Galway four-piece NewDad started releasing music in 2020 and quickly picked up a team around them, a BBC Six Music session and support across the board.
Why? Simply put, they make certified great dreamy indie pop that harks back to previous purveyors while carving their own path like great new bands do. NewDad are already just a great new band.
The impenetrable nature of the drill scene means it can be hard to get the lay of the land such is the hermetically-sealed nature of its community (especially for a 30-something white guy let’s be honest).
Yet, the Drogheda A92 collective’s Offica are at the forefront of what comes across the Nialler9 radar in terms of homegrown drill and rap this year, building on previous success of Irish artist J.B2. With crazy streaming numbers (8.6 million a month on Spotify and millions of Youtube views), and a collab with Youtuber turned rapper KSI and crossover into the UK scene, Offica is bigger than most established artists in Ireland.
There’s a good background feature and interview with him by Cailean Coffey at Goldenplec.
I first featured Patricia Lalor, the 14-year-old back in April when she was on the cusp of starting to release original music after doing covers of Julia Jacklin, Soccer Mommy and Radiohead.
In December, the third of Lalor’s original EP collections this year of dreamy lo-fi pop is released. We’re hearing a prodigious young talent who is developing frighteningly fast.
The Derry producer John McDaid aka Planting stepped up to a full-length release of textured electronic music with his Coordinates album this year. His tracks feature melodic synth-arp ambience and layered evocative excursions.
Another Irish artist who used 2020 as a year to cement their musical ambition. Part-time pop star and photographer Luke Faulkner’s synth pop ably moves between the decades of ’80s, ’90s and 2000s pop furrowing his own queer Irish pop aesthetic.
Multi-instrumentalist Sam Kileen’s SENU project has produced a number of immersive, mostly instrumental singles. While guest vocalists have featured on the project’s studio material, as on ‘Jetlag 4’ and ‘Thought I Saw You’, the project’s strongest assets are its ability to create enthralling, genre-bending instrumentals and produce them superbly live on stage. Catch them live if you get the chance, someday.
With a blend of electronica, jazz and even a touch of lo-fi hip-hop, SENU’s recorded material displays an obvious virtuosity while never allowing it to become dominant over the need to create aesthetically pleasing, well-written songs.
Take a listen to Shiv’s ‘You and I’ and take a moment to just appreciate the vocal delivery. The Zimbabwean-Irish artist’s voice, as on ‘Golden’ and ‘Letting You Know’, takes absolute centre stage.
Usually championing a downtempo R&B sound, the lush arrangement’s on Shiv’s material to date are the ideal accoutrement for her silky smooth voice. It’ll be very interesting to see, headed forward, how versatile her music can be, particularly in the context of a full project. For the time being, the singles Shiv has released easily mark her out as among the nation’s best R&B artists.
There’s a melancholy edge to the indie-pop Smoothboi Ezra produces. Whether overtly mentioned through lyrics addressing their mental state at time of writing or in the sweet-sad melodies which are a staple of their music. It’s one of the very human touches which makes Ezra’s music stand out in a rather over-saturated genre.
With access to the same bedroom production tools countless artists employ to sound exactly one another, Ezra’s music is emotive, intelligent and unique. They’re a standout artist and it’s easy to imagine a ready-made international audience for their music. Check out their IS IT EP for a good introduction.
Dublin punk four-piece Sprints have distinguished themselves as a prominent creative force this year thanks to the release of four sharp singles.
The band’s best music, namely ‘Drones’ and ‘Manifesto’ adopts a lean, aggressive punk stance flourished with industrial sound design (with production by Girl Band’s Daniel Fox). Sprints’ rhythm section is all sinew, a distorted bedrock upon which lead vocalist Karla Chubb’s dogmatic performances land like a closed fist. An incredibly finished sound for a band with only four singles under their belt.
For our money, Strange Boy (formerly known as Strange Boy Nature) is among the finest young MCs in the country. The PX Music-associated artist caught our eye a year back with the release of ‘String Theory’, a pummelling display of lyrical quality set to one of the hardest beats Irish hip-hop has produced to date. A superb feature on Delush’s ‘It’s Alright’ garnered yet more attention.
However, it’s the MC’s latest single, the first released through more widely-subscribed streaming platforms, ‘The Pope’ that comfortably cements his place on this year’s list. It’s hilarious, damn smart and a sure-fire calling card of an artist that will go on the dominate the scene in the years to come.
A hard dance producer who co-founded Cork’s Flood collective alongside Doubt, Tension’s In Cascade was one of our favourite alternative Irish dance releases this year. Filled with larger than life percussive sounds and avant-garde sound design, Tension is a bright prospect in an all too-underexplored facet of Irish dance music.
Equipped with one of the finest voices in the country, Tolu Makay’s drew attention early with the release of ‘Goodbye’, a powerful ballad.
Since then, Makay has continued to develop, both through excellent solo material, typified in her 2020 EP Being, as well as with collaborations with Zapho (through the X Collective) and Delush. Makay brings a strong message of self-empowerment in her music, one that will no doubt resonate with many going forward into the new year.
One of the country’s top creative authorities on big band funk and soul. Toshín were originally formed in 2016, though even 2018’s ‘We Don’t Share Blood’ illustrates that the band hadn’t fully found their sounds in the way that their excellent 2020 EP Get Your Life exuberantly screams.
There’s little doubt that the musicianship shared amongst all six members of the group is top class, headed by the supreme vocals of Tosin Bankole. However, that most recent EP illustrates that the band have managed to hone that skill, employing it to create music that stands firmly outside of the tropes of the genre and a sound that’s uniquely their own. They sound ready to move on to bigger and better things.
Alt-soul five-piece Toygirl’s three singles to date have blended canonical aspects of soul, namely Hannah Worrel’s powerful vibrato delivery and silky lead guitars, with a sharper modern pop focus.
Take ‘Poison’, the band’s most recent original outing. Layered backing vocals and synths, drenched in reverb, gift the track a modern, moody ambience before the arrangement kicks in proper. This hybrid songwriting approach gives the band a sharp, unique identity. It’s easy to imagine their material appealing to a broader demographic of listenership than most, and everything they’ve worked on thus far attests to the notion that they have the quality to do just that.
Ruby Smyth is the artist behind the Trophy Wife project whose just-released debut EP entitled Art copper-fastened her appeal.
The singles ‘On The Phone’ and ‘Beauty Queen’ display an individual penchant for immediate alt-pop with the funk bump of the former contrasting with the indie-soul of the latter. A unique prospect.
Dublin artist UD first turned heads in early 2019 with ‘Independent’, a trap-heavy track which featured on prominent Youtube channel EuroBoiiz Entertainment.
However, it was the MC’s 2020 EP Fruitless Grapevine which secured him his place on this list. It’s an expansive six-track release. One whose beat’s flow easily between the worlds of drill, dancehall, pop and R&B while racking up a Mick Jenkins feature no less. UD’s flows suit each of the beats given to him on this project, showcasing a technical versatility and artistic understanding which marks him out as among the top prospects in the current field of Irish emerging hip-hop artists.