This was an incredibly fruitful year for new and emerging artists pointing their respective genre towards new directions and possibilities. From dance to R&B and country to indie, 2013 was a year for pushing boundaries.
Autre Ne Veut
With this year’s Anxiety, Autre Ne Veut‘s Arthur Ashin proved himself at the very crest of the bedroom R&B wave that’s been building over the last few years. Rather than cloak his pop ambitions in pools of reverb and swaths of ambient minimalism in the manner of contemporaries like How to Dress Well, Ashin styles Autre Ne Veut as a fully-fleshed, rafters-scratching electropop act. His falsetto provides properly disarming vocal textures for an album born of serious emotional difficulties, and his work with drum programming and synths display an intuitive sense of build-and-release pop dynamics mixed with a healthy dose of dancefloor flash. A party-starter, sure, but this is the rare artist who can provide the soundtrack for the comedown right in the same breath. Corey Beasley
The world, as the existence of these words indicates, didn’t end on December 20th, 2012. One wouldn’t be wrong in getting the sense from the music of Bastille, however, that the apocalypse is too far away. The hooks are big, the tunes anthemic, and the lyrics immediately imperative. Frontman Dan Smith sounds as if he’s rallying all of his fans to join with him in the communion of music just before Icarus flies too close to the sun or all things are lost in the fire. Bastille was an under-the-radar prospect in 2012, with two excellent cover EPs, Other People’s Heartache and Other People’s Heartache, Pt. 2 showcasing a creative talent that would later blossom in Bad Blood, the 2013 debut. Lead single “Pompeii” took the world and Tumblr by storm over the course of the year, with others—particularly the band’s transformative cover of Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night”—shortly to follow. With the shadow of One Direction still looming over the world, Bastille offers a variation on British pop that’s as audacious and epic. Stadiums around the world are sure to be echoing with Smith’s voice soon. And should the apocalypse finally come after all, at least we’ll have a killer set of tunes to accompany us. Brice Ezell
Chance the Rapper
A year ago, Chancelor Bennett, aka Chance the Rapper, was one of Chicago’s many promising young rappers, fresh off a mixtape recorded while on suspension from high school. Fast-forward to November 2013 and the young MC is now selling out back-to-back at the Riviera Theatre, a 2,500 seat venue he would have been happy to open in 12 months ago. In large part, his meteoric rise was due to Acid Rap, his free mixtape which got enough action on Amazon and iTunes to make it to #63 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Veering between infectious summer jams (“Good-Ass Intro”, “Favorite Song”), brassy anthems (“Smoke Again”, “Juice”) and impressively tender moments of introspection (“Pusha Man”, “Acid Rap”), it’s an undeniably-impressive coming-out party. Bennett hasn’t been shy about making people taking notice, popping up on records with everyone from Joey Bada$$ to James Blake to Lil’ Wayne and more than holding his own. After closing out 2013 with headling a nationwide tour, odds are that, with his ear for melody and rakishly-charming, punch-drunk flow don’t desert him, Chance’s next splash in 2014 will be be making ripples far outside his hometown. John Tryneski
CHVRCHES don’t do anything terribly new with the synthpop genre, but to complain about that is to miss that they are so goddamn good at what they do. On top of the grandeur that swells and breaks with nearly every cut and Lauren Mayberry’s twee vocals, there is an emotional resonance that so frequently evades many of the Scottish trio’s peers. A top layer of confectionary sweetness belies an undercurrent of the morose, wounded or insidious, Mayberry singing over the dayglo synth melodies about being caught in misery, vowing to be a thorn in one’s side for eternity and threatening to shatter an ex. It’s pop music with an edge, any would-be saccharine quality tempered by flare ups of bilious sentiments. Almost every song on their debut, The Bones of What You Believe, could be a hit single, especially the first half, which is so catchy as to be overwhelming to absorb in a single sitting. Yeah, indie press chatter heralded their arrival long before their first LP dropped, and this hype may have put some people off, but in this instance, the lauding was warranted. Cole Waterman
Once again “new artist” is somewhat of a misnomer. Brandy Clark has written or co-written big country hits (and should-have-been hits) the last couple years for other artists, like Miranda Lambert, the Band Perry, Reba McEntire and LeAnn Rimes. A couple of those songs reappeared, sung by Clark, on her fantastic 2013 debut album 12 Songs, deservedly one of the most critically acclaimed country albums of the year. The other songs on the album have the same powerful observational and emotional qualities that propelled the hits; that is, the stuff of timeless country music. 2013 was Brandy Clark’s year to get our attention as a singer and performer, to put her own voice and face in front of her songwriting gifts. Dave Heaton