As the program director of a pretty sweet and hip radio station, I hear a lot of buzz about up-and-coming bands. Often, by the time an album comes out, these bands are already the toast of the hot music scene based on a few performances, who they know, and their MySpace friend count. Throw in a huge record deal, and they can be hanging with supermodels and the New York Knicks frontcourt before they have ever put out an album.
So it is with two artists that have very different backgrounds, but are both blowing up on the music scene right now.
I'll get to them in a minute - but here's the thing: I know that I am supposed to love one of these bands. It is predestined due to everything from their name, to their hometown, to the sudden way they swept into the alternative music scene. And I also know I should really dislike one of these artists - because they took part in something similar to the American Idol phenomena - which means it is evil. So it is the Idol vs the Alt-rock Sweethearts... and Lord help me, I kinda like the freaking Idol.
OK, so the indie band I am talking about is Black Kids. They have been a band for less than two years. They are really just kids! And only a couple of them are black - which makes the name Black Kids pretty subversive and cool. They formed in Jacksonville, Fla., and had a breakout performance at an Athens, Ga. music festival.
Then last year they were the big surprise hit band at the annual College Music Journal (CMJ) Music Marathon in New York City, which got them coverage in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, a tour in the UK and a record deal with Columbia Records. Their first album has been hotly anticipated and debuted at No. 5 on the UK album charts. The Brits love 'em. What a whirlwind! Amazing! Exciting! A great story!
And the record is .... Pretty good. Yeeaaahh. That's about it. I mean, I like it - don't get me wrong. It is fun and song titles like "I'm Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You" are great and all.... But I was expecting a little bit more. Which is unfair, I know, but there you have it. Just left me a wee bit flat.
And the Idol? Well, she's an Idol with a difference. She's Duffy. She was a runner-up on a Welsh TV show that is sort of like "American Idol." Welsh you say? Indeed! She hails from North Wales - Nefyn on the Lleyn Peninsula to be precise. She really didn't like that "Welsh Idol" experience, and she subsequently met London producer Bernard Butler. He gave her a crash course in classic American soul music - filling her young impressionable head with the sounds of Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Aretha Franklin - then co-wrote her debut album with her.
And this girl from Wales delivers like Tom Jones' sexy great-granddaughter. The most obvious comparison of her sound (and looks) to a classic singer is Dusty Springfield, and it is hard to shake the sound of contemporary Amy Winehouse when you hear her big hits "Mercy" and "Warwick Avenue."
But what's wrong with an Amy Winehouse who looks like Dusty Springfield and doesn't smoke crack on videotape? I ask you. Go Duffy, you Welsh vixen. And stay away from free-basing and beehive hairdos!
In the end I like both albums - Black Kids are a cool group and they will be around for awhile, but I am just loving this Duffy. After listening to both, I'd guess you'll find it is the Welsh blonde whose songs you'll be humming. And you know what? That's OK.
Andy Kline is Program Director for KXLL 100.7 FM. Listen for music from this column on his show "An Excellent Afternoon" weekdays 3-6 p.m.