Editor’s note: The BBC Sound of 2013 longlist announcement garnered mixed reviews from our writers, which led me to commission this unusual interplay – between John, holed up on his home island of Guernsey, and Martin, holed up similarly at home in Gateshead – just about the merits – or lack of? – in this Sound of 2013 list. For an alternative list, check out the TGTF 10 for 2013 poll winners, as voted by our lovely readers. As I prep this post in WordPress New Year’s Day, Welsh electropoppers CHVRCHES and Laura Mvula have been announced as #5 and #4, respectively. Before we get ahead of ourselves, John and Martin get stuck in their discussion…
So what is the BBC Sound of 2013? Is it a jumped-up product placement list, or a true representation of the best innovation to come out of the UK in the next year? Can the tips from the 213 so-called ‘tastemakers’ truly gauge who is going to break boundaries and inspire us this coming calendar year, or is it just a script that each BBC Radio presenter needs to stick to? Martin Sharman and I will be discussing this over this transcript:
John: So Martin, the BBC Sound of 2013 list is out and I quite frankly, I am bored and uninterested in what they’ve thrown up, what do you think?
Martin: Well, John, it’s easy to be cynical about these things – people like you and me spend a lot of time seeking out and experiencing new music, and could well be able to come up with a list of our own that would be just as virtuous, and certainly more to our own tastes, as this one. But I think this list has a good stab at covering a lot of bases, and I’m sure a lot of the artists on the list are grateful for the increased exposure it will generate for them. Quite how and why the acts are chosen we will never know – I fantasise that a lot of PR puffery and not the odd glass of champagne have been involved in its genesis – but if one is prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure most people who look at the list will be able to find something that they like.
John: I will indulge that a lot of bases are covered here, you’ve got your British guitar bands (Palma Violets and Savages) so the tabloid media can pander their fantasy that institution of ‘the Great British Guitar Band’ lives on. You’ve got your ‘strong independent’ woman type in the form of Angel Haze who already stinks of Jessie J and even a Michael Kiwanuka 2.0 (this time a girl!) in Laura Mvula. It feels almost formulaic to me?
Martin: Formulaic? This is the BBC we’re talking about, of course it is! There have undoubtedly been umpteenth meetings, focus groups, and quotas developed to exactly proportion each aspect of this list: genre, gender, ethnicity, hair colour, shoe size. But that’s not the fault of the artists who ended up being picked. Indeed, if Angel Haze, oozing with street smarts from the wrong side of Detroit, who can properly rap like Azealia Banks leavened with Odd Future‘s blunt lyrical themes, was to know she was being compared with the over-privileged, under-talented, Brit school rent-a-common-denominator Jessie J, she’d just as likely head across the Atlantic and whup yo’ ass. And Laura Mvula’s ethereal vocal work, presumably influenced by her a capella background, appeals to me a lot more than Kiwanuka’s homely schtick, but that just reinforces the subjective nature of all of this. What does make me yawn is the aforementioned Palma Violets – if I see another archly lo-fi video again, I’ve seen too many. The Libertines happened: deal with it. Although they may make more sense live. But there must be something on the list that appeals, John?
John: As a BBC employee I better watch whose toes on which I tread, but formulaic probably is hitting the nail on the head there. RE: Palma Violets and another ‘archly lo-fi video’, you’re going to absolutely have kittens for the video for ‘Best of Friends’, which people for some bizarre reason are gushing over? Not me, nope, I’m not buying into this Vaccines-lite that they seem to be publicising themselves as. I can get at least get a bit giddy about Gary Barlow’s favourite Irish crooners, Kodaline. The music and video to ‘All I Want’ is tear-jerkingly beautiful, and with the backing of Mister Barlow, I just feel like they could do very well for themselves. [They've also gotten a shout for SXSW 2013. - Ed.] While if she’s finished whooping ma ass, I feel like Angel Haze could at least be something edgy, exciting and a little bit sexy. Which is what I feel this list is missing… Who stands out for you then, Martin?
Martin: I’m with you on Kodaline: a deceptively simple song is enhanced with a brilliant, and indeed rather moving, visual story. Little Green Cars have a similarly powerful marriage: the video is made with a photographer’s eye for composition, and the song adds a much-needed bitter twist to the usual romance narrative. AlunaGeorge deserve mention for their sultry, mature approach to the urban pop genre, and visuals which positively drip 2013 London cool. The jury’s out on Tom Odell: he’s certainly a talented chap, but it’s so early on in his career to say for sure whether he’s got genuine depth, or simply blessed with an approximation of Chris Martin’s voice and demeanour. Gary Barlow’s finely-coiffed head pops up again with his signing A*M*E, who I can’t decide whether is bringing a decent bit of synthpop back to the charts or is the most derivative thing I’ve heard for ages. Either way, her video is a jolly bit of pastel-coloured candyfloss to liven these dark nights. And of the highlights for me that just leaves Haim’s ’80s-revival New York soft-rock, and (#5 band on the 10 for 2013 poll) Peace’s very British widescreen guitar jollity, one of very few bands who can invoke Talking Heads – and that’s a very good thing. Both acts were doing fine before this nomination, but it’ll do their career no harm either. Just pondering the winner…
John: We can ponder and discuss all we want, but it just feels like the cards are already stacked in Mr. Odell’s favour, he’s been named Brits Critics’ Choice Winner 2013 and we all know what that means. The talent is there, undoubtedly so: the Chichester-born musician seems like exactly what the BBC will want from their winner. Someone who’ll look well-placed on Jools Holland, while also being able to make fangirls swoon at festivals in the summer. We’d obviously like it to be somebody like Fenech-Soler, or a TGTF backed band, but hey we can dream.
Martin: I suspect you may be right. If they go for a band, and with all the talk of bands being back in fashion they may decide to buck the Brits trend, then my money’s on Kodaline. Great connections, great hairdos, great cheekbones. And although it’s easy to get all snobby about their ability to generate crowd-pleasing ditties, pleasing the crowd is what it’s all about. My personal choice is AlunaGeorge, on the basis that they might just turn into the next big urban crossover – there’s hints of that Tricky / Martina Topley-Bird interplay that gets me all excited. Well, we’ll find out soon enough!