Having contemplated the end of their decade long association not all that long before the announcement of their third full length Heads Up it came as a shock to find Warpaint on such optimistic form with the record's lead single, "New Song". Tearing up the wavy, claustrophobic psychedelia of Warpaint and The Fool and replacing it with pogoing, intensely danceable pop - packed with catchy hooks and lithe bass, it felt like the first time Warpaint had explicitly gone out to make something absolutely accessible. Hell, there was a period when you couldn't move for hearing "New Song" on Radio 1 - a feat the four-piece had scarcely achieved on any previous LP campaign.
Ultimately, the record, produced by their longtime collaborator Jacob Bercovici, may not have delivered on its punchy first offering's promise, but as a standalone slab of 2016 indie disco - "New Song" is hard to beat.
Geowulf bounded onto the scene earlier this year with “Saltwater”, a worthy contender for Song Of The Summer. The London-based pair – Star Kendrick and Toma Banjanin – thrill right from the get-go, merging beachy electronics with sun-kissed melodies for a heady fusion of lo-fi dreaminess and SoCal bliss. It's a searing brew that whisks us right back to the fading glow of August evenings, balmy festival nights, and the frenetic freedom of mid-summer heat – sounds quite nice in these dark days, doesn't it? Geowulf may just be getting off the ground, but this is a stellar statement of intent.
aYia are the most recent signings to quality Iceland indie label Bedroom Commmunity. Intially shrouded in mystery and understatement, the band's vocalist was later revealed as hooded eccentric Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir, better known in her home country for poetry and performance. It doesnt make the Iceland trio any less intriguing: debut cut "Water Plant" is at once icy and affecting, a perfect foil to for their non-image. It's Nordic electro-pop but not as we know it.
Stormzy signed off early this year to work hard on his long-awaited debut – and he did so with remarkable style. “Scary” is a monumental middle finger; it's a mission statement from Stormzy, a season finale of a single that sums up his successes so far and teases what's just over the horizon via rapid-fire rhymes, hooking you with every angle he can muster.
Sir Spyro's ominous production is on point – hacked-up synth choirs and spasming beats underpin Stormzy's spine-tingling flow, adding to the tone and never making an attempt to steal the spotlight. The focus is squarely on Michael Omari – it has been for a long time, and with an album set to arrive somewhen soon, it looks like it will be for the foreseeable future as well.
Whitney are a band who by now need no introductions, and “No Woman” helped kickstart the popularity that has grown for this Chicago act this year with its release back in January. With ex-Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns members Julien Erlich and Max Kakacek at the helm, Whitney blend elements of folk/Americana with soul to contagious effect, and “No Woman” is no exception.
There’s a timelessness to the song, perhaps from its pretty and relatable lyrics that wistfully remedy a broken heart: ‘I left drinking on the city train / To spend some time on the road’. But also its lush composition and textures never get boring; the warm acoustics and string accompaniment match Erlich’s falsetto voice and provide a warm backdrop for the interspersed horn sections that give it a rush of life. Whilst “No Woman” may be a song about falling out of love, it sounds much more suited to falling into it.
Back in May, London newcomers Swimming Tapes ushered in the summer with "Set The Fire" - an assured dose of sad-face indie that effortlessly staked their claim as one of the most promising young bands we've heard this year. From the gauzy romantic nostalgia of early-era The Radio Dept. that seeps with the melodic grace of Belle & Sebastien - the resulting package was indie-pop gold. Complete greatness clothed in a simplistic, understated charm.
Sometimes doing a lot with not very much proves to be difficult for some musicians. Minimalism can be shorthand for “boring” in the wrong hands, but this doesn’t seem to be an issue for the staggeringly talented Nilüfer Yanya. Having introduced herself with a cover of Pixies’ “Hey”, Yanya’s first original offering “Small Crimes” buzzed with energy and intrigue from little more than a voice and a guitar. Pitched somewhere between Blood Bank-era Bon Iver, The xx and the blues-folk guitar work of John Martyn and Roy Harper, “Small Crimes” finds Yanya toying with space; the reverb-laden guitar echoes through the grace notes while the vocal switches from low and smoky to high and reedy with an effortless brilliance.
While “Small Crimes” makes nods to certain influences, the whole is something unique and fascinating – and a signal that Yanya has the potential to anything she wants.
For over two decades and forty records, Karl Blau's eccentric blend of lo-fi sketches have attracted a small yet loyal cult fanbase. However it was a chance collaboration with esteemed producer Tucker Martine that thrusted the Washington native into the limelight back in February. An interpretation of Link Wray's 1971 classic "Fallin' Rain", Blau takes the forlorn tale of the original and sprinkle a cinematic sheen over proceedings. The dark, downtrodden lyrics that tell the tale of an America transfixed with war ("the whole world has gone insane") are offered a new sense of lightness and hope with Blau's sympathetic, thoughtful baritone. But it's when he repeatedely delivers the titular line "all that is left is the fallin' rain" that you're met headfirst with the sheer greatness of the song.
It hits you in the jugular: just like a classic country tune should. Almost clocking in at ten minutes, the results are mesmerising and thus ushered this oft forgotten DIY-icon in as one of 2016's most brilliantly assured and exciting talents - ironically twenty years into his career.
IDER appeared in April of this year, and four singles later the duo of Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville feel like a fully-formed band ready for being one of the biggest UK acts of 2017. Their first single was “Sorry”; beginning mournfully with the line “my love, where have we gone?” over a gentle synth hum we were quickly introduced to the harmonies of Markwick and Somerville. With voices which fit each other like it was always meant to be, IDER combined such natural beauty with the sounds of modern London. Rhodes-style piano droplets meet clicking R&B percussion, while electronic ambiance floats over everything like a mist rising from a city green space.
Don’t let the title mislead you, though: the closing lines "all my skin / I'm wrapped in / all I need" signal that “Sorry”, far from wallowing, is a song about loving what you are and the empowerment which comes from such a realisation. A triumph from one of the discoveries of the year.
RAYE is a new breed of pop star, where a desire to do something different isn’t just lip-service. The Croydon teen - christened Rachel Keen - has been vocal about her desire to do things in her own way and very one of her tracks so far has shone with a fresh individuality and sonic sharpness, highlighting an intelligent and genuinely interesting musical perspective.
A co-write with Charli XCX, “I, U, Us” also came with an XCX-directed clip. It’s a stuttering beast of a song - anti-banger pop - with shape-shifting tempos and barely a chorus to be found. Keen's love of soul and jazz isn’t too far from the surface either as she rips apart the song’s subject in a righteous rant at around the two-minute mark.