2012 Recap: International Artists of the Week


As the year winds down, we’re taking a look back at some of our favorite new bands of 2012. Here are highlights from some the best featured ones from abroad:

Ximena Sarinana:

The 26-year-old fuses elements of jazz, pop and alt rock into her sound making for the perfect blend of indie music. When we caught up with her at Outside Lands last summer, the singer had a lot going on. Her self-titled sophomore album was just released via Warner Bros. Records and she was excited about the prospect of where the album would take her. Now, nearly a year later, she’s evolving into an international star who has performed all the major festivals including Coachella and SXSW, and appeared on the massive Bob Dylan tribute album earlier this year with a stirring electropop version of the bard’s “I Want You.”

However, she isn’t ready to stop quite yet. Her live shows are peppy and energetic, just like her music. The song that best sums up where this talented musician is headed is “Echo Park.” As an ode to her neighborhood, yet a scathing critique of the hipsters that encompass the area, this song has poppy, indie dance beats that showcases her rhythmic vocals. Also, having excellent production from the likes of TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek and her ex-boyfriend, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta and At The Drive-In ffame, sure didn’t matters either. Regardless of production, Sariñana’s bubbly personality along with her brand of catchy electropop has endeared her to the hipsters she makes fun of in the video.

Mumford & Sons:

In three short years the band managed to grow from local favorite to multi-million album selling Grammy winners. Despite not looking necessarily the part, the band have won over fans and in the process, become style icons. As we discussed in our album review of their sophomore effort, Babel, the band looks more like they’d be more comfortable in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath instead of being on-stage wowing legions of music fans.

Their current tour is taking Mumford & Sons across the globe and will have them playing some of the biggest venues of their short career. Even with their growing profile, the band remains uncomfortable with the limelight. Just last week Dwane expressed to NME his discomfort with the hot glare of the spotlight, preferring to hang out in the countryside instead. Judging by the minimal number of paparazzi shots, it can be inferred that Mumford feels the same. No matter how you cut it though, the band that brought folk and bluegrass to the masses has no intentions of letting up and promises to be a fixture on your radio and tour calendar for years to come.

Ellie Goulding:

What makes Goulding’s sound different and allows for it to standout are her distinct soprano vocals. Though she’s able to hit the high notes, there’s a rough edge to it, which makes it sound like a rock or folk singer, yet retains a certain uniqueness that helps define her as a singer. Not a lot of musicians are fortunate enough to have a sound that that they can call their own, but she does and makes her tracks distinguishable.

Goulding released her sophomore album, Halycon, to acclaim. She retains the electronic sounds from her first album (which can be partially attributed to her boyfriend, though she claims not directly), yet she seems to evolve as a singer/songwriter, which is difficult to do in that particular genre. Dance music is the craze these days and judging by the reaction of many to the singer’s poppy version of it, it’s not surprising that both she and the genre aren’t going away anytime soon.

Miike Snow:

Electro-dance-pop is all the rage right now. Unless you haven’t been paying attention, the music that’s been huge abroad and had fans here in the States albeit underground, has finally exploded into the mainstream psyche of music listeners. You can credit that to the growth of satellite radio or young people’s desire to eschew conscious music for the feel-good qualities of dance music. Regardless, electropop looks like it’s here to stay and one of the new bands to thank for that is Swedish trio Miike Snow.

Legend behind the name “Miike Snow” allegedly came from one of their friends named Mike Snow (he must be pretty memorable), with the spelling of “Miike” coming from the Japanese film director Takashi Miike. They released their debut in 2009 with songs like “Animal,” “Black & Blue” and “Sylvia” winning them fans all over the globe. They’ve also managed to retain the producing career, in fact, it’s grown their profile to the point where they are consistently called upon to remixes for big name artists.

The release of their second album, Happy To You, as we noted, was a little disappointing, but that’s more due to the high expectations that their debut cast upon them. But even so, they used 2012 to build their live show, which has become one of the hardest tickets to get. Their show mixes strobe lights and other theatrics with electronica, all of which makes for a wild dance party where people lose their shit.

Ben Howard:

For a guy with only one album to his name, Ben Howard is one of the brightest new musicians to emerge in 2012. His fanbase in his native England far eclipses anywhere else in the world, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t catching on to the singer’s earnest brand of melodic folk.

Working with a two-piece backing band, Howard released his album, Every Kingdom, in the UK to accolades. Though it came out a year ago, the record has done well, peaking at number six on the album charts there and even achieving Gold status. This newfound fame allowed for Howard to hit the European festival circuit and for him to head to America in order to catch on with the notoriously fickle audience there.

Michael Kiwanuka:

Over the past few months, soul music has had a bit of a revival. You’ve seen here on our site with features on Mayer Hawthorne and Frank Ocean, and likely multiple other outlets as well. Why is soul making a comeback? Easy. When you have singers who understand the history and meaning of the genre, yet are willing to put a new and interesting spin on it, which revitalizes interest. The latest such person you can add to that list is British singer Michael Kiwanuka.

The son of Ugandan parents, Kiwanuka grew up in Muswell Hill, for those of you who don’t know, that’s in North London. The 24-year-old has been favorably compared to Bill Withers and Otis Redding, as well as Van Morrison and the Temptations. Not too shabby company to be put in with only one album to his credit. He has listed groups like Nirvana, Radiohead, The Offspring and Blur as influences, in addition to classic rockers like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. At one point, he thought he was going to be more likely to playing for his beloved Tottenham Hotspur football club instead performing in music venues.

He writes killer songs that come from the heart and his voice compares favorably to the aforementioned the artists above. Plain and simple, Michael Kiwanuka has the complete package that combines a musical and vocal prowess with terrific songwriting. That isn’t easy to find and if his first album is any indication of what’s to come, the future is very, very bright for this Brit and if he and his fellow soul singers are any indicator of what’s to come, then the genre of neo-soul is in very good shape.