The sounds of 2013

Savages, Haim and Bjork in a circus tent.

At the start of this year, singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka was named BBC's Sound of 2012. His inoffensive acoustic soul – the sound of 1972 – sold a lot of CDs, but no one talks about him any more. The bright but musically underwhelming Emeli Sande is essentially another flash in the pan. The ways in which we now measure “big” in music – what that even means – are only just emerging. Everyone was fed up with Lana Del Rey by the time the physical album came out. A band can get a million hits on YouTube when they don't even have a press shot to supply. The Glaswegian electro-pop trio Chvrches wrote one of the best pop songs this year and they'll have an album out in the spring, though it remains to be seen whether people are still excited when the band are signed.

I hope they do because they're great, though they’re not to be confused with Curxes a frosty, art-pop, boy/girl double-act (always interesting) who sound like Siouxsie smashing up a giant oil-rig. New bands hide, posting mysterious, faceless videos on YouTube, because no one wants to reveal too much too soon. If you're making spikey, difficult music (see enjoyable girl-punk band Savages, whose debut is out next year) it makes sense to work it up in small clubs and have people crowing about your "white hot" lives shows.

There's a reassuring amount of unusual, aurally challenging material getting attention though. Laura Mvula is a "classically trained" singer-songwriter from a gospel background who laughs in the face of structure and draws from the well of Amy Winehouse, Jill Scott and even Rogers & Hammerstein. You sense an impressive amount of creative control. Other interesting post-Amy neo-soul voices – for they will keep on coming – are 14-year-old Mahalia and Rainy Milo. They don't make you want to bang your head against the wall, unlike Savannah's Kristina Train whose lyrics sound like they were written by a 60 year-old man (it was actually Ed Harcourt) and recall Katy Melhua.

Weirdly, there's also a surprisingly bright vista for soft melodic rock, too. Young bucks making well-oiled, emotionally and musically literate songs of the not-very-cool kind. Like Sons And Lovers and the rather unusual Dunwells who are Leeds' answer to Christian rock without, as far as I'm aware, being particularly Christian. Those chest-beating songs are surprisingly powerful in a live setting. If the brothers don't take hold in the UK, no matter because they're already huge in America. Sibling bands tend to be slick and confident - they've had a head start. You've also got Haim, three sisters from San Fernando who grew up in their parents' rock band. They’re supporting Florence next year, sing like a pluckier, lighthearted version of her, look a bit like Joan Jett and sound not a million miles from eighties Fleetwood Mac.

Meanwhile, somewhere between the world of Later... With Jools and the world of the blogs, there’s a murky region inhabited by artists who are hiding in plain sight. Like Phildel, whose atmospheric product has already been used on countless ads from Expedia to the iPad to Marks & Spencer, and has stirred the imagination of the goth market via a hundred weird YouTube tributes. The songs come from a strange place - her fundamentalist Muslim stepfather banned music in the house. It's a good story, which is what you need these days – like white male soul singer Willy Moon, who spent a period on the streets of Camden as a junkie, had his first crack at fame in 2011, and has just scored the latest iPad ad. And a quick glimpse at the gig horizon – a big tour by Muse and another by Aerosmith, who hardly ever come to the UK. And Bjork will be performing her brilliant Biophilia show in a circus tent for six dates in February and March - which is certainly worth going to Paris for.

 

Bjork: a highlight of 2013 (Getty Images)

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.