Thursday, 30 December 2010

BBC Sound of 2011 - Top 15 review

The time has come for a review of the BBC Sound of 2011 top 15 artists – those musicians that are trying to make it big next year. Chosen by 161 industry experts, these artists have a lot to live up to and may join esteemed company such as Adele, Little Boots and Keane. So after a listen to some of their material, here is my review of the BBC Sound of 2011.

Anna Calvi

Somewhere between Nick Cave and Patti Smith, and with aspirations to sing the next Bond theme, Anna Calvi is a striking, guitar-wielding singer. Powerful stuff, dark and haunting with a tinge of country – mainstream pop this is not.  

Clare Maguire

Signed a couple of years ago, Clare Maguire has been working on her debut album and it looks set to happen just at the right time. Another powerful female solo artist, her music is orchestral pop with plenty of soaring vocals and strings. A great voice and just the right side of gloomy.


Having already provided guest-vocals for Gorillaz, soulful Daley is now making his debut album with Bernard Butler (Suede). This is nothing new for me, but DJs and critics are hailing Daley as a unique and new talent vocally. This may be but some more focused song writing and less rambling would be improve things.

Esben & The Witch

Thomas Fisher, Daniel Copeman and Rachel Davies are Esben & The Witch (title from a Danish fairy-tale), described as ‘nightmare pop’ their music is a stark mix of gothic vocals from Davies and horror-movie soundscapes. Beguiling stuff but hard work – and the band inject the same nastiness into their visuals as can be seen on video for Marching Song.

Jai Paul

This 21-year-old Londoner is blending glass-shattering falsetto with hard-hitting lyrics and shaky synths and people are already calling it a new fresh vision. I’m not convinced on the strength of a few underground hits and demos.

James Blake

Probably the best singer in the BBC Sound of 2011 list, it is a shame that London’s James Blake takes his song writing approach from Antony & The Jonsons – this is bleak and empty when it should be uplifting and full of life.

Jamie Woon

BRIT School graduate Jamie Woon has been mentioned in the same sentences as James Blake but his music is more soulful and mainstream.  Wonderfully evocative music but like many of this year’s artists the delivery is serious and prosaic. A sign (and mood) of the times, perhaps.

Jessie J

There had to be one, And this is it.  Looking like Marilyn Manson’s succubus and sounding like she’s actually swallowed the auto-tuner (laughably people are genuinely saying she has a great voice), Jessica Cornish and her music is a horror show. Also anyone who feels is necessary to namedrop themselves at the start of a song immediately loses all credibility.


Nashville 4-piece Mona might not be doing anything new but they do it well – somewhere between The Clash and early REM. Fronted by Nick Brown, who does a passable Eddie Vedder straining baritone, this is energetic moody post-rock.

The Naked & Famous

From New Zealand, and sounding just a bit close to MGMT with a female voice at the helm, The Naked & Famous mix 70s throw-back with modern electro-pop loops. Not sure if they are new or unique enough to stand on their own.


Two more producers trying to make their own music and seemingly unable to find a singer who doesn’t need the thick auto-tuner treatment. This is stuttering pre-90s electronica that is nothing new or interesting.

The Vaccines

Another band, this time from indie-folk roots – although you wouldn’t know it from the stuff on their MySpace page. This is more gothic surf pop than anything else. A bit retro and a bit present day, this has promise but sounds like too many other up-and-coming bands these days.


The most established band in the list, Warpaint is a glorious blend of female vocal harmonies and gloomy guitar melodies. Formed in 2004 and from LA the band is unlikely to make the top of the list in favour of ‘home grown’ talent. Undertow is a decent song and a good showcase.

Wretch 32

Easily the best and most interesting of the urban artists, Jermaine Sinclair, aka Wretch 32 is an emerging force. His lazy flowing vocal delivery is sickly sweet but relevant and showpiece Traktor pushes the right buttons.


Yuck has been described as the new Dinosaur Jr. with bits of Teenage Fanclub and Red House Painters. Influences are clear in the band’s jangly guitars and tambourine music and layered harmonies. Shoegaze revival anyone?

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