So far it seems only Burberry and a few thousand YouTube users have caught on to the magic that is Roo Panes, an exceedingly talented British guitar player and singer, who has performed in Burberry shows, video series and even appeared in some of the brand’s ads (his modelesque appearance and sharp fashion sense don’t hurt). Panes released his debut EP, Weight Of Your World, last year, and it’s a haunting and beautifully atmospheric folk album that pairs well with any of Laura Marling’s records. But Panes is considerably more raw and less concerned about traditional song structures than Marling. He has a tendency to start or finish songs with long, impressive acoustic guitar solos. Rambling yet beautiful arrangements are more common than straightforward, uptempo tracks like “Open Road.” Check out his picturesque performance of “Know Me Well” on a London rooftop in winter above.
Off the bat, Stockholm’s Postiljonen probably have the most in common with jj — breathy female vocalist singing nostalgic lyrics atop pretty synth sequences and house and disco beats. But their production is a little bigger and a little more cinematic. Their debut, Skyer (the Norwegian word for “clouds”), doesn’t have a weak song on it, and the trio can flit between fun disco throwbacks like “Supreme” and dreamy anthems like “On the Run” and “Help.” And they make excellent use of an ’80s sax solo on “Atlantis” (video above).
Torres‘s debut self-titled album came out in January, and it’s the perfect winter album, full of growly close-to-the-mic vocals and pretty electric guitar washes, a more ruminative take on the Heartless Bastards’ style. It’s the solo project of Mackenzie Scott, a 22-year-old woman based in Nashville, who sings with the wisdom and world-weariness of someone twice her age. “Honey” is probably the standout on the album, and a new classic as far as love songs go. “Honey / while you were ashing in your coffee,” Scott sings, “I was thinking about telling you / what you’ve done to me.” Simple, yet totally gutting. Watch her perform the song live above.
Sydney’s The Preatures don’t have much music out yet, but what is out is an infectious and original twist on a familiar genre. “Is This How You Feel?” combines a fast-paced guitar riff with lead singer Isabella Manfredi’s flawless ’60s pop vocals, which sound like a cross between Joan As Policewoman, Dusty Springfield and Róisin Murphy. Check out the video for the single above.
Coldplay haters may want to look away now, as Britain’s Tom Odell can sound quite a bit like Chris Martin at the piano. But there’s a rawness and lyrical cleverness that Coldplay hasn’t displayed as much since their understated early days. As a solo artist, Odell is able to strip down to cynical confessionals and loving reminiscences, though he does employ some big production on his debut full-length for Columbia, June’s Long Way Down. His standout so far is “Another Love” (video above), which was released as a single last fall, but he shows he can effect the same amount of gut-wrenching lyricism on “Sense,” a much quieter and simpler track.
Summer Heart is a female-male duo from Sweden. They put out a seven-track album, About A Feeling, in 2012, and have put out a few more singles since then. Each has been as unique and pretty as the last. “Hit Me Up Again” is ethereal, reminiscent of Twin Shadow and Studio, whereas “About A Feeling” has more of a pop feel, heavier on rhythmic layers of guitars and a steady bass beat than far-out synths. “A Million Feelings” is yet another offering, a Cut Copy-like club track still tempered with the band’s harmonic vocals.
Little Green Cars
Next to seeing a band you’ve never heard before live, seeing one of their music videos is an evocative introduction to new music, more memorable than just scrolling through iTunes or Spotify. That’s how I discovered Dublin’s Little Green Cars, who’ve actually technically been a band for many years but got a new dose of fame after touring with Jake Bugg. YouTube does a pretty good job of recommending videos based on other music videos you’ve watched, and Little Green Cars came up amidst other UK acts like Tom Odell and Roo Panes. Little Green Cars are hard to classify. They’ve been compared to Mumford and Sons, but their music tends to be far grittier and darker. Lead vocalist Stevie Appleby’s voice alone puts the band in a separate category from the other foot-stomping, emotive rock bands out there. Their latest single, “My Love Took Me Down To The River To Silence Me” (video above), is a show-stopper.