Saturday, December 19th, 2020
21 For 2021: Under the Radar Selects Its Top Tips For The New Year
Under the Radar selects its top tips for the New Year
Dec 19, 2020
By Dom Gourlay
Photography by Natalie Kerr Web Exclusive
As 2020 draws to a close, it’s time to get our collective crystal balls and look to see whose future shines brightest for the twelve months ahead. It’s been a difficult year for the music industry in general due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, that hasn’t stopped a surge of incredible new music greeting our eardrums throughout the course of this year.
So without further ado, Under The Radar asked its contributors to pick 21 of their hottest tips for 2021 and here are the acts we’re most excited about over the coming months ahead.
If you’ve ever seen Durand Jones & The Indications perform live you may have wondered how Jones sings “Is It Any Wonder?” while drinking a glass of water. No stage tricks involved. It turns out Jones isn’t the one singing. The band’s drummer and lead vocalist on the falsetto tracks, Aaron Frazer, steps off the riser for his debut album, Introducing…, releasing in January on Easy Eye Sound/Dead Oceans.
Produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Frazer’s debut stays faithful to the sounds of yesteryear with the clearest of production to let his voice soar. Originally hailing from Baltimore, Frazer ticks off all the boxes of why American music is so beloved. Hitting on gospel, soul, and R&B, to name a few, Frazer ably leads an accomplished group of musicians, including the legendary Memphis Boys (Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield) and members of the Daptone house band, through a dozen gems. Some of the already released singles show Frazer’s capability to go from all out punchy (“Over You”) to smoothly soulful (“Bad News”) without ever breaking stride. By the time you get to the show stopping album closer, “Leanin’ On Your Everlasting Love,” it hits you that the last time you were caught off guard by music so timeless, yet also of the moment, was Leon Bridges’ debut. Put more simply, Frazer is the real deal. (Mark Moody)
Being a “breakthrough” artist in a year where gigs and festivals have been non-existent is no mean feat. Yet 20-year-old singer-songwriter Arlo Parks has risen to “voice of a generation” type accolades. And in the case of Parks, it could be one of those rare moments that it is not just hyperbole.
Her exceptional songwriting, both vulnerable and honest, has traversed many of the bleakest moments of lockdowns and life restrictions for a Gen Z, who should be out living it to the full in a mess of emotions, fuck-ups and other travails. This is real life told with universally accessible simplicity but poetic fervour, all delivered with downbeat, sweet vocals.
Her music sits and an intersection between Jorja Smith’s RnB and Elliot Smith’s fragile acoustic balladry, sitting as comfortable on a playlist next to NoName as she does Phoebe Bridgers. Yes, this stuff is universally classic with a future bent.
A slew of brilliant singles and one EP from 2018 have paved the way for forthcoming debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams coming to cement Arlo Parks as one of 2021’s most vital new voices. (James Thornhill)
Gigging may be off limits at present but lockdown hasn’t stopped Baraccuda from being at his most creative or productive. Essentially the solo project of Nottingham based musician and producer Joe Weatherall, Baraccuda has released three EPs this year to follow on from 2019’s debut single “Ellipsis” with plenty more yet to follow over the coming months.
Having cut his teeth as the founder, principal songwriter and guitarist in psych grunge outfit Crosa Rosa, Weatherall could be forgiven for turning his back on playing in traditional bands. Instead, he’s become a one-man, bedroom composer cum producer whose styles and sounds range from John Fruscante (“Silhouette”) and Zachary Cole Smith (“Ellipsis”) to Beck (“Ember”) and even Prince (“Floe”).
It’s a startling but not unforeseen transformation from one of the most precocious talents to emerge from the East Midlands in years. (Dom Gourlay)
Black Country, New Road
Hype bands come and go, but very few do it with an eight-minute debut single! Back in May 2020, that is exactly what Black Country, New Road did with “Sunglasses”, a winding, complex affair. At the vanguard of a new wave of acts embracing complexity and avant-garde experimentalism, they explode across all their singles to date with jazz, post-rock, punk and minimalist influences propelling the crazed poetry of Isaac Wood.
This stuff is clever, off-kilter and unashamedly “difficult” whilst being compellingly accessible. This must be why Ninja Tune (after a rampant industry bidding war) has picked them up for their debut album coming in February. As with everything this band has done so far, very little has been shared from the album so far, but the single “Science Fair”, is apocalyptic blast of skronky post-punk infused with death synths and collapsing jazz. Perfect for our end times.
Whatever you expect from Black Country New Road, expect the unexpected and a contender for the album of 2021. (James Thornhill)
The band are only four singles deep and yet every release shows a progression and a sophistication that belies their short time together. Having formed in 2018 bassist Josh Longman and guitarist Frank Wates, who had initially met via other projects began working together. The arrival of vocalist Jenna Kyle and drummer Shawn Courtney cemented the line-up and Bleach Lab (main photo) were born.
Their spacious nuanced arrangements swirl around Kyle’s beautiful dreamy vocal, which conjures up the likes of Stevie Nicks and Hope Sandoval. Tracks like the shimmering “Burnt Orange”, the suitably dreamy “Sleep” with its subtle chiming guitars allowing Kyle’s vocal to fill the space or their glorious, achingly beautiful latest single “Never Be” all provide plenty of evidence that pandemic permitting, Bleach Lab are a band to watch out for in 2021 and beyond. (Andy Von Pip)
Who says X Factor style talent shows don’t always reap rewards? It certainly did for Nottingham-based singer/songwriter Chloe Rodgers, whose appearance and subsequent victory in the 2016 final of her home county’s Notts Factor brought her to the attention of Swedish producer and composer Anders Kallmark.
Since working together, their shared vision has seen Rodgers’ distinctive vocal lend its delectable prowess to Kallmark’s Twenty Committee project with astonishing results. However, its Rodgers’ ability as a songwriter of some merit that’s really come to the fore over the past year.
Culminating in three critically acclaimed singles, each one highlighting Rodgers’ versatility in fusing different styles and genres to create something entirely unique of her own. Whether it be the soothing ambience of debut single “A Delphian Lullaby” or caustic elegance of latest 45 “The Algea”, Chloe Rodgers has an abundance of ideas that’s already drawn comparisons with Radiohead, PJ Harvey and Liz Fraser. Expect to hear much more from her musically diverse locker in 2021. (Dom Gourlay)
Brighton based band CIEL have been causing quite a stir around the UK and made impressive forays into Europe, especially on the festival circuit. Consisting of Michelle Hindriks (vocals, guitar), Jorge Bela Jimenez (guitar, synthesiser, bass), Tim Spencer (drums), the trio have impressed with their new take on blissful indie pop which encompasses elements of electronica and shoegaze.
Despite 2020 bringing the world to a grinding halt, CIEL have been busy emitting some truly high-quality studio output over the past twelve months. They started off the year by bringing out charming tune The Shore, the first in a string of stunning singles including mysterious track Days and shimmering song Same Old Times With U which they compiled into their “Movement” EP.
CIEL have now just released new single All My Life which is their catchiest number to date and deals with issues of isolation and finding your place in the world. Euphoric and brimming with optimistic youthful energy, the single acts as a revitalising anthem for all of us reuniting after lockdown. (Jimi Arundell)
Emerging Isle of Wight four-piece Coach Party first caught the attention at the back end of 2019 with their frenetic speedball anthem “Oh Lola.” They also caught the attention of the respected label Chess Club Records label who have worked with the likes of Wolf Alice early in their career. Impressed by what they’d heard Chess Club flew over to the Isle Of Wight to catch the band.
Since then they’ve released an acclaimed debut EP Party Food via Chess Club which demonstrated their keen ear for hooky indie melodies and razor-sharp wit. Their latest release “Really Ok On My Own” develops their sound further, still full of passion and frenetic energy but exploring darker themes. The band who comprise of Jess Eastwood (vocals and bass), Steph Norris (Guitar), Joe Perry(Guitar) and Guy Page (drums) met due to a combination of their passion for music and the inevitability of meeting practically everybody living on such a small island. (Andy Von Pip)
Few things put fear into the “moral majority” more than sex and the devil! Well, feminism, maybe – in which case New York duo Devil’s Dildo are their worst nightmare.
Debbie (vocals) and Dee Dildo (beats and bass) make an unrelenting blast of drum machine beats, cutting bass tones and aggressive distorted vocals conjuring Crass’ political fervour, Bikini Kill’s grrl power, Chris and Cosey’s confrontational electronics and Peaches overtly sexualised electroclash. All this is contained on the recently released “Makes You Cum”.
If mantra’s like “You’re kicking, you’re screaming. You Sedentary human being” (as on “Sedentary”) or “Pleasure in Annilation. Love is desecration” (heard on “Joy”) delivered with unhinged power sounds good, this band is perfect for your current state of being.
The record was also released on a seven-inch dildo by Muddguts Records, because why not? A USB enabled sex toy is, weirdly, one of the least interesting things about this band. As they say, the Devil has all the best tunes! (James Thornhill)
Hotly tipped amongst the tastemakers and those frequenting the international festival circuit; Gloria (aka Krisztina Dányi) is the vital new sound of central European dance. The Budapest-based artist lays hauntingly beautiful vocal melodies over delicately placed beats to create her otherworldly spacious sound, it’s a coolly intelligent approach to an electronica which is both experimental and instinctual.
Signed to avant-garde Ukrainian popstar Ivan Dorn‘s label Masterskaya, she has just dropped new single PTS which is accompanied by a satirical video shot entirely on 16mm film. It sees Dányi fall into the bottomless well of online anxiety and mired in a pit of social media despair, finally escaping the tragedies of 2020 and changing the planet with a post so perfect, even the (deepfaked) world leaders are talking about it in their WhatsApp group. (Jimi Arundell)
Some new acts sound like they have always been around! They might have only just released their debut single, but UK duo Kimber fit that bill. There is something effortlessly complete about their indie-electronic soundscapes.
Multi-instrumentalists Mikey Wilson and Josh Heffernan have been experimenting since 2009, but it was only at the start of 2020 that they hit on their sound, happy to unleash their music on the masses.
“Think I Know The Answer” is the result of a total DIY approach, bedroom production at its finest with instruments gathered through cash put aside over a period of time (including the analogue synths that add future nostalgia to the mix). The pristine production is a surprise given the vocals and drums being recorded in “booths” crafted from mattresses and pillows!
Drenched in melody and subtle soul-filled vocals, Kimber’s music is neither austere electronica, the bubblegum optimism of pop or the pure bounce of indie-rock. It sits somewhere in the cracks. You can hear the woozy production of Mount Kimbie, LCD Soundsystem’s wonky but captivating melodies and the emotional articulation of The National, riding on low New Order basslines, even Bauhaus’ introspective darkness, but also none of it. If this is their opening statement, there is a lot of profound brilliance to come. (James Thornhill)
King Hannah has been lurking in the shadows of Liverpool for a few years. Their debut EP – “Tell Me Your Mind and I’ll Tell You Mine” shows an incredible progression from the way they sounded live a few years back. So much so that they were recently signed by City Slang. According to the press material Craig Whittle decided to form King Hannah before Hannah Merrick even knew. He had seen her performing years before, but they didn’t meet until she was assigned to show him the ropes at the bar job they’d both taken on to get by while still making music. He immediately pestered her to play some music with him, and they started a routine, spending the hours before work at Craig’s house, where for a long time Hannah could not pluck up the courage to play him her own music. “That went on for a year,” said Hannah, while Craig just waited patiently for her to play. When they finally got to writing their own songs together, everything clicked into place. “It’s just about finding the right people. When I go to Craig with some chords and lyrics, he just gets it,” says Hannah. “If we hadn’t found each other, I don’t know where we would be,” says Craig.
Their debut EP at times sounds like Nico and the Velvets or Mazzy Star with a dash of Emma Ruth Rundle. It’s sprawling, cinematic and full of iridescent pop-noir infused with often slow-burning epic guitar riffs. (Andy Von Pip)
KJ And The Fox
Earlier this month, KJ & The Fox released into the ether the single ‘Never Gone Hill’ their second in what will be a string of singles that will eventually assemble to form the group’s debut long player. An exciting proposition indeed.
KJ makes compact and vivid indie music, delivered with cool, none plussed detachment to be expected from older guys . This four-piece is formed of KJ, guitarist Chris Branch, drummer Tom Haines plus bassist Rhodri Marsden formerly of Scritti Politti and Article 54 no less.
Theirs is a sound that somehow identifies with the experimental end of a vintage 10cc all the way through to the classic alternative singles of the 80s – think the Cure , Dexys or the Associates. Experienced guys doing DIY without caring too much of a hoot – and unlike many of the current young Turks trading in shouty riffs and uptightness, it makes for a breath of fresh air amidst the now claustrophobic emerging scene.
Visions of pale ale, camp fires and err .. snails all contribute to a thoughtful and mellow sound which is never too far away from a Guy Garvey Sunday Service playlist .
Not that older guys are allowed , one does feel you can bust a move to KJ & The Fox’s dead pan grooves . Looking forward to much more in 2021. (AP Childs)
We haven’t heard too much from LIME as of yet, but in just a few short months they have already established themselves as one of the most exciting up and coming bands of the new generation. Their rowdy mix of riot grrl riffs and surf rock vibes have attracted the attention of big names like Annie Mac and Jack Saunders, leading to prominent radio airplay whilst racking up some serious numbers in streams.
The Brighton band first shot to attention when raucous debut single Surf N Turf was picked to be playlisted on BBC 6music by Lauren Laverne and Tom Robinson. With huge hooks and a punky edge, it had the perfect summery vibes when it dropped in June. LIME now follow up with their second song Fever. Taking on shades of Lo-Fi disco, it challenges notions of gender norms and dissects the dichotomies and dissatisfaction of modern life.
We can’t wait for gigs to comeback because you just know they’re going to have venue floors shaking from fans frantically bouncing everywhere they play. LIME is Annabel Whittle (drums), Chloe Howard (vocals/guitar), Tippi Morgan (bass) and Leila Deely (guitar). (Jimi Arundell)
Lissy Taylor is a young singer-songwriter who moved to the States for several years before returning to the UK to study music in Manchester. She’s already released a clutch of songs that have been hugely impressive this year, and are imbued with the doomed grandeur of Lana Del Rey and the cinematic Americana of Mazzy Star. Her debut EP Wild Flower is a fusion of dark pop, emotion and melody, soaring guitars and Lissy’s alluring femme fatale vocals.
Of the EP she says – “The ‘Wild Flower’ EP is a personal insight to emotional struggle, healing and growth. My songwriting stems from reflecting on my own feelings and this EP for me explores vulnerability, empowerment and love.” (Andy Von Pip)
Australia is rife with bands peddling a certain type of psych-nostalgia somehow making it their own. Brisbane quintet Nice Biscuit is another one, drawing a line directly from summery psychedelia to the dirtiest of garage rock dives – a cherry-picked vision of the 60s, updated and doused in Oz-sunshine.
They started making waves in 2019 with a UK visit and a sold-out home-ground tour The Murlocs, (fronted by Ambrose Kenny Smith of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard), but went into freefall with a line-up change and singer Grace having surgery to repair a hole in her heart. Recovering from that only to be forced into lockdown took the band away from the road, but forced the band into a writing bubble. The results are incredible! Take latest single “Fem Chem” as an example.
Springing with surf-twang and shimmering psych-guitar it is a warm cloud of a track ripping into Toxic Masculinity with unrelenting vigour. New EP Create Stimulate is set to announce the band in a grander scale this January.
There’s very few things nicer than a Nice Biscuit! (James Thornhill)
A collective of artists and musicians from POMA (Parts Of Massachusetts) and the GRANITE state of New Hampshire whose main focus is hip hop but also skillfully venture across many genre borders for a catchy sound that is hard to describe. But our ears are the ultimate decider of the final two categories to which the music belongs, good and bad. Pomagranite‘s mix of slinky bass lines, ambient keyboard washes, sublime harmonies and topical raps lands them squarely in the good column. (Matt the Raven)
One thing 2020 hasn’t stifled is creativity which is a blessing in disguise as far as this South London based trio are concerned. Despite only forming at the beginning of last year, they’ve already become one of the most prestigious names on the underground experimental circuit. Fusing techno, post-punk, disco and avant garde electronica, PVA are one of the most innovative acts to emerge from the capital in a very long time.
Debut single “Divine Intervention” arrived like a bolt out the blue in the first week of 2020. Released by Dan Carey’s Speedy Wunderground label, its amalgam of Factory Floor style obtusity and Confidence Man’s party schtick made it the most enticing 45 we’d hear all year. Setting the scene for what came afterwards, PVA’s next release didn’t disappoint.
This time in the shape of Toner, a six-track EP released last month on Big Dada, a subsidiary of Ninja Tunes. From the opulent house of lead track “Talks” to Girl Band bassist Daniel Fox’s acid house rework for “Exhaust / Surroundings”. With more releases planned for 2021, next year promises to be an exciting one for PVA. (Dom Gourlay)
SG Lewis has been so active in 2020, he already has lots of eyes watching him. On the British music scene since 2014 when he was barely out of his teens, and with five EPs under his belt, between original songs and remixes, Lewis’ “Complete Playlist” on Spotify almost tips the 50-track mark.
The London-based producer and multi-instrumentalist has an effortless way with a disco-pop hook. In the last year he has teased single after single from his debut album, times, slated for a February 2021 release. Among these are “Impact” which contrasts Robyn’s dance diva tones with Channel Tres’ lowdown and deadpan delivery, the bumping, Disclosure-inspired “Feed the Fire” with Lucky Daye and the spinning “Time” with Rhye, which livens up even those most melancholy of vocals.
Lewis is just as strong on his own as witnessed on the Daft Punk-esque “Chemicals” and the sweet and spare “Blue.” While much of what Lewis creates is dancefloor-ready, with his songwriter approach to music, his destination is set far beyond the clubs. (Lily Moayeri)
The Lounge Society
Whatever it is they’re putting in the River Calder water, it’s producing some of the finest music to grace the UK in years. Having already given us the likes of Working Men’s Club, The Orielles, W.H. Lung and The Goa Express to name but four, there’s another new name from the Calder Valley set to make an even bigger impression during 2021.
The Lounge Society emerged earlier this year with their excellent debut single “The Generation Game”, another release on the infallible Speedy Wunderground imprint. Sounding like a mash up between The Velvet Underground, Television and The Fall, this six minutes long opus announced the four-piece’s arrival in style.
Hailing from Todmorden, the quartet followed that up last month with another classic 45 in the shape of “Burn The Heather”. Which highlights the band’s propensity to change direction at the drop of a hat yet still sound breathtakingly fresh and exhilarating. Where their sonic persuasion takes them next is anyone’s guess, but you can be sure its unlikely to be anything else than awe inspiring. (Dom Gourlay)
Hailing from Brighton, Winter Gardens are a breath of fresh air. An ethereal delight whose music is reminiscent of the halcyon days of indie pop and shoegaze. Having first witnessed the four-piece opening the Reds Stage at Rockaway Beach festival in January 2019, they’ve since been busy honing their sound and songwriting talents.
Culminating in a couple of inspiring releases, last year’s debut seven-inch “Coral Bells” followed by recent EP Tapestry, which came out in September. Both released on local independent Austerity Records, while the former introduced the band’s aural vision to a wider audience, it’s this year’s follow-up that announced their real statement of intent.
Containing four individual pieces ranging from the mesmeric title track where Ananda Howard’s winsome vocals remind us of The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler. To the primally coarse “Zigzanny” – think the Cocteau Twins go punk; or experimental urges of “Laminer Flor Pt. 1” and “Wonders Bleak”. Each and every one a skyscraping memento that suggests there are no boundaries as to where Winter Gardens are heading next. (Dom Gourlay)