The best new artists of 2017 mash up genre dividers and take popular music in new and exciting directions.
Photo courtesy of Toast Press
No one knows who Clemens Bacher is, or cares that he's a Vienna-based free jazz drummer who decided to pick up elaborate studio synth work under his name Cid Rim. Almost no one knows about his debut album Material, and it is a damn shame too because this boy knows what the hell he's doing, creating elaborate, visceral synth works: one part Sega Genesis soundtrack and one part indie-keyboard masterpiece. The songs twist and turn, tones bubble and percolate, the drums tap and tip and twist and clap, all adding up to a joyous solo project that somehow manages to carve out its own textural plane that sits both outside of indie rock and IDM-appreciation at the same time. Maybe that's why Cid Rim is still finding his audience. Those found are in for a hell of a ride. - Evan Sawdey
Nadah El Shazly
Publicity photo via Bandcamp
In just her first release Nadah El Shazly presents a work of deep experimental scope. Starting out her musical endeavors singing in Misfits cover bands and producing her own electronic music in the Cairo underground scene, it seems like she came a long way to produce a record such as Ahwar. This task was performed through collaboration across continents, with Maurice Louca (The Dwarfs of East Agouza) and Sam Shalabi aiding in the compositions and arrangements, while Thierry Amar (Hotel2Tango) recorded and mixed this endeavor.
With Ahwar El Shazly is coalescing her musical heritage, the great middle-Eastern and near-Eastern traditions, with an experimental outlook. The traditional basis of the tracks is mutated with drone soundscapes, psychedelic sceneries and avant-jazz concepts, while El Shazly's vocal delivery awakens the mystical essence that lies beyond the notes. Considering that in just her first recording steps El Shazly released something that astounding, the future looks that much more bright. - Spyros Stasis
Photo: Kate York
Like Chris Stapleton and Brandy Clark, Natalie Hemby hit pay dirt as a behind-the-scenes songwriter before breaking out on her own. Now, on the understated Puxico, named after her tiny Missouri hometown, Hemby brushes her debut in muted colors and earth tones, rendering these songs as gentler harvests compared to what Miranda Lambert or Little Big Town had previously done with Hemby's tunes. And without the ultra-slick processing, Hemby proves to be the best interpreter of her own material, a girl with an acoustic guitar and honeydew-sweet vocals and an excellent cycle of slice-of-Americana songs. As a result, she provides the best new voice in roots music by bringing rustic singer-songwriterism back home in lovely, undiluted form. - Steve Leftridge
Photo: Tim Twiss
Iglooghost has been around for a few years now, actually, though his first full-length came out this year. Born Seamus Malliagh, the Irish electronic musician puts everything he has into his work; for debut album Neō Wax Bloom, he intentionally eschewed loops, opting instead to meticulously assemble every bar of the album, something like an album-length version of Autechre's classic "Flutter". His work is reminiscent of that mid-'90s era of electronic music, though it has an energy that the style hasn't exhibited in a long, long time. Nobody was asking for this, nobody was looking for the next Aphex Twin or Kid606, especially given that Aphex Twin and Kid606 are still out there making music. That said, to have an artist as young and exciting as Iglooghost to sit alongside them is meaningful for the genre, and a delight to anyone who gets to hear him. - Mike Schiller
Photo: Ebru Yildiz
This year marked the release of Michelle Zauner's second LP under the moniker of Japanese Breakfast. The former Little Big League frontwoman is no stranger to critical acclaim, but 2017 may represent something of a tipping point for her solo project, as an artist who was once an underground indie darling takes her first steps towards mainstream appeal.
Sonically, Zauner deals in dreamy, indie pop, drenched in shimmering synths. Her sophomore effort is an expansive record, tentatively navigating shoegaze-y territory, but retaining a far greater sense of humor than you might usually expect from the genre. "I can't get you off my mind / I can't get you off in general", Zauner sings on the album's second single Boyish; one of several instances of teasing playfulness on the record.
But there is more to Zauner's project than smart zingers in the lyrics. Years of touring and recording and just generally being in a band have given Michelle Zauner first hand experience of how some figures in the music industry treat women, in particular women of Asian descent. Her music - dreamy, yes; but passive? no - is a reaction to this, and she meets prejudice with the same kind of smart attitude and measured venom which also pervades her tunes.
"I still get asked if I'm the f**king groupie," she Zauner said in an interview with Front Row Boston in 2016, "[I think] 'wow, I've really come from a boy's world'". - John Burns