Music

The Best New / Emerging Artists of 2014

There was no shortage of new and exciting music in 2014. From an avant-garde saxophone quartet to soul-inflected pop from the UK, this crop of artists gave us a lot of great music this year.

There was no shortage of new and exciting music in 2014. From an avant-garde saxophone quartet to soul-inflected pop from the UK, this crop of artists gave us a lot of great music this year.

 

Alvvays

For an emerging artist treading down a well-traveled path, the right attitude can mean a lot. And that's something Alvvays has in spades. What makes the Toronto-based quintet stand out are the intangibles, an authentic vibe to its girl-groupy indie-pop that comes from an intuitive knack for creating eminently catchy songs that has more to do with touch and feel than innovation. At its best on its self-titled debut, Alvvays evokes the immediacy and resourcefulness of underground touchstones like Heavenly and the Aislers Set, making the most of getting down to the basics of songcraft and sentimentality. Thanks to its uncannily wistful melodies and Molly Rankin's wry, yearning coo, Alvvays tackles the subgenre's coming-of-age conventions with warm reverence as well as an individual perspective that's already earned it an identity distinctly their own. Case in point: their ode to the fear of the fear of commitment "Archie, Marry Me" is not just a performance garnering Alvvays prime rookie-of-the-year consideration, but it's also its precocious entry in the twee-pop hall of fame. In Alvvays' hands, nostalgic indie rock has been as forward-looking as anything else this year. Arnold Pan


 

Angel Olsen

Before this year, Angel Olsen languished in obscurity, written off as a Patsy Cline sound-alike novelty. But with the release of this year’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, she realized her potential as an artist, crafting an immaculately balanced record that splits between pitch-perfect classic country ballads like “Iota”, Cohen-esque folk epics like “White Fire”, and guns-out rockers like “High & Wild”. The help of a larger indie label like Jagjaguwar gave Olsen the production quality and variety of backing musicians to truly expand her sound in a direction unlike any other artist out there today. Logan Austin


 

Archibald Slim

Atlanta hip hop is so overwhelmingly, prolifically creative these days that comparisons to New York’s early scenes aren’t all that crazy. And with his debut mixtape, He’s Drunk!, Archibald Slim has added himself to the list of ATL visionaries who are gleefully kicking the genre off its moorings (Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Migos, Raury, PeeWee Longway, etc.). As the most well-rounded emcee in the Awful Records crew – a loose collective of friends who seemingly record each other on whims and end up turning SoundCloud into a drug for the rest of us – Archie is able to explore the poisonous sociology of the poverty-stricken without ever losing his cool, strolling through the neon smoke of producer KeithCharles Spacebar’s beats like he’s of them, not on them. Conversely, this approach makes the raw outrage of the lyrics even harder to ignore -- like that room in your house that’s always chilly, no matter how warm the hearth. Joe Sweeney


 

Banks

With a major nomination from BBC Sound of 2013, Banks shaped up to be one of the highlights of 2014 due to her eclectic mixture of R&B, electronic, trip-hop, and dream pop. With a critically lauded album in 2014, Goddess, Banks fused these genres and deliver a solid release. With songs that range from perfect balladry (“Brain”) to amazing simplicity (“Stick”), Banks’ debut is definitely a great one. And although critics thought it was rather similar to her contemporaries (Jessie Ware, FKA twigs, Kelela), Banks truly carved out a niche of her own: electronic-influenced R&B that balances its way between The Weeknd and Aaliyah. Devone Jones


 

Battle Trance

A saxophone quartet that uses only tenor saxophones, on paper, does not sound like a great idea. Great pieces of saxophone music, such as Philip Glass’ Saxophone Quartet, derive their melodic and rhythmic complexity in large part due to the differences in pitch of the various kinds of saxophone. However, Battle Trance — the quartet organized by Travis Laplante — has, with Palace of Wind, created an album-length composition that reveals just how much sound and power can be wrought out of a tenor saxophone. Laplante, joined by Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner, and Patrick Breiner, here gives a performance with such gusto one will have to continually remind herself that the sounds on this LP are only being made by only four instruments. At times, such as the turbulent section in the first movement of the piece, these men sound as if they’ve just opened the gates of hell and let all of its fury roar out of their saxophones. This music truly lives up to its title; at just over 40 minutes, Battle Trance sculpts a palace of wind and sound, taking (and sometimes forcing) the listener through an audiovisual feast, a tour de force of avant-garde classical music. The press materials for Palace of Wind claims that Laplante crated Battle Trance after “literally awoke with the crystal clear vision that he needed to start an ensemble” with the three gentlemen he brought on for this project. What mysterious force of the universe led Laplante to think this, the world might never know. But one spin of Palace of Wind will make it clear that this project was indeed destined, for music this innovative and stunning doesn’t happen randomly. Brice Ezell






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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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