Today is round-up day. I’d like to say that I’ve been inactive since before Christmas because I’ve been wracked by the critic’s uncertainty, a condition that has consigned me to bedrest due to the heavy burden of responsibility that lies upon me, a million watching eyes awaiting my decision that will make, and yes, break the careers of those I cast my unwavering, omniscient gaze over. But really I’ve just been drunk and/or sleeping for two weeks. But no more, for today is the release of the shortlist for the Blog Sound of 2012, and with it will come some other listy posts later in the day.
This whole Blog Sound idea was really rather exciting to me; a swathe of people who write about music discussing that music, but in a context that has historically been far removed from those involved in the BBC’s parent poll. What’s been most interesting in thinking about it though is that this separate group consciousness has become rather more visible throughout this year. In listening to the type of music journalist who would no doubt be involved with the BBC poll, more and more discussion has, for better or worse, centred around an artist’s blog buzz this year.
Lana Del Rey, whatever I might think about her, has no doubt been a product of the internet experience rather than any traditional music performance. Long before excited discussion of live shows or extravagent personal lives, we now see multimedia introductions – ‘Video Games’ became worthy of discussion by way of the images we were presented with. Del Rey has offered herself and a projected personality through degraded video footage and THOSE STUPID LIPS as much as through a louche vocal style. The purity of the internet music experience, an infinite plane with no other distractions to take away from what we choose to face ourselves with, is not as crystal clear as we might have thought. That said, the muddying of the internet waters has led to increased interest from circles who, a few years ago, might not have taken any notice. A few retweets of a Youtube clip by the right people and an artist can have their work played to literally thousands of people who might not otherwise have been interested before. Just on play on Spotify can notify every single friend on your Facebook timeline. These exponential connections will only keep growing and with it so will the interest in the source of the initial information, be that artist or, dare I say it, unwashed blogger.
So, with this in mind, it will be extremely interesting to see how each of these shortlisted artists fares this year. It may not be directly because of this post(or any other blog’s post of this list for that matter), but the potential for growth is now such that any of these five artists could have far more clout than they could have hoped for in previous years. What follows is the shortlist, in reverse order of votes, with personal comments about each. Only the list itself is as voted for by every blog.
In entirely the most positive way possible, Daughter’s Elena Tonra sounds like she could be a really dull popstar. This is positive, because she absolutely isn’t. Her breathy,angelic vocals hover gently over ambient soundscapes that constantly threaten a coherent melody. It’s an engaging combintion, taking what makes soft-rock’s most successful businesses so popular, puts it all behind a wall of fog and makes it actually worth expending some thinking (and listening) time over. I was already excited, now more so.
Displaying so many shades of popular 21st-Century indie bands that they’re practically shadowy, French Wives don’t strike me as much more than a baffling experiment in postmodern pastiche. That said, some of the interplay between in influences can make for some nice moments. Their seeming fascination with Classical instruments making Classical sounds (see: Vampire Weekend) jostling for space between punchy, oratory verses (see: Editors) and a fondness for big, showy chorus work (see: any stadium-bound indie act) results in a kinetic tumble of noise that just about resolves itself enough to seem reasonable. An odd choice, but one that could certainyl bear fruit.
I was a relatively early Beth Jeans Houghton supporter, but the more of her music I hear, the less I end up liking it. The casual, folky whimsy of the original recordings seems to be being replaced with a wishy-washy siren sound and, after seeing her at End of the Road this year, a similar onstage personality too. There’s no doubt it’s a more complex musical persona, but I just find it less interesting. That said, in the post-Florence world we all live in, with the right pop nous Ms. Houghton could go far (and given the fact that I liked Florence early on too, the signs are either good or bad depending which way you look at it).
The prevailing criticism of this London four-piece seems to be that they draw on Talking Heads rather heavily. I’m more aware of Two Door Cinema Club in their sound – a less venerable comparison perhaps, but not a negative one. That same high-register, major key guitar shuffle works its way through their newer tracks, a carefree, youthful look at guitar pop. Then again, the two older tracks on their Soundcloud page indicate a more nocturnal, synth-based sound so, frankly, god knows at what sonic crossroads this lot will end up at in the coming year.
I have to say, I’m a little surprised this came top of the list. It seems just about the least inventive choice of any of this list – a slumberous ’80s pop cool pervades each track, and the fact that I could sum it up that easily seems to say everything that needs to be said. Then again, it’s also the only choice that tallies with the BBC poll, which could provide the most interesting result of our own experiment, albeit with two very different conclusions. This could either signal what I had already mentioned, that blogs are beginning to have real (although indirect) purchase in the world of “tastemakers” or that us bloggers aren’t quite as different and forward thinking as we might like to believe. Either way, I think this poll has thrown up a lot to think about, and not just in terms of the music proferred, especially if it turns out Friends have made it to the top of the BBC list too (which wasn’t known when I published this).