Time marches imperiously on, confining 2014 to the dustbin of history and ushering in the entirely arbitrary, but strangely tangible optimism that greets a new year. The record industry’s self-imposed winter break allows us the opportunity not only to reflect (GP just named Scott Holiday it’s guitarist of the year), but also to gaze into the future and salivate in anticipation of an onrush of new bands. 2015 is no different. The young and (not always so) fresh faced are ready to take the world by storm, but should we believe the hype?
Guitar Planet doesn’t presume prescience, but we will try our hand at reading between the lines assessing eight artists who are burning white hot with hype.
How do you assess a sixteen-year-old veteran of over 200 shows? Aaron Keylock appears improbable. His virtuosity is staggering: teardrops cascade from his every note as he plays with a restraint and tenderness that defies his age. Moreover, he seems like a man out of time, an aesthetic convergence of the discarded trends of the 70s - it’s almost impossible to know what to make of him. He’s adamant that he wants to both express himself and grow as an artist, but also that he’s beholden to Rory Gallagher’s world of dirty blues-rock.
Where does he fit in? What audience is he destined to find? How should he best deliver his music? There are an abundance of questions and very few answers - and that’s just fine: not knowing is exactly what makes Aaron Keylock so exciting, his talent places the world at his feet, it’s up to him now to find his path through the music industry.
Kentish duo Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent blew Guitar Planet away with “The Hunter”; a seething lead single that set an undeniably sexy riff against a sardonic, brutal and distinctly masculine rage. The track’s unsettling refrain, “It’s reckless and pointless, but it’s also very fun”, captures the band’s appeal perfectly. Slaves offer a wilfully disturbing nihilism; a rejection of convention and social norms, that unnerves, but also thrills. “The Hunter” and “Hey” promise killer grooves and macabre subversion – it won’t always be pleasant, but it will be damned entertaining.
Asking Alexandria front man Danny Warsnop has been busy assembling We Are Harlot in his downtime over the last three years and in 2015 they plan to step out of the shadows. On the face of it, the LA fourpiece are a classic straight-ahead rock band, but as lead single “Denial” hurtles towards its conclusion it offers an intriguing side step: an onslaught of monolithic pummelling and a deep-throated, tonsil-numbing metal roar. We Are Harlot quickly return to the rails with an illusively speedy solo courtesy of guitarist Jeff George (ex-Sebastian Bach), but by threatening to merge metalcore and traditional rock they have the potential to truly differentiate themselves.
Anyone who heard “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” will understand implicitly why Natalie Prass has forced her way onto Guitar Planet’s list of 2015’s top prospects. Floating in the cavernous space that exists between Diane Warwick and Jenny Lewis, Prass is the kind of songwriter who can transcend the Nashville scene and pen searing imaginative masterpieces that speak to pop and rock audiences alike. Natalie’s creations are certain to appeal to fans of truly classic pop, but her crafty production choices, amorphic ability to sumptuously sew disparate tones together and her willingness to embrace love’s muddily mundane middle ground, bolster her modernist credentials. Readers might prefer more prominent guitar work, but open-minded lovers of rock, pop, folk and country are certain to adore Natalie Prass.
Nader Mansour and Eddy Ghossein discredit the laughable notion that the blues are old and decrepit; this Lebanese duo sound weary and guttural in spirit but utterly irrepressible as musicians. Taking the single guitarist and drummer formula that has exploded in the wake of The White Stripes (think Black Keys, DFA 1979, Royal Blood), these bluesman from Beirut eschew the fast paced, monolithic minimalism of their peers and offer grandiose sweeps, scratchy authenticity and plenty of Southern fried thrills. Best of all, like The Black Keys, they are not afraid to broaden out their range, using the harmonica to devastating dust-bowl effect and even employing the odd flourish of barroom-meets-The Doors keys.
Where is the line between pastiche and truth drawn? Leon Bridges happily admits that he’s head over heels in love with soul music, its simplicity and its purity – but a cruel critic might point out that his adoration has led him to forego innovation entirely. However, even the most resistant sort would struggle to deny the gorgeous depths of “Coming Home” and “Better Man”; two gloriously minimal ditties brought to full bodied life by the tender riches of Leon’s voice and a masterful excavation of the lost sound of the early 60s.
The Brit Awards have already picked James Bay out as The Sound of 2015 and the BBC nearly followed suit, placing the singer songwriter second in their annual poll. Bay ticks all the boxes for mainstream success, he employs thoroughly modern phrasing making him a worthy peer for pop stars like Ed Sheeran and Mumford & Sons while also possessing a tender grit and a flair for stadium sized understatement. Some might label it contrived, but Bay has the unmistakable ability to sound insular and grandiose simultaneously. Latter day Kings Of Leon provide a welcome comparison, not in terms of genre or sound, instead Bay mirrors Caleb Followill’s ability to project a singular ache into a unifying swell.
Blackpool three-piece Darlia manage to blend the droning angst of the 90s with a sturdy muscularity and a crispness of sound. They anesthetize and numb, they rail and rage, and they wilfully bluster and bruise. Nathan Day’s lyricism is needling as his vocal sprawls discordantly over great billowing dust storms of guitar noise. His heart bleeds, relentlessly soaking every surface in sight and his strident, unabashed nature will alienate some and inspire absolute adoration in others. Thankfully, Nathan knows his way around a naggingly immediate hook and Darlia have the pop chops to match their dynamic posture.
It appears that guitar music in 2015 will continue to look towards its past for inspiration as the West’s rich heritage of blues, classic soul and Americana are re-examined by a wave of up-and-coming stars. Guitar and drum duos are still on the rise – the grizzly God Damn and the seductive The Pearl Harts could easily have featured here – but new ideas are not completely ignored as artists like We Are Harlot and Natalie Prass merge sounds and Darlia risk alienating some to speak their minds.
Enter Shikari renew their archly political assault while expanding their sonic horizons on The Mindsweep.
Brutish, brazen and ungodly satisfying, Royal Blood rode a barrage of chugging bass grooves all the way to the top of the charts in 2014.
Opeth may preach exclusively to the converted, but to overlook the Swedes’ staggeringly consistent brilliance is foolhardy.
Soothing and sorrow-laden in equal measure, Lost In The Dream by The War On Drugs left Guitar Planet speechless.
Guitar Planet has had a love/hate relationship with Slash since Velvet Revolver split, but it remains impossible to deny his freewheeling riffs and slippery solos.