Even the best young UK bands will admit the rock scene is a bit of a mess. Grime? Well, there are those holding down that fort and carrying its torch, for sure. But soul music, in all its multifarious and hybridized forms, is what is going on in the UK. Young artists with that certain quaver in their voices, following in the footsteps of Dusty Springfield, Joss Stone, Adele, and, yes, Amy Winehouse are, well, they’re torching the fort.
Some are straight soul, some are a little nostalgic, others are very nu, and pushing things hard into the future. Some are smooth, while others pull out the pyrotechnics in the first few bars. The thing they have in common is that you need to listen to all of them, now.
She’s a captivating contralto, with a voice that IDs her instantly. There are occasional flashes of folk influence on Josephine’s debut album Portrait, but, mostly, the solid-state songwriting, crowned with a corona of vintage-feel arrangements, makes for an adroit update of the UK soul tradition.
10. Rainy Milo
Levitating up from underground, Ms. Milo is as cool as cool girls come, tossing out satiny-yet-all-too-human soul vocals over the next week’s productions like they’re vintage furs and she can’t decide what to wear tonight. It’s a little early to say if this 16 year-old is the future of the scene, but here’s hoping.
Nineteen-year-old Syron does a spot-on rendition of the soul vocals you needed to complete your hot dance track in the 1990s. She can’t possibly remember those days, which is mostly for the best, but today she makes tracks by Rudimental, Solo and Tensnake feel pretty darn complete.
8. Lulu James
From Lulu James, expect electrosoul impregnated with that sinking, desolate feeling that made Portishead so much fun. She’s got just two singles out, “the End” and “Rope Mirage,” but leaves us with the vague but inescapable feeling that we’ve been put on notice of some kind. Something big is about to happen. Probably, that thing is her.
7. Laura Mvula
The ever elegant Laura Mvula always keeps her composure and she can really compose, like, really compose. She’s a music conservatory graduate and her calling card song “She” sounds like a heavenly collaboration between Nina Simone and Nick Drake.
6. Josh Osho
With vocals soaking in soul’s gospel roots, Josh Osho strikes that classic/fresh balance that has a way of rising to the top of the charts. He’s got two singles, one of which, “Redemption,” features Ghostface Killah and the other, “Giants,” features Childish Gambino. They’re both trying to make your heart explode with feeling. Don’t know about you, but it’s working over here.
5. Maverick Sabre
The name sounds like he’s in porn, but Maverick Sabre’s stock in trade is a lot more on the emotional side. Every note is aching, sore, like it pulled something. He probably makes a high-maintenance boyfriend but he’s a first rate soul singer. Points for being pretty much the only dude we’ve ever come across who can sing exactly like Macy Gray.
In SBTRKT, Sampha is producer Aaron Jerome’s better half, or other half at least, but the voice of SBTRKT moonlights as just himself from time to time. “Indecision” is one such instance, a skein of plaintive piano chords, philosophical lyrics and existentially wounded vocals. He can do that any time he wants.
Cartoonishly coiffed young Gareth Daley is an odd one but this list wouldn’t be complete without him. His unlabored soul and R&B songs have that something that is making the Brits lose it. His debut Those Who Wait is out. Can the world be far behind?
2. Lianne La Havas
Singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas is a girl with a guitar but she always sounds like so much more than that. She’s got a backing band these days but we think it’s the voice that makes everything sound so much bigger. Case in point, the title track to her US debut Is Your Love Big Enough. It’s thick cut of of soul, with a side of rock ‘n’ roll.
1. Emeli Sandé
On her hit single “Heaven” Emeli Sandé of the towering voice sings “the day always lasts too long,” yet the track always seems to end too soon. Her debut album Our Version of Events vaulted her to the top. With a talent like hers, she stands to stay there a while.