The Best Hopes to Break Out in 2014

[9 January 2014]

By PopMatters Staff

This year is already looking like it’ll be filled with great music releases and new artists destined to push the boundaries of their respective genres.


Angel Haze

Over the last few years Angel Haze has released multiple critically acclaimed mixtapes and singles and lyrically she’s up there with the best of the best. Her songs which touch on personal experiences, ranging from abuse to heartbreak, are so raw they can be painful to listen to. At the other end of the spectrum, she’s rapidly firing out quirky, witty lyrics, left, right and centre, accompanied by beats that encompass a wide range of genres. She’s far more than just a rapper. She’s a writer, a singer and a poet, who isn’t confining herself to typical hip hop sounds. To promote her debut album Dirty Gold she’s released covers of songs, from A$AP Ferg to Lana Del Rey, showing her ability to put her own individual spin on diverse styles of music. Angel Haze is easily one of the most exciting prospects for hip-hop, and music in general, for 2014. Francesca D’Arcy-Orga


 

Jacob Banks

Jacob Banks is a British R&B/soul singer with a voice so good it reaffirms all hope in pure musical talent, especially when you find out the first time he picked up a guitar and started singing was two years ago. He describes himself as a story-teller, and his debut EP released earlier this year is a story you want to hear over and over again. Endless comparisons can, and will be made, with the kings of R&B and soul, but right now, Jacob Banks is sitting comfortably in a league of his own. He’s garnering publicity rapidly, having supported Emeli Sandé, Chase and Status and Rudimental, as well as featuring in an episode of Suits. 2014 looks like it will be an equally big year for this man, with more music and stories on the way. Francesca D’Arcy-Orga


 

Chance the Rapper

2012’s 10 Day mixtape got his name into conversations, but it’s this year’s Acid Rap that has solidified Chance the Rapper‘s spot among the artists to watch out for. Chance is settling into his sound and has developed one of the most unique styles in rap. Acid Rap isn’t just a preview of the things to come for Chance, it’s simply one of the best releases of the year. All eyes will be on Chance the Rapper in 2014 to see if he can build on all this hype. Logan Smithson


 

Flint Eastwood

There’s no shortage of stellar bands coming out of Detroit, but this sassy quartet is among the upper echelon. Stitching together dirty, western blues with indie dance pop, the group is innovative without being too weird as to be off-putting. On the contrary, they have both of the strengths all groups hope for—high quality, infectious songwriting and venue-rattling live shows—and they have them in spades. With the latter, Flint Eastwood engages in a dialogue with the audience, rather than a mere performance. Singer Jax Anderson barks orders to the crowd, faux shoots them down like toppling dominos with finger pistols and calls out anyone not having fun or submitting to her instructions. In this sense, their four-song debut EP, Late Nights in Bolo Ties, is an introductory handshake to what the group brings to the stage. Ramshackle rhythms and riotous percussion, vocals delivered with the panache of a circuit-riding minister leading a tent-show revival and melodies that can’t help but rise to the fore all result as a confluence of past musical touchstones filtered through the lens of contemporary forms. Currently amassing a cult-like word of mouth following in their native state, come a year from now, it’s almost unthinkable they won’t be garnering conversions far and wide. Cole Waterman


 

Jacco Gardner

Look out, San Francisco. If the rise of Jacco Gardner is any indication, the Netherlands may be the next hotbed of psychedelic music. Gardner’s 2013 debut album, Cabinet of Curiosities was a slice of baroque-pop genius, touching on colors previously explored by psychedelic gurus Love (circa Forever Changes), Curt Boettcher (of Sagittarius and the Millennium), and the Zombies, without sounding redundant. Impressively, save the drums of Jos van Tol, the album was performed entirely by himself, from harpsichord and strings to acoustic guitar and bass. If this guy gets a little more ambitious in the studio, a little more like his spiritual cousins Pepe Deluxé (circa Queen of the Wave) and MGMT (circa Congratulations), his next album should find a similar cult following. He’s already proven thoroughly competent live as well, having played over 150 shows since late 2012, including two North American tours in 2013. It is exhilarating just to think about what’s going to happen with this kid when it all comes together, and his drive points to that inevitability happening soon. Alan Ranta

Jessy Lanza and more...


The Icarus Line

The days of Penance Soiree are long gone, and since then the Icarus Line has taken the tracks leading into the underground. LPs like 2007’s Black Lives at the Golden Coast and 2011’s Wildlife are fine on their own terms, but there the vitality of Penance Soiree lingers only slightly. With Slave Vows, the comeback album of comeback albums, the vitality is not just present but amplified massively. Opener “Dark Circles” says it all: beginning with an extended jam session comprised of a Swans-esque repeated groove interspersed with squalls of feedback, it shows that these guys are here to play, and so long as they’re here they’ll play until the speakers in their amps melt to the floor. This dogged inability to never stop rocking defines The Icarus Line; it’s hit its peak with Slave Vows, but it’s unlikely things are at their end now. Penance Soiree is one of those perpetually underrated rock revival LPs, a fate Slave Vows will probably share, but even if these guys never “break big”, as long as they keep making music like this, there’ll always be reason to hope for more. Brice Ezell


 

Joanna Gruesome

Joanna Gruesome subscribes to the definition of indie rock that came out of early ‘90s North Carolinian bands like Archers of Loaf: quickly mixing between the melodic and the angular, using guitars to up the dissonance. There is a smoothness to songs like “Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still in Love With Me?”, but they come from the terrific vocal work and melodies laying on top of those wild guitars, which feel like duct tape over a chaotic storm. The Cardiff, Wales-based band has already shown they’ve got enough brass to cover a song like Galaxie 500‘s “Tugboat”, and enough talent to nail it. Their first LP, Weird Sister, jumps around from twee to noise to punk screams without missing a beat. They’ve got a diversity in sound and unity in purpose, a combination which is rare to find in one person, let alone five bandmates. Don’t bother trying to figure out what they’re going to do next, just know that it will sound fantastic. David Grossman


 

Jungle

London’s Jungle push the evolution of modern R&B with their sheer electronic textures, gentle grooves, and understated melodies and vocals. But what really makes them fascinating is their lyrical take on urban decay housed in the most shimmery and modern of musical textures. It’s the type of ironic musical and lyrical pairing that UK artists perform so well. They’ve only released a double single at this point with “Platoon / Drops”, but look for really big things from Jungle in 2014 as their star rises high. Sarah Zupko


 

King Krule

There’s nothing about King Krule‘s Archy Marshall, a teenaged Ron Weasley lookalike with a gruff, heavily accented voice given to growly talk-singing, that particularly makes sense. But then neither is 6 Feet Beneath the Moon a particularly conventional debut LP, what with its dusty grooves, slyly confessional songwriting, and throaty, inimitable delivery. At 19, King Krule is hardly out of secondary school; here’s hoping the start of his 20s doesn’t halt the creative burst. Zach Schonfeld


 

Jessy Lanza

If recent trends hold up, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t, 2014 will feature a woman who works in indie-pop telling us something about herself. So far, it’s that they can’t stop, that they love it, that we should go and play our video games. They care so much. By Jessy Lanza doesn’t. “If you cheat, I don’t mind. Because I don’t give a fuck what you do,” she breezily lets you know on “Pull My Hair Back”, the single off her album of the same name. On “5785021”, she gives you her number and dares you to call her. There’s not a lack of interest in her part, but something that’s been missing from music ever since Lou Reed died—coolness. Her preference for Vangelis-like synths and tendency to go into falsetto on a whim only enhances it. More interesting than Daft Punk, sexier than the Weeknd, Lanza shows the true potential of electro R&B. David Grossman

Priests and more...


Leda

These New Yorkers count a former member of Titus Andronicus (Amy Klein) among them, and they know their way around an anthem too, but Leda possess a stateliness found in few other bands of its kind. The group’s best released music is a two-song EP from 2012 entitled “A Thimble” b/w “Halfway”, full of clear guitar picking, pointed cello lines, and Klein’s Patti Smith-style vocals, cleanly enunciated and prominent. This summer the band spent time recording with Kevin McMahon at Marcata Recording in New Paltz, New York, and their upcoming full-length, if it’s anything like the songs I saw them play during CMJ 2012, will feature punch-through-the-stratosphere rockers and sprawling ballads. There are a million young, hungry bands in the world, but most of them don’t have Leda’s chops. Robert Rubsam


 

Mansions

“This is gonna be Mansions big year!” There is no doubt in my mind that Christohper Browder has heard that phrase many, many times before, and despite the fact that his Mansions moniker has been around since 2007 and he’s toured with everyone from Taking Back Sunday to the Get Up Kids, his lo-fi, homespun alternative-rock just hasn’t broken through quite yet—and that is a tragedy. His albums are amazingly consistent in terms of delivering solid, well-thought out rock songs, always featuring powerful, memorable hooks, and all existing in a universe that is entirely his own creation. The reason why PopMatters is pegging Mansions to be a Big Hope in 2014 is for one reason and one reason alone: Doom Loop, his absolutely stellar album that came out in the tail end of 2013, showing that instead of running out of ideas, Browder is more excited and energized by songwriting than ever before, and if all works out, the indie kids will be singing the shout-along finale to “Two Suits” all through the start of next year. Not many people may know who Mansions is, but we’re betting dollars to donuts that that is gonna change very, very soon. Evan Sawdey


 

Power Trip

The Dallas band Power Trip play an engaging brand of crossover thrash metal that harkens back to the music’s roots in the mid-‘80s, but with a sensibility and appeal that is entirely current. The release of their first full length album, Manifest Decimation, in June of this year brought them attention outside their stomping grounds of North Texas. It was also the first time many got to see them live; and as good as Manifest Decimation is as a recording, it pales before the experience of them in person. While the touchstones of a modern punk or metal show are all present—the fans pressed to the stage screaming along, the pit behind, the nodding heads of those around the periphery—there is a palpable difference. Power Trip aren’t there to put on a show for the fans; they put on a show with their fans. Frontman Riley Gale’s guttural howl may be the loudest, but there is a sense that he’s singing their words, their feelings, as well as his own. There’s a synthesis of artist and audience. It’s astonishing to see it at show after show, particularly in this jaded era of cellphones and crossed arms. With the chance for more touring in more places in the coming year, Power Trip should have the world in their arms. If the reports from their first European tour are to be believed it’s already begun. Erik Highter


 

Priests

It never hurts an up-and-coming band to stoke its rep by having the ability to create an aura of mystery, which is just what DC-based post-post-punks Priests have accomplished in a short amount of time. On the strength of a handful of sporadically distributed releases and word-of-mouth praise for its intense live performances, Priests have whetted the appetites of underground types seeking out a more antagonistic, aggressive sound. Indeed, you can’t help but feel a jolt of energy in Priests’ edge-of-your-seat aesthetic, with their angular, live-wire guitars and DIY resourcefulness recalling their Dischord forerunners and singer Katie Alice Greer’s unblinking screeds harkening back to riot grrrl. Perhaps early Sleater-Kinney might be an even better comparison, not just because Priests have enough charisma to deliver socially charged manifestos and make good on ‘em, but also in the way they smuggle in sneaky melodies and wry wit while throwing elbows. Currently in the studio working on new material and plotting tours in the new year, Priests should continue building up their mystique by expanding their profile in 2014. Arnold Pan


 

Say Lou Lou

When your mother is an ex-member of an all-female punk band and your father is the singer/songwriter/bassist with the Church (“Under the Milky Way”), you can’t help but have music in your genetic makeup. Twin sisters Elektra and Miranda Kilbey are the dream-pop duo Say Lou Lou and have been releasing teasing singles for over a year now, while they work on a full length album. All cosmopolitan night and languid drama, the sophisticated songs are awash in lush layers of vocals and synthesizers. Dark and soothing like an ocean of stars, with echoes of their ‘80s atmospheric forebears Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil, but with a bit more of a pop conscience. They’ve covered Tame Impala, too, which shows a certain adventurousness. With the right promotion, they could be big. Internationally big. Rob Caldwell

Mutya Keisha Siobhan and more...


Mutya Keisha Siobhan

While UK pop trio Sugababes imploded in embarrassing fashion, the original members of the group—Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan, and Siobhan Donaghy—mended fences, reformed, and instead of reclaiming the Sugababes brand, opted for the more low-key moniker Mutya Keisha Siobhan, or MKS. Having not recorded together since the excellent 2000 album One Touch, the ladies nevertheless showed tremendous chemistry on the 2013 comeback single “Flatline”. A glorious, summery tune co-written with and produced by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange notoriety, “Flatline” is built around their sumptuous vocal harmonies, the kind of subtle, slightly melancholy song that immediately reminds listeners of the mature minimalism of One Touch. If the rest of the forthcoming album, slated for an early 2014 release, is as strong as “Flatline”, it could be a very good year for these three women. It’s great to have them back together. Adrien Begrand


 

Ásgeir Trausti

The buzz around 21-year-old Ásgeir Trausti stems from the fact that his debut album Dyrd í dauðathogn is one of the fastest selling titles in his homeland of Iceland (apparently >10% of the population own it). The artist attracted John Grant’s attention, who helped him translate and rework the lyrics into English for a more globally approachable release, In the Silence. Advances of that album have made their way into critics’ hands and it’s getting positive reviews however, Silence has since been pushed into early 2014. His fragile vocals are reminiscent of Bon Iver, who was big enough to be parodied on Saturday Night Live. But don’t sleep on Asgeir or you’ll miss out on the rich folksy instrumentation (“King and Cross”). Energetic “Torrent” is the most uplifting track with its piano driven melody melting the ice sheen that coats the rest of the album. Sachyn Mital


 

Vacation

Vacation takes the California suburban punk rock of Green Day or Blink 182 and mixes it with guitar clangor and noise. Their sound recalls early Thermals without the political bent, revealing straight ahead pop punk song structures combined with the thick wall of noise sounds of bands like No Age. Vacation writes good songs that satisfy the melodic itch while also referencing the noisy clangor of 1980s originators like Zen Arcade-era Hüsker Dü. Candy Waves is the perfect name for their second full-length as most of the songs are a sugar rush, chock full of sweet melodies that easily get stuck in your head. Eric Goldberg


 

Matthew E. White

After releasing his gloriously lush debut album Big Inner in 2012, Matthew E. White further proved his ability to write stunning songs with the release of the EP Outer Face in October. The EP shows a more subtle, stripped back sound than the album; White himself describes it as “a gentleman’s psychedelia”. But he’s a great hope for 2014 not only because of his own music, but also on account of Spacebomb Records, the label and studio he has founded in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Centred around a house band in the manner of Motown or Stax, Spacebomb has thus far released White’s solo work, plus the single “Red Face Boy” by Howard Ivans, which is as polished and soulful as any cut from Big Inner. Even if White doesn’t find time to release any more of his own music in 2014, we can certainly expect great things from Spacebomb in the coming year. Alan Ashton-Smith


 

The Wild Feathers

Nashville quintet the Wild Feathers might just be ushering in another country rock revival all on its own. These five young guys with Oklahoma and Texas roots also share a love of ‘70s Top 40 stalwarts Neil Young, Tom Petty and Led Zeppelin. With the strength of a rollicking good time found in “The Ceiling”, an infectious, soulful tune, the group was quickly added to playlists at tastemaker NPR stations along with retail outlets such as Whole Foods. Their self-titled debut offers a blending of country rock with blues and folk inflections, guitar centric songs with full on four-part harmonies fueled by ex-lead singers. The foot stomping beat of “The Ceiling” is also found in the life affirming “I’m Alive”, as well as the bum luck of “Hard Times”. The band is not even afraid of embracing a heartfelt ballad, as exemplified in “Left My Woman”, “How” and “Hard Times”. Best of all, The Wild Feathers is simply a joy to behold live, demonstrating their talent plus an obvious chemistry with each other and their music. Jane Jansen Seymour

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/177429-the-best-hopes-to-break-out-in-2014/