Photos by G. Autographs obtained in person by yours truly.
2013 was a good year for new artists releasing music. The hype machine of the internet and
anti-social media will do its best to keep you inundated with industry darlings and keep you scratching your head wondering “why in the world are these artists popular?” If you want an alternative to all that, read on for my list of the 13 best debut albums. These artists impressed me both on stage and off. I have my fingers crossed that all of the people on this list become huge stars. To help make that happen, get these albums and spread the word.
1. “Devotion” by Jessie Ware. Jessie Ware not only has my favorite album by a new artist in 2013 but she also has the distinction of being my favorite album by ANY artist in 2013. The fact that she beat my beloved Pet Shop Boys in this competition speaks volumes! Her debut “Devotion,” is a perfect record. She’s got the voice, she’s got the look and she’s got 12 songs that have had me wearing this album out in 2013. I have listened to this album over 200 times (per my iTunes dashboard) and I cannot get enough of this album. Think of Jessie’s music as the missing link or a bridge between the power ballads of Adele and the smooth down-tempo R&B grooves of Sade. From the opening title track, Jessie Ware tells her audience “I need your devotion,” over a silky beat. I remember the first time I heard this song, my jaw dropped open there was no doubt that she will always have my devotion. The song “Running,” is one of the sexiest tracks committed to tape and her more danceable songs like “Imagine It Was Us,” “If You’re Never Gonna Move” and “No To Love,” will have you reaching for the repeat button long before the tracks are over. The slow jams “Night Light,” “Wildest Moments,” “Taking in Water” and the introspective “Something Inside” are all excellent and you may find yourself participating in a private lip-synch competition as you listen to these songs in public. Jessie Ware has also had a bunch of non-album singles and collaborations with the likes of Disclosure, Sampha, Katy B, Mayer Hawthorne and has released an on-line cover of Prince’s “Love…Thy Will Be Done,” and all of these songs are excellent. In concert, she doesn’t simply reproduce the studio versions, but instead gives her band the opportunity to change up the music, but one thing remains – her voice is a powerhouse. Her banter to the crowd in between songs is so precious, you will want to take her home with you. While we wait for the world to catch up on the greatness that is Jessie Ware, she’s already a mega-star in my book and I am very excited for her future! Thanks for bringing so many smiles to my life Jessie!
2. Jake Bugg by Jake Bugg. When you hear Jake Bugg’s debut album, you will be wowed by the songwriting as the folk/rock singer has so many songs that take you back to a time in the past. There are times he sounds like Dylan and times he sounds like Johnny Cash. What will impress the hell out of you is that Jake Bugg is not a 40 year old troubadour, but instead is 18 years old! Songs like the rockin’ “Lighting Bolt” and “Taste It” are a glimpse of how much he can rock and tracks like “Fire” and “Country Song” are so introspective, there is no doubt that Jake Bugg is going to be a huge star. The only JB you should concern yourself with is not Justin Bieber, but instead, Jake Bugg!
3. “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” by Foxygen. Remember when MGMT jumped the shark and instead of making sophomore pop record, they made a meandering art rock record with few catchy songs? Well, if they would have made that same record with songs were catchy, it would probably sound like “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic.” There are songs that have a Beatles/Stones/Kinks quality to them and they have great lyrics such as “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.” If you see Foxygen live, lead singer Sam France dances all over the place and has a hypnotic stage presence. I’ve read a lot on the web this year about various tensions within the band and I hope they are not true because Foxygen has great potential to be the next go-to psychedelic rock band.
4. “Silence Yourself” by Savages. If Siouxsie Sioux was in a modern hard rock band, the music might sound like “Silence Yourself.” This album is a no nonsense affair with short and to the point songs that are guaranteed to kick your ass. The opening track “Shut Up” is a prelude of things to come as the album features no slow songs and each track is a rocking scorcher. The breakthrough song “Husbands” borrows heavily from the sound of the chorus of Patti Smith’s “Horses,” but in the context of the 38 minute no filler album, all is forgiven. Who said ladies can’t rock?
5. “Howlin” by Jagwar Ma. The Australian trio have made a brilliant debut album. Before “Howlin” is over, you will hear dream pop on “That Lonliness”, the experimental “What Love,” the dance floor jam “Four” and the trance inducing “The Throw.” If you’ve only heard a track or two from Jagwar Ma, rest assured that the entire album is not just the same style over and over again, a rarity in this day and age.
6. “In Love” by Peace. If you miss the British 90s rock sound, it’s alive and well in the music of Peace. The quartet from Birmingham feature brothers Harrison and Samuel Koisser, on vocals/guitar and bass. Tracks like “Higher than the Sun,” “Follow Baby” and “Delicious” are meant to be played in stadiums. They also have some psychedelic moments such as the album closer “California Daze.” Follow them baby!
7. “When It Was Now” by Atlas Genius. I’m starting to notice a trend that great debut albums of 2013 are rarely made by Americans (save for MS MR, Foxygen and The Neighbourhood) and this entry is by the Australian Jeffery brothers. Of course, with that last name, how could I not like them, but I am not playing favorites. Atlas Genius’ music consists of dance oriented pop tunes. If you like Two Door Cinema Club, you will also like Atlas Genius. There are no unneeded guitar solos, and instead just irresistible grooves, such as “If So,” “Electric” and “Trojans.” For the ladies and gays, even if you don’t like their music, these guys are extremely hot!
8. “I Love You.” by The Neighbourhood. The music of The Neighbourhood (who use the British spelling of the word despite being from Los Angeles) aka The NBHD fuse alternative rock, electronic beats and smooth vocals. Their songs are ready-made radio hits (however, the radio tends to focus on playing glossy pop trash). Lead singer Jesse Rutherford is tattooed from the neck down (read: so unbelievably hot) and he shows off lots of skin in the video for “Afraid,” which you should not miss. Many of their songs work as great call and response tracks when you see them live so check them out! Highlights are the single “Sweater Weather” and “Everybody’s Watching Me (Uh Oh).”
9. “Absolute Zero” by Little Green Cars. Folk rock has made a big come back over the last couple of years and while so much of it never has a worthy cresendo, Ireland’s Little Green Cars are filled with songs that have satisfying conclusions. Whether they are signing a capella or harmonizing on songs like “My Love Took Me Down To The River To Silence Me,” you will find yourself enjoying all of their songs even if folk music isn’t your ‘thing.’
10. “Long Way Down” by Tom Odell. Ok, I got the EP signed since the full length album was not available when I saw Tom Odell earlier this year. So sue me! When you hear the soul in Tom Odell’s voice (which channels Chris Martin, Billy Joel and Thom Yorke of Radiohead), you will have a hard time believing that Tom Odell is only 22 years old! Once again, he has a huge career ahead of him if he can be that young and sound so good. His debut is filled with lots of power ballads, but to give you a preview of his rockin’ potential, check out the track “Hold Me.”
11. “Sing to the Moon” by Laura Mvula. There’s a reason Laura Mvula got nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize overseas – because she’s amazing. Another master of the power ballad and slow jam, when Laura gives us a beat, such as on the song “Green Garden,” you will find it irresistible. Prince is an early champion of her music and after you hear “Sing to the Moon,” you will be too!
12. “Pure Heroine” by Lorde. After loving Jake Bugg’s album all year long, it’s hard to be impressed because those mature lyrics and great voice are coming from an 18 year old. New Zealand’s Lorde is ffffing 16 years of age! Wow! She sounds kind of like “Lana Dey Rey Light” with lyrics complaining about being broke and feeling out of place, but it works well. I think of all the people on this list, Lorde will be the first mega-star of the bunch.
13. “Secondhand Rapture” by MS MR. Last, but certainly not least, we have “Secondhand Rapture” by American duo MS MR (pronounced Miz Mister). Lead singer Lizzy Plapinger has a voice that sounds like Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) and has a sense of style that will surely be recognized in the coming months and years. Their songs (such as “Bones”) have been featured in commercials and it’s a matter of time before MS MR become your new favorite band.
Thanks to all these great artists for the joy their music has brought to me in 2013 and I wish you all unparalleled success in 2014 and beyond!