New band of the day – No 1,044: Emeli Sandé

If this is R&B, the letters stand for 'rage' and 'blood'

Hometown: Glasgow/London.

The lineup: Emeli Sandé (vocals, music).

The background: Emeli Sandé's real first name is Adele. That augurs well. It also augurs well for this, the launch of her solo career, that she has a proven track record when it comes to penning songs (for Alesha Dixon, Cheryl Cole and Susan Boyle, among others), and that she has already visited the charts several times with, and/or co-written and featured on records by, grime and UK rap's great and good: there was Chipmunk's Diamond Rings, which reached No 6 in 2009, followed by Wiley's Never Be Your Woman, No 8 in 2010, as well as Tinie Tempah's Let Go (from his No 1 album), Professor Green's Kids That Love to Dance, Devlin's Dreamer and Tinchy Stryder's Let It Rain. She has never collaborated with Wretch 32 or Giggs, though. How utterly remiss: we'd advise sacking your management team immediately, Emile, they've clearly made no effort to push you.

She actually released her first single in 2007 on a tiny imprint called Souljawn in Glasgow, where the 24-year-old Aberdonian child of a Zambian father and Cumbrian mother studied neurology at university. Now she's signed to Virgin/EMI and she's expecting to make rather more than a local splash. And she will be doing it with songs that are striking, musically as well as lyrically. Or rather, it's the combination of the two that works to such powerful effect. We're not sure if they're in demo form, but there are a couple on her MySpace that are so relentlessly bleak and dark, well, we can't help but be excited. If this is R&B, the letters stand for "rage" and "blood". The first track, Kill the Boy, features mainly acoustic guitar and a voice up close and personal, so that you can hear the story. This one's about murder. "When he finds out what I've done it's gonna take his life away," she warns, going on to describe all manner of unpleasant scenarios. It is some way to come out of the traps as a new artist. "I'm gonna turn my baby blue – I've practised in the mirror a hundred times," she boasts over gentle strums. When he gets home from work, she's got the knife behind her back and her hand is shaking, but already she is envisaging him lying there, his corpse clammy, his lungs collapsed.

It is at this point that you start realising Sandé, all shaved head and tattoos, is not some bright new poppy electro girl a la Santigold or CocknBullkid, more an X-Rated Joan Armatrading with added homicidal tendencies. We are reliably informed that any killing taking place in her songs is metaphorical, but still you've got to admire - be chilled by - her ability to paint a vivid picture, capture the cold, still horror of a tense situation. Take another of her MySpace tracks, Maybe: this is Love Will Tear Us Apart as performed by a young Tracy Chapman. There they lie in bed, the loveless couple, their backs to each other. In the next scene, his bags are packed and by the door. She wants to turn back the clock, but she knows it's too late. "Maybe we should stop pretending," she sings. "Maybe it's time to go." Think Estelle in hell. Her debut single proper, Heaven, is more produced, a shimmery pop-dance affair with a sped-up Funky Drummer shuffle-beat that recalls 90s Brit-soul combo the Chimes or a faster Unfinished Sympathy. It's shinier, yes (and for once in our lives we'd argue for a less lavish approach, to allow those lyrics to be heard), but underneath the surface dazzle the wounds are still raw: "Will you recognise me when I'm lying on my back? Something's gone inside of me and I can't get it back."

Such sorrow: where does it come from? Possible next single Daddy offers no respite, despite the John Barry-goes-drum'n'bass backing. On Easier in Bed you can feel the heaviness in the air. "Our fading dream is breaking apart ... the physical is all we got left cos the only time you see me is in the dark." This is proper painful stuff, real tragic angst, of almost Billie Holiday proportions. Let's hope she's allowed to continue to plummet these depths as her career proceeds.

The buzz: "Emeli Sandé is not the next so and so, she's the person other acts will be compared to in the coming years" – i-D Magazine.

The truth: We love her unfinished symphonies – give us an album of lightly orchestrated demos, please.

Most likely to: Use stabbing strings.

Least likely to: Stab someone.

What to buy: Debut single Heaven is released by Virgin on 15 August.

File next to: Joan Armatrading, Lauryn Hill, Shara Nelson, Tracy Chapman.


Thursday's new band: Gross Magic.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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