Cop or Drop? Special Request reviews the singles
Throughout December, we took a look back on the previous 12 months, counting down our favourite albums and songs, examining the resurgence of alien grime music, and considering how plain old weird a lot of things have been. With the new year now upon us, we're looking to the future. Here are our tips for 2014.
All too often, these sorts of lists focus on who will be 'big' in the year to come – who will sell out shows, who will dominate radio playlists, who will be the next big thing? But to measure success in this industrial, economic sense is boring. What of the developing artists, the ones who made their earliest rumblings in 2013 and earlier and who will completely come into their own next year? What of those on the cusp of realising their potential, making music that'll not just be prevalent in 2014, but who will define the musical landscape in the years to come? What about those who music won't just be heard a lot in 2014, but whose music could only exist in 2014?
As such, this list features musicians, producers, bands, rappers, and singers who we believe will fulfil their earliest potential and completely come into their own in 2014, and who you can expect to see featured on these pages a lot more over the next 12 months.
You can stream a mix of these artists on this page or over on Soundcloud. Happy new year!
Tirzah might only have about 10 minutes of original material to her name right now, but that's still enough to justify her place on this list: those 10 minutes were some of the most fantastic that we heard this year. Her delightful I'm Not Dancing, produced by schoolfriend and legitimate DIY music genius Micachu, pretty much set the benchmark for askew pop music this year, while the crunchy, resigned Slow Jam reveals a talent for deep, abstract lyricism beyond dance beats. Her mixtape of all-original music for Dazed Digital shows that she has swathes of unreleased music at her disposal, which we'll hopefully get to tuck into next year. Beyond the recorded form, Tirzah's live set with Micachu blew us away at our Dummy AGM earlier this year, and she was handpicked by Kelela to support at London's Electrowerkz. [Selim Bulut]
Tink has put out three mixtapes in the past year or so, but it was her present on Future Brown’s incredible Wanna Party that attracted international attention for the teenaged Chicago rapper (more recently, alternative R&B pinup How To Dress Well hopped on her Can I). Now four mixtapes in, Tink shifts easily between tough street raps and sensitive side R&B songs (she attended gospel church as a kid), with nuanced lyrics and a knack for storytelling that documents the ups, downs, and in-betweens of youth in a simple, direct, and real way. When working with the right beat, Tink's stuff can be enthralling, and with the attention received from her recent 'Boss Up' mixtape and her collaborations, we're sure that Tink will continue to lay out jams next year. [Selim Bulut]
North London singer Kwabena Adjepong, aka Kwabs, has been on our radar for a little while now; he's got one of those voices that, once you've heard it, doesn't fade easily from your mind. Initially his talent glimmered through understated Youtube covers, like this one of James Blake's first album track Wilhelm Scream, but aside from the rich vocal – it hits like a slug of whisky, a sudden blast of warmth – these videos didn't give away much of the artist's own voice. Fast forward to 2013, and a track called Spirit Fade surfaces on his Soundcloud page; it's still very James Blakean, all wilting electronic weeds under a hopeless cry of a vocal, but it was undeniably stronger and sharper than anything he'd done before. Then, like a bolt out of the blue, came his collaboration with 4AD producer SOHN.
SOHN, who was funnily enough one of our tips for 2013 – we made a film about him back in January, in snowy Vienna – has leant his magic vocal-infused production technique to many emerging talents this year, from smoke-voiced LA singer BANKS to chart-rulers Disclosure. With spacious, respectful flourishes that add character and density but mostly create an intricately detailed landscape for a voice to stretch out in, he's the ideal producer for a voice like Kwabs' – one that demands its listener hear its depth and nuance. Last Stand is a match made in electronic soul heaven, and a signal of ever-stronger things to come from the astounding singer. [Aimee Cliff]
Alongside fellow producers and collaborators like Felicita and SOPHIE, Palmistry is part of an emerging group of artists and producers dotted around South London who are elasticating and reshaping dance music in their own image. Palmistry has had a bit of a lead on the others – he's already put out a stack of tracks and mixtapes online (although they've since been wiped clean from his Soundcloud), and he produced a bunch of stuff for his friend Triad God, the English-Cantonese MC signed to Hippos In Tanks – but it's only recently that he seems to have come into his own. His dancehall-kissed Mixpak single Catch was a big hit in the Dummy offices, while his latest single, the gliding Lil Gem, signals a bright future for the innovative producer. Super futuristic and super exciting, Palmistry will kick off 2014 with a new EP for Italian label Presto!?, and we're stoked to see where he'll go from there. [Selim Bulut]
August Alsina got the shine he deserved this summer for his debut EP 'Downtown: Life Under The Gun', particularly for I Luv This Shit, the alien R&B joint that made our 20 best tracks of the year, with rough-around-the-edges subject matter and aesthetics all wrapped up in unnervingly clean autotune and slick production. I've chosen his truly emosh cover of Future's Honest, one of my favourite tracks of the year, to represent Alsina because it shows the exquisite ways in which his sad spaceman vibe interwines with and jumps off from the Atlanta rapper's with all its own dark twists; plus, it melts effortlessly into Young Thug's listless insistence that he's a stoner, he's a stoner, he's a stoner. [Aimee Cliff]
“I see it going back to people really rapping, and not just relying on that hard, trap sound. I’m trying to migrate out of that sound.” These are producer Dun Deal's words for a parallel forecast feature by The FADER recently, describing the broad move to a slow, spacious, post-Lex Luger style in Atlanta street rap. Things now are less about sheer brawn and more about dizzying idiosyncrasies, lead by – but not necessarily exclusive to – Dun Deal and his HPG Music Group affiliates DJ Spinz, Childish Major, C4, and SOS, Metro Boomin, Mike Will, 808 Mafia and even Luger himself. Rather than grabbing beats by the neck like Waka did or posturing in front of them like Ross did, the best rappers have been working form into these complex, seemingly formless, sounds: teasing out the catchiest melodies and making the most of the large pockets of emptiness afforded them.
Young Thug has already proven his ability to do this with remarkable ease but what is yet more exceptional is his ability to match them, attacking each quirk of an instrumental with a wild energy and flair while somehow maintaining enough control to compose amazing songs like Stoner, Danny Glover and Can't See Em. A character as intensely strange and talented as Thugger Thugger would be a solid tip for future success in most situations but right now, with this crop of producers behind him, he seems unstoppable. [Anthony Walker]
Underground supergroup Future Brown, made up of Brooklyn-based conceptual artist Fatima Al Qadiri, LA duo NGUZUNGUZU and Lit City Trax boss J-Cush, stormed to attention with their Tink-featuring dystopic club track Wanna Party earlier this year, but it was the twisted UK-meets-US tension of World's Mine that cut straight to the core of what they're all about. "London to US…grime…it's a movement…playtime's over" Prince Rapid announces over the freezing cold intro, before he, Dirty Danger and Roachee exchange rhymes and a chorus of "they can't ride grime like us" over the trio's sunken, swampy production; distorted vocals nip at the heels of their lines, erratic beats swing forward and back drunkenly and the melody, aggressive and frostbitten, flexes outwards for something outside your line of vision. Just like the hedonistic Wanna Party, which sounds how club music sounds after you've had one too many and the club has become a bit of a nightmare, this is grime filtered through transatlantic and transtemporal perspectives, familiar and somehow strange. The future is a new take on the past, and you'll be hearing more of it in 2014. [Aimee Cliff]
One of the more unlikely success stories of 2013 was Mssingno. Appearing seemingly out of nowhere, Mssingno dropped a debut EP through Goon Club Allstars in November that stopped us in our tracks: here was some guy named after, of all things, a glitch in a Pokemon game, whose production style is entirely based around chopped-up R&B vocal samples… and yet, somehow, it's some of the freshest stuff we've heard this year? Mssingno totally flips that all-too-familiar production trope on its head, transforming your standard R. Kelly or Rihanna vocal into something transcendant.
But the reason we're so excited about Mssingno isn't just a clever use of sound – it's the combination of the voices, the euphoria, the excellent songwriting, and the headscratching "what-genre-even-is-this?" aspect (we'd loosely call it "grime", but that's really loosely) that gets us so giddy. His mixtape of 100% original productions shows that Mssingno is sitting on way more goodies beyond that debut EP, and his productions caught the ear of masked MC Cas, who featured his music on recent mixtape 'The Number 23'. [Selim Bulut]
Filipino producer Idris Vicuña, aka Eyedress, matches smart songwriting and chilly vocals with an ice cold minimalistic production aesthetic. His diagonal take on synth pop – think Johnny Jewel, cloaked entirely in black – has earned nods from the likes of Oneman (his No Competition was an exclusive on the London DJ's 'Solitaire Vol. 2' mixtape) and Le1f (Eyedress produced posse cut Star Me from the New York rapper's 'Tree House' mixtape), culminating in his most high profile release to date, the 'Supernatural' EP, for XL subsidiary Abeano. [Selim Bulut]
It might seem odd to pick out singer-songwriter Laura Groves as one of our tips for next year, given she released a wonderful debut album on XL under the name Blue Roses way back in 2009; this year, though, she made a rousing comeback with her 'Thinking About Thinking' EP for Bullion's off-kilter pop label DEEK under her birth name. Since the Blue Roses project Groves has moved down south to London, and in the process she's wandered a little to the left of her folky roots towards something frostier and more intricate, enveloping the listener in a lusciously expressed, disembodied state of mind like that weird sensation somewhere between warmth and cold. Her dream-pop is a headrush, and she, along with DEEK on the whole, is worth looking out for next year. [Aimee Cliff]
Somewhere before the morning after and the night before are London trio Real Lies. Their songs, all drifting pop melodies strung out over house rhythms, retain the thump of last night's restless energy all sloshed together with tomorrow's bleary eyed nostalgia; as Kev Kharas put it in a recent interview for Dummy, "that is your decade-long coming-of-age film…where you go to clubs and meet people and start to figure out the universe for yourself. The smoking area, it doubles as a confession booth. A nightclub just intensifies everything about your life, and kind of crystallises that moment.” With lyricism that veers on spoken word poetry and a romantic hangover, the trio are making dance music that captures the mythologising effect of those long nights out that have you watching the sky get light again and feeling minutes turn into hours. North Circular, a sleepy new number that they recently played live on Radio 1, sounds exactly how those moments feel – when the world is waking up around you and you haven't been to sleep yet – and is a sign of good times had and even better times to come. [Aimee Cliff]
London-based, Sweden-born soul singer Fatima has had us on the edge of our seats for news of her debut album ever since her heavy-lidded, cosmic lullaby Circle, featuring Shafiq Husayn, started making the rounds on the airwaves earlier this year; since then, she's put out another double single in the form of Family / La Neta on Eglo Records, featuring funk-inflected production from the likes of fLako. While Black Dough stands out for its plucky bassline and lush textures, it's Family, her handclap-fuelled ode to home, that strikes a festive chord and has us eagerly awaiting her next move. A track made for sharing with loved ones, it's got a universal warmth in its playful mantra of a chorus and soft-footed shuffle, but don't let that fool you – there's a bitter edge and an experimental flair to Fatima's silky melodies that will have you hitting replay. Watch out for her debut LP, finally arriving via Eglo in 2014. [Aimee Cliff]
Don't think of WANDA GROUP as an emerging talent – he's been insanely prolific over the past couple of years, putting out what seems like a million different records over labls like Leaving Records, Opal Tapes, and NNA Tapes, as well as podcasts that may as well double up as albums. Real name Louis Johnstone, WANDA GROUP is based in Brighton and makes ambient drone collages, using a patchwork of samples, noises, and field recordings, with some truly beautiful titles ('PISS FELL OUT LIKE SUNLIGHT', 'MASCULINITY IS A WONDERFUL THING', 'A SLAB ABOUT HOW ELSIE DIED AROUND A MONTH AGO', etc.). It's impossible to detach the music of WANDA GROUP from the artist creating it, with each of Johnstone's releases informed by whatever's happening in his own life or going through his own head at the time, be it the death of his grandmother, or the death of his dogs, or falling in love, all enhanced by his distinct, ALL CAPS online persona.
Most recently, WANDA GROUP dropped new album 'A SLAB ABOUT BEING HELD CAPTIVE' for NNA Tapes, as well as performing live at Evian Christ's body-melting Trance Party. We'd expect that he'll continue releasing top notch music throughout 2014 (to be honest, we'd can't imagine he'll ever stop releasing music 'til he shuffles off this mortal coil) through increasingly high profile labels, and we'd also expect that more people will start to pay attention. [Selim Bulut]
Fis can do things with sounds that nobody else can, making music that's not just heavy in the "that's a heavy tune, bruv" sense, but in the sense that it feels completely packed, so dense that it weighs a tonne. His music is ostensibly rooted in drum and bass – past releases have come on true-and-proper d'n'b labels like Exit Records and Samurai (albeit through their experimental subdivision, Samurai Horo) – but his classification-defying noises have caught the ears of curators from further afield, with the New Zealand producer now signed to the unflailingly progressive Tri Angle. As he told Dummy in a recent Next profile, Fis is currently sitting on a stack of tunes that have yet to see release ("It’s fair to say that about 5% or 10% of what I’ve written and finished has actually been made public."), and 2014 should see him put out some of that material with an aim of working towards a full length. [Selim Bulut]
I remember leaping over the counter at my record shop and practically demanding to know what was playing the first time I heard Galcher Lustwerk. Hearing a near-perfect collision of lo-slung freestyle vocals with a DIY Brooklyn aesthetic and deep house heft will do that to you. He has a mixtape out, '100% Galcher', as well as a 12” and compilation track out on White Material, a local record label he's part of that's enjoyed a similarly quick (but deserved) ascent to international cult-like status this year. This small yet seriously solid oeuvre, and the amount of heads it's turned over the last few months, is testament of an artist whose burst onto the scene with a bit of a Midas Touch at the moment. Galcher for the gold in 2014, I say! [Zara Wladawsky]
Excellent construction outdoes futurism and feels for Flava D – who, like an inverse of Preditah last year, has shown what she can do outside of grime to reiterate what she can do in it. Despite having only one proper release to her name this year – the sublime Hold On/Home double single on Butterz – she has also produced a trio of free self-released EPs on her FlavaDubs Bandcamp and kept up a Soundcloud acccount full of experiments in a range of genres.
2014 should see some of this hard work fully realised and, in the case of her very best offerings like Who I Am made with fellow UK G Moony and the bassline/house hybrid All They Do Is Hate, probably only needs a good label to slap some artwork and a release date on it. Amidst all this, Flava D also made the best war dubs to come out of the whole grime producer clash Lord of the Beats thing back in September, cooly reshaping the chunky rap rhythms, gloomy fanfares and searing synths many other producers leaned on so heavily into her own style. [Anthony Walker]
There aren’t many interviews with SOPHIE out in the world, but what little press he has done has revealed one of the most fascinating musicians operating right now. Few other artists seem to have such an exceptionally clear focus of what they wish to achieve conceptually, and few are as skilful at nailing those ideas musically. And nail them SOPHIE does – his previous singles Nothing More To Say and Bipp/Elle were some of the most superlative releases to drop in 2013, and digging deeper reveals SOPHIE's archives of thrilling, hypermodern sounds. A new EP is due soon through Jimmy Edgar's label Ultramajic and we genuinely can't imagine what it might sound like, but needless to say, it should be completely beyond classification and very, very exciting. [Selim Bulut]
Tirzah – I'm Not Dancing
Tink – Treat Me Like Somebody
Kwabs – Last Stand (prod. SOHN)
Palmistry – Lil Gem
August Alsina – Honest (cover)
Young Thug – Stoner
Future Brown – World's Mine
MssingNo – XE2
Eyedress – Nature Trips
Laura Groves – Pale Shadows
Real Lies – World Peace
Fatima – Family
WANDA GROUP – A SLAB ABOUT BEING HELD CAPTIVE (excerpt)
Fis – DMT Usher
Galcher Lustwerk – 100% Galcher (Excerpt)
Flava D – All They Do Is Hate
SOPHIE – Nothing More To Say