2012 New Music Guide
By dan gibson
April 25, 2012
Every year, RELEVANT makes a series of predictions about the coming year in music, some of which are more accurate than others. But that’s because, like anything else you try to predict in pop culture, it’s pretty much impossible to guess half of what happens. After all, who really thought Arcade Fire would win the Grammy for Album of the Year last year? And be honest: Did you really think a boy band from the UK would become a phenomenon? Not even your little sister knew who One Direction was until, like, February.
But none of that will stop us from making predictions about the trends, bands and albums that will change music in 2012—and obviously this year, we’ll be completely correct. Some bands we've come to expect great music from will finally deliver (maybe Muse or the Killers), some groups that disappeared for a while will return (yes, we'll talk more about Five Iron Frenzy below), and then 2012’s version of Foster the People (bold prediction: Electric Guest) will come out of nowhere and take over the radio.
At least we're not still debating about Lana Del Rey. That was an annoying three days.
Your Favorite Band Is from Iceland
Remember how you felt about Bon Iver’s debut record? Remember how you flipped out the first time you heard Mumford and Sons? Or how loudly you sang along to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home”? If you haven't listened to it yet, go do that. And then, once you do, know this: That’s how you’re going to feel about Of Monsters and Men’s debut album, My Head Is an Animal.
It’s not that they sound specifically like any of those groups, but they exist in a similar emotional indie-folk space. What makes their music memorable is an undercurrent of joy in their male/female vocal leads, a sweetness mixed in with wistfulness and the simplicity of their melodies and instrumentation. There’s something about their music that’s like a handwritten note attached to a descending balloon. Since they’re from Iceland, you might have some trouble remembering the band members’ names, but their music is so memorable, emotionally resonant and likable, you’ll feel like the group invited you to a campfire ... or whatever they sing around in Iceland.
Let's Hope People Just Miss Five Iron Frenzy
You may or may not remember, but there was a time period in the late ’90s when it seemed like ska was going to be a really big deal. There were even different kinds of ska fighting for attention. The ska-core bands had distorted guitars and yelling going for them, while the more traditional bands attempted to bring a bit of Jamaican-beach-party fun to largely white listeners across America. It was a big deal that the Specials had reunited. It didn’t last long, and by 1999, nu-rock had taken over and alternative rock audiences decided they would rather break stuff and be mad at the world than wear pork-pie hats and ride scooters around town.
As we all know, everything old is new again, and it’s looking like a ska revival could be in the cards. No Doubt is recording a new album, after all, and Five Iron Frenzy reunited, raising approximately $200,000 from frenzied (sorry) fans in a matter of weeks on Kickstarter.So, while fans of music that doesn’t include a dance style called “skanking” might be dreading the news, ska will be back in 2012. As Five Iron Frenzy prepares to hit the road for the summer, get excited for the inevitable reunions of b-list ska bands, which will also be the moment we collectively realize why ska went away in the first place.
Is It Time for a Crossover Christian Hip-Hop Star?
It makes sense that Christian bands and singers turned up on adult contemporary radio in the past. Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, the first to sneak into the charts, made music that fit seamlessly among the other non-offensive songs more or less about love. However, for Christian rappers, breaking through to a mainstream audience has been more of a challenge, for obvious reasons of content and vocabulary. L.A. Symphony was once poised to give crossover success a shot around 2001, with an album produced by Prince Paul and will.i.am, but label drama blocked its release. While they plugged away with various lineups for years, it never really happened for them on the level that seemed possible.
But maybe it’s time.
Mainstream hip-hop has hit a bit of a creative wall, with even the new breakout stars seeming like throwbacks to something familiar. The stars who have emerged recently can provide a real challenge even for the seasoned fan of the art form, with Tyler the Creator and his Odd Future crew adopting an us-against-the-world mentality and lyrics that are hard to defend. Meanwhile, as Christian labels largely gave up on rap, a scene has emerged in a more organic way, possibly adding to its legitimacy as a real thing rather than a product of a Nashville marketing scheme. Houston’s Lecrae even made it into a freestyle session on the BET Awards last year, holding his own and reflecting his faith to a tough audience. This year, look for other artists like Tedashii, Trip Lee, Sho Baraka’s High Society and Thi’sl—all of whom have similarly huge (and great) beats, Christ-focused lyrics and plenty of swagger—to show up on mainstream rap’s radar. It might not last forever, but in 2012 it seems distinctly possible.
Arenas Belong to ... Skrillex
Pop radiosounded more and more like a dance club in 2011, between the weirdo lewd bounce tracks of LMFAO, David Guetta and his parade of guest vocalists and U.K. producer Calvin Harris—with some help from Rihanna—who brought a straight-ahead house track to the top of the charts with “We FoundLove.” This trend looks to continue, mostly because the music producersworking on mainstream pop records were reminded at some point thatpeople actually enjoy dancing or, at the very least, shifting theirweight rhythmically in the bucket seats of their vehicles. Beyond that,there’s still another popular sub-genre of dance music out there mostlyfocused on giant bass drops accented with bits of melody, with Deadmau5, Kaskade and Bassnectar filling tents and giant halls across thecountry. Even though Swedish House Mafia sold out Madison Square Gardenin 2011 and Daft Punk could take over the world, strangely, there hasn’t been a massive star from that field.
If someone’s going to pull it off, it appears to be Sonny Moore, better known as Skrillex.
Moore has it all figured out. He left his Warped Touring emo act to createmusic that often sounds like an Xbox game skipping due to a scratcheddisc, with chirpy vocals flying by at warp speed. While that doesn’texactly sound like a compliment, it is. His method of makingmusic—copying and pasting the best moments of popular dance music in2012 into something that’s really easy to like when you’re in a crowdand the lighting’s right—is a talent. It’s not dubstep, but itincorporates elements of what has made that genre the dominant force inBritish dance culture. There are trance moments, but it’s not strictlyfor the glow stick crowd. When the noise kicks in on a Skrillex track,moshing is even acceptable.
Skrillex will be headlining festivals this summer, but by the fall, it shouldn’t surprise you if he’s playing the sort of arenas usually reserved for the biggest acts on theplanet—especially if his long-awaited debut album, Voltage, has dropped by then. He might want to stop hanging out with Korn, though.
This article is just a preview of the 2012 New Music Guide in the March/April 2012 issue of RELEVANT magazine. Want more music predictions and other great content? Become a subscriber now.