With the release of Nine Inch Nail’s new album, as well as the random tracks that artists like M.I.A. and TV On The Radio have been dropping lately, we thought the topic of original artists was a good thing to focus on this week. Artist in particular that unmistakably have their own sound. Vocally, musically, production-wise; upon the first moment you hear it, you know who it is. Something that didn’t exist prior to, and something that even if attempted to be replicated, it has not happened in the same fashion since. In this respect, artists such as The Beatles or Led Zeppelin (who were extremely original for their time but have been copied a billion times over) don’t exactly qualify. Naturally this lends itself to be a very current list, but we would love to hear any arguments as to what we missed. Now onto the list of what we find to be the most uniquely original artists in music:
Michael Lawrence Tyler has the voice of an angel … eh-uhm … sorry, I had something stuck in my throat. Mystkial has the voice of a demonic New Orleans monster. And it really is something perfect for his grotesque, over-the-top rap vocals that he belts out like someone with Tourette syndrome. It is seriously impossible to confuse him with anyone inside or out of his genre, and even his music stylings are a bit of an aggressive beast as well. Mystikal has basically been behind bars for the past decade, but now that he is back in society and newly signed to Cash Money Records, we have a new album to look forward to from this snarling rapper by the end of 2013.
9. Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan is someone I can actually say sounds angelic. His soft vocals, beautiful voice, and delicately constructed instrumentation is something that is impossible to confuse with anyone else. What really helps Sufjan’s case for this list is how (like some other artists on this list as well) complex his arrangements actually are. He is a musician that is honestly almost too talented for his own fan base, but as loyal as they are, they will still claim to love albums like BQE (That is mostly a joke). His lyrics and music are smart and genuine, and his sound is something that I am sure with stand the test of time in originality.
M.I.A. is a lot of things. She is a rapper, a producer, a singer, an activist, a songwriter, a musician, a painter, a fashion designer; to put it simply, she is an incredibly original artist. She has a way of fusing genres wether it be rap, dance, world, hip hop, dub, pop, electronica, grime, punk, rock, soft rock, whatever! There is essentially nothing that she has not touched. The kicker is, no matter what sound she has behind her song, you instantly know it’s her. Artists like Santigold try to replicate songs similar to her role model, but it just doesn’t come close to the diverse and bombastic sound of M.I.A.
7. Red Hot Chili Peppers
RHCP may not be a band that people care about quite as much anymore, but they will be always remembered as one of the more unique bands that came out of the 90’s popular music scene. Three out of the four major elements of the band can be recognized immediately as a stand out aspect of the band. No bass line could ever be mistaken for a Flea bass line. Anyone that tries to emulate it gets pinned as a Flea rip off. John Frusciante has a guitar style that is equally as recognizable and one that no one in music has replicated. As unique as both of these elements are to the band, Anthony Kiedis’ vocals are equally as original. His monotone, rap/sing/karate style vocals that he is able to stylishly pull off is something that not only meshes well with the rest of the unique elements of the band, but is also something that is completely original and has never been copied since. Chad Smith is also a great man to have behind the drum kit to tie the whole ensemble together. Bonus points for how much Will Ferrel he is able to bring to the group.
6. Sigur Ros
Yes, they are the most popular Non-English singing Icelandic group in America, and the fact that we can’t understand most of what they sing helps the fact that they seem original. All that to say, I challenge you to find me anyone else that can match Jonsi’s vocals, as well as backup the music that they are able to compose as a band. From the airy, noise rock of Von and Ágætis Byrjun to the poppier and hard hitting tracks of (), Takk…, to the bouncy yet quiet Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, and the ambient beuaty of Valtari, and finally the most aggressive and hardest hitting work in Kveikur; they are incredibly diverse while still being so unique that it is impossible to not immediately recognize a Sigur Ros song as a Sigur Ros song the second you hear it.
5. Talking Heads
The rest of these five bands tend to get a lot of praise from us at LxL, but I believe that originality has a lot to do with that fact. David Byrne himself is quite an original dude, from his hysterical spastic vocals to his quirky antics, and the rest of the band follows suit. Nothing about this band says conventional.
4. Nine Inch Nails
Since Trent Reznor all but invented the genre of industrial/electronic rock in the late 80’s it has been dabbled and imitated, but never replicated in the way that he has made it. The brand of music that he has created is something all of his own. Nobody has been able to master all the musical and emotional elements that go into his work in the same way he has.
3. TV On The Radio
TV On The Radio is another band in which you could pull each key component out of their tracks individually, and immediately recognize where it came from. Tunde’s vocals, Kyp’s vocals, and David Sitek’s guitar/production are simply a bit of magic. Especially when all rolled together. They have the ability to change their music style dramatically without ever losing the sound that makes them so unique. Noise rock went from a Sonic Youth guitar fuzz style to a more electronic loop and drum based noise with guitar also being present. And it still somehow comes out sounding pristine when recorded or played live by these guys. It was a technique that has been mastered by Sitek, and no other band/artist has come close to touching since.
2. Tom Waits
When you think of what makes Tom Waits original, the first thing that probably pops into your head is his voice. That “soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car” type of voice, as it has been described. There is nothing wrong with that. It truly is a one-of-a-kind, unmistakable voice. But what really pushed Tom to the top of this list is what also surrounds that voice. The forceful energy behind the voice. The attitude that comes with the voice. The fact that you feel that this man must be performing from the bottom of his soul as if this is the last thing that the world will ever hear from him again in every single song he sings. Not to mention the music that accompanies that voice. It may be jazz, it may be blues, it may be smashing on trash cans and drain pipes, or it may just be a soft piano. No matter what it is however, even without that voice from a whiskey barrel, you know that it is a Tom Waits piece of music. This is all what makes him one of the most unique and all-in-all incredible artists of all time.
We discussed the fact that if this list was made in 1993, even after they had one of the biggest smash hits in the world, it’d be laughable to think of Radiohead making a list like this. I don’t think there has ever been a band to take bigger strides from their debut to their sophomore album in all of music. The crazy thing is that they never stop taking those strides between each and every album. Each album the band finds a way to recreate themselves, add or subtract layers, or break into a genre they have never touched and sometimes one that have never even existed. Thom Yorke’s voice is enough to set this band apart, but combine that with Jonny Greenwood’s guitar and effect capabilities, Phil Selway being on of the tightest (not as in cool) drummers on the planet and you have an unstoppable force. The songwriting capabilities is also something that is other worldly. The uniqueness of not only each album, but every single song on that album is absolutely astounding. All the while, every time a Radiohead song plays, it is unmistakably recognizable as being Radiohead. To still be able to remain totally fresh after two decades, and to still not have one act or artist that can even come close to recreating them is a phenomenon.
The “just missed our list” list:
Todd – Ol’Dirty Bastard
Mystikal yells to sound unique. Busta Rhymes can flow faster and more aggressive than about anyone on Earth. But Ol’ Dirty Bastard essentially has his own language that no rap artist can touch. Changing the way words are pronounced to make them rhyme sounds like a non-talent, but when you hear the way ODB is able to do it, it is an art form. He is an artist in which his vocal sloppiness/greatness and the way he uses his words make up almost his entire identity, but it is enough to make me giddy. Every line of this man’s short career is legendary in my opinion.
Wes – Flaming Lips
Flaming Lips have a sound all their own on their studio work with Wayne’s imperfect voice and the barrage of electronically infused rock music that they come up with. But what is even more impressive is this band’s live show. No other artist put more legitimate fun without substituting quality or quantity of music played into one show than The Flaming Lips.
Austin – Rusted Root
Fusing acoustic rock with such strongly percussive African/world music all but originated with Rusted Root. The fact that over twenty years later Austin still can’t find anyone else to satisfy his pop/jam/world rock fixation makes these guys the perfect candidate for Austin’s miss.