Tuesday, January 12th, 2021
21 More For 2021: Under the Radar Selects Its Second Round Of Top Tips For The Year Ahead
Our writers choose another 21 of the finest new acts for 2021
Jan 12, 2021
By Dom Gourlay
Under the Radar’s quest for discovering new music continues unabated.
Having already issued our 21 For 2021 list prior to Christmas, our writers decided that wasn’t enough! So, here without further ado are 21 More For 2021.
We hope you agree!
There’s very little information about Derby, UK slacker-pop wonder Al Bamfs out in the world, and only a smattering of tunes but each one is imbued with a wonky charm that is impossible not to love. The mystery around who he is and what he is about is at this time, only adds to the intrigue and makes tunes like the Mac Demarco-like “Bad Idea” (a perfect hazy summer jam) and the jittery, stalking “Funny Man” essential listening.
We do know he is part Derby collective Year of Glad (alongside the lo-fi pop brilliance of Tom John Hall), contributing the luscious sway of “Time” to their end of year charity compilation (still available on Bandcamp). But these early tracks only represent part of what Al Bamfs is about (we are guessing but bear with us). An exclusive first listen to forthcoming track “Cantmaster” uncovers a delve into dark synth-pop. It is a tune that fans of Baxter Dury’s downbeat poetics will love.
We’re grasping for info here, but thankfully the music does the talking and what it has to say could be a special message for 2021. (James Thornhill)
The project of South Africa born, London based Bella Latham has created her own personae as a kind of reaction to the narcissistic effects of social media. It’s partly inspired by her experience of Instagram influencers and fashion parties she found herself immersed in when she arrived in London as a teenager. Her first single ‘Internet Religion’ details the double edge sword of living a life online and she tackles weighty subjects such as mental health, anxiety, body dysmorphia with more acerbic wit, intelligence and bite than most so-called ‘edgy” artists have managed to muster in 2020.
Her lyrics are concise but get straight to the heart of the matter quite brilliantly. Take a lyric such as “This is my internet obsession/ this why the kids have got depression/ this is their identity repression” on the aforementioned “Internet Religion,” or on the equally arresting beguiling “Buzzkill” – “I only had a drink to escape my thoughts. Saying, “Flaws don’t make you special, they just make you flawed/ What doesn’t kill you makes it wish that it had”
Her recent “Medicine” EP is a winning mix of satirical sugar-coated art-pop that at times sounds like Christine and The Queens colliding with Taylor Swift by way of Wolf Alice. (Andy Von Pip)
Meet Victoria Wood. She’s been making some of the most luscious, ethereal sounds under the moniker of Celestial North for the past couple of years. As well as writing and singing her beautiful songs, Wood plays all the instruments herself too. Fusing elements of post-rock, folk and shoegaze, Celestial North has already built up a captivating repertoire from the songs she’s released so far.
Both “Olympic Skies” and “You Painted A World received extensive radio airplay on BBC6Music in the early part of last year while most recent single “Distant Life” is a shimmering masterclass in elegant dreampop. Produced by spouse and British Sea Power drummer Matthew Wood, “Distant Life” recalls the halcyon days of 4AD or Creation in its make-up, referencing the likes of Slowdive, Lush and the Cocteau Twins in its delivery. However, this is no pastiche. Celestial North is the real deal, and with an album set to come out later this year, her time is now. (Dom Gourlay)
Tapping into the rising trend of alt-pop with a unique and fresh fusion of evocative electronica, trip hop and eerie dream pop; London based songwriter Circe creates a breath-taking music that has a truly cinematic scope with a darkly dystopian dimension.
Courting comparisons from such enigmatic and experimental greats as Grimes and Bjork, Circe plays with Catholic iconography, feminist politics and lyrics inspired from film and pop culture adding a real depth to her expansive sound.
Last month saw the release of her remarkable glacial debut EP “She’s Made Of Stars” which gives just a hint of her huge potential. Included are the beautifully haunting and atmospheric singles Ten Girls and Dancer, plus a further four impassioned tracks which reveal the impressive first steps of what will no doubt become a formidable new force. (Jimi Arundell)
A world intent on collapsing into a previously fictional dystopia needs a soundtrack. Manchester’s CURRENTMOODGIRL is that sound – industrial, stalking future-pop finding glimmers of light in dark times.
Already established with Pearl City and as part of Bernard And Edith, Greta Edith’s latest guise is a solo artistic vision – with all instruments played by Edith and the release of latest banger “Love Like Lasers” being self-released. DIY self-determination at a time when the industry is sucking the lifeblood from artists more than ever.
Sonically, CURRENTMOODGIRL’s tunes come on like Gazelle Twin-crafted dancefloor hits for a nightclub in Blade Runner’s dark streets – a worrying vision of the future! There’s a juxtaposition of dark and light throughout. The more violent edge would sit with Trent Reznor’s darker Nine Inch Nails moments, while the glowing nature of the vocals recall the sweetest of future RnB singers, at times Kate Bush. Nothing is sacred, there are even flushes of early Warp record’s sonic exploration – each listen uncovers something new.
With “Love Like Lasers” being one of 2020’s most vital tracks, anything new from CURRENTMOODGIRL is set to be essential, especially right now. (James Thornhill)
A name like Dead Pony isn’t exactly subtle, summoning images of a once beautiful young beast now laying half rotten and desiccated in a ditch – which perfectly sums up the sound of the savage Glaswegian post punk fourpiece! Sweet vocals are dripping with rage, catchy riffs with a rock hard-edge roar from scuzzed up guitars that are drenched with distortion, giving a real satisfying punch to their pop hooks.
At a time when many acts are hiding behind safe app assisted gimmickry or are becoming yet another example of watered-down bedroom recorded acoustic boredom, Dead Pony bring back a sense of live and direct danger through intense velocity and passion.
The past year has seen Anna Shields (lead vocals, guitar), Blair Crichton (lead guitar, backing vocals), Aidan McAllister (drums) and Liam Adams (bass) release three killer singles, including the infectious “Everything Is Easy”, explosive grungy song “Sharp Tongues” and attitude laden anthem “23, Never Me” which just sounds so fucking cool! No wonder Dead Pony are getting such widespread acclaim and serious Radio 1 airplay thanks to Huw Stephens and Jack Saunders.
Proving there is plenty of life in Dead Pony, the band are returning to the studio in the coming months to write and record their highly anticipated debut EP which you can expect this summer! (Jimi Arundell)
Manchester, UK band Gary, Indiana make a horrible noise! But we mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It’s violent but enjoyable, like consenting aural BDSM. They prod, slap, poke and tease with a relentless onslaught of post-punk, noise rock and electronics.
Nuanced this is not, which make the little funky, rhythmical flourishes on single “Nike of Samothrace” all the more surprising.
Born from other bands in the city’s thriving DIY rock scene founders Scott Fair and Valentine Caulfield immediately found connection. Caulfield’s sultry but visceral poetry – delivered in her native French – acts as the perfect foil to the waves of vibrant sound. With a dark, industrial aesthetic and a stalking sound to match, Gary, Indiana personify what “punk” should be in 2021. (James Thornhill)
girlhouse (lowercase) is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Lauren Luiz assisted by guitarist and producer Tyler Thompson. They’re both members of LA band Wild and this year as girlhouse they released a gorgeous debut single in the form of “mt. shasta dr.” It’s a track which is apparently about “growing up in Oregon and moving to L.A.” Luiz’s sonorous languid vocals glide along imbuing the song with wistful sense melancholia. Not content with putting out such a shimmering debut girlhouse has also written one of the best Christmas songs of this year (or any other) with “Ugly Xmas Sweater Party” It’s a beautifully bittersweet, wryly witty festive treat with lyrics such as “all of our lies covered in tinsel now” which cleverly juxtaposes the seasonal glitter with a relationship that could be on the rocks during peak cuffing season set against the backdrop of, you guessed it, an ugly Xmas sweater party. (Andy Von Pip)
Despite only forming in 2018, Brooklyn quintet Gustaf have already established themselves as one of the most exciting bands in New York. Which is no mean feat in itself considering how many bands are currently active within the city.
Having recently signed to Royal Mountain Records, the five-piece released debut single “Mine” in November of last year. It collects all of the most essential parts of post-punk’s vast library combined with an angular discourse that wouldn’t look out of place on any club dancefloor, should we be able to return to them any time soon. What’s more, it manages to contain everything in just over two minutes. Not a second wasted or taking up time as needless filler.
Not content with hanging about, the band released second single “Design” last month with both tracks then being collated on a limited-edition seven-inch single that’s long since sold out. With an album set to follow sometime in 2021 and more singles on the horizon beforehand, we predict they’re going to be one of your new favourite bands this year. (Dom Gourlay)
Harimau is a promising young rock trio from the UK with a dynamic and vibrant sound and equally striking vocals. First single “Flicker”, released in March, shimmers with brooding synth melodies, catchy beats and softly soaring guitar riffs. While newer single “Poetry of One” is a bit more subdued, it still features a razor-sharp mix of meticulously produced synth pop plastered on a wallpaper of moody sonic textures, bolstered by the icy smooth vocals of singer Sinead Storey. Harimau create a layered and attractive sound that should play well to large audiences. (Matt the Raven)
Not many artists land a slot on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert on the strength of a single song. But Australian singer songwriter Indigo Sparke found herself performing a solo set after Tiny Desk Concert host Bob Boilen discovered her stripped down song, “The Day I Drove The Car Around The Block,” while scanning songs for SXSW showcases. That song doesn’t appear on Sparke’s upcoming debut album, Echo, but the darkly tinged sense of longing remains.
Co-produced by erstwhile partner, Adrianne Lenker, the album is also accompanied by others in the Big Thief family circle. But Sparke’s vibe is her own. Arriving on January 29th, Echo ranges from dreamily arranged sequences on par with Beck’s Sea Change (“Colourblind”) to more scaled down and aching affairs more akin to Lenker’s own solo work (first single, “Baby”). Meditative, dark, and deep, Sparke reveals open hearted lamentations that pair well with the season at hand. (Mark Moody)
After years playing in rock bands, and dream-pop outfit Candy Says, Oxford’s Julia-Sophie has found her place amongst the avant-pop sisterhood, responsible for crafting the most sublime, forward-thinking pop.
Last year’s y? EP immediately catapulted her into the leagues of FKA Twigs, Grimes and Half Waif, with deeply personal soulful tunes tempered by icy, experimental electronics. This is pop that nods to the classics but recognises the gamechangers over the past 20 years (dubstep, future RnB and the best of sonic explorers like Gazelle Twin).
“Breathe” takes hypnotic electronic percussion and synths, adding a sweet chorus that lifts optimism from a stalking, foreboding tune. With “xOx” tribal-drums-interpreted-by-machines rhythm driving the sultry, revealing vocals, these two tracks alone should convert most listeners with any taste. (James Thornhill)
Wood moved to London in her late teens to study songwriting at the Institute of Contemporary Music, although she spent a lot of that time writing in her room. She’s been honest about her struggles with agoraphobia and anxiety in the past and much of her music thus far has been self-produced in her bedroom.
Wood’s music, despite being imbued with a nostalgic evocative quality conversely manages to sound fresh vibrant idiosyncratic and has an undoubted edgy dark synthpop sensibility. Her releases so far which include “Steve” and “Uh Huh Yeah” have been full of drama and theatrical flourishes, packed with emotion, wit and melody. Wood has channelled her influences to create something unique and very much in her own image. (Andy Von Pip)
Hull quartet Lumer aren’t strictly “new” in its most pedantic sense. Indeed, rewind back to 2017 and their aggression fueled post-punk was already the talk of several towns. Picking up plaudits with every live show along the way.
As with many of their peers, Lumer’s lyrics focus on injustice and the flaws of modern society. Comparisons with The Fall, Eagulls and more recently Idles aren’t wide of the mark. Not least in the way vocalist Alex Evans uses performance as a way of satisfying his confrontational urges.
Of course, the lack of live opportunities due to the ongoing pandemic has meant they’ve spent more time writing and recording, and later this month they’re set to release an EP entitled Disappearing Act. Comprised of seven songs which all highlight a different side of the band’s psyche, 2021 might just be the year Lumer step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. (Dom Gourlay)
Away from his role as a founding member of international psych adventurers Flamingods, Karthik Poduval released the Futureproofing EP last year, blending a vast array of global influences into a hypnotic and dancefloor-ready release.
How could it not be intriguing when debut single “Jama El F’na Bootleg” (released back in July 2020) is a remix of a 80s Libyan pop track ramping up Ahmed Fakroun’s original by weaving in disparate influences from disco, Arabic rai, Indian Carnatic, Detroit techno, tropicalia and shimmering psych, for a full-on collision between eastern and western traditions.
The rest of the EP is no less explorative in sonic scope. “Mañana Groove” drives with electronic drums and synthesised bass, interjected with Bollywood horn and sampled voices. Futureproofing is the kind of worldly (and otherworldly) concoction of sound that made Screamadelica so exciting and opens up a list of influences to explore (and expand your listening palette).
Alongside his psych-trailblazers, as Mera Bhai, Poduval is proving himself to be a aural adventurer of the highest order and if this first offering is just the beginning, who knows what territory he will explore next? Regardless we need to be along for the trip. (James Thornhill)
Hailing from Nottingham in the UK, Modern Coven is the project of Aly Hipkins and Rutka Zofia Skrytek. Both accomplished singer/songwriters and solo performers in their own rights, the two of them formed Modern Coven during lockdown and have already made a lasting impression thanks to the three singles they’ve unleashed so far.
Fusing elements of folk, ambient electronica and gothic shoegaze, Modern Coven’s music has already drawn comparisons with the likes of Mazzy Star and David Holmes’ Unloved project, whose music is perhaps best known for being on the Killing Eve soundtrack.
Describing themselves as a witchy duo crafting doom-laden soundscapes, they’ve upped the ante with every subsequent release from August’s debut “Always Watching” to their most recent number “Curses”, which came out on Halloween.
To say we’re excited about their next adventure would be an understatement. (Dom Gourlay)
Ireland has been responsible for producing some of the finest new musical talent in recent years. The latest addition being NewDad, a four-piece hailing from Galway. Formed at school in the early part of 2019, the quartet – Julie Dawson (vocals, guitar), Sean O’Dowd (guitar), Aindle O’Beirn (bass) and Fiachra Parslow (drums) – make shimmering dreampop in a similar vein to fellow Irish four-piece Just Mustard.
Last year saw them release five singles on their own Bandcamp culminating in December’s “I Don’t Recognise You”. Their effects-laden wall of sound coupled with Dawson’s distinctive, shimmering vocals makes them a mouthwatering prospect for anyone schooled in the sounds of elegant shoegaze orchestrated by the likes of Slowdive or Cocteau Twins.
While its still early days yet, the signs are already there. NewDad are clearly onto something special and Under the Radar will be hitching a ride on their creative journey every step of the way. (Dom Gourlay)
Fronted by Willem Smit, formerly of Amsterdam lo-fi slacker rock outfit Canshaker Pi. Personal Trainer are an ever-changing, always evolving collective that assembles some of the finest musicians from the Netherlands’ vibrant underground music scene. Even though they’ve barely made double figures in terms of live shows, those that have taken place are already the stuff of legend. Smit often surrounding himself with new musicians every time Personal Trainer take the stage.
Personal Trainer’s first two singles “The Lazer” and “Issue Box” came out on Sports Team guitarist Henry Young’s label Holm Front then Dutch independent Subroutine respectively. Both picking up plaudits from various publications including Under the Radar for the latter.
Their next single “Muscle Memory” comes out later this month followed by an EP (Gazebo) in February via the aforementioned Holm Front. Their uncompromising and occasionally manic mix of indie rock, noise, spoken word and unconventional hip hop looks set to be one of the most exciting concoctions to emerge from Europe’s vast musical playground in a very long time. (Dom Gourlay)
Shedding not only his indie guitar sound, his former band members but also his surname; Tom Atkin former singer of northern band The Paddingtons returns in the new guise of a solo artist simply known as Tom.
Staging his solo comeback with the release of new single Lil’ Fucker, it’s the first release from an EP scheduled for release early next year which joins his passion for lo-fi guitar bands and a newfound love for the wavy genre blending rap from the likes of Post Malone and Lil Peep.
There’s currently a lot of misplaced derision for what’s termed landfill indie and it seems a shame to scorn the past, but it’s also good to see the Hull hero progress into something exciting and new rather than rely on past glories, now permanently stepping out of the shadow of Peter Doherty‘s favourite pet band.
Look out for next single Honey Brain which is sure to delight his loyal fans whilst also attracting a whole new audience when it drops on January 13th. (Jimi Arundell)
Yes, OK! Yard Act do sound like The Fall. There’s the same propensity for rhythmic repetition, the surreal acerbic wit and the flourishes of complexity that drags if from the mundane. But like the aforementioned Manchester legends, while similarities abound, this Leeds, UK lot are something different.
Dry wit and dark sarcasm literally flow from singer James Smith’s deadpan, spoken delivery with an almost quintessential British kitchen-sink socio-commentary vibe. Take “Fixer Upper”, the wry takedown of all-lives-matter, university-of-life smugness. Graeme, the lead character, hates your “pointless media degrees” and book-learned smarts. The tune is incessantly catchy as well.
As is everything released on their own Zen FC label to-date, the magnificent “Fixer’s Pelts” and latest single “Peanuts” sets them up as a direct line to the warped, funky best of post-punk and no wave. At a time when “post-punk” has become shorthand for anything with three chords and aggression, Yard Act revel in the adventurousness of the best of what the genre really is. (James Thornhill)