The year ahead looks to be an exciting one with the emergence of wealth of great new music waiting in the wings. Will Jessie Ware and Django Django be the toasts of 2013? Will 2013 be yet another banner year for forward-looking hip-hop and R&B? And let’s not forget all the great new bands expected to break big in 2013.
The ACBs is a band from Kansas City, Missouri that you probably haven’t heard yet. Their first LP, Stona Rosa (2011) was a great, spunky power-pop record that suggested Vampire Weekend if they were middle-class stoners instead of Ivy Leaguers, or Weezer if they were younger, cooler and not quite as smart-alecky. Then again, after a handful of uptempo jams the ACBS will slip in a brittle heartwrencher like “It Sure Looks Dark and Cold”, so who knows what all they have up their sleeves. Their new LP is due in 2013. The first single “Ocean” is similar to their first album but somehow airier, harder to grab in your hands while just as on-the-move. The band is on their way somewhere, I can feel it; at the very least, their next album will get them more known outside their hometown. Dave Heaton
Canadian metal bands are so scattered across the country that it’s hard for anyone to foster a local scene that can consistently breed exceptional new talent, and rarely do new bands come along that actually attract a great amount of hype from the metal industry. Vancouver’s Anciients, however, are one Canadian band that’s primed for a big 2013 thanks to a worldwide deal with heavy hitter Season of Mist and an exceptional debut album, which is set for release early in the year. Treading the same musical territory as Mastodon, Kylesa, and Baroness, the foursome’s brand of metal is thunderous yet always focused on melody, striking a strong balance between commanding and catchy. Unlike much of today’s mainstream metal acts, these guys know how to write honest-to-goodness songs, showing tremendous discipline amidst all the instrumental flamboyance, and are primed to put their young peers to shame. Adrien Begrand
Tristan Shone, the madman engineer/musician behind the Author & Punisher name, has quite literally reinvented the way metal music can be played. This isn’t because of his style of music. Although his brand of industrial doom is unique, it’s not without its progenitors. Rather, all the instruments you’ll hear on Ursus Americanus are a product of Shone’s invention, and are all equally awesome. Two that stand out are a vocal processor in the shape of a demented harmonica and a drum machine that looks like it could launch a nuclear bomb. What makes Author & Punisher such an innovative project is Shone’s ability to turn what some might see as cool gimmicks into the tools for a technological sea change in metal music, a genre that’s already begun an expanding diversification. Ursus Americanus caught a significant wave of praise upon its release, signaling that Author & Punisher’s prominence is just beginning, and rightly so. Anyone who can make being an engineer look as cool as Shone does deserves recognition amongst a broad swath of people. Brice Ezell
As an artist who has yet to release a full length album, 2012 was a good year for Azealia Banks. On the strength of a single EP, a mixtape and, especially, her triumphant and irreverent single “212”, Banks has established herself as a darling of both the mainstream and indie music press. Her music combines hardcore mc skills, colored by her unique brand of profane bravado, with pulsing dance beats and vogue culture visuals. As a testament to her broad based appeal, in a single day this June, she performed as the sole female rapper featured in this year’s Hot 97 Summer Jam and headlined an undersea drag show/queer hip-hop showcase at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom. Banks takes the same “no-labels” approach to her sexual orientation as Frank Ocean, and while she’s made it clear that she wants the focus to be on her music, it’s a huge breakthrough to see artists of this profile openly challenging hip-hop’s longstanding hetero-normative culture. Her early mixtapes featured samples from indie groups such as Ladytron and Interpol, and her recent studio collaborators have included such pop music luminaries as Kanye West and Lady Gaga. With the release of her debut full length, Broke With Expensive Taste, due in February, here’s hoping that 2013 will be an even better year for one of the most exciting new voices to emerge in hip-hop. Robert Alford
Sadness likely washed over anyone aware of the status of BBU upon seeing their placement on this list. I’m sad to include them too; I picked the Chicago hip-hop trio to write up for this list before finding out that they had split up. And what a shame it is; after releasing one of 2012’s best albums in the mixtape bell hooks, it appeared as if their only direction was up. There were always signs that BBU had incredible potential: 2010’s minor breakout hit “Chi Don’t Dance” was both hilarious and socially incisive, a combination BBU struck gold with on the passionate bell hooks. In a United States divided by poorly drawn partisan lines, BBU push past the hope and change rhetoric both major political parties claimed to achieve when selling their candidates in the presidential election. At one point, the group bluntly states, “Guess what? I don’t think this country is great!” The honesty and extremely leftist politics of bell hooks—meaning that the ineffectual Democratic party is critiqued just as much as the stagnant Republican party—will likely put many off, but for those with an open mind, it’s essential listening. Best of all, the mixtape is definitive proof that some of the best things in life are free—especially the many albums and mixtapes coming out of online labels like MishkaNYC, the distributor of bell hooks. So while BBU may have called it quits, their placement on this list is a tribute to the incredible work they did in 2012, with the hope that they might be remembered in the going years, however short their existence may have been. But hey, if one day in the next year or two these socially conscious musicians feel the urge to get back together, let this brief paragraph give a little inspiration to nudge them that way. Brice Ezell