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Lana Del Rey Eclipsed by Smooth Soul, Rap: Robert Heller

Azealia Banks, a New York rapper, topped the
Azealia Banks, a New York rapper, topped the "New Musical Express" Cool List for 2011. She is being tipped for success after also being nominated for the BBC "Sound of 2012" awards. Source: Interscope via Bloomberg

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Lana Del Rey is so passe.

Headlines about Botox and manufactured stardom have hobbled some of her momentum to become the hottest new rock star of 2012. The lipstick, applied to her notorious lips for the cover of Vogue, wasn’t dry before the hunt for her replacement began.

So instead, this summer’s great musical hopes (or hypes) will be traditional southern rockers, fizzy alternative-rock poppers, sleek soul singers and smutty female rappers. Perhaps.

Each year, four acts, from anywhere in the world, get tipped for greatness by the New Musical Express, a U.K. magazine. They are sent around Britain on the NME Awards Tour. The Killers, Coldplay and Florence & the Machine appeared in previous tours. So too did many more bands who quickly slid back into obscurity even after the best record-label marketing. Predicting future stars is a tricky business.

There should be few doubts about New York rapper Azealia Banks, who opened 2012’s NME shows with charisma and bouncy beats. Madonna may have met her match.

Two Door Cinema Club and Metronomy, the NME’s headline bands, both are worth watching, though they aren’t exactly new. Metronomy’s third album “The English Riviera” lifted it beyond the quirky synth-rock. A paean to songwriter Joseph Mount’s home, it was the sound of Was (Not Was), the mutant disco of New York’s Ze Records transplanted to an English seaside town.

Synth-Pop

The CD’s skinny synth-pop translates well to a stage. The brittle disco of “The Bay” benefits from the drumming of Anna Prior and muscly bass of Gbenga Adelekan. The geeky charm of the record remains, not just in Mount’s appealingly fey vocals.

Northern Ireland’s Two Door Cinema Club makes perky pop with a disco beat, like a Vampire Weekend without the preppy preoccupations or a Foals without the weight of intellectual ambition. Its debut album “Tourist History” was reasonably received in 2010. Persistent touring has allowed the band to build a live set that is giddy with the rush of teen enthusiasm.

Singer Alex Trimble tumbles out melodies with a vulnerable yelp. Sam Halliday’s guitar combines the lyricism of Johnny Marr with the exuberance of the best African soukous.

A clutch of fizzy new songs don’t suggest a major change in direction. Another disc to add to “Tourist History“’s brief 33 minutes would be welcome.

Looking Elsewhere

The NME tour also included London four-piece Tribes, with a sludge of uninspired rock cliches. A musical future clearly doesn’t await and it’s time to look elsewhere. There are always more acts vying for attention than those whose schedules allow them to take part in the tour.

For example, there’s Montreal’s Claire Boucher, a darkside alternative to Del Rey. Recording as Grimes, Boucher channels a Lana-like charisma through bleepy electronics, the Gothic demeanor of the Cure and the Cocteau Twins’ wispy vocals.

Alabama Shakes may well do with traditional southern rock what Adele managed with soul. The act is already being swamped with endorsements, including one from Adele herself. The musicianship is excellent and front woman Brittany Howard has serious star potential.

Londoner Michael Kiwanuka’s folk-infused soul is a must for anyone who has ever loved Terry Callier or Richie Havens.

Yet another Londoner, Jessie Ware, started out like Katy B, singing in dubstep clubs. Like an electronica-literate Sade, she’s more likely to be sound-tracking romantic nights in than wild nights out.

Toy is a psychedelic rock outfit that is snapping at the heels of mentors the Horrors. Minneapolis’s Howler is packing harmonies and bubblegum Americana into blasts of guitar-pop noise. Both acts might have a very exciting year ahead of them.

Or perhaps not. After all, this time last year Del Rey was unknown to all but her management and a few aficionados. It will be fun listening.

Information: For more on Lana Del Rey, http://www.lanadelrey.com/. Also see http://azealiabanks.com/, http://www.metronomy.co.uk/, http://twodoorcinemaclub.com/, http://www.grimesmusic.com/, http://www.alabamashakes.com/, http://michaelkiwanuka.com/, http://soundcloud.com/jessieware and http://www.howlerband.com/.

(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Robert Heller in London at roberthelleruk@yahoo.co.uk

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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