best of 2014: new artist

we kicked off our year-end awards rather inconspicuously with a mixtape ode to orchid tapes nearly two weeks ago, but the rapid succession of accolades begins today.  the “best new artist” category is a subjective one, with different artists qualifying for different publications depending on the format and length of their output that year.  in 2013, we drew from a pool of bands that had not even existed the year prior, but we’re easing up on our restrictions this time around to focus on bands that released their debut ep – or those that bypassed directly to a full-length – in 2014.  cool?  cool.

a lot of retroactive research was done, and interestingly enough, our winner was one that didn’t even grace the site this year (although some words on them did show up here.)  just goes to show how fallible these small blogs can be.  oh well.  without further ado, here’s our pick for the best new artist of 2014.

– best new artist: yumi zouma –

countless artists tried to claw their way to recognition via soundcloud this year; streaming has become an even more integral component of musical consumption, and sites that compile streaming data to monitor the success of songs have become wildly influential.  amongst the influx, yumi zouma stood out.  for starters, they hit the ground running with an indelible self-titled ep released through cascine in early february, a four-track effort that fit right in with the label’s balmy electronic aesthetic.  “a long walk home for parted lovers” and “the brae” both contain astute songwriting and strong vocal hooks, but yumi zouma isn’t merely propped up by its singles.  “sålka gets her hopes up” accomplishes its task with a sturdy bass line, sensibly augmented with more trebly timbres on the song’s chorus, and “riquelme” is the slightly bleak closer the ep needs, its murkiness jousting its brevity for the title of most important quality.

while a majority of synth-pop steers towards feelings of elation and general positivity, yumi zouma should be commended for their apathetic take on the genre.  kim pflaum’s voice is sultry but her delivery is entirely off the cuff, seeming to shrug her shoulders at the less-than-ideal subject matter on “a long walk home for parted lovers.”  hints of intimacy seem apparent – the mixed-gender vocal layering is somewhat reminiscent of the xx – but yumi zouma seems to thrive on keeping the audience at an arm’s-length away.  no piece of their output is particularly anthemic, but none of it needs to be; the muted, bass-heavy instrumentation that pervades is the perfect antidote to the increasingly bombastic nature of so much electronic pop.

yumi zouma turned the heads of other artists throughout 2014 as well.  the band supported chet faker on a string of sold-out shows in australia before catching the eye of lorde, who brought her fellow kiwis along to her homecoming shows in new zealand this fall.  this meteoric rise in popularity and exposure was accompanied by a new single, “alena,” which compounded the winning formulas of their self-titled ep into something even more promising.  “alena” contains the band’s first big hook, a swirling chorus beefed up by a pulsating, balearic bass line and enhanced with hints of piano.  the song is most likely the by-product of shifting yumi zouma from the bedroom to the stage, but it’s telling that the band can so easily flesh out their sound while remaining true to their ethos.

having played the last of their 2014 shows this past week, yumi zouma is back home in new zealand, although its members are mum on any forthcoming projects.  an album would be the next logical step, but anything the band offers up from this point forward will likely be received with open arms.  in an era when musical carbon copies are incessantly shoved down throats, yumi zouma effortlessly provides a more soothing alternative.

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best of 2013: new artist

the title of “best new artist” sometimes confuses and is misleading to me.  i frequently see bands that have two or three albums already under their belt pop up on various round-up lists, and sometimes a band releasing their debut full-length constitutes as a “new artist,” even if they’ve been together for a few years and have released a string of singles and eps.  the big to-do events like the grammy awards are always the best; i’ll never forget how amused i was to see bon iver take home the award for “best new artist” at the 2012 ceremony, despite for emma, forever ago being released to critical and commercial acclaim four years prior.

for my “best new artist” category for 2013, i decided to look at bands that didn’t exist in 2012.  at all.  that meant painful axings for savages and chvrches, fantastic groups that put out really important debut albums this year.  that meant pity sex and daughter didn’t qualify either, as prior years of demos and eps established each band quite well in their respective circles.  while i’m just one guy who inevitably misses out on a lot of what goes on in the music world, there was one brand new band this year that really caught my attention and got me really excited for their subsequent output in 2014.

now, without further ado, let the accolades of 2013 in music begin.

– best new artist: vancouver sleep clinic –

it’s been hard to ignore tim bettinson’s rise from obscurity and his subsequent impact on the indie blogosphere over the past six months.  since the release of his debut single as vancouver sleep clinic, “vapour,” at the end of june, the seventeen year-old from australia has garnered a significant amount of buzz.  early comparisons were made to bon iver and james blake, similarities further condoned by bettinson’s self-admitted adoration of those two artists, but there’s a level of maturity and coherence in both his lyricism and compositions that is beyond rare for someone who graduated high school last month.

 

i waited in the edge of my seat for months before the next vancouver sleep clinic song dropped, but the artistry attached to “collapse” was worth it.  it’s the lead single off of the band’s upcoming debut ep, already one of my most-anticipated releases of 2014.  the winter landscape “collapse” evokes struck at the perfect moment half a hemisphere away, and this was reflected by vancouver sleep clinic reaching the top of the hype machine charts within days of the song dropping.

 

the success of both “vapour” and “collapse” foreshadows vancouver sleep clinic’s potential to be a heavy hitter in the ambient, atmospheric realm, as well as the band’s capacity to cross over into elements of folk and post-dub with relative ease.  london grammar just picked up bettinson and company as the support act for a string of tour dates in australia next january.  at the rate this band is snowballing, i wouldn’t be surprised to see vancouver sleep clinic dominating heavy-hitting sites like pitchfork and stereogum within the next few months.  they’re certainly worthy of the buzz.