New(ish) artists

So in the process of cleaning up some stuff here in WordPress, I found a draft post that I was sure I had published, but somehow never actually released. It’s dated now–wrote this a year and a half ago–but I hope some of you find it interesting.

Much of what I write about is new music. Like most people, the music that I love most, the stuff that gets deep inside me, is the music I was fond of in my late teens and twenties. That just seems to be how people are wired and I’m no exception. But my experience as a college DJ marked me forever. I’m always looking for something new and exciting, something that makes me feel awake. Takes more effort than it used to, but that search is still rewarding when it turns up artists like those below. These are my favorite new artists of the past three years (2009 through 2011).

Janelle Monae: Monae is confident, ambitious, and in control, especially for such a young performer. She draws on classic R&B and funk without ever being a slavish imitator. She also shows a love for big concept albums that’s largely been missing from soul music since the 1970s. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s one hell of a dancer.

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Broken Bells: Let me not to the marriage of electronica and indie rock admit impediments. Danger Mouse and James Mercer sound together here, organic, collaborators who have a lot to say as a duo. You’d never guess this was a side project just to listen to this beautifully crafted album.

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Ana Tijoux: Flow is one of the most important concepts in hip hop. Coming as it did out of black culture in New York City, part of rapping is playing with the structure of English–when to use the obvious, on-the-rhythm word choices and when to break it up unexpectedly. Rapping in other languages necessitates different rhythms and I’ve always been jazzed by MCs who rap fluently and quickly in French or Spanish or German. Ana Tijoux, a French-Chilean artist who’s finally getting deserved success, is one of the best.

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Mumford & Sons: This is English folk rock at its most energetic and vital. Reminiscent of the best of Fairport Convention and the Waterboys, I think too many people give this band a hard time. They’re called overly earnest, yet somehow they’ve been tagged as hipsters. Some people just feel uncomfortable when a genuinely talented group has runaway hits. Something must be wrong with them, right? No.

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the Joy Formidable: This is music that demands jumping up and down, preferably at a big concert. The Joy Formidable are a genuine power trio making loud, declamatory rock that’s still connected to the best Britpop traditions. These guys do NOT let up–I’m talking Pixies levels of pounding, in your face, melodic noise. And with Ritzy Bryan, their cute-as-a-button frontwoman, singer, and guitarist, the band has huge star potential.

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Florence + the Machine: Welch often performs barefoot in a long gown; she looks like the cover of a thriller novel, the heroine looking frantically back over her shoulder as she escapes the dark house. Her music is at that same level of drama, belted out with power and conviction as the band pushes itself to greater heights in every track. This is Britpop as Gothic drama, and the best kind of Brontë Gothic drama at that.

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Anna Calvi: Dark, smoky, and mysterious. Calvi is a protegé of no less than Brian Eno. Her debut album is rock and roll for a David Lynch movie, all film noir guitar solos and femme fatale crooning.

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Childish Gambino: Donald Glover is scary talented. A skilled standup comedian, TV writer, comic actor, and director–and oh yes, one of the best rappers of the new century. The best hip hop artists walk around with ears open, picking up new sounds to adapt; Gambino takes indie pop hooks from Grizzly Bear and Crystal Castles and raps over them with a fierce, literate style.

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Veronica Falls: Veronica Falls doesn’t re-invent the wheel. They’re not trying to do something original here: this is a faithful interpretation of the Sarah Records/C-86 sound. But with this level of songcraft and sincerity, I’m good with that.

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