eR&B: It's This Year's Thing

Jason for SXSW 2014 on Feb 13 2014

Last year I told you about Witch Synth, a phrase which denoted bands with dark female vocals and synth backgrounds and since then, the term has taken the world by storm. OK, maybe not, but If you look back at the bands I suggested in that post, you'll see that a majority of them are now hipster household names. It might even be fair to say that I'm not too far off when I'm calling these popular genre shifts.

So what's this year's genre de jour*? I'm calling it "eR&B" for Electronic Rhythm and Blues. I made the "e" lower-case because that's just what you do for anything tech-related. Obviously.

Honestly, this isn't a completely new category: artists like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd fit this mold and have been around for a couple years. This is, however, the first time I've noticed it as an actual SXSW trend. While more artists might fit this genre, there are a select few who are doing it really well.

Before I get into the artists I actually enjoy from this category, let's talk a little about some of the pitfalls I find with traditional R&B:

  1. The concerts can quickly become a disastrous sing-along. It's natural since R&B lyrics are generally easy to understand and the melodies and vocals are so smooth that anyone with a shower or a car will have inevitably tried to one-up the singer with their dramatic renditions. For the record, I might be one of those people and I won't apologize for it. I won't.
  2. The lyrics can get real cheesy real quick. In most genres, lyrics can be 'metaphors to nowhere' and people seem to be fine with it. In R&B, for whatever reason, people expect the lyrics to be more literal and speak of some past love, a current love or the possible finding of a future love that will inevitably be lost. I get it, the B stands for Blues, and you got them, but let's try to come up with something better than "I been staring at you in the moonlight too many times" <-- actual lyric.
  3. Auto-tuning. It can work as an embellishment here and there, but it's not 2010, we're over it. Put it down. Walk away. Thank you.

So which bands avoid these genre shortcomings and will be gracing our beautiful city in March?

  • Basecamp: when you think of R&B hometowns, you probably immediately think of, say it with me now, Nashville, Tennessee.  So of course that's where these three guys are from. You can download their debut EP for free after liking their facebook page (something I generally try to avoid) but let me tell you, it's worth it. The lyrics ooze with drama and the synths and drum pads create this smoky, cavernous atmosphere that will envelop you for 21 minutes. Do yourself a favor, pour yourself your favorite drink, turn out the lights, put on a nice set of headphones and dive head first into this. 
  • Dems: For some reason, London makes a little more sense for this type of music and that's where these three guys hail from (I guess three's the magic number of people to have in a band of this nature). Not only are these guys putting out some great eR&B jams but they are accompanying them with some fantastic videos that help convey the general theme of their music.  They are a little more experimental than Basecamp with the electronic backing and to match that, they add in a few vocal manipulations that add a little more drama and interest.
  • Sam Smith: Another Londoner, this guy is, for starters, just one guy and not the three we've become so accustomed to over the last two bullet points. As far as I can tell from watching videos of live performances, he performs either acoustically or with a guest band so I'm not exactly sure what his SXSW performances will have in store for us. Whatever it will be, it's his vocal range that will impress so his backing isn't quite as relevant. Unfortunately, he is by far the most popular of the three I'm mentioning here, he's a full 4.6 on our 5 point popularity scale. When you listen to his music, you'll realize that he has a lot of commercial appeal. This of course means that seeing him might be a little more difficult, however one can hope that he's just popular across the pond and doesn't have the same following here.
  • Ghost Loft: No idea what to write here. This band has basically zero things about them online. All I know is that they're from LA and I bought all their songs as soon as I heard them; all two of them. They're one of those bands that make music that other bands immediately want to poach and remix, which I'd consider to be a really good sign for any up-and-coming new artist. Take five minutes out of your day and listen to all of their hazy and seductive eR&B songs and tell me that they won't be incredible at SXSW, I dare you.
  • Banks: If there is a quintessential poster girl for eR&B, it's Banks. Full name, Jillian Banks, she's basically gone from someone no one has ever heard of, to having over 30K twitter followers and millions of youtube views in a single year. Her debut EP is called LONDON even though she's actually from LA. The name makes perfect sense though, the EP is gray, it's distinguished, it's concise, it's London.

I'll add more to the list if I run into more quality eR&B artists, but for now, I think that's enough to digest. Tell me what you think of these guys. Am I missing any other potential eR&B'ers who are coming to SXSW? Is there another genre trend that I'm completely missing?

*I realize "de jour" refers to just the day and not the whole year but I give zero cares.



Sam Smith

Ghost Loft