PearShaped Reflection: BBC Sound Of 2013

by Emily Pratten

BBC Sound Of 2013 is an annual music poll conducted by the BBC, in which a number of industry critics, experts, pundits and scholars come together to find the most exciting and promising new acts of the upcoming year. Though a fifteen act long ‘longlist’ is produced every year, so is a ranked shortlist of their top five, and from these total fifteen supposed up and coming artists, a winner is crowned in the January of the following year. We’re now taking a view on these supposed ‘top five’ sounds of 2013 two thirds of the way through the year to see how the last eight months have been treating them, whether or not they were an apt selection for the ranked shortlist, and who perhaps is on track to claim the top spot this January.

1. Haim

This California trio of sisters came top of the ranked shortlist this year, and two thirds of the way in, if it’s not too bold a statement at this point, I think they have earned that spot. My personal second favourite of the five, Haim have gained a very large following, exhibited by an extremely well filled NME tent at Reading and Leeds festival. Their now highly anticipated debut album, Days Are Gone, is released on September 30th, and if previous EPs and live performances are anything to go by, it’s set to be a big one.

Bringing a folk-rock sound with some clear R&B influences, their 70s and 80s vibe has been compared to Fleetwood Mac, which is not a far off comparison. Despite these similarities to music of past decades, their modernity and current relevance is not lost, and there is a definite space for them in the music scene which they are growing into at an alarming rate. With technical talent and charm to spare, Este, Danielle and Alana are three sisters that the British music scene seems to have a great deal of time for, and if their album does not disappoint, they are a hot contender for the top spot this coming January.

Picks: Let Me Go, Falling, Forever

2. AlunaGeorge

A British act earned second spot in the Sound of 2013 poll, with Aluna Francis and George Reid combining both their first names and their creative talents to form an almost futuristic electronic sound. Perhaps not my go-to choice in terms of regular listening - yet the soulful songwriting of Aluna and George’s, I have to say, has very impressive production and does make for some interesting tracks that are in fact deserving of a place in the poll, if not second place.

Their collaboration with Disclosure, White Noise, reached number two on the UK charts. Even myself as a new listener can appreciate the catchy hooks and well orchestrated vocal samples that grace each of their tracks on their debut effort, Body Music, and Aluna’s almost child-like vocals give me enormous Lily Allen flashbacks, which is definitely no bad thing.

Two thirds of the way through the year, however, and I have to question whether or not they peaked at the album release. Perhaps delayed debut releases like those of Haim and Chvrches will be able to surpass that of Body Music and it’s summer release. The hype seems to have been and gone, and perhaps as a result their top five spot won’t be there in the January 2014 final review. Who knows, maybe they will win, and this critical opinion will be left falling by the wayside. But personally, and considering the acts they are up against, I think it’d be unlikely to see the London duo in the top spot, despite their refreshing and different R&B come indie repertoire.

Picks: Lost & Found, Your Drums, Your Love

3. Angel Haze

Raykeea Wilson is the person behind the name ‘Angel Haze’, a rap artist based in New York who I have to admit, I find very interesting. She describes Angel Haze as ‘temperamental and a ‘b’ word’, and it is an almost intimidating persona to someone who hasn’t come across her before. Wilson has also said that she, on the other hand, is ‘nice, sweet, gentle, and doesn’t really like people’. I am intrigued by this persona, and how much of it is a front, (and how much is not), and I’m left actually enjoying rap music - which isn’t something that occurs very often.

I’m trying to decode very intense lyrical themes that are, I hesitate to use this word yet again, but refreshing. It is intense though - her heavy themes note her deeply disturbed adolescence centered in abuse, and it is the taboo nature of a lot of her work that makes her a contender. NME described her music as ‘more grisly than a battery-farm chicken carcass’, and notes that her pro-feminist and anti-homophobe agenda is where hip-hop could be heading, and I am completely okay with that.

Her album is yet to be released, though she has released several mixtapes that have received a great deal of praise, as well as ‘diss tracks’, which is a term that has escaped me for a large amount of my horribly sheltered suburban existence. Quirky and dirty and downright endearing, this is one we are all going to have to look out for. As far as the poll goes, I’m not sure her underground following quite matches the now infectious popularity of Haim, and so far our top three artists are so different that it is hard to imagine the criteria by which our acts are assessed. Regardless, Angel Haze probably wins on a political statement and curiosity level, if not on musical enjoyment alone.

Picks: Cleaning Out The Closet (Eminem Cover), Werkin’ Girls

4. Laura Mvula

Another British artist, Laura Mvula stepped onto the music scene with a battle on her hands: the battle of being a female solo artist. They are a breed of artist that record labels seem to actively search for, and with the recent success of Adele and Emeli Sandé, it’s a hard genre to step into.

Laura Mvula was picked as a Sound of 2013 just before her debut album release, and upon listening to it, it is clear why she was chosen. Bringing choral, pop and a little jazz altogether, it contains multiple musical complexities that the female solo artist often lacks. Each song is different, the slower and emotional ballad-like efforts pondering love and nature are soulful and individual and not at all boring, and the acoustic bass and rhythmic chimes and tinkling bells of other tracks are intricate and creative and bring a very different side to what can be a very same-y and repetitive genre. Vocally faultless and lyrically sound, this is another artist on our top five list that is bringing a fresh twist to their music that makes it something with potential.

Two thirds of the way through the year however, and not much has come from our resident Mvula. It is hard to say whether she will achieve the top spot through the hype of the highly anticipated releases of not just the debuts of the top five, but of acts in the long-list. Tom Odell, Kodaline, Peace and The Weeknd are all acts that have achieved a great deal of success in a fairly short amount of time, and it is hard to tell whether the debut from Laura Mvula will allow her to retain the number four spot she graced at the beginning of this year.

Picks: She, That’s Alright, Green Garden


It is with the fifth act on the ranked shortlist this year that I have to approach with some level of self-control, because to be quite frank, I am a CHVRCHES nut. First hearing the electro-pop and synth sound of The Mother We Share in a friend’s room at university last year I have quite literally not stopped listening since.

CHVRCHES have been making waves for at least a year or so now, and it was only a matter of time before everyone caught on. Innovative and complex surges and patterns of synthesised sounds have great levels of depth, and then add to this the incredible vocals of Lauren Mayberry and you have an accessible and wonderful piece of music you just want to dance to. As you can see, my attempt at self-control isn’t exactly working out. They are as good live as they are on record, if not better, and to say that critics are excited to hear their debut, The Bones of What You Believe, is an understatement.

It is hard to turn a critical and unbiased ear to something that personally is my pick for the number one spot come review time in January. However, I’m not quite sure others will see it this way, and as we have already covered there is a great deal of competition that many may prefer, such as the rhythmic drums of Haim or quirky electric duo AlunaGeorge. The fangirl in me hopes and prays that the captivating energy of CHVRCHES will come out on top, but the critic in me thinks they may face a battle for first place given that Haim have now achieved trans-Atlantic success.

Picks: The Mother We Share, Recover, ZVVL