The Best Hopes to Break Out in 2012

Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire

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Ambrose Akinmusire

2011 was a good year for Ambrose Akinmusire. His Blue Note Records debut, When the Heart Emerges Glistening was widely acknowledged as one of the best jazz releases of the year. He received the profile treatment in most every major newspaper across the country. And if that wasn’t enough, he took home both the Rising Star Jazz and Trumpet awards in Downbeat’s annual critics poll. But what truly sets him apart from many of his peers is the following, not-always-guaranteed fact: He deserved it. The 29-year-old has been studying music for a while now, and as a winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2007, we should have seen his breakthrough coming. If the emotions he’s able to display and the pictures he’s able to paint throughout all of When The Heart Emerges Glistening is any indication of where he’s headed, it’s going to be hard to bet against the California native in the future. His effortless style and intricate tone manipulation on tracks like “Regret (No More)” and the striking “Confessions to My Unborn Daughter” are lessons in composition and performance themselves. How he follows such a brilliant year and debut is anybody’s guess, but the notion that he’s off to a pretty good start is utterly indisputable. Colin McGuire

 

Artist: Alabama Shakes

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Alabama Shakes

A glowing blurb on a music blog, word of mouth, some fiery shows and all of a sudden the Alabama Shakes are not only opening for the Drive-By Truckers but also landing their song “You’re Not Alone” in a Zale’s commercial. Not bad for a band with a four-song EP to their name. Most of the attention goes to frontwoman Brittany Howard, a force of nature who careens between achin’ soul balladry, classic rock wails, and blues fire. Throughout that self-titled EP, you can hear Howard’s vocals pushing the equipment to its limits. It’s the sound of the band as a whole, though, the sound of a band of young kids making old-sounding Southern soul through modern ears, that makes the whole thing work. The Shakes just signed a deal with ATO Records, and are hoping for full-length release in the first half of 2012. There’s no reason to think that the Alabama Shakes, who are enjoying a hard-working meteoric rise, won’t offer something even more amazing in the coming year. Andrew Gilstrap

 

Artist: ASAP Rocky

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ASAP Rocky

He’d better hope his outlook is good, otherwise Warner Bros. is going to come knocking wondering what they’ve invested so much in. But I don’t think there’s much doubt Rocky’s going to be able to capitalize on his considerable hype this past year. Unlike plenty of rising hip-hop acts, ASAP Rocky didn’t rely on spending a few years churning out free mixtapes and touring to build a solid fanbase. He simply released two videos on YouTube that quickly went viral and let word of mouth do the rest, providing him with two of the best producers in the still-growing “cloud rap” scene, Clams Casino and Beautiful Lou, as well as Alabama’s disturbingly consistent DJ Burn One. The end result is an artist that appeals to fanbases of both Curren$y and Lil’ B in nearly equal fashion, all while he recalls classic ’90s acts like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Three 6 Mafia and E.S.G. As he’s currently on tour with megastar Drake, the sky is pretty much the limit for this kid from Harlem romanticizing Midwest and Southern rap, and few of his peers carry with them such exciting potential. David Amidon

ASAP Rocky – Live.Love.A$AP Mixtape by Thissongissick.com

 

Artist: Danny Brown

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Danny Brown

Danny Brown, perhaps more than any other figure, captures the complexities and contradictions of the current moment in hip-hop culture. His glammed out look of tight jeans, hipster tees and dramatic, asymmetrical hair style apparently cost him a deal with 50 Cent’s G-Unit Records, but his depraved and irreverent tales of Adderall addiction, crack dealing and sexual conquest may be a bit much for the liberally educated fans of frequent collaborators Das Racist and other more critically minded hip-hop. One thing is certain, Danny Brown doesn’t care what any of these people think about him. His style is visceral and raw, combining a strange and manic flow with grimy electro style beats on his 2011 mix-tape XXX for a sound that holds the potential for greatness, and the possibility of revitalizing the mostly stagnant arena of popular hip-hop. At 30 years old, Brown might be a bit long in the tooth for some to consider him a rising prospect, but for fans of outside the box hip-hop, one can only hope that his best years are ahead of him. Robert Alford

Danny Brown “XXX” by foolsgoldrecs

 

Artist: Childish Gambino

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Childish Gambino

There’s an old saying that goes something like, “All musicians want to act, and all actors want to be musicians.” It’s self-evident that people in the former category have been more successful than people in the latter over the years. But Donald Glover, aka rapper Childish Gambino, might be one of the rare exceptions. Glover is a skilled writer and comedian, but he also has real talent as a rapper. Gambino has been bubbling under in hip-hop circles and amongst hardcore fans of his acting in the Derrick Comedy troupe and on Community for the last couple of years. His gruff, hard-edged delivery may come as a surprise to folks who know him from his comedy, but his use of nerd references (Invader Zim, Toejam & Earl), probably won’t. Now, with a legitimate album (Camp) release under his belt and an internet-savvy fanbase (not to mention mainstream media attention) ready to sing his praises, Childish Gambino has a real shot to break out to a wider audience in 2012. Chris Conaton

J. Cole and more…

Artist: J. Cole

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J. Cole

After a slew of mixtapes, including 2010’s incredible Friday Night Lights, J. Cole finally unleashed his first proper album with Cole World: The Sideline Story in 2011 and unlike many who came before him, the rapper actually lived up to the hype. A protégé of Jay-Z, Cole’s knack for wordplay is only accentuated by his smooth flow and hook-crazy sensibilities throughout all of his Roc Nation debut. We should have seen this coming after he appeared on Jay’s 2009 smash The Blueprint 3 and quietly stole “A Star Is Born” right out from underneath his boss’s feet. His debut full-length is filled with more of the same honest deliveries and “this shit is too easy” approach that glistened throughout both his Blueprint cameo and those aforementioned mixtapes. Just check out the single-ready “Lights Please” or the Missy Elliot-collabo “Nobody’s Perfect” and you’ll see why he is the rare case of the kid that lives up to the accolades so many people wanted to shower him with even before his first record hit the shelves. Word has it that a follow-up to Cole World: The Sideline Story is in the works for a 2012 release, and if that’s the case, the hip-hop world better be ready to embrace a new star. Cole’s obvious talent, palpable sincerity and enlightening intelligence combines for a package that is simply too powerful to ignore. Colin McGuire

 

Artist: Computer Magic

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Computer Magic

Making music under the moniker of Computer Magic, New York DJ, graphic designer and student Danielle Johnson has already attracted a following of Internet fans by uploading her home made slices of synth pop one track at a time. Having already posted enough songs online to fill a double album (and without any real dip in quality track-to-track) Danz, as she prefers to be called, lays down her delicate vocals over a light curtain of retro synths and shifty drum beats. With a natural ear for melody to boot, her music has been compared to Au Revoir Simone and much missed Ben Gibbard/Jimmy Tamberello collaboration the Postal Service. Given the fractured nature of her releases, one wonders where her creative ceiling might be should she put her mind to her music in 2012. This time next year Computer Magic could be huge. Dean Van Nguyen

Latest tracks by Computer Magic

 

Artist: CREEP

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CREEP

The reason that the duo of Laurens Flax and Dillard are a hope for next year rather than one of the best of this is because, well, there’s just not that much there yet. In fact, the production duo’s work right now consists of little more than some remixes (their rework of Memory Tapes’ “Green Knight” is especially good) and two singles. But what singles; last year’s “Days” with Romy from the xx was striking enough, but 2011’s “You” featuring Nina Sky” is so good, and such a perfect match, that it’s hard not to wish the two groups would do a full-length together. On that song, CREEP tap into everything from trip-hop to the spectral R&B of (for example) Cassie’s “Me and You” to make music that’s just as dark as it is pop, without ever falling into the murky waters of witch house, chillgaze, or a dozen other subgenres. With the right vocalists, this guys should and will be huge. Ian Mathers



CREEP – You (feat Nina Sky) from OFFICIAL CREEP on Vimeo.

 

Artist: David Wax Museum

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David Wax Museum

The noun “museum” that rests at the end of this Boston band’s name is entirely apropos, as this Americana group seeks to document and expand upon traditional Mexican music, bringing south of the border folk tunes to broader audiences. They may well be the American musical equivalent of chef Rick Bayless, as they educate non-Mexicans on the richness and complexity of Mexican music in the same fashion that Bayless does with regional Mexican cooking. David Wax Museum was recently named Boston’s Americana Artist of the Year, they burned up the stage at Nashville’s Americana Music Festival in October, and they’ve received plaudits from prestigious tastemakers like The New Yorker and NPR. The group’s latest album, Everything Is Saved, is an irresistible ride through the Americas, bubbling with energy and exciting instrumentation. And yeah, that donkey jawbone offering up rhythm on so many of these tracks is pretty cool, too. David Wax Museum is bound for greater success as they have a massive wealth of music to draw from as they bring a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility to folk music. Sarah Zupko



 

Artist: Death Grips

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Death Grips

For an outfit that sounds like it should be busy preparing for societal collapse (and, perhaps, ruling in the aftermath), Death Grips put a lot of effort into announcing itself in 2011. Evidenced by a stand-alone single, a mixtape, and a series of disturbing, low-budget videos (all available here), the Sacramento, California hip-hop group makes music that just came off its meds. On the mixtape Exmilitary, MC Ride swings back and forth between disjointed, paranoid commentary on contemporary culture and wacked-out boasts that are more Thus Spoke Zarathustra than Watch the Throne (“I am the beast I worship!”). Producer Flatlander and drummer Zach Hill (Hella, Marnie Stern’s backing band) do right by their frontman, whether it’s mining the rock canon for classic samples or crafting a backing track out of electronic blips and the slice of a guillotine blade. Given the quality and quantity of Death Grips’ work this year, their official debut album just may feel like a follow-up. David Bloom

Latest tracks by deathgrips

Lana del Ray and more…

Artist: Lana del Ray

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Lana del Ray

No artist lit up the blogosphere the way that Lana Del Rey did in 2011, and 2012 looks like the year that she is poised to break out, for better or worse. Every comment thread of every indie music site is filled with speculation on the past, present, and future of Lizzy Grant (aka Lana Del Rey). Some hope that the incessant online excitement disappears upon the release of a full album, some hope that her talent outstrips the focus on her mysterious background and heretofore shaky live performances, and some probably just hope that she poses for Maxim. Personally, I hope that she releases an album with at least a few songs that match the quality of the impossibly catchy (and creepy) breakout single “Video Games”. While “Blue Jeans” matched that song’s creepiness, if not its indelible hook, it won’t be until the release of her full-length in early 2012 that we know whether Del Rey has already peaked or whether she is better than we ever even knew. Matt Paproth

 

Artist: Demon Hunter

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Demon Hunter

Prior to the release of The World Is a Thorn in 2010, critics wondered how Demon Hunter could top 2007’s Storm the Gates of Hell, their best album to date. Then again, critics said the same thing about Storm the Gates of Hell in regards to 2005’s The Triptych, and the pattern repeats itself for the rest of the band’s history. So it wasn’t shocking to longtime fans that The World Is a Thorn eclipsed all of its predecessors as Demon Hunter’s greatest triumph. Betting against such a trend would be ridiculous. All signs point to Demon Hunter’s upcoming 2012 release driving them to the greatest breakthrough of their career. Not only will their music be even more high-caliber and soul-stirring, but the diversity of their sound is bound to show even more forward-thinking ideas that other metalcore bands would never even attempt. Though they may not be as prolific as their peers in As I Lay Dying, Demon Hunter is certainly the most skilled Christian metalcore band active today, and next year will be their chance to prove it to everyone. Chris Colgan

 

Artist: Florrie

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Florrie

In 2011, if we’re talking about hopes for the future, we almost have to think about the business side as well as the artistic one, and that’s a challenge that Florrie has already tackled. Singer, model, songwriter, and ex-house drummer for Xenomania, Florence Arnold has thus far avoided any deals and funded the whole thing herself. It’s not for nothing that the video for “I Took a Little Something”, her best song and one of the best singles of 2011, is one Dolce and Gabbana’s YouTube channel rather than her own. This year’s Experiments EP would be promising all on its own, but combine Florrie’s pop nous with her clear gasp of the ins and outs of pop star economics in the 21st century and you have a force to be reckoned with. As long as she keeps making songs like “I Took a Little Something”, I for one won’t mind her eventual world domination. Ian Mathers

 

Artist: Laura Gibson

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Laura Gibson

Since the mid-2000s, Oregonian Laura Gibson has been releasing exciting little folk albums where she sings unconventional, thoughtful meditations on life, death and nature. Her last one, in 2009, was an avant garde collaboration with sound artist Ethan Rose, showing she isn’t following your standard singer-songwriter path. 2012 seems the perfect year for her to break out and get better-known, and her songs deserve it. On January 24, her third solo album La Grande will be released by Barsuk, a step up, exposure-wise, in the indie-label world from Hush, the fantastic little Portland label she started on, which also brought the Decemberists to the world. Judging by the first single, Gibson’s new album will continue to broaden her sound, while keeping her distinct vision and voice at the forefront. Dave Heaton

 

Artist: Grimes

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Grimes

Claire Boucher, the Montreal based artist known as Grimes, mixes in a soaring falsetto voice with an encyclopedic parade of musical influences, including industrial, dub step, psychedelic, new jack swing, and electronica to emerge, in little under two years, as one of the most creative and compelling indie pop artists. She refers to herself as hailing from the post-internet generation, and complements her musical influences by going beyond sampling, or name checking cultural touchstones, by demonstrating an innate ability to weave together increasingly complex compositions. The tendency of her songs to mosey present the listener with the opportunity in less than four minutes to take a serendipitous path through a variety of influences that yet adhere to a narrative.

Like any new artist, her live set is a work in progress, but she is building confidence, buoyed by rave reviews for her support for Lykke Li on her 2011 tour and high profile appearances such as the opportunity to open for home town heroes Arcade Fire at an intimate theater show during POP Montreal. Her rapid emergence will be tracked in 2012, as more listeners come on board and she releases her new album Visions on 31 January, followed by a North American tour in February and March. Dennis Shin

Jukebox the Ghost and more…

Artist: Jukebox the Ghost

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Jukebox the Ghost

Whenever any of my less blogosphere-minded friends ask me for a music recommendation, I always have the same suggestion: Jukebox the Ghost. They’re fun, wry, catchy, and far too few people have heard of them. The bubbly Philly-based trio has two excellent albums to their name, they’ve played on Letterman, and they tour nonstop — and yet here they are, three years removed from their debut LP, still hovering just under the radar. Last year’s Everything Under the Sun was a power-pop tour de force, full of piano pyrotechnics of the Folds and Joel varieties; here’s hoping their next album, rumored to be due out next year, is the one to put them on the map in a big way. Billy Hepfinger

 

Artist: King Krule

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King Krule

Every social movement could use its own rabble-rousing singer-songwriting mouthpiece — or is it the other way around? — and precocious 17-year-old Londoner Archy Marshall is already being hailed as the voice of Generation Occupy. AKA King Krule, Marshall brings to mind strains of Cockneyed, Billy Bragg-ish agitprop pop, getting across a confrontational ethos while he’s working out his ideology and a specific list of demands, not too unlike the burgeoning mass demonstrations of the moment. On his all-too-brief just-released debut EP, King Krule crosses downbeat jazz-inflected guitar work and ramshackle sampling to convey a sense of disillusionment that’s more than your garden variety teen angst, coming off like Tricky as a busker on the dubby folk of “Bleak Bake” and a roughed-up Stuart Moxham on the self-explanatory “Portrait in Black and Blue”. If his social commentary can catch up to his resourceful, uncanny musicianship, Marshall might just be starting his own revolution. Arnold Pan

 

Artist: Lil B

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Lil B

Seeing “Wonton Soup”, Lil B’s first real YouTube sensation, completely without context was a jarring experience for me. A flood of thoughts: “This guy is the worst rapper in the world. This has to be a joke. This is a joke, right?” Around the 13th straight viewing I was hooked. After watching a video of drunk club girls doing B’s signature cooking dance, I became a fan for life. B is not the greatest technical rapper (though he’s not nearly as incompetent as message board haters would have you believe) nor is he a “visionary” like Tyler the Creator. Lil B’s greatest strength is his marketing savvy. Whether he’s bootlegging his own album over Twitter, or using his most recent single “I Got Aids” as a Sex Ed tool, Lil B knows how to cultivate an audience. Over the past year he’s turned himself into a one-man industry, and “Based” music into a legit genre, complete with signifiers and its own lingo. This is the guy who introduced “swag” into the vernacular. Maybe most important, Lil B is fun to watch. His enthusiasm is infectious. Just try to watch him in an interview interviewed without being bowled over by his positive attitude. Lil B just the kind of guy you want to see succeed. Justin Linds

 

Artist: Magic Wands

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Magic Wands

It’s as if the universe was proper Dickensian (all horse ‘n’ carts and street urchins shuffling about in black ‘n’ white) when Nashville’s Magic Wands first appeared it feels so long ago. That calling card EP of dynamite-with-a-laserbeam tunes that threatened to take on the law singlehandedly. “Black Magic”, “Kiss Me Dead”, “Warrior”. Killer classics with fightin’ talk aplenty. Chris ‘n’ Dexy, a pair of star cross’d lovers lookin’ for adventure with cock’d and loaded 45s at their hips. A 21st century Bonnie & Clyde smouldering behind Ray-Bans, tottin’ tommy gun guitars with their faithful toy lion Captain Sylvester riding shotgun. Well lawks-a-lawdy, Johnny the shoeshine guy hears on the street their début album Aloha Moon is finally… (whispers)… ready to roll. Magic Wands if you’re out there, we’re ready to drop our “Bad Mother Fucker” wallets into your bag. Class of 2012, this town needs takin’ down. Matt James

 

Artist: Frank Ocean

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Frank Ocean

Out of all of the members of the increasingly popular hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Tyler, the Creator took 2011 by storm. Goblin, his controversial second studio recording, was a substantial hit, and his capturing of the 2011 MTV Music Video Award for Best New Artist brought much attention not just to himself but to Odd Future as a whole. Unfortunately, this attention seemed to cast a shadow over perhaps the best thing about Odd Future: Frank Ocean. His debut mixtape, the brilliant Nostalgia, Ultra, is one of the most unique R&B records to come out in awhile. Ocean’s artistry is most evident on the album’s standout track, “American Wedding”. He straight-rips the Eagles’ “Hotel California”, a classic depiction of American decay, and sings new lyrics over the music, a depiction of the decay of modern love. The song is not just a damn good track; it’s also indicative of the unique artistic function hip-hop and R&B can serve in taking the old, putting an entirely new spin on it, and espousing a timeless message. Hopefully in years to come, Ocean’s skill becomes no longer an under-the-radar gem but instead a highly renowned fact. Brice Ezell

Oddisee and more…

Artist: Oddisee

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Oddisee

Plainly stated, Oddisee creates the elaborate in a way that feels and sounds effortless. Take Rock Creek Park for example. A mixtape that blends old-school samples with modern hip-hop sensibilities, it’s easy to forget how meticulously each track has been arranged when you find yourself lost in a trance of smooth beats and chill grooves. The D.C.-area native has moved up through that town’s underground rap scene, and has proven himself an adept producer and arranger. There’s nothing overtly original here. Listening to Rock Creek Park is too much like watching an early ’60s period piece starring Denzel Washington. But the album does show, that if given the chance, Oddisee could become something substantially memorable. Jeb Inge

Latest tracks by Oddisee Music

 

Artist: Pepe Deluxé

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Pepe Deluxé

Although the last Pepe Deluxé album came out in 2007, the critically lauded Spare Time Machine, these sonic scientists have spent the better part of the last six years working on the follow-up. Two years alone were spent waiting for the renovation of the largest instrument in the world, the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Virginia, to be completed so they could record a two-minute interlude on it. Two years for two minutes… That lets you know exactly how much effort they put into making sure every minute detail in their fourth album, Queen of the Wave, was precisely what they envisioned, from the richly analog sounds and engrossing Lumerian lyrics to the elaborate liner notes and intensive album companions. Indeed, few artists have ever attempted to weave such a dense tapestry of timbre, genre, and mythology than they did for this esoteric pop opera in three parts, and even fewer artists have succeeded so brilliantly as they will prove when the album drops in January. 2012 will be the test to see if the world is ready to accept the Age of Aquarius, or sit content in Plato’s cave. Alan Ranta

 

Artist: Purity Ring

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Purity Ring

The electronic duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick like to mix ghostly, ethereal vocals with sticky hip-hop beats in their already-buzzworthy project, Purity Ring. After making their rounds during 2011’s CMJ festival and releasing the outstanding single “Belispeak” (a 7″ split with Braids released by Fat Possum), the Canadian duo seem poised for big things in 2012. Plenty of cross-genre comparisons have been made, although Purity Ring sound more like some futuristic combination of crunk-tastic hip-hop and spacey, synthed-out indie pop. When their debut full length arrives next year, that future could very well arrive. Chris Payne

Ungirthed by PURITY RING

Belispeak by PURITY RING

 

Artist: Shabazz Palaces

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Shabazz Palaces

“Clear some space out / So we can space out,” demands Shabazz Palaces on “Recollections of the Wraith”, one of Black Up’s snappiest hooks. Touché. Black Up contains 36 compact minutes of some of the wooziest, most forward-thinking hip hop to come out of freaking nowhere in years. (“If Bedouins herded beats instead of goats and settled in Seattle instead of the Atlas Mountains,” explains the hip-hop collective, “this would be their album.”) But beneath the grainy samples, impenetrable track titles, and fractured, minimalist beats, it’s also effortlessly accessible, approachable, and raw — and good enough for Sub Pop, the historic Seattle that has never before signed a hip-hop act. It’s no wonder that these freshmen aren’t freshmen at all: Ishmael Butler, the group’s lead emcee, was once Butterfly, one-third of New York’s Digable Planets. Last year brought two anonymous EPs from Shabazz Palaces, this year a debut full-length. Only the Bedouins can tell what the next few years will bring. Zach Schonfeld

 

Artist: Spiders

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Spiders

When members of Swedish retro hard rock acts Witchcraft and Graveyard form a new band, it’s pretty easy to guess what the end result is going to sound like, but Spiders turns out to be a lot less predictable than expected. Sure, the foursome, led by Witchcraft guitarist John Hoyles, is heavily indebted to late ‘60s/early ‘70s heavy rock, but amidst all the references to Pentagram and Cactus lies a strong Nuggets-era garage rock influence as well, as Hoyles’s riffs often channel Fred “Sonic” Smith, Wayne Kramer, and Ron Asheton. Better yet, the presence of the strong-voiced Ann-Sofie Hoyles makes Spiders stand out, her strong, raspy howls bringing some welcome ferocity and personality to such songs as “Gracious Man” and “High Society”, from their 2011 debut EP. With only six songs released thus far the band has already created a stir in the metal world, and by the time their full-length debut comes out, a lot of people will be anxiously waiting. Adrien Begrand

Marques Toliver and more…

Artist: Marques Toliver

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Marques Toliver

Have you ever thought that what soul music really needs is a lot more violin? If you have, then Marques Toliver is definitely what you’re looking for, and even if you haven’t, he’s likely to change your opinion on the matter as soon as you see him. We’re not talking soaring string accompaniments here either; Toliver is a classically trained musician whose sound is formed by sharp pulls of his bow and bursts of pizzicato. His perfectly smooth and soulful voice should jar with his violin playing, but in fact the unique contract works wonderfully. Toliver has actually been on the scene for a couple of years, but he recently began his ascent towards the recognition he deserves with the release of his debut EP, Butterflies Are Not Free. No plans for a full-length album have been announced as yet, but it can’t happen soon enough: here’s hoping 2012 is his year. Alan Ashton-Smith

 

Artist: Greg Ward

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Greg Ward

Saxophonist Greg Ward has, so far, fashioned his fitted shards and phonic juggernaut into a delightful brand of sharp jazz. His playing is effortless but the rata-tat-tat-tat polyrhythms of his drummer Damien Reid suggest something else in the undercurrents. His bassist Joe Sanders has a bunch of tricks up his sleeve to match, making “Sectionate City” sound more like an abstract soundtrack piece spawned by synthpop. So with only two albums under his belt, where does Ward go from here? Hopefully, he’ll get weirder. His music certainly deserves it. The song forms that he plays around with and the band he has enlisted is the kind of musical combination that just begs for some flat out, wall-splattering exploration. Two albums in, Ward is keeping things restrained on his part, which is probably a wise move. But if you ask me, the thing to take him from talent-to-watch to legend-in-his-boots is to unleash his inner Tim Berne. John Garratt

Phonic Juggernaut by Thirsty Ear Recordings

 

Artist: The Weeknd

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The Weeknd

The Weeknd’s brand of drugged-out, downtempo and downcast R&B may not, at first glance, seem the type of thing ready to conquer mainstream airwaves. But the climate of the genre is shifting. The undisputed king of 2011’s pop/hip-hop/R&B hybridity, Drake, is moving units and racking up fawning reviews more quickly than you can say “grandpa sweater”. And it’s Drake who many credit with breaking the Weeknd into the open, hyping Abel Tesfaye’s project on his personal Twitter feed. Later, Drake would turn in a career-highlight verse on the Weeknd’s “The Zone”. The Weeknd would return the favor by stealing the show on Drake’s “Crew Love” from this year’s Take Care. But the Weeknd shouldn’t — and won’t — be confined to Drake’s shadow. Tesfaye and his producers, Doc McKinney and Illangelo, are willing to go where Drake won’t, deeper into the moral ambiguities of a party lifestyle and deeper into the spaced-out, minimal production purveyed by Drake’s maestro, Noah “40″ Shebib. The Weeknd has plans to drop a new mixtape, Echoes of Silence, before the end of the year. It would crown a meteoric 2011 for the young singer; imagine what he’ll have ready for us in the year to come. Corey Beasley

 

Artist: Whatever Brains

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Whatever Brains

Raleigh, North Carolina’s Whatever Brains, on first listen, seems just too weird to break out. The band makes garage rock sped up to the brink of disintegration, with airy, treble-light guitars and furious drums and bleating vocals. The group’s 2011 eponymous debut, with 17 tracks at 40 minutes, is an exercise in sensory overload — punk muscle stripped down to a furious, and jarring, clattering of bones. But here’s the thing: Behind all that seeming mess, the songs are too damn good. These guys have all the eccentric charm of early Pavement, they just prefer speed-freak hysteria to slacker shuffling. In each of their brief, spasmic songs, the band drops fierce, slicing riffs over lo-fi fuzz and leaves any other garage lurking bands in the dust. This is what rock music should sound like — unraveling at the edges, too fast for its own good, ready to collapse at any moment — but it’s also a lesson in pop concision, in making the most of using a hook the least amount of times. With a new record in the works for 2012, and their late-2011 debut just starting to make waves, Whatever Brains is poised to make a big move, and the band surely deserves the attention. When that break comes, try and keep up. Matthew Fiander

 

Artist: White Denim

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White Denim

It’s safe to say that White Denim’s 2011 release D is one of the most musically adventurous, versatile, and listenable albums released this year. Their combination of styles has the ability to draw fans of all ages and tastes, and their musical prowess is telling enough that they have many, many more ideas up their sleeve. Meanwhile, their live performances are even more riveting — their studio recording is just a teaser. It takes time to build a following, but White Denim is doing it. They toured the country this fall as the opening act for Manchester Orchestra and the Dear Hunter, but they packed clubs hours in advance of the headliner to play only a 30-minute set. Screams of “We came to see you!” were met with raucous applause as the quartet dove headfirst into songs both from their new record and previous ones. Anyone new to the band could be heard afterwards trying to figure out, “Who were those guys?” With their early 2012 tour opening with Wilco, it’s pretty likely you’ll know they are pretty soon, too. Jonathan Kosakow

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