What Classic soul updated for the modern era.
Where Fort Worth, Texas
Why Leon Bridges's debut album, Coming Home, from 2015, was filled with tasteful retro soul. Bridges embodied the classic sound, aided by a fine band consisting of members of the Austin rock group White Denim, among other seasoned players.
At the Longitude festival that year Bridges and his band were resplendent in sharp suits and playing almost as well as Otis Redding or Sam Cooke might have. But pure homage can ring a little hollow.
Where to go next is a common problem. Could Imelda May have made rockabilly music for the rest of her life? Could The Strypes have maintained the blues-rock sound they broke through with as teenagers? The answer is invariably no, because artists decide it’s time to communicate in their own voices.
It's too early to say whether Leon Bridges has done that yet – his second album, Good Thing, drops next month – but the Texan has certainly been making strides to find his 2018 soul voice. Bridges has collaborated, written and performed with artists as varied as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Kacey Musgraves, Aminé and Odesza, and his first two songs back under his own name sound much more contemporary.
Even better than the twinkling, slow-string-assisted Bet Ain't Worth the Hand, in which an animated Bridges effectively brings a vintage sound to a modern production, is the raw, full-band call-and-response blues of Bad Bad News, in which he sounds as if he's been taking inspiration from Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, two artists who have drawn inspiration from sounds past to vital effect. There is hope now that Bridges will join them.
You have to hear this
Anderson .Paak: 'Til It's Over
Brandon Paak Anderson's album Malibu was one of the finest records of 2016, bringing gospel, soul, R&B and hip hop to an album that bursted with replay power. It speaks to the strange time that music exists in now that his follow-up song debuted as an Apple-only track from a Spike Jonze ad for the company's HomePod. But both the video and the audio are stunning, with Jonze and FKA Twigs's dancing elevating the project's commercial and corporate beginnings. Watch here.
Friendly Fires: Love Like Waves
For fans of post "indie-landfill" UK music, Friendly Fires were some of the good guys. The band had an inventiveness that looked like indie on the surface but was more interested in heart-on-sleeve pop euphoria. Five years since their second album, the band have returned and, assuringly, they still sound like themselves. That means shimmering Balearia and summer-pop escapist anthems. Catch their rays at Electric Picnic – and watch here.