The Critics: Sounds of 2012
Who's going to be rocking your world over the next 12 months? Read on...
Sunday 01 January 2012
Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien starts the year with a smoulder in arias by Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Szymanowski. L'Arpeggiata heads to South America with Los Pajaros Perdidos.
John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir explore Brahms's Requiem, while Philippe Herreweghe, Collegium Vocale Gent and Ann Hallenberg turn to the Alto Rhapsody. Counter-tenor Iestyn Davies sings arias composed for Guadagni, while Andreas Scholl sings Bach.
On Channel Classics, Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra unleash The Rite of Spring and Mahler's First Symphony. On Linn, Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra thrill to Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. On Hyperion, Donald Runnicles and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra scale Bruckner's Seventh. Among the year's historical releases, Mark Elder's 1981 interpretation of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande for English National Opera stands out, while Chamber Domaine get bang up to date with its digital-only release of Turnage's A Constant Obsession.
The Belcea Quartet releases The Complete Beethoven Quartets in May. Storyteller, Tine Thing Helseth's debut recital for EMI, includes works by Weill, Korngold and Dvorak. Tai Murray plays Ysaÿe's Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, while Chloë Hanslip performs Vieuxtemps's First and Second Concertos.
On Wigmore Hall Live, Anna Caterina Antonacci's recital of Cilea, Cesti, Respighi, Tosti and Hahn will sweeten the autumn chill.
Global pop and world music
Although implied by the very nature of the Olympics, it's still a pleasant surprise to see a few big world-music names playing London's free two-day River of Music event in July. So far confirmed, among acts such as the Scissor Sisters, are African stars Baaba Maal and Angélique Kidjo.
Also as part of the Cultural Olympiad's Festival 2012, Africa Express plans to take a train full of African and other musicians, rappers and singers around Britain before winding up in London. Although artists haven't been confirmed yet, if previous concerts are anything to go by this should be an eclectic and electric mixture of one-off jam sessions and solo performances.
But before all that, the first of the year's unmissable gigs is Orchestra Baobab at the Barbican in January. Although it's the first appearance in the UK for three years for Senegal's finest, it's actually Congolese hip-hop artist Baloji who many are keen to experience live to see if he lives up to the promise of his album Kinshasa Succursale.
Camille – France's answer to Björk but with catchier tunes – is taking a while to be fully embraced by a UK audience, which given that much of her material is sung in English, and she always puts on a compelling show, is somewhat baffling. So it's great to see her finally reach a larger audience with a show in April at the Barbican.
Rock, pop and indie
Releasing an album at the very start of the year is a time-honoured method of scoring a sneaky hit – it is, famously, how Iron Maiden finally achieved their first No 1 single with "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" – and this year the Maccabees are giving it a try, their third effort Given to the Wild (due this week) being the first album from a moderately major act to hit the shops while the New Year hangover heads are still clearing.
At the end of the month, however, the year's most eagerly awaited debut album will arrive in the exquisitely vintage shape of Born to Die from Lana Del Rey. If it lives up to last year's singles and live shows, it may well define the entire year.
Further down the indie pecking order, the early weeks of 2012 will also see releases from the likes of Sweet Sweet Lies, Phenomenal Handclap Band, Dan Sartain, Azari & III, Birdeatsbaby, Field Music, Band of Skulls and the Heartbreaks. Meanwhile, hip-hop releases particularly worthy of anticipation include the debuts from Azealia Banks and Frank Ocean, and Drake's Attic Memoirs. Dr Dre may even release the long-threatened Detox, but we'll believe that when we hear it.
It won't be long before the heavyweights of modern British pop start to return, of which one of the most interesting will be electro-pop duo La Roux, whose quiffy Elly Jackson and shadowy Ben Langmaid will be hoping to repeat the wildfire sales figures of 2009 with a single in March, followed by their second album in May. The Ting Tings, however, will be wondering whether there's still a public appetite for their shouty dance-pop when album number two arrives in February.
After her extraordinary performance at Glastonbury 2011 was televised by the BBC, sales of Janelle Monáe's album The Archandroid (Suites II And III) reportedly rose by a staggering 800 per cent. The follow-up, therefore, ought to be huge. Or, to be accurate, follow-ups plural: the future-soul heroine has promised to do "a Kate Bush" and release not one but two albums in 2012.
Reformed, recharged and rocking hard, East Anglian glam-metallers the Darkness will look to recapture the successes – if not excesses – of the early Noughties with a third album, due early in the year. And the reformed, recharged and puffing hard Black Sabbath will look to capture the successes etc of an earlier era with a Rick Rubin-produced album later in the year.
The mighty Suede recently performed seven new songs at a show in St Petersburg, suggesting that the album hinted at during their triumphant reunion shows of the past few years may be ready to roll. And, perhaps addressing a similar demographic, the long-overdue solo debut from Martin Rossiter, former lead singer of the criminally underrated Gene, is shaping up to be a stunner.
Some comeback albums are more likely to happen than others. Adam Ant will apparently release his almost mythical comeback album Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter this year. But the Stone Roses? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We'll talk about that one in the preview of 2018.
It is always dangerous to look forward at this time of year. Much better to look down. That way at least you might avoid stubbing your toes. But it requires only a quick glance ahead into the near future to see Anais Mitchell, who will be here in February to promote her new album, Young Man in America, and will follow that with a proper tour in May.
Mitchell is the most engaging and, in some ways, most original artist currently working in the field of new American "folk" music. You may be familiar with Hadestown, her "folk opera", which came out in 2010 and was performed here to wildish acclaim last year. The recorded version featured the voices of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Ani Difranco and retold the story of "the father of songs", Orpheus, in a 1920s Depression setting.
Prior to that she squeezed out albums which indicated that here was a self-willed, idiosyncratic, independent-minded storytelling spirit with a cat's voice, intimately concerned with issues of the heart – but epically, even mythologically. Which makes a nice change from the standard songwriterly practice of intimate self-mythologisation.
So Mitchell's new album, Young Man in America, is out on 13 February. It's about this bloke...
In jazz, the prodigy thing doesn't really work. Artists get better as they get older and begin to find their own voice, the work deepening album by album and gig by gig. The pianist Zoe Rahman, whose second recording Melting Pot was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2006, is a case in point. Rahman has, of course, been excellent for ages, but as her experience has broadened – playing with Courtney Pine and Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA – it has steadily become apparent that Rahman is a total star. This development has occurred at the same time as she has continued to expand her range beyond the hard, swinging, US approach she learnt as a student at Boston's Berklee College of Music to explore her mixed English, Bengali and Irish heritage. Her fifth album, Kindred Spirits – which includes reference to the Irish links of Bengal's Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore – is released on 30 January and she tours from this month until March.
Meanwhile, at Ronnie Scott's, the new year gets off to a grooving start with a series of soul-jazz specials including appearances by Houston Person, Wayne Henderson, JTQ and – perhaps stretching a point – one-time Motown goddess Martha & the Vandellas.
Folk, pop and Americana
The Lana Del Rey effect has already taken its toll on the music of 2012. Suddenly, everywhere you look there's a female artist for whom two names is no longer enough. Those worthy of mention here include Beth Jeans Houghton, who though it feels as if she's been around for years finally gets around to releasing her ambitious, Sufjan Stevens-like debut album this month; Lianne La Havas, who is building things up nicely with a series of finely tuned EPs; and Sharon Van Etten, whose new album Tramp should put her in among such exalted thrice-named company.
Two sister acts are also seriously worthy of your attention this year. The first is new: the Staves are three sisters from Watford all in their twenties. Early reviewers compared them with Laura Marling, but really they are more a British take on that Dixie Chicks/ Pierces pop-folk-country thing the Yanks do so well. Either way, the songs are good and the harmonies are great. Watch this space.
The other sisters have been around a little longer, but it's with their second album The Lion's Roar that Sweden's First Aid Kit finally deliver. Even typed out, who can deny the charm of a song ("Emmylou") whose chorus runs: "I'll be your Emmylou/ I'll be your June/ You'll be my Gram/ And my Johnny, too"?
In the male newcomer corner, I have to confess I was initially unsure about Michael Kiwanuka. "Soul singer", I'd scoff, as reviewers declared his music, "Like a lazy autumn Sunday afternoon". Have to say I've slowly been won over single by single. The album Home Again (due in March) will, I hope, banish all memories of being nominated for the BBC's Sound of... poll, and by year end we will know for sure if Kiwanuka is more new Bill Withers or black Jack Johnson.
Other new things on the horizon? How could I not mention a band whose guerrilla marketing campaign involved sending me a sherbert lollipop? Beyond that, though (thanks and yum), Big Kids make a sort of urban pop-soul that suggests what Aloe Blacc might sound like if he came from Camden Town. Currently unsigned and keen to remain anonymous, if Big Kids can resist signing to the first record label that shakes a cheque at them, who knows whether their approach mightn't be just what predictable pop music needs.
Returning old favourites? The magnificent Andrew Bird releases Break It Yourself in March. I would say that this is sure to be the album that sees him break through to mainstream success but I've said that about pretty much all of his albums. Break It Yourself is, though, noticeably poppier and less look-how-clever-I-am lyrically than other recent efforts, which is not to say Bird has dumbed down, just that he has learnt to accept that he could be "accused of being wilfully obtuse".
And then there is Regina Spektor. I ended last year's look ahead by stating how much I was looking forward to her score for the Broadway musical of Sleeping Beauty. And guess what? I'm still waiting (later this year now, apparently). Never mind, though, because her next studio album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, comes out in May. And who knows? It could be just the kiss pop lovers need to wake up from their Lana Del Rey trance.
At the end of last year, Radio 1 announced that several of its long-standing servants, including the house DJ Judge Jules, will be making way for new blood, including the dynamic dubstep duo Benga and Skream – a sure sign that the latter genre is well and truly overground. And it's at the poppier, thwomp-heavy end of the bass-music spectrum that you'll find London four-piece Modestep, who release their debut album Evolution Theory next month.
At the opposite end, where all the spooky sci-fi headphone music is, are Demdike Stare, who are releasing Elemental, a four-part series of lavishly packaged vinyls to be collated on CD later this year. The Honest Jon's label promises us a new album of Actress's skewed, angular take on dubstep, while Joy Orbison has founded a new label, Hinge Finger, to take the sound back in a tech-house direction. And unpredictable grime pioneer Wiley releases his funky statement of intent, Evolve or Be Extinct.
For that visceral high that only finely tuned dancefloor music can give you, you'll do well this year to better Amplify, an exhilarating debut by long-term resident of the underground breaks scene Stylus Rex. For those more reflective moments, Air's La Voyage dans la Lune is expanded from their dreamy new score to the Georges Méliès film; and the Field follows up one of the albums of last year with more shimmering shoegaze techno released under the name Loops of Your Heart. Rave on.
Were I an acolyte of the bleedin' obvious, I might join the Brit Awards judges in proclaiming Emeli Sandé this year's hot tip. But since the Scottish trip-hop songstress already has two hit singles under her belt, far better to crow about another urbanish diva: London's Delilah, who is set to commandeer the sophisticated R&B-pop turf of those long-depleted Sugababes.
Elsewhere, on the newcomers front, listen out for enraptured house revivalists the Two Bears and Genuflex, a distortion-friendly crooner who rather brilliantly suggests a shoegaze Roy Orbison.
Extricating myself from the cult of the new, I also predict a less-than-difficult time for the second album of Seattle troubadour Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N 2 It, while Brooklyn duo Chairlift should become the borough's latest hipster electro-pop success (see MGMT, Yeasayer) with their own superior sophomore LP, Something.
As for established names, I'm eagerly anticipating new offerings from the Magnetic Fields, the xx, Janelle Monáe and Madonna. Though, in 2012, nothing could make this reviewer happier than the long-awaited return of Fiona Apple: following the notoriously troubled gestation of 2005's extraordinary Extraordinary Machine, the baroque confessionalist is reportedly once again in limbo over the release of new material. The super-fan pleas start here.
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