Two years ago, I ran a series of guest posts from people involved in Irish music featuring their top 5 Irish acts at that moment. This time around, I thought I’d shift the focus to international and ask a similar question – “Who are your top 5 new artists of 2011?”. In this series, musicians, bloggers, record shop owners, journalists, bookers and radio presenters will be answering that question.
James Vincent McMorrow himself is generally considered one of the best new artists of the past year and a half. He’s spent much of 2011 touring in Europe and North America, releasing his Early In The Morning album through Vagrant Records in North America and has appeared on Later With Jools Holland. He’s currently preparing for his second album and another European tour in the first few months of 2012. Here’s his top 5 new artists of 2011.
1. The Staves
Three sisters that sing some of the most beautiful harmonies I’ve ever heard. I first saw them live at The Great Escape festival in Brighton, they were on just before me, and i was floored by them, the performance was amazing, and the songs were striking. I could hear so much music I love in what they were doing, people like CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny, but it didn’t feel nostalgic or overly reverential in any way, it’s all uniquely them.
I invited them to come out on tour with me through Ireland and the UK in October, every night they had the audience in the palm of their hand. They’re putting out their first record next year,I think both Ethan and Glyn Johns worked on it, which is incredible considering it’s probably the first time they both have worked together on anything. Pretty much says it all, The Staves are that good.
2. Clams Casino
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a hip-hop producer I’ve liked as much as Clams Casino. A lot of hip-hop production these days sounds so generic. The first time I heard the song ‘Bass’ he produced for Asap Rocky, as soon as it was done I put it on again. And then again. And then 20 more times after that. I found the free mixtape he put out of his instrumentals. What I love about what he’s doing is that he’s referencing styles of music that up until now I’ve not heard that much of in hip hop, dubstep and more ambient, sonically darker music, he’s putting these things together and it’s creating this ominous weighted sense to everything. The most telling thing about the tracks on the mixtape was that they didn’t feel incomplete without any vocals on them, like he’s approaching the music as its own thing, rather than just a basic vehicle for a rapper or a singer to add the finishing touches to.
I was playing an instore at Rough Trade in London a couple of months ago, waiting outside by myself beforehand, when someone came up and put this record in my hands. It was pretty mysterious and the only thing they told me was that the guy who made the record barely left his room and never played live. I was definitely intrigued, I put it on my computer and listened to it all the way back to Dublin.
The whole thing is so fragile, it feels as though it could fall apart at any point, his voice is this delicate thing, but it also with some real power behind it when needed.
The first song that grabbed me was ‘Sarah Minor’, it’s got such heart to it, his choice of instruments is so perfect and fitting, just a guitar and a quiet organ, then at the end a shaker and some melody on what I think is an electric piano. It’s that simple for most of the record, every now and again there’s extra voices and drums, but even then it’s minimal.
It is a sad record, it’s definitely not the easiest to listen to if you’re not in the right place mentally for it, but every time I listen to it I’m still left thinking that it’s truly something special.
4. Frank Ocean
I love Frank Ocean’s voice. I loved it the first time I watched the video for ‘Novocane’, I loved it even more when I bought Watch the Throne and heard ‘No Church in the Wild’ and ‘Made in America’. Everything he does is just inherently musical, he may not have the biggest range in the world, but what he has he uses better than 99.9% of the singers out there. I didn’t even realise he was in Odd Future until quite recently, so much of the talk about them is centered on Tyler the Creator, but it makes perfect sense, can hear a lot of their vibe in his music. I think he shares a lot of musical kinship with Kanye West, they have a similar delivery, but Frank feels like a proper singer rather than someone who thinks they’re a singer, and is using autotune to fill in the blanks. Really curious to hear the album when it comes out, every single so far has been really strong, if it keeps growing that way then it could be a really important record next year.
Download the Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape.
5. The Weeknd
He put out two of my favourite records this year, and he put them out for free, so he has to make the list. Anyone who’s into ’90s R’n’B should hear them, there are a lot of people referencing similar music at the moment, but they’re not doing it nearly as well as he is. Especially the House Of Balloons EP, there are some hooks on there most writers might wait their entire lives and still not be able to come up with. I’m not quite sure where he’ll take it next, putting out two records that are so good so close together, there’s a worry that he might have jumped the shark creatively. I know he’s started working with Drake though, who is pretty much the cleverest man in music right now, so i suspect they have something substantial up their sleeves.