What springs to mind when you think of actors making music? Likely you’re confronted with horrific images of Russell Crowe and Keanu Reeves belting out their ‘hits’ in earnest, followed by the faint smell of bad ideas. But there are exceptions to the rule. Jason Schwartzman has impressed over two Coconut Records, uh, records, as has indie pinup Zooey Deschanel as half of She & Him. Well, now you can add to that list Donald Glover.
As well as being a writer on 30 Rock and starring in fellow NBC sitcom Community, Glover’s also been exploring his other creative outlets under the moniker Childish Gambino, releasing his latest album Culdesac for free online last month.
Yet unlike fellow network TV funnymen like Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island crew, Glover’s turn on Culdesac is completely straight-laced and serious, and all the more entertaining for it. Although it isn’t a great surprise, this dude can rap, throwing out tight-wound verses that have enough bravado and charisma to make any rapper jealous, particularly on tracks like Hero or the grandstanding swagger-fest Let Me Dope You. Elsewhere, something like Put It In My Video races along with frantic beats and These Girls is a sombre crooner’s jam.
It’s a twisted hip-hop fantasy made real with the effortless cool of guys like Wale and Pharrell, mixed with a bit of Eddie Murphy’s forays into music. And it’s all good. - Dave Ruby Howe
With fuzzed out guitar swells, biscuit tin snare drums, drowsy, shuffling vocals, and a Google-defeating band name, Portland’s 1,2,3 have everything a day-dreaming indie rock romantic could hope for. Already courting both blogs and indie radio waves, this duo will be on repeat for the rest of the year without question.
With just one track to their name - the epic synths and vocoder frenzy named Futuretapes - it’s probably too early to proclaim Philadelphia based collective CSLSX the best new act we’ve heard in 2010. But screw it, we’re going to say it anyway. Because what we’ve heard so far is bordering so close on perfect that it’d be scary if we weren’t too busy dancing.
Hailing from a seriously chilled hideaway in Australia’s Queensland, Flight Facilities are two young dudes causing a big stir with their smoothed-out house tracks. Already grabbing the attention of heavies like Aeroplane and the Bang Gang, these guys are making sax solos in dance tracks cool again. And that can’t be a bad thing.
The next heiress to the pop princess crown, Florrie has been making all the right moves towards chart domination, including star hook-ups with bonafide hit-makers like Fred Falke and Xenomania, the same team that made Girls Aloud and Sugababes so inescapable. That’s a very tight pedigree, but of course it always comes down to the tunes, and so far it’s looking as though has a knack for hooky, delirious pop tunes. Expect big things.
With every rapper with a mic rallying to be a part of the next crop, 2010’s break out star seems to unanimously be North Carolina’s J. Cole. Having already impressed hip hop big guns like Wale, No I.D. and Jay-Z (who signed the 25 year old to his Roc Nation label) and a debut album (Cole World) due to drop in a matter of months you can expect be hearing a lot from him at every turn.
With a knowing nod to ‘80s smoothies like Toto and Hall & Oates, Sydney tunesmith Matt Van Schie has brought the pop back to synth-pop with his Balmy Nights EP from earlier this year. He’s got another run of tunes due before he settles back into his fulltime band Van She, so lovers of seriously smooth music should get their fill while they can.
Mixing pounding tribal drums with glowing neon synths for some twisted ‘calypso-electro’ sounds kind of terrible on paper, but one listen to New York production team Tanlines and their infectious tracks and we promise you’ll be converted to the gospel. - Dave Ruby Howe and Oli Queen
Two Door Cinema Club inhabit a curious position in the current musical landscape. On the surface they’re a typical indie-pop band, that’s obvious from the haircuts right down to the masterful knack for melody that these three Irish lads posses. But there’s more to it than that. The group’s energetic guitar blasts that riddle debut album Tourist History betray some serious punk leanings, not to mention the trio’s connection with French hipster den Kitsune has made them crossover stars with the dance and electro crowd. Indeed, the trio laid down parts of Tourist History with club stalwart Philippe Zdar of Cassius, an experience treasured by the trio
“He is the best producer working in dance music right now, hands down,” says Kevin Barnes from Two Door Cinema Club down a crackling phone line from Northern Ireland. “And he was great to work with, he just wanted us to try out all his toys in the studio,” he says, adding that the current musical climate helped facilitate the hook-up with Zdar. “Now those genres have really blurred and the label you put on the music doesn’t matter so much anymore.”
Indeed, the melting pot of styles found on Tourist History only serves to enhance the accessibility and sheer fun of Two Door Cinema Club. It’s an intensely listenable record, and its thoughtful simplicity is something to be cherished in an age of grand designs and high pretension in indie rock. “We just wanted to make something that was true to the music that we have all been influenced by, and this is what we came up with” Barnes explains. “We did our best to ignore all the hype and just focus on doing what we love.” Dave Ruby Howe
There’s gotta be something in the water, right? First it was Jonathan Boulet and his gift for Technicolour indie, closely followed by fellow Australians Tim & Jean who blew our minds with their perfectly realized synth-pop splendor. And now we’ve got Melbourne-dwelling twosome Gypsy & The Cat who despite their young age have already got a firm mastery of classic pop.
Yes, we know that’s a big wrap for these relative unknowns, but the proof is in the pudding, or in this case the luscious pop gold of Gypsy & The Cat’s breakout tune Jona Vark, which distills their love of electronic tweaks, Fleetwood Mac-tutored songcraft and soaring hooks into three perfect minutes. - Dave Ruby Howe
Listen also to Thieves of Aon
With rap mixtapes and DJ sets springing forth on blogs and Facebook accounts like an over-ripe harvest of late, it’s refreshing to find that someone isn’t sticking to the stock standard formula. With his new mixtape project Pianist Envy - yes, that really is the title -, Canadian piano genius Gonzales has flipped things, offering up a collection of quasi-covers in which Gonzales restrings populist jams from the likes of 50 Cent, Beyonce and Lil Wayne as ivory-thumping epics.
After past work with Feist and Jamie Lidell, cover work for Daft Punk and Boys Noize and turns as an MC and electro artist, Pianist Envy is Gonzales cementing his reputation as pop music’s artful chameleon, shifting from one idea to the next with not only swiftness but perfect execution. - Dave Ruby Howe
Goldfrapp - Head First
Having pitched a seriously beguiling curveball with their fourth record, 2008's ambiguous Seventh Tree, UK electronic boffins Goldfrapp have seemingly stepped back onto the dancefloor for new LP, March's Head First. From the first taste of the album, coming in the form of new single Rocket, the band have rediscovered their love of electro, festooning the radio jam with neon-embossed hooks and Atari-aping synths. We like this a lot.
The Sound Of Arrows - TBA
Thus far Sweden's The Sound Of Arrows have given us just a handful of songs, released on labels like Labrador and Neon Gold, and whilst quantity is (unfortunately) not their thing, quality surely is. The Scandinavian duo have managed to breath life into whatever they touch, lacing their singles with widescreen pop sensibilities, buoyant synthesisers and un-ironic slices of Euro-pop. With a full length finally at hand it's time for The Sound Of Arrows to truly shine.
She & Him - Volume Two
Just like our album forecasts, good things come in twos, right? It's therefore fitting that the indie nerd's dream-come-true collaboration of Merge stalwart M Ward and Zooey Deschanel as She & Him would return for a second round of twee-pop loveliness. Set for a staggered March/April release, Volume Two will pick up where the duo left off, namely making boys and girls in cardigans swoon
The Drums - TBA
With every music sheet in the world teetering on the verge of delirium over The Drums and the surf-pop resurrection found on their debut EP, Summertime, from last year, the band were an easy shoe-in for this list. But beyond the deafening buzz that The Drums are stirring up as they march ahead to their first full length the group manage to back it all up, delivering lean and polished indie-rock tunes with style, accessibility and intelligence.
Vampire Weekend - Contra
Having brought afro-leaning indie sensibilities and boat shoes back into the mainstream with their irrepressible debut album way back in 2008, New York prepsters Vampire Weekend essentially set themselves up as the poster boys of the difficult second album. After all that hype and crossover success, how could they better themselves? From the first tastes of their follow up disc, Contra, due in January, not much has changed, with the band still rocking polos and summery hooks, but it's clear their charm hasn't faded in the slightest with the band now rocking more self-assured playfulness than ever.
Uffie - Sex, Dreams & Denim Jeans
Bursting onto the electro scene with over-sexed raps and over-dosed electro beats courtesy of the Ed Banger crew, Miami-via-Paris MC Uffie seemed poised to take a lofty position as the middle ground between Peaches and M.I.A., but, uh, she just never really released anything. That's going to change when she finally drops the delightfully titled Sex Dreams & Denim Jeans LP next year. With hook ups from Mr Oizo, SebastiAn and Mirwais she's definitely in good company, but time may've passed her by. Whatever the result, we'll definitely be listening.
Delphic - Acolyte
Sounding like the spiritual heirs to New Order's brand of immaculate electronic pop, young Machesterites Delphic have been making all the right moves in their short career. Already they've partnered up with the tastemakers behind labels like Modular and Kitsune, not to mention scoring the coup of having golden-touch producer Ewan Pearson helm their debut album Acolyte. Packing an arsenal of soaring vocals, champagne synthesizers and driving hooks, get ready to hear a hell of a lot about Delphic. - Dave Ruby Howe
Opening with just a billowing piano refrain and acoustic strumming, you get the immediate feeling that there's something pretty interesting about The Gadsdens' breakthrough single The Sailor Song. After that initial hook, the UK quintet completely ensnare you with some witting strings and slurred vocal coos from singer Jody Gadsden, sounding like he's had one too many drinks and far too many sleepless nights. Expect to see these guys gobbled up by the Greys Anatomy crowd in no time. - Oliver Queen
What is it that makes Australian electro duo Tim & Jean so special? That's not meant as a corny opening line for this feature, that's a genuine question. We really want to know what kind of magic potion is running through the water in their hometown of Perth or how many virgins one needs to sacrifice in order to have what they have.
With just one song circulating around at the moment, the blissful synth-pop jam Come Around, Tim & Jean have already blown bloggers and industry types away. Indeed, after wowing Australian audiences as part of Triple J radio’s Unearthed competition, the duo has found itself in the middle of a major label bidding war in the US, cementing its buzz as the next big thing set to go supernova in 2010.
On Come Around the kids, and yes I do mean kids as the two are just 15 and 18 respectively, show off a surprisingly masterful knack for melding mirror-ball electronics with stomping choruses and irresistible hooks. With more gold like this on the way now's the ideal time to fall for Tim & Jean as you can bet you'll be hearing a lot of them very soon. Listen below. - Dave Ruby Howe
See also 21 yr old Australian Jonathan Boulet
There’s no question rap music is in the midst of a major sea change. The jeans are getting tighter, the hoodies brighter. Gangsta is out, hipster is in, and those who don’t adapt are told they’re becoming obsolete. The fresh wave is young and ambitious, full of entrepreneurial spirit whilst spitting about SEGA and sneakers.
But away from the bum rush of hipster rap is a cleaner, more precise alternative.Throughout its reinventions, hip hop’s party trick has been its continued relevance as a medium for social and personal commentary, and it’s in this realm that 5 0’Clock Shadowboxers exist. This is soul-searing music, full of coiled aggression and biting humour. Shadowboxers’ rapper, Zilla Rocca, will laugh about the absurdity of it all one moment, and king hit you for not caring enough the next.
And he careens over some of the most carefully deployed sampology this side of a RJD2 record. Blurry Drones has grafted enough vinyl ammunition for three rap records and then crammed it all onto one. But this isn’t scattershot producing – throwing licks until one sticks – it’s precision work, carefully folded together for maximum effect. This is hip hop front-end loaded with killer instinct and a desperate perspiration. 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers are trapped in the dark corners of soul and society, and have just offered you a front row ticket as they fight their way out. – Matt Shea
Electro has always been the bread and butter of the Western crowd. France kicked off the distortion explosion with Justice, DatA and the Ed Banger sound, while the US set have been high balling with crunchy jams courtesy of the Los Angeles party set, including Steve Aoki's Dim Mak crew as well as Classixx and the late great Guns N Bombs. But over in Japan, Shinichi Osawa has been making plenty of noise with his relentless output of forward thinking, super-sized bangers, beating his Western contemporaries at their own game.
Having already unleashed a celebrated artist album back in 2007 (The One), Osawa's latest masterpiece comes in Teppan Yaki, and despite its dubious title, the oversized package collects all of Osawa's biggest remixes to date, including main-room reworks for the likes of Boys Noize, Cazals, Van She and Bag Raiders, as well as an extra disc of the producer's remixes for Japanese artists like De De Mouse, becoming a primer of sorts for far-out Japanese club culture. – Dave Ruby Howe
Shinichi Osawa's Teppan Yaki is out now.