Five break­out pop acts to watch this year

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSIC -

Someof pop’s biggest names are re­port­edly sched­uled to drop al­bums in 2011: Cold­play, Bey­once, Ra­dio­head, U2, Lady Gaga. In a crowded field, new faces will have to work hard to grab our eardrums. Here are five whomwe ex­pect to do just that: James Blake The most ar­rest­ing moment on this London singer-pro­ducer’s de­but al­bum sounds like a swarm of Apache he­li­copters. As the 22year-old Blake croons “Limit to Your Love,” a cover of Cana­dian in­die chanteuse Feist, in come strange tremors— the sonic hall­mark of dub­step, a strand of Bri­tish dance mu­sic de­fined by its plung­ing bass and spec­tral vo­cals. Blake, how­ever, has been deemed the crown prince of “post­dub­step,” thanks to a string of 2010 EPs that evap­o­rated the style down to its ghostly essence. Many have called his mu­sic “dream­like,” but that’s not quite right. Blake’s self-ti­tled de­but, land­ing Feb. 7, sug­gests a fit­ful sleep full of sonic slip­streams and rhyth­mic hiccups too in­trigu­ing to sleep through. K. Michelle Do you have room for an­other post-Mary J. Blige R&B star in your life? An­other deeply wronged diva who sings her heart­break through clenched teeth? An­other gale-force wailer who smudges the line be­tween anger and sad­ness?

No mat­ter how many Jazmine Sul­li­vans, Melanie Fionas and Ker­iHil­sons over­pop­u­late the R&B air­waves, the an­swer to these ques­tions will al­ways be “yes.” And that’s good news for Mem­phis singerK. Michelle, whose R. Kelly-pro­duced de­but , “PainMedicine,” is due this year. Ash­ton Shep­herd While Tay­lor Swift’s teen­beloved sopho­more disc “Fear­less” won aGrammy for al­bum of the year, Ash­ton Shep­herd’s all-grown-up de­but “Sounds So­Good” clung to the coun­try charts for dear life. It’s some­thing the Cof­feeville, Ala., na­tive seems poised to cor­rect with the disc she’s now wrap­ping up with Buddy Can­non, the es­teemed pro­ducer who had a hand in an­other re­cent Alabama suc­cess story, Jamey John­son. SmithWesterns These cherub-faced glam-rock re­vival­ists were trum­peted as The It Band of 2011 long be­fore (in in­die-rock In­ter­net time: weeks be­fore) their hyped sec­ond al­bum, “Dye It Blonde,” ar­rived Tues­day. Here’s what they re­ally are: the best in­ter­preters of T. Rex since Prince wrote “Cream.” But it’s not just the glit­ter-dusted cho­ruses or the juicy gui­tar so­los that earn them this dis­tinc­tion. It’s the Chicago troupe’s abil­ity to make its emo­tive ur­gency feel cool, to make the epic stuff feel ca­sual. You can hear it in the song “All Die Young,” which con­tains hints of the Bea­tles’ “Some­thing.” Yela­wolf Yela­wolf, a nim­ble Alabama rapper, avoided flash­ing in the pan in 2010 bynot re­leas­ing his de­but al­bum. In­stead, the heav­ily tat­tooed, un­abashedly mul­leted MC­took things slow and steady. He dropped a su­perb mix tape, “Trunk­Muzik,” last Jan­uary, signed a con­tract with In­ter­scope Records in­March, landed a sly verse on Big Boi’s solo al­bum in July and re-re­leased “Trunk Muzik” as “Trunk­Muzik 0-60” on In­ter­scope in­Novem­ber. “Ra­dioac­tive,” his de­but ful­l­length al­bum, is due in April. For Yela­wolf, go­ing from zero to 60 ap­par­ently takes about 16 months.

LIS­TEN ON­LINE To read more about these artists and hear sam­ples of their mu­sic, go to wash­ing­ton­post.com/click­track.

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