Graham Reid, a veteran music writer, listens to upcoming young artists.

What older people forget about the careers of artists they love — whether it be the Beatles or Dusty Springfield, the Clash or Eurythmics, Kate Bush or Michael Jackson — is that they all had to start somewhere.

With hindsight we reflect on the great careers those artists and others enjoyed, but if they'd just had a couple of singles would we remember them?

Love Me Do was no great shakes, and what might we think of Kate Bush on the basis of just Wuthering Heights? We'd hear it as a gimmick song of no more value than Lena Lovich's equally catchy and weird Lucky Number.

So let's not dismiss young artists just because they've had jaw-dropping numbers of plays for their songs on Spotify and haven't put in the hard yards. Here are four albums by interesting artists of the Spotify/Instagram generation just out of the gate, and who have certainly got time on their side.


Clairo: Immunity

As with Lana del Rey — who came from privilege, hard the nerve to change her name from Elizabeth Grant (like Bowie wasn't David Jones?) and broke through on the internet — this 20-year old, (Claire Cottrill to her highly placed family) has had to fight off accusations of being a manufactured artist, as if that was a new thing.

The fact is however, that her breakthrough single Pretty Girl two years ago (now up to nearly 65 million plays on Spotify) was a clever slice of a slightly cynical sentiment ("I could be a pretty girl, shut up when you want me to") coupled to lo-fi bedroom electro-pop.

It captured the imagination of teens. Which, lest we forget, is her target audience.

This debut album has a warm, languid, if sometimes underachieving, mood which moves between airy ballads (over beats and clever production by Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend) and gentle pop bangers, which are slow burners rather than clubland explosions.

Yes, they deploy auto tune but it's pretty sparing, and smart folks will be able to decode some of this knowing she has come out as ambiguous about her sexuality.

So very much a young artist — who also sings about torpor and boredom — in tune with her changing times.

Benee: Fire on Marzz


Anyone within earshot of a teenager into local pop will have had heard Benee (Stella Bennett) from Auckland. Her hook-laden mid-tempo single Soaked — which opens this six-song debut album — was all over radio and teen playlists, and she's already done showcases in various places in Europe, in LA and New York. Her recent Powerstation show in Auckland was considered the triumphant arrival of a major pop player, and this collection — which includes two other previously released songs — confirms it. It's more the story-so-far than a proper debut album, but these are the days of single-play songs (You Tube, Spotify etc) so this makes sense.

Located somewhere between Lorde's sometimes detached delivery (and enunciation) and crisp pop R'n'B, these songs are pleasantly catchy. And for those who bemoan the lack of shape in many contemporary pop songs there are subtle but memorable choruses here to pull you in.

Kind of a funky '70s feel in places too.

Lewis Capaldi: Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent

And now for someone, at 23, who is a bit different by being a more traditional singer-songwriter, albeit one who channels anxieties about love and a broken heart. But he's got a big voice and this debut album — which went to number one in the UK and to 10 here, but did little in the US — shows no signs of going away for a while yet.

Of Scottish-Italian background, he has toured relentlessly, been nominated for many awards (won a few too) and brings a raw and commanding voice to his songs, which come across as open-heart surgery on his emotions. (Whoever broke his heart deserves a share of the royalties for being such an inspiration.)

Angst and heartache rarely come from a single voice (supporting himself on guitar or piano, with a small band) with such stadium-shaking power.

With this album and these darker sentiments he's probably put young teens behind him and comes across as a more adult voice in the landscape. He can be hard going over the long haul, but sampled judiciously you can hear some serious potential in his songwriting and delivery. But let's hope he gets a bit happier soon.

YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy

When it comes to rap and R'n'B, those of us who grew up with the expectation that artists penned their own songs or went to a publishing house for proven writers often wonder aloud, if not loudly, "You mean it took eight people to produce this?".

And "What is it with this 'featuring' thing these days?"

For you, here's the album to get annoyed by: There are 18 other producers credited on this debut by the 21-year old Cordae Dunston out of North Carolina, he co-wrote these with sometimes many others, and it is a celebrity collision with guests such as Anderson.Paak, Chance the Rapper, Pusha T and others.

Oh, and there are also samples (Quincy Jones speaking on the opener Wintertime), additional vocalists, profanity and songs about his struggles (he dropped out of university, had mental health problems).

If you put aside the now customary offensive language — quite easy — and get into the stories of struggle and success (pretty funny images of what the latter means) then this comes alive from a preternaturally clever rapper with something to say, interestingly non-aggressive musical settings, nods to jazz and gospel as much as contemporary R'n'B and the rap traditions, a general vibe of positivity (check Thanksgiving) and a rejection of gangsta cliches.

By rap's sometimes bellicose and belligerent standards this is a bit tame, but it's the better for it.

●Graham Reid is a music writer, university lecturer, former award-winning Herald journalist and hosts his own website