Welcome to 2021, which is so far looking a little worryingly like 2020. Back in 2015, I launched my annual list of new bands I’m looking forward to, an ill-thought through idea to pick out 15 for 2015, with little thought as to where that will leave me as a 114 year old in 2099.
As I discovered last year, a global pandemic will play havoc with band’s release schedules, and as such many of the bands I picked out for 2020 didn’t actually get around to putting anything out into the world, so for the likes of Dogeyed, Fortitude Valley and Breakup Haircut (recently signed to the excellent Reckless Yes) I’m still expecting very good things.
As for this year’s crop, they are an array of artists and bands that I’m hoping for good things from, with plenty of caveats that plans are very much subject to change. While not all brand-new acts, many of them fit into either new to me or newly featuring on the site, so hopefully you’ll find something to be very excited about for the year ahead.
Now, without further ado, please welcome the Class of 2021!
1. Tacsidermi [Libertino Records]
While you might not yet know the music of Tacsidermi, regular readers of the site will be well aware of the talents of one half of the band, Gwenllian Anthony, known up until now for her work with Welsh Music Prize winning wonders, Adwaith. Tacsidermi is Gwenllian’s collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist, Matthew Kilgariff. When the United Kingdom was plunged into lockdown at the start of 2020, the two decided to decamp together to Matthew’s studio in rural Carmarthenshire, and commit to a project they’d been planning for a number of years. The band, teaming up with the excellent Libertino Records, recently shared their debut single, Gwir, and have plans for further new material early this year.
Gwir sets the scene for Tacsidermi’s sound, channelling influences from post-punk to expansive psychedelia, as Gwenllian’s vocal is accompanied by dense layers of soaring guitars and the steady pulse of bass and drum. The track is a masterclass in the slow build, shifting from a gentle wandering intro, to a rambunctious finale, complete with yelping vocals and wailing guitar work. Where else Tacsidermi’s music might take us is a fabulously exciting mystery, odds on it is going to be an awful lot of fun finding out.
2. Karima Walker [Keeled Scales/Orindal Records]
An artist more new to me, than an entirely new prospect, Karima Walker first caught the ear of the music world back in 2017 with the release of her acclaimed debut album, Hands In Our Names. Karima recently detailed the release of her new record, Waking The Dreaming Body, a record almost entirely produced, written and performed by Karima, even if that was never the original idea. Plans for recording sessions in New York were postponed following a sudden illness, and ultimately shelved by the global pandemic, forcing Karima into a makeshift home studio in her hometown, Tucson, Arizona. The resultant album, modestly described by Karima as, “messy Ableton sessions”, will see the light of day next month via the excellent label pairing of Keeled Scales and Orindal Records.
Karima’s sound seems to exist in the cracks between musical genres, intimate ambient sketches that are counter-intuitively rich, gentle dreamy soundscapes that are textural and full of depth and intrigue. Discussing the record, Karima has suggested she wanted the tracks to, “stand alone as complete worlds”, forcing her to step outside the comfort of her interior self and into the wider world, songs about making connections and opening yourself up to the world at large. The resultant record ebbs and flows, hitting moments where it seems to almost dissolve into nothing, and other where it becomes, in its own gentle way, perfectly chaotic. Waking The Dreaming Body wasn’t the record Karima Walker intended to make, yet it doesn’t feel like that, by returning to the desert landscape of her youth, and embracing the changes forced upon her, she has created something that might be even better than she originally planned.
3. Clara Mann [Sad Club Records]
A new face on the thriving Bristol Music Scene, Clara Mann first came across music when growing up in the South of France surrounded by Classical sounds, including everything from choral pieces to chamber music. Inspired Clara went on to become classically trained in both piano and voice, elements she incorporates into her new-found sonic world, which could be loosely classified as folk music. Teaming up with Sad Club Records, Clara recently shared her debut single, I Didn’t Know You Were Leaving Today, the first taste of an EP, due later this year.
Recorded in an isolated collaboration with the help of Benjamin Spike Saunders and Bugs’ Alice Western, I Didn’t Know You Were Leaving Today is a slice of beautifully gentle folk, as Clara’s rich vocal is accompanied initially by a gentle flutter of acoustic guitar, before being joined by the warm buzz of distant violins. It’s a sound akin to contemporaries like Dana Gavanski or Shannon Lay, yet like those artists it also has a timeless quality, equally indebted to Shirley Collins or Molly Drake. Despite the lofty comparisons, there’s a freshness and an integrity to Clara Mann, a voice bringing something new to a genre as old as the hills, and quietly marking herself out as an artist with a hugely bright future.
4. Winter Gardens [Austerity Records]
Based out of East Sussex, Winter Gardens caught the ear of many back in 2020 with their debut EP, Tapestry. While there are no plans announced for this year yet, it was a collection of tracks that hinted at a band with a very bright future. Released through Austerity Records, a new socially-conscious independent record label part-owned by the band’s guitarist Jamie Windless, Tapestry is a record heavily influenced by the 80’s indie sounds of labels like Creation and 4AD, bands who fused the worlds of dream-pop and the rawness of punk.
Across its four tracks, Tapestry incorporates moments of lush introspection, such as the Lanterns On The Lake-like title track, as well as moments of ferocious energy, with the excellently titled Zigzanny, reminiscent of The Joy Formidable. Even if no further new music arrives this year, I can only hope 2021 gives the band the opportunity to take this record out to the live environment, and having already played with the likes of Penelope Isles and Say Sue Me, that’s something well worth being very excited about.
5. Ailsa Tully [Dalliance Recordings]
Signed to the ever-excellent Dalliance Recordings, Ailsa Tully’s music seems to exist at the centre of a particularly beautiful storm. Existing between the worlds of minimal electronica, folk and choral-music, Ailsa finds influence as much in the rolling greenery of her native Wales as she does in the music of contemporaries like Gia Margaret and Mary Lattimore.
Ailsa’s most recent single, Drive, was her first for Dalliance, and suggested an artist more than ready to take their place in the limelight. Inspired by a desire to escape the banal and embrace a more exciting future, Drive is a song of escapism, perfectly delivered by Ailsa’s stunning vocals and gorgeous entwined layers of bass and guitar. Ailsa’s music feels like a blessing, a moment of blissful calm in a fast moving world, and with the promise of a new single early this year, and hopes for a whole lot more, she looks well destined to become one of 2020’s most exciting new voices.
6. Sulka [Lost Map/Gold Mold]
Despite the weirdness of last year, Lost Map Records, the Isle-of-Eigg based label ran by Pictish Trail’s Johnny Lynch, still seemed to constantly find ways to make things a little bit better, via releases from the likes of Martha Ffion, Firestations, Savage Mansion and Alexia Avina. With plenty already in the pipelines for the year ahead, they’ve recently announced the signing of Sulka, “the lo-fi melodic scuzz-rock songwriting and recording project of Glasgow-based Lukas Clasen”, who will release his debut album, Take Care, at the end of this month.
DIY in the truest sense, Lukas played every instrument on Take Care, a record that explores a particular period in his life, the post break-up summer of 2019, when he was feeling, “lonely and a bit reckless”. The resultant record seems to be a beautifully explorative affair, channelling the genre mashing style of Alex G, the emotive intensity of Kane Strang and the bedroom exploration of Elvis Depressedly. Having previously supported the likes of Jeffrey Lewis and PAWS, Sulka looks well placed to make a delightfully lo-fi splash.
7. Tele Novella [Kill Rock Stars]
When a band describe their sound as, “medieval outsider country”, you kind of know they’re going to at least be interesting; thankfully Austin’s Tele Novella more than live up to expectations. The pairing of Vintage shop owner, Natalie Ribbons, and rare records collector, Jason Chronis, Tele Novella came into being when both members were performing in other bands, yet they seem to have stumbled onto something special by working together. The band’s new album, Merlynn Belle, is their first for new label home, Kill Rock Stars, and will see the light of day at the start of next month.
Although the band have been sharing their music since back in 2013, Merylnn Belle already seems like a jump-forward for them, from the gentle, Marimba-like paean to grief Never, to the flamenco-strut-meets-country-twang of Words That Stay, a perfect accompaniment to Natalie’s rich, characterful vocal. The band have so far shared three tracks from the album, with Technicolor Town perhaps the most instantly captivating, channelling a similar vein of isolation and home-town pride as Eerie Wanda did on the excellent 2019 album, Pet Town. In a recent post the band asked whether musicians always get more boring as they find success, if that is the case then they shouldn’t expect many record sales, they’re far too interesting for that.
Click HERE for Part 2 of our 21 for 2021.