perfectly serviceable, if not particularly inspired, but it works as a vehicle for her voice. Maguire’s staying power will depend on what other tunes she may (or may not) have up her sleeve – as it stands, she seems like she might be pretty forgettable come the end of the year.

Daley

Daley definitely looks like he should have been in the ‘Being A Dickhead’s Cool’ video – but still, he’s already put in a good turn on Gorillaz’ recent single ‘Doncamatic’, so perhaps I can put aside that particular misgiving. Unfortunately, his own material is a brand of radio-ready soul so smooth that it simply drifts in one ear and out of the other.

Esben & The Witch

Esben & The Witch make music that would be the perfect soundtrack to an apocalyptic rave – foreboding, sinister, dark and atmospheric. Singer Rachel Davies voice cuts through the slow-building chaos of ‘Marching Song’ like a knife, while ‘Warpath’ whips up a swirling haze of noise. Don’t expect to see them on the CD racks in Tesco any time soon, but the critical buzz around Esben & The Witch is only going to increase in 2011.

Jai Paul

Jai Paul is, thankfully, not a Bollywood version of Empire Of The Sun, as the artwork on the BBC Sound Of 2011 page might suggest. ‘BTSTU’ is a schizophrenic slice of funky future pop – one minute he’s singing “don’t fuck with me” in falsetto, the next minute the track takes a turn towards dubstep territory with some wobbly synth bass. Future material from this guy could turn out to be ace, or it could turn out to be a total pile of crap – but at least it’ll probably be interesting, either way.

James Blake

James Blake’s Klavierwerk EP got people talking earlier this year, but it’s his sublime cover of Fiest’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ that has really been making waves recently. Taking the dubstep influences of the EP and splicing them with piano-led, emotionally-charged pop seems to be a recipe for success – his debut record is due out in February, so I look forward to seeing whether his own material maintains the high standard set by ‘Limit To Your Love’.

Jamie Woon

The first I’d heard of Jamie Woon was his current single ‘Night Air’, which I definitely got more than a little bit obsessed with and ended up listening to on repeat countless times. His collaboration with Burial has produced an effortlessly soulful, dark sound that’s the perfect late night soundtrack and has me intrigued to see what he’ll come up with next.

Jessie J

My first reaction on seeing Jessie J’s video for ‘Do It Like A Dude’ was that she looked like Lily Allen restyled as a Crunk Lady Gaga. After subjecting myself to it again, my reaction remains unchanged. Brash, in your face, and completely awful musically, but no doubt she’ll be hailed as a feminist icon and ‘next year’s Lady Gaga’. Kill me now.

Mona

Hey, did someone order another Kings Of Leon? No? I’ll just put these guys in a box over here then – seriously though, Mona sound more than a little bit indebted to the Followills (they’re even from Nashville, for crying out loud). It seems clear that they’re not going to wait for three or four albums to incorporate stadium-rock ambition into their music though – debut single ‘Trouble On The Way’ doesn’t seem a million miles away from something Bono and co might come out with, albeit with a more rabble-rousing streak.

Nero

Presumably nominated for the potential to be the next dubstep act to crossover into the mainstream a la Magnetic Man or Katy B, Nero are definitely headed in the right direction. Current single ‘Me And You’ is a huge-sounding, accessible floor-filler – more of the same will undoubtedly see them cemented in the nation’s consciousness.

The Naked & Famous

The Naked & Famous have already been compared to MGMT and Passion Pit – upon listening to ‘Punching In A Dream’, these comparisons seem entirely accurate, leaving me with very little to do. Whether or not I will give a shit about them will probably rest on whether or not their album is full of similarly good tracks, as opposed to being 3 good singles and a load of indeterminate prog bollocks (yes MGMT, I’m talking about you).

The Vaccines

I was fortunate enough to see The Vaccines on their first UK tour last month, and it was pretty clear that they’re destined for bigger things than playing to 200 people in Stereo on a Thursday night. Did I actually like them? Yeah, I’d say they’re decent enough, although Zane Lowe’s hyperbolic claim that they’ll “start a new era” seems a bit of a stretch. In reality, tracks like ‘If You Wanna’ and ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ will simply help spawn a number of copyists of variable quality (see also: The Strokes, The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys).

Warpaint

Including Warpaint on this list almost feels like cheating, given that they’ve already released debut album The Fool – an album that generally went down pretty well with critics and has appeared in the likes of NME’s ‘Best Of 2010’ list. That said, I did rather like The Fool, so I certainly wouldn’t complain if Warpaint’s star continued to rise in 2011 – understated, expansive and effortlessly cool tracks like ‘Undertow’ deserve a bigger audience.

Wretch32

Despite the fact that Wretch32 looks more like an Xbox Live gamertag than the name of the next big thing in British hip-hop, there is no denying that ‘Traktor’ can only be described as a ‘BANGIN CHOON’. If he’s got more like this to unleash on the unsuspecting public, then this guy’s got massive crossover potential.

Yuck

Remember Cajun Dance Party? Ok, now forget all about them. Despite containing a pair of ex-Dance Party members, Yuck don’t really sound anything like that band. Instead they’re playing a pleasing, fuzzy hybrid of shoegaze and grunge, and it works pretty well overall – see ‘Georgia’ for a prime example. Again, not Top Of The Pops material, but Yuck are definitely going to pick up a lot more indie buzz next year.

Overall, my personal top 5 favourites are:

5. Yuck
4. Warpaint
3. James Blake
2. Jamie Woon
1. Esben & The Witch

And, working on the basis that the nominations for the Brits ‘Critic’s Choice Award’ are a massive hint, my guess at the BBC’s eventual top 5 is as follows:

5. Mona
4. Nero
3. The Vaccines
2. Jessie J
1. James Blake

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