The Best New / Emerging Artists of 2013

[18 December 2013]

By PopMatters Staff

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


 

Bastille

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

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


 

Brandy Clark

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

Disclosure and more...


Disclosure

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

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


 

Jagwar Ma

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


 

John Wizards

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


 

London Grammar

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

The Lone Bellow and more...


The Lone Bellow

I was fortunate enough to first encounter the Lone Bellow in concert at a Nashville church. That’s the most perfect setting for this Brooklyn three-some by way of mostly Georgia, as the acoustics were nearly perfect and the symbolism most apt as Lone Bellow draw most heavily from the well-springs of traditional Southern music, including gospel. Indeed, this is most apparent on their stunning single, “You Never Need Nobody”, with its rising crescendos of heavenly harmonies that would move even the darkest soul to the light. I’m not a religious person, but I believe firmly in the power of music to uplift and enlighten. So does the Lone Bellow, and they are bonafide masters. Watch for an amazing career from this trio and see them in concert, preferably in a church in the heart of Music City. Sarah Zupko


 

Lorde

At 16, Lorde became the youngest artist to top the US Billboard Chart and the first New Zealander to gain the number one spot. That alone gives her reason to be one of the breakout artists of 2013. It’s clear however that she’s not going to be a one hit wonder. Her album Pure Heroine gave the world a chance to hear how insightful and powerful her lyrics are, and there’s no denying her talent. She’s also a very interesting and mysterious character. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, but she’s also very aware of the power her words have. This self-awareness is evident in her music, but also makes people want to support and champion her. At 17 there’s clearly so much more she has to offer, but for now, she’s definitely one of the hottest artists around. Francesca D’Arcy-Orga


 

Majical Cloudz

A great many of indie’s confessional songwriters are valued for intricate, often loquacious wordplay. Matt Berninger of the National throws in the occasional non sequitur to spice up his sad-bastard poetry. James Murphy’s lyrics for LCD Soundsystem are full of bile-laced snark. In sharp contrast to songwriters like these, Devon Welsh of Majical Cloudz prefers simple, direct sentences that don’t, by themselves, bear the mark of literary genius. But when backed by Matthew Otto’s haunting minimalist synths and beats, Welsh’s words take on a hugely evocative life. “Someone died, gun shot right outside / Your father is dead,” Welsh sings on “Childhood’s End”. His frequently droll delivery undercuts the potentially dramatic mood of these songs, but that’s precisely what makes lines like those so poignant. Sometimes, the facts themselves are enough to terrify. The one time Welsh gets really loud is also when he’s at his most poetic, on the Baudelarian “Bugs Don’t Buzz”, Impersonator‘s best track: “Bugs don’t buzz when their time approaches / We’ll be just like the roaches, my love!” That this album is so subdued makes “Bugs Don’t Buzz” all the more devastating. “I’m a liar, I say I make music,” Welsh confesses on the title track. It’s a disorienting line—what could he be making, exactly?—but given just how peculiar Majical Cloudz is, he might be on to something. Brice Ezell


 

Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves arrives to country at a time where the genre seems to have become its own punching bag. Prominent and popular artists like Zach Brown and Miranda Lambert proudly admit to hating the bro-centric pabulum of Florida Georgia Line and their ilk who mix pop, dance music, and country into a monster of undoubtedly bastardized lineage. But because Musgraves focuses so intently on songwriting and melody, ignoring frills and cross-genre focus-testing, her acceptance and success in the country world points somewhere greener for the genre. Same Trailer, Different Park, powered by its unstoppable single “Merry Go Round”, debuted at number two on the Billboard charts and was nominated in six categories at the CMA Awards. Perhaps best, Musgraves doesn’t slot easily into a conservative vs. modern debate in the country world. While Musgrave’s traditional songwriting chops impress, Same Trailer‘s songs are still full of pop-moments and her voice is smoothed out by Auto-tune. She entertains and speaks to her audience like a pop singer, without condescending to them as a star. The future of country can point any number of ways, but I hope it’s down Musgraves’s path. Robert Rubsam


 

John Newman

Released in October, John Newman‘s Tribute is a blisteringly emotional debut from the wise-beyond-his-years 23-year-old. With a vocal style that borrows from fellow Englishman James Morrison and an accessibility not unlike Robbie Williams, Newman’s tones are unique and versatile, a welcome change of pace in a world becoming far too reliant on cutting, copying, and pasting. Yet while his next of kin might be an obvious revelation, his raw talent is almost unparalleled. If Newman can’t win you over on the visceral “Losing Sleep”, on which the singer resorts to a near-shout to get his point across, check out the warm funk of album-closer “Day One”, an aggressive, moody three minutes as addicting as they are dark. None of this means he can’t pull off the ballads, either. “Down the Line” gives little more than a piano, some strings and that voice—that painful, longing voice—and succeeds without doubt. If 2013 was the year John Newman broke through into a good bit of Europe’s broken hearts, 2014 ought to be the year the western world takes notice. The guy is a master at writing songs that beg to be played in arenas, and Tribute, if nothing else, proves that the artist behind them is certainly worthy of the stage. Colin McGuire


 

Palma Violets

London’s Palma Violets exploded out of our speakers and tore up the stages this year in live performances. The band’s passion and energy are completely infectious and yielded one of 2013’s best singles “Best of Friends”. Palma Violets are also a bit of a blast from the past, combining the pummeling punk rock of the early Clash with the crunchy guitar/organ combo of the Small Faces. And yet, they somehow feel completely contemporary, part of a long string of amazing UK guitar bands that trace from the Kinks and Small Faces to the Clash and the Jam and to Supergrass and the Libertines. That’s all by way of saying that the group is a blast of fresh energy in this era of dance music and introspective indie. It’s primal and you better believe every word these boys sing. Sarah Zupko

Rhye and more...


Rhye

Originally conceived by Mkie Milosh and Robin Hannibal while the two were working on a Quadron remix, Rhye didn’t need the aura of mystery around which it was shrouded for it to work. Yet that mystery, coupled with the sensuality of their debut Woman, is what ultimately makes the duo so alluring. The two demonstrated their gifts for songwriting with “Open” and “The Fall” in late 2012, and Woman showed them to be the full package in terms of arranging songs, as they found that seductive use of empty space that the xx only came somewhat close to achieving. Couple that with Milosh’s striking voice, and the end result is one of the most unique new groups to come around in a long, long time. While mainstream pop seemed obsessed with the idea of heading to the disco, Rhye successfully showed that the bedroom could be just as inviting of a musical inspiration. Kevin Korber


 

Savages

There’s a power in Jenny Beth’s raw croon and in Savages’ crunching chords that irrevocably pulls the listener in. The band’s debut LP, Silence Yourself, is full of potential energy and liquid fire, the musical equivalent of the inside of a volcano. The band’s strong point of view, both sonically and philosophically, shines through it. In the opening of the short film released for “Shut Up”, Beth gives the band’s manifesto, opining on the ephemeral nature of modernity and ending with, “Perhaps, having deconstructed everything, we should be thinking about putting everything back together. Silence yourself.” This is what Savages has to add to the world of art. They didn’t just make an album full of ghostly, yearning post-punk. They made a statement. Adam Finley


 

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz landed in 2013 carrying the baggage of any ‘90s indie rock band worth a damn on their shoulders, like the saviours Yuck couldn’t be, or the natural conclusion to jangle pop’s slow dissolve from the internet’s collective memory. They were a punk band trapped in with thankless comparisons to the slackers, or the pioneers; Pavement before they cleaned up, the guitar of Sonic Youth, and the poetic, singular songwriting of Liz Phair. The best part: to hold your hands up and walk away from these namedrops was itself a fallacy. Sadie Dupuis, the band’s primary songwriter, holds a genuine reverence for these bands. She has strong ties with Stephen Malkmus’ songwriting, having covered his songs before she assembled Speedy Ortiz, and she talked to Pitchfork about her love for Phair. If you listen to these songs, you can hear a genuine affection for the ‘90s, rather than just see how there might be a few think-pieces living like a growth off the back of them. Dupuis said it herself: these bands had “personality”, and that’s what her music shares in. It’s venomous, and it hits home at the very summit of its ascension. “MKVI”, the seven-minute closer of this year’s Major Arcana, is the ultimate case study, showing off a love for a strand of indie rock that gets bent into noise rock’s sinister shape. Those who dwell on music criticism stand to be both informed and misled about Speedy Ortiz at the same time. Their sound existed a good 20 years ago, but this is tenacious, self-reliant punk rock at heart, and that doesn’t have renewed currency. It simply goes on. Robin Smith


 

St. Lucia

Brooklyn-based, South Africa native Jean-Philip Grobler and his synth-pop band St. Lucia appear to be destined for bigger things. From touring with Ellie Goulding and Two Door Cinema Club, producing New York indie pop group Haerts first EP and collaborating with the Knocks on one of the summer’s dancefloor hits “Modern Hearts”, the band has slowly been building buzz since their self-titled EP in March of 2012. When the Night, their flawlessly constructed debut album, should catapult them into the mainstream if there is any justice out there. Far from mere ‘80s synthpop homage, the band cleverly pays tribute to a myriad of influences, (Toto, Phil Collins, Simply Red, and Paul Simon), yet brings a modern sensibility to it all through exquisite, inventive production and impressive songwriting chops. There are a lot of bands out there who sound like inept ‘80s cover bands, but St. Lucia are anything but pale imitators. With the right amount of cross-promotional exposure, the tropical-kissed songs of When The Night could easily spill over into the collective conscious. The critical acclaim and successful collaborations of the year should seal the deal in 2014, if the stars are aligned. It appears they just might be. Ryan Lathan


 

Waxahatchee

Waxahatchee had an understated critic’s favorite in 2012’s American Weekend, a solo release that ex-P.S. Eliot frontwoman Katie Crutchfield recorded with just an acoustic guitar, a mic, and an old eight-track. If the songs’ timeless quality owed something to those basic tools, their intimacy was all Crutchfield. Nearly all of her songs had two characters, me and you, and she sang softly but firmly, as if she were sitting right across the table. In 2013, Crutchfield caught more ears with an electric, fleshed-out approach on Cerulean Salt, but didn’t sacrifice any immediacy, even as her one-sided conversations became more oblique. These songs are just as no-frills as their counterparts on American Weekend, but arranged so that Crutchfield can make the most of the wider palette of drums, electric guitar, and bass. The “me"s get their chance to yell at some of those deserving “you"s on indie rock anthems like “Peace and Quiet” and “Misery Over Dispute”, but they also reflect on self-deception over bright pop on “Swan Dive” and get drunk over a bouncy shuffle on “Lips and Limbs”. And just as Crutchfield and her collaborators use the limits of bare-bones instrumentation to find endlessly inventive ways of getting her songs across, she uses the limits of her vocal range to reach an emotional expressiveness that eludes more technically skilled singers. David Bloom

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/177391-the-best-new-emerging-artists-of-2013/