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These ridiculously young brothers were 2013’s most offensive havers and eaters of cake. (Probably Victoria sponge cake.) They scored big pop hits in Britain, and their scribbly faced brand became recognizable to Americans who couldn’t tell UK funky from UK garage. Their songs have massive hooks that you will hum. And yet—their really reprehensible youth leading them to believe they can do anything—they’ve also achieved that rarefied house ideal, music whose micro changes wreak seismic havoc to body and mind. Stark polyrhythms suck you into their irresistible twitch, but nothing stays in place for long and hi-hat patterns shift under your feet and synth shimmers drag your gaze into the void. Subtler than Zedd; catchier and subtler than Rudimental; younger, catchier, and subtler than that Royal Baby. Bastards. Josh Langhoff
Haim had The Power in 2013. The magical, Power of Pop that could, in life-affirming four-minute bursts, unite folks from all over the world. Sworn enemies put down their rocket launchers, cut throat razors, Tasers, whips, Nunchucks, Chainsaws and water pistols and united in adoration for “The three sisters with the funky tunes”. The majesty of rock, the mystery of roll. One nation under a groove. A quartet of dipped in gold, boogie down production singles—“The Wire”, “Falling”, “Forever” and “Don’t Save Me”—became your new best friends before the mothership Days Are Gone passed you sweet sunshine in a bottle before coolly breezin’ to the toppermost of the poppermost in the UK. Hey, number 1. Somewhere in between they brought the love to seemingly every festival ever where Este’s ‘Bassface’ melted our faces and soon even British PM David “DC” Cameron officially celebrated “Haim-time”. This planet is still going to hell in a handbasket f’sure but for a beautiful moment in 2013, Haim made us smile and shake our collective butts in choreographed synchronicity. God bless ‘em and pass the ammunition. Matt James
OK, Australia, we get it, you’re the new indie-rock mecca of the universe. From Gotye to Tame Impala, from Popstrangers to Jagwar Ma, the sheer amount of incredible, daring rock music that has emerged from the land down under has been nothing short of incredible as of late. Jagwar Ma certainly may have the most overtly “American” bent to their sound, but this is because the band has so clearly been listening to the ever-evolving world of blog-dance sounds, and they have managed to synthesize it into something out-and-out exciting. Their debut album, Howlin’, is sprawling, very melodically considered, and sometimes just out-and-out fun. “Exercise” could very well have been a happy track in the Madchester/Britpop tradition in the UK, while the increasingly-detailed chorus of “Man I Need” escalates up to the point where it becomes pop transcendence. Jagwar Ma didn’t have many clever marketing tools at their disposal to break through in the States, but they didn’t really need to, as they already had the greatest weapon of all: damn good music. Evan Sawdey
If being on a list of best new acts implies doing something that hasn’t been before, then South African combo John Wizards might just be at the head of the class of 2013. Conjuring up a sound that reminds you of a lot of things, but in a way that resembles nothing but itself, John Wizards—primarily consisting of producer-type John Withers and Rwandan singer Emmanuel Nzaramba—is more than the bizarro Vampire Weekend it was initially made out to be: Not simply inverting the terms of world-inflected indie rock, John Wizards’ self-titled debut opens up novel engagements and cross-fertilizations between genres, here, there, everywhere. You’d be tempted to categorize John Wizards as world music, but only if it’s in a literal sense to describe how the outfit’s polyglot appetites for musical vernaculars is global in scope, weaving a fabric whose threads of techno, dance, rock, R&B, and experimental music are as vivid as its Afropop sounds and local idioms are. Yet the reason you know these styles are just influences on John Wizards is because Withers channels all these inputs through a wide-open imagination in a way that defies classification to define a category all his group’s own. Arnold Pan
Sometimes you encounter a voice that stops you dead your in your tracks. It’s the kind of voice that instantly evokes a mood, a particular emotion or even an entire season within its timbre. Hannah Reid of the English art-pop rock trio London Grammar possesses such a staggering instrument. She smolders in her smoky mid-range and roars bright and clear in the upper end, recalling the brooding earthiness of a Marina Diamandis or Natasha Khan and the breathtaking folk soprano of a young Joni Mitchell. Pensive, melancholic ballads, nocturnal grooves and atmospheric laments on youth and matters of the heart form the core of London Grammar’s sound and the subject matters they explore. Perfectly suited for the falling of leaves and long winter nights, this is a record both fragile and full of exuberant hope. The inner life of the walking wounded and the angst of embracing adulthood haven’t been this well documented on record in quite a long time and I can say without hesitance that If You Wait is a classic in the making. Ryan Lathan
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