BBC Sound of 2014: The Sound Part - By Volume

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BBC Sound of 2014: The Sound Part

We take a look at the music of a selection of what the BBC's hype machine has tagged for success in the new year. Author: , and on December 16, 2013
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Following our assertion this month that the BBC’s Sound of 2014 is a disappointing dilution of equal parts hype, celebrity and music, we decided to take the artists they’ve pinned for (and in the process, practically guaranteed) success in the new year, and focus on the sounds they’ve made to date. We haven’t covered every artist on the list — just the ones we’re especially excited about — but perhaps you’ll find something in the about-to-be-discovered gems below to set you on your way into 2014.

Kelela

Kelela on Kelela: “Brandy but weirder.” As far as descriptions for the artist go, Kelela has come up with the most succinct one yet, stemming from the same place as the strength of her debut mixtape Cut 4 Me lies; Kelela had a clear vision of what she wanted to create. Acquainted with the Fade to Mind (and by extension Night Slugs) family, Kelela was able to realise her retro-futurist concept of ‘90s style R&B vocals with not just a modern edge but an experimental one, making for an always-listenable yet dark and provocative listen. With a selection of trailblazing, all-flavours bass beats, present for picking, Kelela repurposed alien music into songs of such high quality calibre and character, expanding the horizons for that which can be deemed R&B as a defiant riposte to The Weeknd-style reverb-heavy alternative R&B of recent years.

Sam Smith

Without a full-length to his name, Sam Smith has sure done a lot for himself in 2013. Between “La La La” and “Latch” one could be forgiven for assuming he’s in the wake of a major album release; “Latch” even made a little splash here in the States. Beyond this, I think it’s also forgivable to assume that the aforementioned tunes were of Smith’s own creation. Obviously he had some hand in the creative process but it’s not like you’ll find these on his debut EP. Thing is though, to unfamiliar ears, it’d have to be difficult to tell – Smith embodies himself in his music, becoming its essence to an extreme.

Every time I listen to his debut EP Nirvana I feel like Smith is bound for success. “Safe With Me” is grimy and shit-hot, and when Smith’s voice is modulated to sound like it’s arising from the bowels of Hell, it is difficult not to melt. “Nirvana” on the other hand is a more wide-open, Smith’s voice multi-tracked as the hook begins its crescendo – “you take me to nirvana / I don’t think this will last / but you’re here in my arms,” he wails, and you can feel the fear in his voice, as if he’d crumble if not held up by the weight of his own backing vocals. And while Nirvana is just long enough to be intriguing (three tracks plus an acoustic rendition of “Latch” that is just glorious) it doesn’t detract from the fact that his voice is exceptional and at twenty-one he already can command a world-conquering hook like a master.

FKA Twigs

Tahliah Barnett is moving at her own pace, simple putting out a single EP in 2013 with four songs of such brevity and force to make a distinct impact on the music world. Her blend of R&B is a confrontational one that challenges and flips the switch on the current climate. Working with the invigoratingly speculative galling producer Arca, FKA twigs unleashed EP2, with a sound that bypassed traditional song structures and meshed electronic ambient aspects and off-kilter hip hop with ground-breaking R&B. Her icy croons isolated in the spotlight instead of buried in bass and reverb, FKA twigs pushes multi-layered concepts that seem deceptively brittle and vulnerable yet are weighty and intimidatingly mature. The nature of her music is both chilling and strikingly resonating, lyrically approaching relationships with complexity and daring towards grounds of psycho-analysis. FKA twigs’ work comes across as the next step that the rest of us have yet to take.

Chance The Rapper

Chance the Rapper is slickly clever, with benzo-loose associations and a makes-it-look-easy delivery; it’s been a while since the blunt smoke of novelty rap has so closely resembled the zeitgeist of hip music. With both A-list collaborations and Indie credibility, Chance’s ability to hide sprinklings of soul within ostentatious clowning is his most enduring asset. Even with the easy laughs, druggy beats, and eclectic samples, there’s an unexpected intensity that interrupts the feel-good flow. Beneath the fake-smile rasp and codeine patois, there’s an engaging persona with the wisdom of a tastemaker.

Chlöe Howl

Having little more than a handful of singles to her name, which really should amount to an individual EP (but why when Columbia could turn it into three) it’s somewhat surprising how seemingly easy it has been for Chlöe Howl to steal some major-label hearts in the night. Most impressive really is just how flat-out excellent these initial tunes are from this now-eighteen-year-old girl. Her two exceptional lead-off singles “No Strings” and “Rumour” are sneering, fuck-all pop that bang out choruses, illustrate stories dealing with shit casual sex and teen pregnancy and contain two of the most jaw-dropping hooks from a pop musician in recent memory, let alone this young/new/relatively unknown. When she cries out “fuck your no strings” to an ex-lover, she’s turning down a vapid retread of past discretion for the sake of a quick fix – investment is the key, it seems, with Howl. And in a world where we can rarely escape our exes through the humble blessings of social media, texts and communal interconnectivity, it is a refreshing turn from someone so young: yeah, no, fuck capriciousness. 

For the most part it appears her music isn’t veering into or resonating from a place veiled or exclusive – her songs are a bit disco, a bit lounge, a bit new wave and post-punk, accented with sugary synths and pristine strings, but it’s Howl’s personality that digs the claws in deep. Observant, poignant and vicious, Howl commands her smoky coo masterfully, and while her range (so far) doesn’t seem endless, her mid-range croon is full-bodied and soulful. “Always did as she was told / apparently she’s an adult / spends it all on alcohol / perhaps it’s just a rumor”, she illustrates on the excellent “Rumour,” a stupid-catchy tune about finding ones way amongst all the alcoholics, backstabbing one another, fucking and reproducing around you – but from off the tongue of Howl this is an entrancing world. She’s a damn fine lyricist to say the least and a capable storyteller already, which hopefully won’t get lost in the whirlwind of shit that will follow her and the major-fueled-hype she will be propelled by through 2014. Talent-wise though, she’ll deserve all that next-best-thing praise that’s already inevitable.

Sampha

Anyone who had heard Drake’s newest record will probably be familiar with Sampha at least partially. He was that exquisite voice behind the hook that propelled “Too Much”, Drizzy’s greatest achievement. I’m sure that lingering “too much, too much, too much”, has dwindled and knocked in the heads of countless in the months following the release of Nothing Was the Same. Thankfully there is so much more from Sampha to be found. His debut EP Dual is a spacey, groovy mess of wonderful piano-laden jazz and R&B that presents a man with huge ambitions and seemingly the chops to match. He has a gravel pit of gruff hidden beneath this soulful gleam in his voice, like one of those bottomless voices that handles the low-end so pleasantly, coating your consciousness in luscious melody as Sampha skips between his baritone and falsetto effortlessly. His music is innately minimal, though, for the most part constructed with one or two synth lines, a couple of flourishes, or maybe just him and his piano keys, belting away – yet everything feels so large. Closer “Can’t Get Close,” though, throws this aesthetic out the window with reckless abandon. His voice multi-tracked into a backing choir, Sampha feverishly repeats “can’t get close, can’t get close” before he eventually erupts into a storm of incomprehensible croons as the song piques. It’s a touching, gorgeous moment from a man who should have much more of these to give us in the coming years.

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