The best new artists of 2017 mash up genre dividers and take popular music in new and exciting directions.
Photo courtesy of artist
Even the Belfast born duo Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson that make up Bicepcould not have expected their debut album to explode the way it has. A top 20 chart placing in the UK and a triumphant cover from esteemed club magazine MixMag has cemented their place as one of the most exciting electronic artists of 2017. Over the years, the pair have introduced thousands of curious dance music fans to rare and long forgotten cuts through their website feelmybicep.com and DJ sets. However, any artist needs more than passion and understanding to make a stellar album. What they managed to do was iron out and stitch together elements from throughout the history of electronic music to create one of the most distinctive and exciting dance albums of the year. The touchstones were clear from the old-skool house of "Glue" to the trance of "Rain" and the astounding tech-house of "Aura" but everything was mixed so intricately and then freshly baked that it felt new and exciting. In the world of electronic music this was most definitely their year. - Paul Carr
Photo: Frank Ockenfels (Dead Oceans)
Phoebe Bridgers' 7" release of "Killer" created enough of a buzz to make her latest album one of the most anticipated debuts of 2017. The three tracks on "Killer" conveyed a weariness that bring to mind mid-career highlights of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, even though Bridgers had just emerged from her teens. Her full-length debut, Stranger in the Alps, manages to stretch that intensity to all of its ten songs (plus a brief reprise of the leadoff track "Smoke Signals" at the end).
Like other bummed-out odes to her Los Angeles home (notably Fleetwood Mac's Tusk-era ballads), Stranger in the Alps is wistful, lonesome, and canny enough to linger in your head hours after your first listen. Her songs possess a reverence to past fabled songwriters (especially the aforementioned Neil Young), but there's a modern, hazy sheen that is fully in the moment of all that is 2017. Appropriately enough, Phoebe Bridgers' official website sums up the impact of her songwriting: Phoebefuckingbridgers. - Sean McCarthy
Affectionately called "the internet's first boy band", BROCKHAMPTON formed in 2015 through an online network of likeminded young hip-hop heads—indeed, via the message boards of a certain KanyeToThe.com. These boys have clearly done their homework, and in their collective consciousness float schemata of K-Dot, Yeezy, and the extended Odd Future fam. In theory, the combined efforts of these dozen+ artists should lead to a disjointed stew of ingredients… and maybe it does. The product is at once highly melodic, verging on top-40 pop rap, and unpredictable, a kind of expressionist hip-hop collage. At present, BROCKHAMTON seems to be riding a tidal wave of self-made momentum. In 75 days, the group has put out its debut and follow-up records, Saturation I and II, with the promise of a third installment before the year's end.
If the group has a leader, it's Texas-born Ian Simpson, aka Kevin Abstract, who's rapidly become the one of today's most fluent queer voices in hip-hop. "Why you always rap about bein' gay? / 'Cause not enough niggas rappin' be gay", he spits on perhaps II's brightest gem, "JUNKY". While the members cover themes of the hustle, sex and weed, they brings to their verses a disarming vulnerability—real talk of strife and togetherness
Maybe the group identity remains amorphous, but herein lies one of BROCKHAMPTON's great assets: a shifting platform for the team's evolving creative pursuits. (Don't sleep on their many worthy music videos.) The collective shines because of its assembly of disparate geographic, racial and economic backgrounds. These men band together to create a new sort of vehicle for self-expression in the digital age, and for now, they've got our ears on lock. - A. Noah Harrison
Photo: Shervin Lainez (Barsuk Records)
Charly Bliss frontwoman Eva Hendricks became instantly recognizable and lovable with her helium-infused, bubbly vocals and a personality perfect for the most energetic of cartoon characters. Meanwhile, guitarist Spencer Fox literally was a cartoon character, providing the voice of Dash from The Incredibles over a decade ago. Add Eva's brother Sam on drums and Dan Shure on bass, and you get a band full of youth, excitement, and raw power pop/bubble grunge sure to receive comparisons to '90s groups like Weezer. Their LP debut Guppy clocked in at a very brief 30 minutes, leaving no room for error or filler. But that was no problem for these rookies as the half-hour effort is jam-packed with fuzzy guitar riffs and honey-sweet melodies. The topics of discussions, however, are not so saccharine, as Hendricks ironically tackles death, heartbreak, and the uncertainty of being a twentysomething. The emotional duality found in Charly Bliss's music and lyrics effectively speaks to the inquisitive young generation of 2017. - Chris Thiessen
Photo: David McClister (Courtesy of artist)
Eastern Kentucky native Tyler Childers made it hard to escape Sturgill Simpson comparisons in 2017, given that his confident, category-defying effort Purgatory was co-produced by the alternative-country iconoclast. And sure, several of the songs are spiritual cousins of cuts off the towering 2014 Simpson breakout Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Looking further back, Purgatory even passes off whiffs of Jerry Reed, Waylon and Bocephus. Still, Childers creates his own sound – with a twangy heft few of his Americana peers were able to create this year. He sprinkles Kentucky bluegrass throughout the LP, providing a softener to balance out the rowdier moments, like the Steve Earle-stomp of "Whitehouse Road" and the rollicking romp of "Honky Tonk Flame". Childers is not really country and is certainly not folk, and the "outlaw" tag is painfully reductive for the genre-melding he's responsible for on Purgatory, an album that topped the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart in its first week this past summer. Broad categorical labels don't mean much in 2017 anyhow. With vivid storytelling and a swaggering cool, Childers proved this year that he's simply a roots music talent. - Michael Davis