With every ‘ones to watch’ list in sight seemingly attempting to pass off lounge music as youth culture; many a music fan has been wondering what in the right fuck is going on. Since when was producing polite, anaemic, navel gazing wankery fit for continuity on ITV the peak of cultural endeavour? Well, looking to ‘sound of’ lists for a representation of the musical landscape is sort of like walking in to a McDonalds to see where fine dining is in 2014. The whole ordeal is a self-fulfilling prophecy of bought Facebook likes, major label PR campaigns and feckless bloggers hurriedly playing catch-up in to the A&Rs hands. I mean, the description of MNEK in BBC’s Sound of 2014 list proclaims that he is ‘one of the best connected men in the UK music industry’; it’s as if they’re not even bothered about pretending to care what the music scene is like any more and are beginning to self-identify as a list that merely aggregates press budgets.
While some true talent does manage to receive honourable mentions – Royal Blood admittedly being one of the most exciting rock prospects in years and Jungle getting deserved credit for constructing a sound that feels soulful, urban and sunkissed all at once – the majority of the entrants are keen investors in the tepid and the aping of decade-old Four Tet beats.
So instead, here is a list of 14 acts from the true underground; some of them contain fantastic, lovelorn vocal harmonies, some will make you want to shake your bum off and some will try and tear your face off. However, all of them are proud proprietors of their own distinct style that make it worthwhile to remain excited about music in 2014.
The Travis Waltons
For fans of: Manchester Orchestra, Frightened Rabbit, Biffy Clyro
This Bristol-based band aren’t just happy with tugging at your heartstrings but would rather wrench the strings from your ribcage and whip you with them until you wept. Their début album Your Neck Is Bleeding is an unfettered ode to love, loss and self-loathing wrapped around heartbreakingly irresistible pop melodies and midwest-indebted sonic textures. It’s worth splitting up with your girlfriend just for The Travis Waltons to ease your torment. And album two Separation Season is in the works. Oh, and did I mention that Aaron Paul and Frank Turner cameo in their first ever video?
Buy their first album here.
For fans of: µ-Ziq, Squarepusher
Brighton-based DJ Alan Myson is just a reminder why electronic music is so great. As soon as the title track of his 2013 Hyper Real EP passes the 12 second mark you are simply bewildered; how can something so sparse and isolated feel so danceable? However, once the sub-bass kicks in there are no more questions to be asked; Hyper Real becomes the most peculiar, yet addictive dance anthem ever to be heard. Part of the esteemed Planet Mu Records roster, Ital Tek is a reminder to all that there are still sonics yet to be explored and music yet to be made. New music coming soon.
Buy music from his Bandcamp here.
For fans of: Drenge, Lightning Bolt
If you thought there wasn’t much to grumble about in the home counties, you are so very, very wrong. Hailing from Kent, Slaves are a ferocious two-piece whose début EP Sugar Coated Bitter Truth tells aggressive tales of girl fights and seedy lifestyles over equally razor-sharp guitar work. After supporting Drenge on their 2013 headline tour and claiming a spot on the BBC Introducing stage at Reading and Leeds last year, 2014 is going to be the year that their furious, powerhouse live shows reach a higher platform. Get there early.
For fans of: Girls, Surfer Blood
It’s really not very often that you get a singer-songwriter come along with as much character as this. Her song ‘Avant Gardener’ is the ultimate diary entry of doing shit all under the oppressive summer heat, set to the backdrop of throwback, chilled out, psych-pop. With a whimsy and knack for storytelling resonant of The Kinks at their most colloquial, it’s hard to see Courtney Barnett as anything short of charming.
Buy her double-EP: A Sea of Split Peas, here.
For fans of: Rudimental, Sub Focus
This London-based electronic act have been bubbling away through ’12 and ’13, however now is the time for the bass outfit to get the success and recognition they deserve and crave. Their sound is unashamedly commercial and high energy, yet never compromising; reaching the perfect balance between pop accessibility and strong club dancability. Watch them storm a chart near you soon.
For fans of: Pulled Apart by Horses, Enter Shikari
No collection of words would be able to translate just how chaotic Baby Godzilla are live. Whether they decide to bring their amps in to the centre of the floor mid-gig, attempt to break through the ceiling of the venue or take full advantage of their wireless guitar mics by playing half of their encore in the ladies’ toilet, the next trick Baby Godzilla pull will always be more insane than the last. Although, it isn’t all show; their songs built from the ground up on brutally frantic riffs and macabre singalongs which on their own are bewildering fantastic. However, for the full Baby Godzilla experience, see them live. You won’t regret it and you won’t forget it.
Baby Godzilla play the Kerrang! tour on 20th February at O2 Guildhall. The band will also be appearing at Takedown Festival on 15th March at Southampton University.
For fans of: The Strokes, Iggy and the Stooges
Their sound may be heavily influenced by Proto-punk bands such as The Stooges and MC5, but this youthful band from Chicago display an exuberance and sincerity that can never get old. In fact, when they played their first US TV appearance on Late Show with David Letterman, he was so impressed that he excitably urged them to do an encore (however guitarist Dominic Corso’s broken strings had another idea). The title track to their second EP Who Needs You is a thumping call-to-arms against the stagnant values and ideology of conservative America. And it also happens to be bloody catchy.
The Orwells play London’s Trinity Centre on 28th February. Get tickets here.
For fans of: Death from Above 1979, Muse, Queens of the Stone Age
If you have been following any of the ‘tips for 2014’, lists chances are that you have already heard of this Brighton-based duo, but it can’t hurt to mention them again, can it? Generating a devout fan base off the back of a single 7 inch, it’d be impossible to say that these guys are not destined for very big things in 2014. Royal Blood are catchy, impassioned, unique and very, very loud. That’s all the boxes ticked for being a great rock band then.
Royal Blood play the Cellar on 13th February. Get tickets here.
For fans of: The Cure, Magazine, The Horrors
Taking inspiration from the foundations of erratic post-punk and processing them through an isolating psychedelia, Eagulls are the new soundtrack to the cold industrial landscape of 21st century Britain. Sounding like the exact era in between The Cure’s releases of Seventeen Seconds and Pornography; Eagulls are brooding, energetic and wildly consuming.
For fans of: Biffy Clyro, System of a Down
Okay, this is cheating a tad on the ‘new acts’ front. However, the end to Lenman’s musical sabbatical since the split of the cult alt-metal group Reuben in 2008 is most certainly something to celebrate. Returning in late 2013 with the double album Muscle Memory; it was one disc of hardcore-leaning alternative rock and another disc of folk and vaudeville. A bit like Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor for the unhinged.
Jamie Lenman is appearing at Takedown Festival.
The Amazing Snakeheads
For fans of: Palma Violets, Drenge
With their début A-side ‘Testifying Time’ clocking in at a meagre 65 seconds, this Glaswegian band don’t muck about with pleasantries and just get straight to the action. Simplistic, frenzied and venomous, The Amazing Snakeheads are the perfect example of just how much you can rock in a little over a minute. Think The Vaccines if they listened to more Nick Cave and less Rihanna.
For fans of: The Cult, Killing Joke, Placebo
Identifying themselves as ‘death rock’; this Finnish band take post-punk gloom and make it as anthemic as humanly achievable. However, the outfit’s soaring vocals and mountain-demolishing guitars never detract from the sound’s gothic undercurrent, producing an atmosphere that is equally solemn yet unstoppable. Nevertheless, despite the tones of morose, this is still music for those who want to rock the bloody hell out.
Their album ‘Climax’ is available to buy from Bandcamp here.
For fans of: Black Sabbath, Pulled Apart by Horses, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats
Whilst many B-Town bands are currently worried about how hazy of a filter they should use for their press shoot, these next two bands are evidence of a new scene developing in the Black Country that is far harder-tinged and has far more to say. Firstly comes God Damn, combining a Sabbath guitar tone with a steadfast energy and an intent in off-kilter melody; all to the imagery of an unforgiving urban setting. The overall sound evokes the atmosphere of looking to the future and seeing your current town desolate in rubble; it’s grim, but the sense of detachment allows for hope to poke its nose through.
For fans of: Savages, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Black Flag
The second Brummie band, Youth Man on the other hand are the immediate reaction to a society on the brink. Fast, vicious and dissonant, Youth Man’s sound is the embodiment of disenfranchisement with Kaila Whyte’s howling vocal the angry mouthpiece of someone who has a lot to say and is really quite eager to say it. The band’s lyricism opaquely explores the general discomforts and uncertainties of modern life, reflecting that much like the listener, they hold no answers but only anxieties. Gripping stuff.
Download the ‘Bad Weather’ EP from Bandcamp for free here. The band are also playing The Old Blue Last in London for free on Tuesday 28th January.