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  • David Bentley

2021 Tips – artists and bands to watch (part 1)

Who are the artists and bands to watch out for in 2021? By necessity I’m limiting my personal selection here principally to those that have not yet reached the stage of putting out a debut album, or if they have it is quite recently.

Ellinor Sterner Bonander (Sweden) has released an EP, back in 2018, and her debut album is anticipated for 2021. She released several singles from it last year, one of which, ‘Backseat’, made the long list for my Singles of the Year selection. I described it thus:

“There is something of the symphonic metal about her, mixed with a healthy slice of cinema film score and an unhealthy one of Goth. ‘Backseat’ isn’t a million miles removed from what Tarja Turunen is doing just now, with shades of Susanne Sundfør on ‘Memorial’. It’s a powerful, orchestrated work that, following a repeated four note intro that could be the handshake to the friendly aliens in ‘Close Encounters 2’ builds to a thrilling electronic crescendo that will give you goose bumps.”

I’m still not sure if CECI NOIR (Sweden) is just Cecilia Norberg or whether her guitarist Niklas Ellvin forms a duo with her. Not that it matters. She/they waited 10 years before releasing her/their debut album this year. I’ve previously described Cecilia as “a full-blooded rock singer that makes a lasting impression – it’s her voice that really catches your attention.” I’ve also compared her to Elkie Brooks. No pressure there, then.

Chivvy (Sweden) changed their name and signed to a new label before issuing their debut single ‘Red Water’ this year and again a first album is anticipated for 2021. Describing it as “both melancholy and dynamically optimistic at the same time” I went so far as to compare them with the much-missed Rilo Kiley and it doesn’t get much better than that.

I’ve written quite a lot about Norway’s Das Body already this year and they also made the long list for my Singles of the Year selection while coming close to winning Album of the Year as well. They took a long time (two years) to deliver their debut album, ‘Peregrine’, in November as they set up their own label but it was worth the wait. Fronted by the sometimes outrageous, always entertaining and perniciously precocious Ellie Linden they concoct a beguiling electro-pop sound of their own,laden with a male choir backing the likes of which you’ve never heard before, and their live act will put some pressure on Pom Poko for the title of Norway’s most dynamic band.

Ellen Krauss (Sweden) hasn’t even turned 20 yet I think but she has an enormous Americana-influenced vocal and when she finds more of the right songs to go with it as she occasionally does there is no reason why she shouldn’t be heading swiftly down Nashville way, with or without the old battered RV she was filmed in for one of her singles last year. She really is that good.

Technically speaking, Sweden’s Frida Sundemo shouldn’t be here but she returned to the fold this year after a three year absence which followed her 2017 debut international album so I’ll make an exception. ‘Space – the final frontier’ might be her motto as space - both terrestrial and celestial – and science fiction, is what motivates her, and she shares with Bonander a propensity towards using what could be cinematic scores in her songs. Vocally, she lies somewhere between Aurora and Anna von Hausswolff if you can imagine such a thing and her songs always carry a strong melody line.

Gaeya (Sweden) is a ‘world beat’ artist - a music genre that blends pop music or rock music with world music or traditional music. A sort of female Peter Gabriel with hair I suppose and with her roots firmly in environmental sustainability and protection. ‘Oh no,’ I hear you cry but fear not, she isn’t obsessive about it and her songs encapsulate her concerns without overwhelming the listener with them. She’s just released her first EP, ‘Awakening’ and a debut album is set to follow.

As with Frida Sundemo I suppose Löv shouldn’t really be listed here either as they released their debut album back in February with an EP to come in January but I’ve got a lot of time for this power trio so I’ll make another exception. They have been described in Norway as a ‘super group’ - although the title clearly embarrasses them - and as two of them are ex Highasakite and the vocalist the winner of Norway’s first ever ‘The Voice’ competition you can understand why. But the attraction to me is that they marry two top-notch compositional talents in Øystein Skar and Marte Eberson with a tenor voice (Martin Halla) which is literally world class. They have the ability to become the biggest band in Norway but could have a problem in deciding whether they will a pure pop act or if they will strive to write the more complex pieces they are easily capable of. Right now they are somewhere between the two.

Marianne Sveen’s departure from Katzenjammer precipitated the break-up of the Norwegian band but she has been slow to put together her debut solo album, mainly owing to family reasons. It now appears that it will come out in 2021. I interviewed her in 2019 and heard one of the tracks from it while she released another in 2020. Both are excellent, quite different from Katzenjammer’s style, and promise something a bit special.

Sweden’s Skott released her debut album this year and we reviewed a couple of tracks from it. Coming from a small Swedish village, Vikarbyn, known for its traditional customs and even its own language, Skott has been able to create a world entirely of her own and this is evident in her music, the clever, often dark, vocals and the way in which she makes her thoughtful videos. I said, “I suspect there’s the genesis of a genuine future talent here” and I’m sticking to that.

Finally, a couple of artists who have yet to record an album and in one case even a single, but whose time may come in 2021.

Johanna Brun was the focus of an ‘Introducing’ feature in 2020. The young Swede has a fascinating history having fought back against a crippling illness, taking up music and acting in order to combat it. Having laid down a single in 2019 she was then hit first by the cancellation of a touring show she was about to take on the road around Sweden due to an accident to the main actor, then when it was ready to go again by the pandemic. Just recently she was awarded a prestigious cultural scholarship and hopefully this will be the spur towards her doing some more recording this year.

Another ‘Introducing’ feature in 2020 brought Ingrid Fröderberg to the attention of NMR readers. I first saw and heard Ingrid when she was a 12-year old and was highly impressed. This week she took part in an annual global singing competition hosted out of Berlin and was placed first in her age range (14-17). I thought she was actually going to win the entire event of over 100 competitors but she fell just short of that. In January she will feature on the third song on which she has performed backing vocals, this one from Helena Montgomery, who appeared in NMR this year. It is only a matter of time before someone writes a song for Ingrid (I don’t think she is a writer herself, yet). I can’t wait.

Just in passing, the same competition featured a Russian girl, Marfa Nikolaeva, in the 10-13 years category. My jaw hit the floor. She performed a very difficult song, the classic ‘A change is gonna come’, with the panache of someone two or three times her age and with more soul than even Aretha Franklin put into her version. Clearly another name to remember, even if she isn’t Nordic!

On this video of the competition, Ingrid performs at 2:37:46 and Marfa at 1:27:27.

Andy's selections and tips for 2021 should be published tomorrow. Assuming he finishes writing it....


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