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12 acts to listen for in ’12

January 22, 2012
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AZEALIA BANKS

Like a mash-up of Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., and Santigold, this rising star from New York is a triple threat: a fierce rapper, a strong singer, and a charismatic actress who attended the same performing arts high school as Minaj. With recent singles (including the deliciously potty-mouthed “212’’) blowing up on blogs and a string of sold-out shows coming up in Europe, Banks is poised to have a breakthrough year. JAMES REED

JAMES McCARTNEY

Yes, that McCartney. Sir Paul’s boy is following in his footsteps and recently released “The Complete EP Collection,’’ a two-disc set (co-produced by his dad) that combines two earlier digital-only EPs and five new tracks, including a cover of Neil Young’s “Old Man.’’ While some may hold him to an impossible standard, the younger McCartney’s promising pop-rock tunes make clear he’s learned a few lessons about melody, phrasing, and charm. He’ll appear on “The Late Show With David Letterman’’ on Jan. 30. SARAH RODMAN

KING KRULE

Outre-minded blog-trawlers with YouTube time to spare first encountered Brit squirt Archy Marshall when he surfaced as Zoo Kid, sporting a hypnotically minimal video, a serious ginger pompadour, and a sound that combines stark bedroom pop, trip-hop (yes, that’s right, trip-hop!), Lynchian roadhouse blues, and a smidge of grit from the streets of southeast London. Once he finishes high school this year, expect big things from this young stunner. MICHAEL BRODEUR

THE STAVES

Between them, father and son producers Glyn and Ethan Johns have worked on albums by everyone from the Rolling Stones and the Who to Ryan Adams and Kings of Leon. So it’s significant that the Johns will share production credit on the same album for the first time ever on the debut from the Staves, due later this year. This trio of English siblings - Emily, Camilla, and Jessica - can currently be heard working a beautiful blend of pastoral English folk and classic Laurel Canyon harmonies on their just-released three-song “Mexico’’ EP. [SR]

PORCELAIN RAFT

By turns forlorn and sweeping, the music on Porcelain Raft’s forthcoming debut, “Strange Weekend’’ (out on Tuesday), lays acoustic textures over warm, electronic backdrops. The band is the vision of Italian native Mauro Remiddi, who loops his melodies and vocals to dazzling effects. (Porcelain Raft performs at Paradise Rock Club on Jan. 29, opening for Smith Westerns.) [JR]

MICHAEL KIWANUKA

With his acoustic guitar and a voice as soft as crushed velvet, this British soul singer lays serious claim to Bill Withers’s throne. Kiwanuka will be touring the US in the spring (a Boston date hasn’t been announced) with his debut expected around then, too. In the meantime, his stray songs, particularly “Tell Me a Tale,’’ quietly signaled the arrival of a compelling new artist whose sound isn’t vintage; it’s timeless. [JR]

FRÁNÇOIS & THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS

Somewhere between Vampire Weekend and Fela Kuti, this quartet explores the intersections between African guitar rhythms and melancholy indie-pop. With a mix of songs in English and French, the band’s debut album, “E Volo Love,’’ will arrive on these shores on Feb. 14. [JR]

LANA DEL REY

If the incredible buzz is any indication, 2012 belongs to Del Rey, the pouty pop singer whose “Video Games’’ was initially a sleeper hit in indie circles. But interest in Del Rey’s self-proclaimed “gangsta Nancy Sinatra’’ persona has since rippled into the mainstream, right up to her recent divisive appearance on “Saturday Night Live.’’ We’ll find out if the hype is warranted when Del Rey’s debut, “Born to Die,’’ comes out on Jan. 31. [JR]

ADAM HOOD

This Alabama-spawned roots-rock and country singer-songwriter raised his profile considerably after a chance encounter with Miranda Lambert led to Hood opening some shows for her. Willie Nelson also took a shine to Hood and included the former land-surveyor on his Country Throwdown tour. Several artists have covered his songs, including David Nail, who tackles “Grandpa’s Farm’’ (a tune Hood co-wrote) on his latest release, “The Sound of a Million Dreams.’’ Check out Hood’s own version on his late 2011 album, “The Shape of Things.’’ [SR]

RACHEL PLATTEN

NYC’s Rachel Platten released her full-length debut, “Be Here,’’ last spring, but the album’s frothy single “1,000 Ships’’ is finally making inroads, recently hitting the top 30 on the Billboard Adult Pop Songs chart. She was also just tapped to pen the theme to ABC Family’s “Jane by Design.’’ “Be Here’’ showcases chipper piano-pop that should appeal to fans of Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles. Platten will open for Lexington-bred singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson on March 3 at the Calvin Theatre and Performing Arts Center in Northampton. [SR]

CANAAN SMITH

Nashville offers up a few fresh new faces every year, and judging by the laid-back style of his current single “We Got Us,’’ a slice of radio-ready country pop, Smith will stand out from the crowd. (Eagle-eyed fans of “The Amazing Race’’ may recognize Smith as a contestant from season 15.) The Virginia native, whose music evokes folks like Kenny Chesney, will release his debut later this year, but the songs available to preview on his website offer a glimpse at a singer-songwriter who is interested in both playfulness and pathos. [SR]

THE 2 BEARS

Given what it’s there to make us do, dance music can sometimes seem so dreadfully serious. Enter the 2 Bears. The London-based duo of Raf Rundell and Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard rip dancefloor genres up and fling them into the air like so much confetti. If the ratty bear suits and the availability of official 2 Bears Ping-Pong paddles on their website are any indication, the mission here is a mindless good time. (Be afraid, bro-step. Be very afraid.) The Bears’ debut, “Be Strong,’’ drops Jan. 31. [MB]

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