Technology has made it easier than ever before for singers to create their own sonic worlds, realize their musical visions without ever having to instruct a drummer or show their rough drafts.
But if you think that means the songwriters of 2016 are either introverted hipsters welded to their laptops or luddite refuseniks sitting in the garden with a damp 12-string, think again. In music, there’s always a lot going on:
Let’s start the trawl in Southport, Merseyside, with a 19-year-old by the name of Holly Fletcher. Her voice is old and sourer than her tender years would suggest, and her minimalist arrangements (all portentous reverberant piano, whale-noise bass and clicking knuckles) suggest a great maritime disaster in a acoustically pleasing church hall. Låpsley is her middle name, by the way. She put the Scandinavian symbol in it because it looks mysterious. Her debut album Long Way Out came out on March 4.
One of the more traditional singer-songwriters on this list, Kelvin’s effervescent folk recalls a less storm-tossed Mumford and Sons, with proper tunes that you can hum, in the vein of George Ezra, and no big whooshy reverb. He’s from Stevenage, England, and he’s 20 years old. Keep your eye out for his debut album Stop The Moment, which came out in March last year.
It’s not all neo-soul and gentle acoustic guitars in singer-songwriting these days. Richmond VA’s Lucy Dacus has a dour voice, a sharp sense of humor, and a loud garage rock guitar. Taken all together, as on her debut album No Burden (out now), you’re in for a thrilling scoot down a steep hill in a shopping cart, while a sarcastic female Eeyore pokes fun at the amount of times you flinch. Or at herself—she’s good at that too.
To Bergen, Norway now, and the home of Aurora Aksnes, an 18-year-old girl with a minty-cold voice and deceptively celtic melodies, which she pairs with fathomless bass and great clouds of ominous space. She released her debut EP Running with the Wolves in May 2015, but it was the Christmas ad for John Lewis that brought her to the attention of the British public. Her cover of the Oasis song “Half The World Away” soundtracked a maudlin commercial about the loneliness of the man on the moon. The song was duly added to her debut album All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, which came out on March 11.
Will Joseph Cook
Strange things are stirring in Kent, England, with young Will Joseph Cook, who has been putting out slightly skewed pop songs like “Girls Like You” since he was 16 years old. Now 19, his confident pop is drawing comparisons with fellow guitar thoughtful chunterers like Talking Heads and Two Door Cinema Club. This geek may inherit the earth.
Another graduate of the Sound of 2016 finishing school (she came third), NAO (real name Neo Jessica Joshua) has been making intensely funky music for a couple of years now, putting her classic soul holler over slick modern R&B production. Having studied vocal jazz at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, NAO picked up session work for established artists such as Kwabs, Disclosure and Jarvis Cocker while putting together ideas for her own EPs So Good and February 15 (II MMXV).
In case Margo’s music doesn’t spell it out clearly enough, she’s a Nashville-based country singer from Illinois, whose debut solo album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, comes out on Jack White’s Third Man Records this month. Oh and it was recorded in Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, for extra Elvisness.
A good many people are predicting great things for Berkshire, England’s Sophie Frances Cooke. Her classic piano balladry—pitched somewhere between Passenger and Ellie Goulding—earned her a nod in the BBC’s Sound of 2016 poll, and a place on the shortlist for the Critic’s Choice trophy at the 2016 BRIT Awards. An EP called Grow is on the way in June.
Not one of nature’s pushiest performers, Londoner Izzy Bizu only started singing in public after taking part in an open mic night. Such was the impact of her summery and pleading voice (imagine a worried Corinne Bailey Rae) that she found the event’s organizer asking to manage her by the end of the evening. Also in attendance was producer Naughty Boy, similarly blown away, and before much longer she was supporting his old friend Sam Smith on tour. Expect her debut album A Moment of Madness in July.
A must-listen for fans of Elbow, Ben’s songs have the same quality of stopped time and languid melodies over ticking, busy instrumentation as Guy Garvey and his grizzled fellows. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Ben is a former children’s entertainer who has toured with Emmylou Harris and written songs with Sara Bareilles. His debut album Sirens originally came out in Australia last year, but it has secured a worldwide release through the label Secretly Canadian (which he isn’t).Read More