The first of two runs through this year's tips list. The usual caveats - anyone who's had a full length album out or been featured on an STN year in preview list before is disqualified, and these are not our tips for big things but those who we think are likely to do really good things over the forthcoming twelve months. This is how last year's thirteen fared, including three bands that have subsequently split up; may god have mercy on this selection's souls.
Heavy Petting Zoo
The Swansea outfit have a clear live focal point of their in-house dancer Jon, whose freeform flailings may make him the 10s equivalent of Wojtek from the Blue Aeroplanes. Behind him, and very much up front on record, is an equally compelling presence, singer Amy Zachariah, whose lustily fulsome commanding complements a raggedly direct surf-inflected garage attack. Having stormed their set at Swn festival - Huw Stephens, Jen Long and NME's Laura Snapes among those spreading its word - they self-released a single in October and should hopefully play their first proper gigs outside Wales soon.
Primarily known as half of back bedroom folk-popsters the Middle Ones, Grace Denton's latest incarnation (with Pete Shadbolt and Matthew Cheney) takes the electro-pop and R&B production tropes and squirrels them away in a dark corner. Their take on electronic melody seems hand crafted, densely layered with arrythmically subtle beats and not being averse to taking the rutted path less travelled, attempting to keep hold of its melodic agility while flowering from tense development into something air-filled and colourful, Denton's vocals equally capable of dreaminess and rawness alike.
If you can tell a band by the company they keep, that Blessa's recent single Between Times was produced by MJ of Hookworms should give you a fair idea. Not that they share the shoegaze blur of many of the bands he associates with, the Sheffield quintet crafting a cleaner sound where reverberating guitars are present but only a subtle part of a sophisticated jigsaw pattern built around finding the space between such strident elements as searching basslines, insistent beats and Olivia Neller's skylarking vocals, pitched somewhere between Veronica Falls' scuzzy melodies and Howling Bells' lost highway intransigence.
They don't sound like that name suggests, nor like the previous Cardiff scene associations of frontman and creative fulcrum Mark Foley (of Manchasm fame). Their EP The Shape Of Apes To Come instead paints delicate landscapes of ambient folk and Americana-influenced subtleties that stretch out and evolve into shivering emotiveness, achieved through delicate multi-instrumental layering, outreaching vocal harmonies and ebbing electronics. Low fans will find much to admire in its cinematic qualities that lift, coast and find new depths to explore on every listen. And if that's just for the introductory six track EP they could be heading somewhere special.
Another Edinburgh band brought to our attention by the indefatigable Song, By Toad label, Plastic Animals describe themselves as "atmospheric punk sludge rock" which makes them sound like the Melvins, ie not like what they do sound like. What they've developed into over three EPs over the last two and a bit years is electronically embellished, carefully layered hypnagogic pop shape formers that's been bundled into a helicopter travelling across a misty landscape, Deerhunter-style dreampop with the tremelo arm taped down, melodically lucid in creating far seeing atmospherics out of chiming lo-fi hypnosis.
The Peckham trio have been around for a while - we first wrote about them in May 2011 - but their development into the level of confidence in pulling off their sort of deluxe arrangements has been notable, culminating around March when their Dave Eringa-overseen debut album Mixed Blessings is released. They may touch on the hi-life fad of a few years ago but their stock in trade is percussive, harmonic overlapping post-freak-folk of a Panda Bear stripe, yearning sounding vocals rubbing like sandpaper against hallucinatory warped psychedelia loaded high with arrythmic drumming of various indigenous types.
Fire Island Pines
You don't really get a lot of luxuriousness in modern indie-pop, whether that refers to the delicately literate jangle of a Felt or Animals That Swim or the crumbling Victorian halls melodramatic splendour in decay of Jack or Gallon Drunk. Cornwall sextet Fire Island Pines are the best candidates we've heard for a while, their swooningly languid melodies and detailed trumpet laced lushness almost betraying Anton Rothschild's less than confident, clouds in front of the warm sunshine sensitivity lurking behind such budget sophistication, if his half-murmured half-crooned delivery hasn't suggested such already. An impending album is promised.
Seven more tomorrow!