New band of the day – No 1,316: Bastille

What kind of band are Bastille? And does that really matter, when people are embracing them so readily?

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Hometown: London.

The lineup: Dan Smith (vocals, instruments), plus band.

The background: Bastille have been around for a while, but they appear to be at breaking point. We don't mean they're about to fall apart or collapse – main man Smith seemed perfectly sane when we met him before Christmas – but they're getting the sort of attention you need to have a hit. Two of their singles – Laura Palmer and Overjoyed – piqued the interest of national radio, while Flaws got nearly half a million YouTube views for its marriage of music and visuals pieced together by film nut Smith from Terrence Malick's 1973 movie Badlands. The song is still on the site, but the images of Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen on the lam have been removed, possibly by the ghost of Charlie Starkweather. Still, the song was enough to encourage people across the net to perform their own versions, a good sign these days that a songwriter is gaining traction. Of Bastille's singles to date, one went to No 1 on the Hype Machine chart, another appeared in Hollyoaks and a third featured on the soundtrack to Made in Chelsea. Sorry, we couldn't face finding out which. It's TOWIE or nothing in our house.

Bastille's record company has high hopes for Smith, who wrote songs with Nick Littlemore of Empire of the Sun while signed to Sir Elton John's management company before he formed the band at the start of 2011. Now they have sold out an autumn show at London's Koko, they're supporting Emeli Sandé and the man behind Arcade Fire's videos directed the latest single, Bad Blood, which had 100,000 YouTube views in its first week. So everything's in place for Smith's Bastille to storm the charts. But will they really do it? We're not so sure, because we're not sure what they are. Smith cites Antony Hegarty, Regina Spektor and Bat for Lashes as influences, but that's not what Bastille's doing. He told us he likes "the way someone such as Florence Welch broke through – her songs were dark, interesting, and all sonically different from each other", and in a way he essays a boy-pop version of that goth-lite melodrama. He added that his label would probably like to think of Bastille as "Coldplay meets Friendly Fires: music that's quite broad, but with edge".

The music is grand but a little hollow. The songs feature played instruments and electronics, but don't lend themselves to easy categorisation. They don't have the juiciness of pop, they're more earnest than that, and a bit "dry", so much so that while we listen to them we spend more time wondering who they're being pitched at than revelling in the music itself. This is no criticism of Smith's talent, just a statement about the music's difficulty to position. Take Bad Blood. Is it emo? Troubadour acoustica with a hefty production carapace that the songs can barely support? Or indie with pop ambition but minus the vision to realise it? Bastille have issued a mixtape, Other People's Heartache, an interesting series of cover versions of everything from 90s Euro dance smash What Is Love by Haddaway to Rose Royce's late-70s classic ballad Love Don't Live Here Anymore, as though to make the point that Smith's own songs to date have not quite managed: that he is definitely not indie, he is pop. When he really allows those covers to seep under his skin, we have every confidence he'll make the music of his dreams.

The buzz: "Perhaps the most exciting prospect in indie for a long time" – Gigwise.

The truth: Pop's fortress won't be stormed just yet.

Most likely to: Kill them at Radio 1.

Least likely to: Go on a killing spree.

What to buy: Bad Blood is released by Parlophone on 20 August.

File next to: King Charles, Wolf Gang, Clare Maguire, EOTS.


Thursday's new band: Empress.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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