15. Lizzie Reid [Seven Four Seven Six]
An emerging figure on the Glasgow music-scene, Lizzie Reid has previously caught the ear of the likes of 6Music, The Line Of Best Fit and The Great Escape festival. Signed to Seven Four Seven Six, home to the likes of Matt Maltese and Matilda Mann, Lizzie has recently announced the release of her debut EP, Cubicle, which will arrive next month.
Ahead of the EP’s release, Lizzie has already shared a number of tracks from Cubicle from the pensive introspection of Always Lovely to the beautiful break-up anthem, Seamless, with its gorgeous string-led crescendos. Last week Lizzie shared the latest offering, Been Thinking About You, adding a certain jazzy-flourish to her acoustic led compositions as she sings a tale of admiration for a friend who, “was such a support for me at a time I wasn’t feeling my best”. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Lizzie Reid’s music is the progress it is already showing; with every new song, she seems to take us, as listeners, to somewhere different, the sign of an artist in charge of her own vision, and increasingly sounding like someone for whom acclaim is an inevitability.
16. Johanna Samuels [Mama Bird Recording Co. / Basin Rock]
Although Johanna Samuels has been sharing her music with the world since back in 2016, there’s a certain buzz around her of late that suggests an artist very much on the up. Back in October, Johanna shared a new single, High Tide for One, the first offering from her upcoming Sam Evian-produced album, due this Spring as a co-release between up-and-coming UK label, Basin Rock and Mama Bird Recording Co. The album was recorded in the Castskill Mountains alongside a small band of musicians, and features guest vocals from a stunning array of female singers, including the likes of A.O. Gerber, Lomelda and Courtney Marie Andrews.
Born in New York, and named after a Bob Dylan track, Johanna’s path to music was never really in doubt. After re-locating to Los Angeles, Johanna has spent the best part of a decade honing her songwriting craft and learning to find a way to balance her inherent way with a melody while crucially finding plenty to say. Thankfully, High Tide for One was a particularly exciting example of Johanna achieving exactly that. The track was written in response to watching Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, as Johanna recalls, “it felt a bit hopeless. I felt exhausted, and for a while, I didn’t have the strength to explain it or try to talk it through with anyone who wasn’t working to change it”. These feelings are set to a perhaps contrastingly lush backing, as warm Rhodes-piano and a gorgeous-meander of slide-guitar, the breeziness of the musical backing set against the steely quality of the vocal, as she sings, “last night I saw that man on TV, his tears tasted like silver bullets and supremacy“. It may only be a single track, yet there was plenty within it to suggest Johanna Samuels might just be one of 2021’s most important musical voices.
17. Clever Girls [Egghunt Records]
The songwriting project of Diane Jean, Clever Girls have subsequently expanded into a four-piece band, based out of Burlington, Vermont. Signed to Egghunt Records, the band have recently announced details of their latest album, Constellations, the follow-up to their 2018 debut, Luck. With the album due in March, Clever Girls recently shared the first taste of the record, in the shape of new single, Baby Blue.
Like much of Constellations, Baby Blue actually predates the release of Luck, much of the album was written years back when front-person Diane first came-out as a gender-nonconforming person. The album tackles all the complex emotions that come with announcing that to the world, and learning to commit to your own happiness. Discussing Baby Blue, Diane has suggested the track has taken on a new meaning during the current pandemic, focusing in on the isolation Diane felt while stuck inside with only their trusty cat Hank for company, “it was exactly the type of experience that the song was born out of in the first place. The feeling of being isolated, and cut off from the world even when it was still turning“. Musically, Baby Blue has a lush, textural quality and the bristling, 1980’s inspired guitar line, and prominent bass sit in perfect contrast to Diane’s light, dextrous vocal delivery. Ultimately for all the talk of isolation and loneliness, there’s a sense of euphoria running through the music of Clever Girls, a feeling of coming through the dark time and learning to find delight in the possibility of the light; less a record of feeling alone and more one of learning not to, this is the sound of a songwriter growing into their role and moving their music to a thrilling new place.
Babehoven are a band who featured on the site back in May last year, when they shared the single Dissociative Tally. That was originally penned as the first taste of an upcoming EP, Yellow Has A Pretty Good Reputation, a record that was subsequently delayed, and will finally see the light of day at the end of this month. The record is the follow-up to last year’s, Demonstrating Visible Difference of Height, both EPs being recorded in the band’s current home of Vermont.
Led by singer, songwriter and producer Maya Bon, Babehoven have gradually been growing a following as Maya wound her way between Portland and Los Angeles, honing her craft and using music as a way of, “externalizing my deepest, most vulnerable sense of self through song”. Discussing the inspiration behind Yellow Has A Pretty Good Reputation, Maya has described it as an exploration of, “dissociation, loss, and the quest for self-love”. Musically, this manifests in a certain warped quality, as the warm fuzz of tape-distortion adds a wobbly quality to both Maya’s lightly muffled vocals and the steady rhythmic quality of her guitar playing. Working with producer Ryan Albert, Maya seems to have created an insulated musical world, a place for us all to sit with our discomfort, and learn to come out the other side stronger and more sure of who we are. Keep this up and even yellow might have to bow down to Babehoven and their rapidly burgeoning reputation.
19. Burr Oak
Based on her efforts in the first few months of 2020, Burr Oak could easily have appeared on this list last year. The project of Chicago’s Savanna Dickhut, Burr Oak was in the process of recording her debut album with producer Nick Papaleo, as well as opening shows for the likes of Twain and Buck Meek, until spanners were thrown into the global works. It wasn’t all bad news, as Savannah found time to release a pair of well-received singles, tracks that hinted at just how special her debut album might be, whenever it finds its way into the world.
Burr Oak formed following the ending of Savannah’s previous project, Elk Walking, with Savannah finding the confidence to launch her solo-project and allow her songwriting to really shine. Debut offering Trying, is a straight talking depiction of her Savannah’s struggles to maintain her mental health and tendency to self-medicate with alcohol, delivered via fizzing-guitar lines and an impassioned vocal delivery as she sings, “some days I can’t get out of bed but I’ll keep trying, until I drop dead”. That was followed in November by Flower Garden, which took the seasons as a metaphor for the ebbs and flows of a relationship and set them to a soundtrack of rolling drums and languid meanders of guitar that feel like an extension straight from the soul of their songwriter. There’s an open-hearted quality to Savannah’s songwriting, the sound of someone with a story to tell, opening her lungs and letting it all out, whenever it does arrive Burr Oak’s debut album is going to be a record well worth keeping your eyes on.
20. Kindsight [Rama Lama Records]
Regular readers won’t have to look back far to find the last time I raved about Copenhagen’s Kindsight, because it was only last week. That was around the release of their new single, How I Feel, the latest collaboration between the band and the excellent Swedish label, Rama Lama Records. It was the band’s second single for the label, and continued to showcase the band’s beautifully dreamy sounds, built initially around their shared love for the Sugacubes.
While there is a certain element of nostalgia to the band’s sound, heavily influenced by their love of the indie-pop of the 1990’s, Kindsight are a band with more than enough about them to keep their sound fresh and exciting. Not least is the sheer brilliance of vocalist Nina, her crystalline tones, sitting as the perfect crown atop the atmospheric soundtracks she weaves with her bandmates. Alongside labelmates Melby, Wy and Per och Olof, Kindsight are at the forefront of a new wave of Scandinavian indie bands putting their region back on the map where it unquestionably belongs.
21. Katy Kirby [Keeled Scales]
Discussing her music, Nashville-based songwriter Katy Kirby has spoken of her affinity for, “unspoken rules, misunderstanding, and boredom”, topics that are hugely relatable, even if not often explored in song. Katy was born, raised and homeschooled in rural-Texas by two, “ex-cheerleaders”, with her early experiences of music discovered through the, “pasteurized-pop choruses of evangelical worship”. As a self-described, “bible belt late-millennial”, Katy grew up on the deeply uncool and overly-produced sounds of Christian Contemporary Music, an inspiration on Katy in as much as she has worked hard to remove it from her songwriting by, “fighting that deeply internalized impulse to make things that are super pleasant or approachable”. Katy’s debut album, Cool Dry Place, is out next month on Keeled Scales, a record borrowing its title from the side of a medicine packet and flipping it into a desire for human beings to embrace their innate humanity in all its multi-faceted contradictory glory.
Musically, the record takes in elements of bedroom-pop, clattering indie-rock and wistful electronica; the variety of the album evidenced on recent singles, Juniper is a swaggering number reminiscent of Anna McClellan’s fantastic album I Saw First Light, while the more playful Traffic, with its vocodered vocals and bouncing guitar lines, comes across as the middle ground of Imogen Heap and Margaret Glaspy. Particularly wonderful is the record’s title track, Cool Dry Place, which starts like a melancholic country-song, as Katy Kirby pleads for life’s simple comforts, before taking a turn for the lush widescreen-pop fans of Fleetwood Mac or My Woman-era Angel Olsen will fall head-over-heels for. Katy has described Cool Dry Place as a late-bloomers record, an album written over many years by, “a few different versions of myself”, yet like the best journeys it only adds to the destination, a record that took its time and is all the more compelling as a result.
If you missed the first two parts of our 21 for 2021, you can check the other fourteen bands out HERE.