Pride Life: Pops Picked
Originally published in Pride Life magazine.
From synthpop to soul, Mike Atkinson picks some of the hottest talent you’ll be hearing a lot more of this year.
The latest in a long line of synthpop duos, stretching all the way back to Soft Cell and Yazoo, April Towers have a knack for constructing sturdily chugging, instantly danceable songs which surge into soaring, hooky choruses. Rhythmically similar to New Order, melodically reminiscent of OMD and vocally akin to Depeche Mode, they take classic influences and embellish them with a contemporary twist, placing them alongside the likes of Hot Chip and Hurts. Having made their live debut just over a year ago, long-time friends Charles Burley and Alexander Noble have already released two singles this year: the elegantly remorseful Arcadia and the insistently throbbing No Corruption.
For fans of: New Order, OMD, Hurts.
Comprised of twin sisters Paris and Amber Strother and their friend Anita Bias, the always-to-be-capitalised KING (no relation to the mid-Eighties hitmakers!) specialise in classic neo-soul, adorned with rich three-part harmonies. There’s a smooth sophistication to their music which bears comparison with Erykah Badu and Jill Scott in their Nineties heyday – and indeed, Badu herself has already lent them her support. Following last year’s well-received single Mister Chameleon, a wry take on “fair-weather love”, the trio are preparing to release their self-written and self-produced debut album, We Are KING. As performers, they are imbued with a graceful warmth and an easy charm that makes light of their musical prowess.
For fans of: Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Angie Stone.
Blessed with a voice of exceptional purity and clarity, with a singer-songwriter’s emotional sincerity and a jazz performer’s subtlety of tone, Laura Groves has remained a well-kept secret for too long. This could all change soon, with a new EP, Committed Language, and some high-profile support sets with Elbow, which have been arranged at the band’s specific request. This is delicate, intimate and contemplative music, skilfully arranged but delightfully unshowy. Originally from Bradford, Laura first performed as Blue Roses, before moving to London and working under her own name. Her fascination with the blurred boundaries between dreams and reality informs much of her work, lending it an other-worldly quality.
For fans of: Joni Mitchell, Donald Fagen, Kate Bush.
Channelling the energy of vintage funk (Parliament, Stevie Wonder, Prince) and filtering it through “a cement-coloured North of England lens”, Mancunian singer and multi-instrumentalist Julie Campbell, aka LoneLady, is back after a four-year break with her second album, Hinterland. Recorded at home on an 8-track cassette recorder, with production completed in a remote vintage analogue studio in Michigan, the nervy post-punk influences of her earlier work are still there, but they’re now sweetened with a more dance-infused approach; recent single Groove It Out explores similar territory to La Roux’s most recent work, while Bunkerpop chugs along like a distant cousin of the Eurythmics evergreen, Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.
For fans of: La Roux, St. Vincent, Imogen Heap.
Already basking in critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, the debut album from Nashville’s Natalie Prass could end up as one of this year’s stealthy word-of-mouth successes. It’s a break-up record at heart, but delivered with a swooning sweetness that masks much of the underlying pain. “Where do you go, when the only home that you know is with a stranger?” she asks on the opening track (My Baby Don’t Understand Me), concluding that “our love is a long goodbye”. Widely compared to Dusty In Memphis, the music harks back to classic country-soul, sung with captivating tenderness and orchestrated with Hollywood strings and Muscle Shoals horns.
For fans of: Dusty Springfield, Laura Marling, Feist.
Raised in semi-rural North Las Vegas, Shamir Bailey started his musical journey with acoustic country and folk music, before making a late teenage detour into punk rock. Now aged 20, he is beginning to make his name as a pop performer, drawing on dance, funk and rap influences, and creating something characterful and unique. Inspired equally by Nina Simone, Joanna Newsom and The Slits, his intentionally androgynous vocals are showcased on If It Wasn’t True, a funky Prince-goes-house jam, while on On The Regular, his most recent release, playful rap sits on top of bouncy, fresh-faced, sugar-rush pop. It’s not all madcap hyperactivity, though; Shamir can also work a lovelorn lament, with yearning conviction.
For fans of: Prince, Jungle, Azealia Banks.