Music Features

New for 2012: The Critics' Choice

The battle to be the first to identify the potential stars of the next twelve months seems to intensify with each passing year. Websites, magazines and commentators have been putting together their lists of tips for 2012 and there are so many “ones to watch”, it’s difficult not to feel swamped by it all.

So, No Ripcord have looked through the myriad lists (including predictions from our very own review of 2011) and picked ten artists who are attracted a particularly large amount of attention. We’ve got the low-down on what you need to know, who you need to look out for, and who’s so terrible they must have close friends and relatives in high places.
Azealia Banks
In a sentence: Not particularly shy 20-year-old female MC from Harlem who took the music world by storm late in 2011.
Tipped by: Pretty much everyone, from us (naturally), to the The BBC, GQ Magazine, NME, The Guardian and probably your own grandmother
The verdict: You’re going to be a hearing a lot about Azealia Banks in 2012. Along with Lana Del Rey, she practically owned the latter part of 2011, generating an incredible amount of buzz from very few tracks. Again, like Del Rey, the backlash will likely hit before we even see the debut album. It’s difficult to fathom just how the hype has built up to the extent it has, but there’s no denying there’s something a bit special about Azealia. The filthy rhymes may be attention-grabbing, but she’s got a fantastic flow, and she’s obviously got a great ear if the tracks she’s been rapping over are anything to go by. Give it a few months, and Azealia will be the most famous Banks since the family in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Fact of the day: Azealia attended LaGuardia High School, alma mater of Liza Minelli, Al Pacino and Nicki Minaj
File alongside: Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott
Label: Currently none
Available music: Key tracks 212 and Liquorice are available on Azealia’s Soundcloud page.
Trailer Trash Tracys
In a sentence: Swirly, ethereal dream pop that combines layers of reverb with drum machines and otherworldly vocals.
Tipped by: The Guardian, Stereogum and HMV
The verdict: Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with the music of Trailer Trash Tracys, there’s not an awful lot to separate it from the crowd. Shoegaze-indebted chillwave has been a prominent sound already throughout 2011 and there’s nothing to suggest that TTT won’t join the legion of bands who disappeared without trace (ha!) after releasing their debut album (here’s looking at you, Austra and I Break Horses). Perfectly adequate, but it doesn’t suggest a brave new dawn for 2012.
Fact of the day: While recording their debut album, Ester, TTT tuned their instruments to the solfeggio scale, which you probably know as do-re-mi-fah-so-la-ti-do.
File alongside: School of Seven Bells, Pale Saints, Beach House
Label: Double Six
Available music: Double A-side single You Wish You Were Red / Engelhardt’s Arizona was released in December 2011. Debut album, Ester, hit the shops on 9th January this year.
Charli XCX
In a sentence: Internet-savvy teenage ice queen singing tales of love and loss over chilly beats and arctic soundscapes.
Tipped by: Pitchfork, Popjustice and us (hooray!)
The verdict: Imagine if Marina & The Diamonds stopped being such a solipsist and focussed on making great pop records instead. The music of Charli XCX is flecked with touches of 80s goth and industrial, which really helps to give some weight to it, but it goes beyond the standard tropes of witch-house. She’s been around for a while, and perhaps her sound isn’t quite fully formed yet, but she could well be a breakthrough star of the coming year.
Fact of the day: Charli was playing London clubs at the age of 14, and put out an album five years ago, financed by her parents.
File alongside: Austra, Robyn, Zola Jesus
Label: This Is Music
Available music: A free download of recent single, Nuclear Seasons, is available at Expect a new album sometime in the spring.
The Minutes
In a sentence: Straight-up rock three-piece from Dublin who have been making great waves in their homeland and are now looking to take on the rest of the world.
Tipped by: The Guardian, NME
The verdict: The Minutes are the kind of band that have always existed and will forever continue to exist. Their sound is a very basic, slightly bluesy rock and roll which has been tried and tested many times before. They’re a throwback in a world of dubstep and R&B crossovers, but there’s always a market for meat and potatoes rock, and with Tribes hotly tipped this coming year too, maybe this kind of music could make a comeback in 2012. The New New Rock Revolution, if you will.
Fact of the day: Debut album, Marcata, was voted Irish Album of 2011 by Irish music site, Goldenplec, beating acts such as Lisa Hannigan, Cashier No. 9 and As I Watch You From Afar.
File alongside: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Black Keys, Jet
Label: Model Citizen Records
Available music: Marcata is already available throughout Europe, and will be released in the UK on 30th January. No word as yet on a release in other territories.
Lianne La Havas
In a sentence: Honey-vocalled, London-based singer-songwriter whose delicate torch songs saw her support Bon Iver on a recent tour
Tipped by: The BBC, HMV, The Observer, Fader
The verdict: Despite ticking all the boxes that would indicate her music would be an introspective bore-fest, La Havas’ marriage of folk and soul is a real thing of wonder. There’s a lightness of touch to the arrangements, shades of smoky jazz in the percussion, and a real intimacy to her vocal delivery. She’s clearly grabbing the ears of the great and good too – as well as touring with Bon Iver, her recent EP sees her duet with folkie Willy Mason. An unexpected delight; gorgeous, captivating stuff.
Fact of the day: Despite not having yet released an album, La Havas actually signed her major label record deal back in 2009.
File alongside: Laura Marling, Erykah Badu, Emmy the Great
Label: Warner Brothers
Available music: EP Lost & Found is out now and fully worth your time and money. A debut full-length is pencilled in for this spring.
Woman’s Hour
In a sentence: Afropop and shoegaze are welded together by Cumbrian quartet now making waves in their new home of London
Tipped by: The Guardian, NME, Loud & Quiet
The verdict: A very modern band, they seem to have assimilated all of the most prevalent sub-genres of the last three of four years into their sound. However, they still seem to create something which stands out. So, you have the finger-picking of hi-life next to the fuzzy reverb of shoegaze, the studied minimalism of post-dubstep alongside the lush synths of chillwave. This might read like Woman’s Hour have been focus-grouped by a team of insufferable hipsters, but there’s a warmth and addictive quality to the songs.
Fact of the day: Recent single, Jenni, was written about Jenni Murray, host of the Radio 4 show from which the band take their name.
File alongside: Warpaint, The xx, Vampire Weekend
Label: Dirty Bingo
Available music: Double A-side single, Jenni / Human, was released in December 2011.
Ren Harvieu
In a sentence: Lancastrian lass whose big voice and 60s fixation belie her tender years
Tipped by: Mojo, The BBC, The Guardian, The Sun, The Daily Mirror
The verdict: In a post-Adele world there was always going to be a spate of young, female singers doing soul-tinged tracks. However, Ren Harvieu goes way beyond the Miss Adkins' emotional wrangling by creating tracks full of soaring strings and doe-eyed soul, meaning she has more in common with classic vocalists like Dusty Springfield. The arrangements recall Burt Bacharach and Scott Walker, so perhaps Ren Harvieu can finish what Alex Turner side-project, The Last Shadow Puppets, started. If she can grab the attention of supermarket shoppers and casual music buyers, her record could sell by the bucketload.
Fact of the day: Harvieu was due to perform at Glastonbury and record with Nas last year, but her career was put on hold when she broke her spine.
File alongside: Dusty Springfield, Candie Payne, Nancy Sinatra
Label: Island
Available music: Single, Through The Night, is released on 16th January and can be streamed through Ren’s Soundcloud page.
All The Young
In a sentence: The swaggering four-piece who see Definitely Maybe as a musical Year Zero that aren’t Viva Brother
Tipped by: The Guardian, HMV, The Fly
The verdict: Despite a tour slot with Morrissey, All The Young represent all that is turgid and stale in modern, alternative music. Even if you’re a big fan of the Britpop sound, your heart will sink upon hearing the stodgy, lad-rock of All The Young. They’ve already been releasing singles on a major label and it will come as no surprise that their recent press shot shows one of their number wearing sunglasses indoors. Expect Radio 1 to be singing their praises any time soon – all hail the landfill indie revival!
Fact of the day: As well as the Mozfather, All The Young have supported both The Courteeners and The Wombats in the past year. Be still, my beating heart.
File alongside: Viva Brother, Oasis, The Courteeners, the recycling bin
Label: Warner Brothers
Available music: Singles (The First Time, Welcome Home, Quiet Night In) and a live EP are available. An album is expected in 2012. Don’t say you haven’t been warned though.
In a sentence: Alt. rock quartet with stadium-sized ambitions, fresh from a gig playing the Occupy London camp at St. Paul’s.
Tipped by: The Guardian, HMV, XFM
The verdict: Of all the artists on this list, fiN are the most likely to be huge, as in, arena-filling, million-selling huge. Like musical magpies, fiN have picked all the bits that work from some of the biggest British guitar bands of the last twenty years. There are the angular guitars of Bends-era Radiohead, the sheer scale of the songs from Muse, and the pop hooks of The Kooks. It’s all very impressive stuff, if not a little on the clinical and slick side. You’ll probably see a Q Magazine cover within the year, which will use the word “anthem” very liberally.
Fact of the day: After only a dozen gigs, fiN were invited to support Incubus on their recent tour.
File alongside: Hope Of The States, U2, Razorlight
Label: Artisan Records
Available music: Double A-side single, The Artisan / It Changes Everything was released in October. New single (another double-A), Everybody Dies Alone / Rapture, hits the shops on 30th January.
In a sentence: Brooklyn boy/girl group who combine indie, R&B and disco influences to make left-of-centre, danceable pop
Tipped by: The BBC, Time Out, The Guardian, Stereogum
The verdict: Friends put a very up-to-date twist on the kind of combination that’s been attempted many times before. It’s indie music you can dance to, but in the way these things are going, there are hints of chillwave and the downcast R&B of The Weeknd in there too. What sets it apart though, is the funk basslines and the influence of disco that permeates their tight, twitchy tunes. Clearly a group with an appreciation of a wide range of music, Friends sound like a band who can do a lot of good things in the coming year.
Fact of the day: Recent B-side, My Boo, is a cover of a 1996 track from Ghost Town DJs
File alongside: CSS, Black Kids, Friendly Fires
Label: Lucky Number
Available music: Singles, I’m His Girl and Friend Crush, are available to download now; the 7”s have already sold out.
Unsurprisingly, there’s some great talent out there as well as some pretty tedious music. Of the good stuff, the variety is pleasing, and it’s great to see so many artists looking far and wide for their influences. A lot of this is merely the continuation of trends seen in 2011, but there are some extremely promising acts on the verge of breaking through who we’ll hopefully be hearing great things from in the coming twelve months.

On the flipside, more than one of the bands above deal in regressive, unimaginative rock, and it’s disheartening that there’s still a market for this kind of music, as well as the fact it still gets industry tastemakers excited. It seems that despite the advances made over the years and the amount of music available, leather jackets, sunglasses and an arrogant swagger will still get you further than your talent should permit.

Azealia Banks is almost certain to be huge in 2012; with the hype surrounding her and the amount of column inches she’s already generated, it’s practically a given. Of the rest, fiN seem the most likely to be headlining festivals and marrying supermodels in the coming years, despite their insipid arena rock. However, no need to feel down, as Lianne La Havas, Woman’s Hour and Friends will hopefully ensure that 2012 remains in safe hands.

Let us know your tips for the top in the coming year using the Disqus form below.