Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Sound of Endeavour

So, Haim (pronounced Hiam – somebody really should have pointed out the typo) are the BBC’s one-to-watch for 2013. The Californian trio pipped fellow hyped hipsters Chvrches, Aluna George, Laura Mvula and Palma Violets (see blogpost 26.05.12) to the Sound Of 2013 award that, depending on your opinion, is either hugely coveted, with past winners including Jessie J and Adele, or deeply cursed, with past winners including The Bravery and Little Boots (for the record, I really liked The Bravery - apparently I was alone).

These days it seems that music artists are never more popular, talked about and in the limelight than at the beginning of their careers.  At the moment, you can’t flick through a newspaper arts supplement without being confronted by articles on who to keep an eye and an ear out for this year.  We are told of artists with prodigious talent and remarkable gifts.

Somehow I can’t help but feel that all this praise and hyperbole is, not only often wide of the mark, but also inappropriate and unhelpful.  In which other professions, maybe apart from some sports, do we give awards for people who haven’t actually really done anything? Is it helping to foster a sense of work ethic in the minds of these, no doubt gifted, but largely unproven artists?  And should we be at all surprised when they fail to live up to the towering expectations?

This is why it particularly pleases me when artists who have been around the block pick up overdue praise and recognition.  The classic example of recent times is Elbow, the journeymen musicians who, after three critically lauded albums which failed to capture popular attention, won the Mercury Music Award for The Seldom Seen Kid – a record that has now sold over a million copies. That prize was richly deserved; it was recognition of a masterful album but also a reward for hard work, patience and determination.

It is often forgotten that David Bowie had written a lot of music and played many concerts before acquiring any real degree of fame. Three self-doubt-ridden years passed between his first hit Space Oddity and his next commercial success.  Though he often made song-writing look easy, he definitely served his apprenticeship.

Many of the artists that are exciting me at the moment have been around for a few years but are only now making their best music.  One of my favourite albums of last year was Eugene McGuinness’s The Invitation to the Voyage - a punchy pop record that hoovered up the noughties’ Killers and Kaisers inspired sound and regurgitated it into a more stomping, feisty form.  Over the last six years I have seen him support three different bands which is why it is so enjoyable to see him grow into his shell.

Another band who appear to be blossoming after two albums and several years of diligent touring to tiny crowds are Dutch Uncles.  Their new record Out of Touch in the Wild is released on the 14th January but has been preceded by two teasing tracks that are typically jerky but also layered with cleverly crafted melodies.  If I were to give a Sound of 2013 award I would give it to the Uncles because they have the potential to reach new audiences and gain considerable air play but, more importantly, and unlike Haim, they have put in the hard yards, honed their skills and done something to merit an award.