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With 2021 Off To A Rocky Start, There's At Least New Music To Listen To


2021 was supposed to be better than 2020, and right now, that's looking questionable. But there are some good things coming our way, like new music.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I'm Stephen Thompson with NPR Music and Pop Culture Happy Hour. Looking ahead to new music in 2021, you inevitably, like, will name all these huge names - you know, Kendrick Lamar and Adele and Rihanna and Cardi B. But where I think the pandemic has really hurt new music is in the ability of new and rising artists to attract attention and momentum.

About a year ago, there was this band coming up in the U.K. called Black Country, New Road that was supposed to be kind of one of the big discoveries of 2020.


THOMPSON: They had just put out a couple of singles. They were about to play South by Southwest, and South by Southwest ended up getting canceled. And they had this reputation for these amazing live shows. Let's listen to a little bit of their song "Science Fair" just to get a sense of the intensity that you can imagine hearing live.


BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD: (Singing) And still with sticky hands, I bolted through the gallery with cola stains on my best white shirt and nothing to lose. Oh, I was born to run. It's black country out there. It's black country out there. It's black country out there.

THOMPSON: Black Country, New Road, it's a group of kind of art school kids in their early 20s. The music mixes kind of free jazz and postpunk and spoken word and little bits of, like, klezmer and African music. It's very arty and frantic and hypnotic, but it's also kind of beautiful at the same time. Their debut album comes out February 5. It's called "For The First Time."


THOMPSON: Another new artist I'm really loving for this new year is kind of a slacker pop star in the making. Their name is Claud. That's C-L-A-U-D. Claud is 21-year-old Claud Mintz, who writes these kind of wry and ambivalent bedroom pop songs. Let's hear a little bit of the song "Soft Spot."


CLAUD: (Singing) This sounds kind of strange. I thought I saw you at a party. But I finally got close. It wasn't you. I know we don't talk right now. But if I saw you, I'd sit down and ask about your afternoon.

THOMPSON: There's such a kind of magical mix of weariness and dreaminess going on. Claud is the first artist to sign to Phoebe Bridgers' new label. It's called Saddest Factory, which kind of gives you a sense of the sensibility of not only Claud, but also Phoebe Bridgers herself. It's just songs about being young and figuring out your identity, figuring out what you want out of relationships. And at the same time, there's this seemingly effortless sparkle to their music that gives it a real kick all the way through.


CLAUD: (Singing) You told me that it's over now. But I can't help that I think about all the things that we used to do 'cause I've got a soft spot...

KING: That was Stephen Thompson of NPR Music with two of the records he's looking forward to in 2021, "Super Monster" by Claud and Black Country, New Road's album "For The First Time." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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