Let’s Hear It For 2011

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If you felt at sea amidst the tide of new faces and genres that emerged over the course of the past twelve months, you weren’t alone. But you can attempt to find your depth this year with the return of some familiar artists who have been keeping quiet until now. We welcome back with open arms Elbow, the Streets and a much-awaited Radiohead album. If this is not enough, Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne will be appearing on shop shelves sometime this year too. Awesome.

These women can be counted among other artists who have now, regrettably, become all too familiar: is it not about time for Lady Gaga’s place as (arguably) the most prominent female artist of the moment to be usurped by a more worthy musician? This year the rise of Nicki Minaj – described as hip-hop’s answer to Gaga – will challenge the latter’s ascendancy in both the music and fashion industry. Minaj may have a penchant for fussy dressing and lurid hair colour, but the hard-hitting rhymes of her songs have more substance than her rival’s ever did. The musical eccentricity of other female singers rising to fame this year – Janelle Monae, Jessie J – will be tempered by the lyricism of some new voices that have been tipped for the BBC Sound of 2011 award. Anna Calvi and Clare Maguire are the names you will be hearing much of, as their debut albums are released in the early part of the year. Calvi’s haunting, Simone-like vocals could not be further removed from Maguire’s deep, powerful tones.

‘Indie’ music veered away from simply empty layers of dirty guitar noise overlaid with bland vocals last year. It spawned the sub-genre ‘chillwave’, a sound characterised by fuzzy production and a synth-heavy nostalgia-inducing sound. Think 80s-style Casio keyboards combined with laid-back dance beats. Last year even our pop-rock princes Kings of Leon had a half-hearted stab in the dark towards the trend, with September’s Come Around Sundown, featuring songs that they eloquently described as “beach-y”. Bands such as Neon Indian, Best Coast and Small Black do it best, and will hopefully gain the recognition they deserve this year.

One man who seems to have won the recognition he deserved towards the end of last year, is James Blake, whose musical synthesis between IDM and experimental minimalist classical caught the public’s attention. Needless to say, he is not the first electronic artist to blend unusual beats and sounds; indeed, the gap between contemporary, ambient and classical has slowly been narrowing over the past few years. Four Tet’s There Is Love In You from last year, for example, is an elegant fusion of lo-fi and dance, and a while back we had Jimmy Tamborello’s Dntel, a slow-paced mix of glitch, found sounds and basic beats. These are, of course, just a handful of examples (others include Fuck Buttons, Boards of Canada, Flying Lotus and Gold Panda), but we can expect that in 2011, the umbrella term ‘electronic’ will be encompassing more of the weird and wonderful, with James Blake as its ‘face’.

We may not be ones to speculate, but we do sense that there may be somewhat of a 70s revival to come this year, following on from the positive reception of bands who imitated this sound last year. MGMT’s beautifully crafted Congratulations – released in April last year – proved to be universally popular (give or take certain fans who were displeased with the band’s abandonment of their trademark mindless anthems). Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s Before Today, was a disco-rock album of equal stature, brimful of bizarre, surreal sounds and musically fascinating passages, further demonstrating recent interest in nostalgic sounds. Could these two albums be enough to bring about a re-revolution? We live in hope…

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