Amnesia Scanner is the experimental electronic duo of Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala. Created in late 2013, the group is not exactly new, but they have remained somewhat unrecognizable and wholly inaccessible until this year. As they used to refuse interviews and released several unannounced, unexplained EP’s and mixtapes, Amnesia Scanner floated around as illegible codes for devoted listeners to decipher. Every track title was prefaced by “AS”, and each music video regurgitated images from internet’s forgotten corners, but for what reason?
Now, their 2018 debut album Another Life makes sense and builds upon their initially cryptic thesis: simultaneously emulating and questioning how we satiate IRL anxieties with URL opiates, or what they call “narratives of… salvation via technology”. Treating pop structures as memes, musical and lyrical anaphoras mechanically compute until their deceptive screens are cracked. Pop tropes are shrieked by their frequent collaborator Pan Daijing, or ciphered by the Oracle—a computerized voice that croons like a disillusioned Crazy Frog. Amnesia Scanner toys with learned memetic, consumer behaviors, implanting hedonistic music with thoughtful criticisms. What initially began as an anonymous side project, an outlet for material that was to obscure for Renaissance Man, has developed into a distinct conceptual identity, simulating a bleak but necessary reflection of our digital opiate culture. – Hans Kim
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The Beths, led by Elizabeth Stokes, assert uncertainty better than anyone else around right now. Debut full-length Future Me Hates Me builds on the New Zealand group’s poppy version of ’90s alt-rock, mixing in some girl-group-style harmonies with a thoroughly contemporary sensibility. Stokes wanders into and struggles out of relationships but never loses her nerve. The group’s ability to pound ahead relentlessly, almost gleefully, in the face of doubt keeps the record from being either too bubbly or too troubled. In the midst of those feelings, they deliver “Not Running” and its embrace of emotional risk, even in wariness. The Beths develop a complicated world without a clear sense of what to do, so moments like the chorus of “Not Running” provide just the right amount of grounding. Forget the psychoanalysis, though. The Beths’ guitar hooks and backing vocals would be enough for a potent debut. The Beths may not know how to feel about themselves, but the rest of us shouldn’t have so much trouble figuring it out. – Justin Cober Lake
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Singer Anandi Bhattacharya comes from one of India’s most famous families of contemporary classical musicians. Her father, Debashish, is a master of the slide guitar; her uncle, Subhasis, is a virtuosic percussionist. Both have supported her on her first foray into solo music this year: Joys Abound, a debut that the youngest Bhattacharya recorded at the tender age of 21. She has a transcendent voice, substantial and ethereal all at once, and draws on spiritual, secular, timeless, and modern styles in her music. Between her studio album and well-received tours across the globe, Anandi has shown a skill for artful innovation that fits in well with her relatives’ repertoires – and a remarkable talent for song all her own. – Adriane Pontecorvo
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London’s Jade Elizabeth Bird kicked butt at the 2018 South by Southwest music festival. She played 12 shows to packed audiences and won the conference’s Grulke Prize for Developing Non-U.S. Act award. The young artist (who recently turned 21) has strong vocal chops and the ability to craft intelligent, guitar-based compositions that simultaneously reveal her innocence and experience. Her cheerful demeanor and clean-scrubbed good looks often disguise the fact that her narrators discover something not especially positive about themselves and other people. Her material suggests her independence causes harm to herself and others. Her guitar playing may not be showy, but she has an excellent sense of timing and knows when to blaze and when to hold back. Although Bird has not yet released a full-length album, she took an extensive road tour of the United States and is about to embark on one in Great Britain. She’s been writing new songs along the way, and several of them have already received extensive airplay on college, indie rock, public radio, and Americana stations. – Steve Horowitz
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If Ray BLK played a sport instead of making music, she would be called “a student of the game”. She holds immense respect for those artists who came before her, who paved the way for her, and one of her driving motivations is to live up to those artists. So far, mission accomplished. She self-released an EP and an album in the last couple years, but this year’s Empress is her first album on a label, and what an album it is. It is only eight tracks, but there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Ray BLK proved that she can write, she can sing, she can rap, she can rock a dance track, she can sing the hell out of a torch song. There are shades of (pre-self-titled) Beyonce, there’s a little bit of Mariah Carey, there are hints of Salt ‘n’ Pepa, and yet none of it feels derivative. She’s incredibly talented in a number of ways, and if there’s anything she isn’t good at, she’s been smart enough to avoid that thing in what she is showing the world — and it’s a good thing, because the world is starting to notice. – Mike Schiller
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Music lovers often fantasize about supergroups, but almost always the output of these groups is inferior to the members’ other works. This year, however, saw the melding of rising indie rock singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus into a glorious trio which is perhaps greater than the sum of its parts. Though only releasing a six-song EP this year, the prolific three have only just begun. And with their solo material already so full of heartache, raw and real looks at relationship, and the deeper emotions behind everyday normalities, boygenius has a real opportunity for shared greatness in their future collaborations. – Chris Thiessen
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The Brother Brothers
Less intent on precise harmony than they are simply in evoking the emotion in a song, Adam and David Moss’ performance as the Brother Brothers is more separated from the works of Simon & Garfunkel than one might initially think. The similarities are certainly there and are naturally abundant—they are, after all, a folk duo from Brooklyn often caught singing nostalgic songs of love and loss. Like the Milk Carton Kids, however, taking them only for what might be sheerly similar about them discredits their own individual artistic voices. Some People I Know establishes the Brother Brothers as a tad more informal, taking the blue-collar sentiment of Americana mainstays like Jason Isbell or Sarah Shook and synthesizing them into a more subtly presented, folk-centered experience. While they have yet to build a catalog to rival those of their aforementioned contemporaries, their debut LP is a great step in the right direction. They leave what they’ve got right on the table, making it no wonder why they’ve managed supporting gigs for the likes of I’m With Her and Lake Street Dive. – Jonathan Frahm
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With her LP Quit the Curse, Detroit’s Anna Burch boasts one of 2018’s strongest yet understated debuts. As Burch is far from a novice, having been a veteran of various bands in her city’s music scene, Quit the Curse is a declaration of songwriter that has already cut her teeth and honed a craft demanding attention. On full display throughout the album’s nine infectious tunes is Burch’s knack for conjuring ethereal, mid-tempo pop, all guided by her mellifluous voice. Abounding with vintage flourishes and an understated romanticism, her songs are rich with honey-dripping whimsy and subtly hum their way into your subconscious. The album is signal flare announcing the origin of what should be an indie legacy artist. – Cole Waterman
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Liz Cooper & the Stampede
Some bands just ooze a particular feeling, a particular vibe that can become so iconic to the point that the band and the vibe are synonymous. While it may be a bit premature to call Liz Cooper & the Stampede iconic, their ability to make you feel like you’re blissfully floating down a magic stream certainly contains the DNA to grow into that title. Grant Prettyman and Ryan Usher lay down the groovy foundations for the vibe, but the secret ingredient is Cooper’s dreamy, psychedelic guitar-work accompanied by the sly rasp in her voice. Though able to storytell and paint lyrical landscapes with the prowess of a folk songwriter (check out “Mountain Man”), the focus remains the groove and vibe, and it’s perfect. – Chris Thiessen
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Cut Worms is the nom de plume of Max Clark, an Ohioan with a creative gaze fixated upon a hypnagogic past. On his 2018 debut Hollow Ground, Clark delivers a collection of sonorous melodies with an unabashed nostalgia for 1960s-style balladry. What makes Clark’s work stand out amidst a glut of low-fi, vintage inspired acts is his ability to toe the line between light and darkness. Despite the lilting, power pop-inspired sound of many of these songs, there is a somber self-awareness that lurks beneath the shiny veneer.
Instrumentally, Hollow Ground thrives when it balances dark guitars and faraway parlor pianos with sparkling leads, bright pedal steel, and soaring vocal harmonies. This deceptively simplistic songwriting disarms the listener from the overwhelming lyrical message that reality is far away. Like the David Lynchian material his music evokes, Clark’s music comes with the painful reminder that the burning nostalgia we often feel is no more than a product of a yearning, lovesick mind. – Jared Skinner
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The depths of the bayou and the shallows of the Caribbean sea come through in equal measure in the music of Paris-based trio Delgres, made up of singer Pascal Danaë, drummer Baptiste Brondy, and sousaphone player Rafgee. Danaë’s voice brings back-breaking soul to songs in both English and Antillean Creole, while the brass and beats behind him keep each song moving forward. This year saw the release of the group’s first full-length album, Mo Jodi, a record dripping with rhythm and passion. Old-school rock and roll adds extra grit to an already red-hot mix of murky delta blues and Caribbean folk styles. Delgres sounds like smooth whiskey, body heat, and spirit, and it’s a style with staying power. – Adriane Pontecorvo
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Sixteen-year-old Billie Eilish might not have set the world alight via the traditional album and accompanying promotional cycle – she only released five songs in 2018 – but this year she emerged as a true star of the streaming era, amassing hundreds of millions of plays across the globe. And in this day and age, that’s nothing to scoff at. While 2017 smashes “Ocean Eyes” and “Bellyache” displayed her precocious talent, newer tracks “You Should See Me in a Crown”, “When the Party’s Over”, and “Lovely” showed a great deal of maturity that makes the listener forget just how young she is. Whatever Billie Eilish does in 2019, you know that all eyes will be on her. – Adrien Begrand
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Flasher’s debut album, Constant Image is driven by the small liberties we afford ourselves. The ones that make our days better. The things that we’ll remember when we are shift is finished. It’s an album for the everyman who has it all worked out until the sun comes up, and it’s time to start another shift. Flasher is a band that realizes that not everyone is obsessing over the answers to life’s big questions. They recognize that often, all people need are hook-filled rock songs, that’ll inspire the kind of exhilaration and joy that only comes from a group of people who fully understand what your day was like. From the wiry, fitful riff of “Material” to the fully charged pop-rock chords of “Who’s Got Time? to the elongated notes of “Skim Milk”, the band manage to fit all their edgy, constituent parts together but in an abstract fashion, like putting together the broken pieces of a vase together and creating something new. In that way, Flasher may just be about the most exciting new guitar band around today. – Paul Carr
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If Alice Ivy’s debut album I’m Dreaming did nothing more than simply echo the colorful found-sound dance-pop of the Avalanches and Skylar Spence, it would still be under consideration for just about any 2018 list of the Best Pop Albums. Yet this 25-year-old Melbourne beatmaker has an astonishing ear for blending genres, veering from jazz to soul to club bangers at the drop of a bedazzled hat. She makes vaporwave sound like it’s having a Top 40 moment but without compromising a damn thing. Her samples are impeccably chosen, her guest stars always tailored to the song, and her future brighter than a strobe light shining directly in your face while you’re rolling. – Evan Sawdey
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On April 12, 2015, six Baltimore police officers used excessive force to arrest Freddie Gray for possession of a legal knife. On April 19, 2015, Gray passed away due to the spinal cord injuries he suffered from his arrest. On April 25, 2015, the city of Baltimore reacted to the injustice.
JPEGMAFIA, aka Peggy, aka Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, was born in New York, moved to Alabama at age 13, and then served in the Air Force in Iraq, Germany, and Japan. After much flux, in 2015, Peggy finally settled in Baltimore after watching the city rise against the assault of Freddie Gray, as he tells the Fader. Inspired by the city’s fervor, he recorded his own reactions for his 2016 debut album Black Ben Carson. Self-producing every beat with disregard for rap music’s current obsessions with arpeggiated loops and 808s, and packing every verse with emotional, political, and satirical meanings, Peggy introduced his intent to end the “Drake Era” of rap. From insider allusions of Baltimore’s gentrification to the unfortunately too familiar references of police brutality, Peggy’s debut promised the rise of a new, uncompromised voice.
Indeed, 2018’s Veteran continues Peggy’s unfettered account of American hypocrisy. The entirely self-produced album refuses all allegiances, calling out worshiped iconoclasts from all sides, such as Donald Trump, Bill Maher, and even Morrisey. Frantically rapping over his skittering, noise-influenced beats, Peggy jumps from waging war against alt-right YouTube commenters to outing liberal-leaning music journalists for supporting rappers with sexual assault charges. While the dominant discourse of conservative vs. liberal continues to trend on social and mass media, Veteran never forgets that the two-party system limits true expressions, especially for minorities. So, the Peggy party should spit more harsh realities in 2019 because, although he has moved to Los Angeles, he pledges: “Promise I will never go blonde like Kanye.” – Hans Kim
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Québec popular culture has always been a peculiar little bubble, even to most Canadians. Because the insularity of the region, and of course the language barrier, it takes a lot for a Francophone artist to cross over to English audiences. Of course, an absolute genius pop album never hurts, and 24 year-old Hubert Lenoir hit paydirt with his solo debut Darlène. Joyously mining such influences as Marc Bolan, early David Bowie, and Serge Gainsbourg, Darlène is a concept album about a romance between a Québécois woman and a suicidal American tourist that positively explodes with vivacity, and even if the listener doesn’t understand French, the music is more than contagious enough to make up for it. After causing a sensation in Québec with his defiant (and gleeful) androgyny, Lenoir was shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize, and since then he’s become one of Canada’s budding stars. With talent like this, the sky’s the limit. – Adrien Begrand
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The members of Leon III aren’t, strictly considered, new artists. Their primary band Wrinkle Neck Mules has been around long enough to release a compilation called I Never Thought It Would Go This Far. But in the just-born Leon III incarnation, Andy Stepanian and Mason Brent find something new, treading into psychedelic territory without tripping, and worrying every little detail of their sound without sounding like they’ve worried every little detail of their sound. Their self-titled album required every bit of that precision, with no instrument or production choice superfluous or out of place. Technique alone doesn’t carry a record like this one, though. The smart songwriting rewards on many levels, often by raising questions or posing unresolved narrative situations. “Alberta” needs a spot in a film now, and “Between the Saddle & the Ground” should just be a biopic. Watching artists become something fresh can be as fun as discovering spontaneous generation, and Leon III provide one of the best albums of the year in their newness. – Justin Cober-Lake
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In an identity crisis, 29-year-old Idahoan Trevor Powers, in their own words, had to “murder the [Youth Lagoon] project” to move forward as an artist. In August came Mulberry Violence, the first release under Powers’ given name—to a muted response, I’ll add, which is a damn shame because it’s pretty great. Channeling a dozen 21st century post-club dance styles, it sounds less like the dreamy washes of Youth Lagoon than the jarring, (metaphorically) schizophrenic work from Amnesia Scanner or Yves Tumor. The product may feel derivative, but with such a creative pastiche in a language of instant nostalgia. It works. Powers’ many shades of shuddery vocals and emotional content may alienate, but it’s the wonderful sounds and the ever-changing stream of them that give this music life. That, and a good quotient of hooks to reel you in. Who can say what’s next in store for Powers? Not Powers, I’d wager. So keep an eye on them—show them you care. – A. Noah Harrison
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Rosalía is a Catalan singer who is pushing the boundaries of flamenco to an increasingly global audience. To generalize, her 2017 debut album Los ángeles crooned sultry flamenco nuevo to an audience that was already familiar with the genre. Although she was backed by Refree’s forward-thinking productions, her album just began to pull at the Andalusian folk music’s longstanding foundation. However, while Rosalía cherishes traditional flamenco, she also finds inspiration from modern experimentalists such as Oneohtrix Point Never, as Refree tells Folch. Hence, her 2018 follow-up, El Mal Querer, does not just pull at but wholly deconstructs flamenco’s past. Co-produced by the Canarian psychedelic pop artist El Guincho, the album flips flamenco textures and rhythms into pop, hip-hop, and R&B tropes. On “BAGDAD (Cap. 7: Liturgia)”, Rosalía’s flamenco trained vocals are washed and auto-tuned into an allusion to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”; on “PIENSO EN TU MIRÁ (Cap.3: Celos)”, palmas are repurposed to emulate rolling hihats; and, on “DE AQUÍ NO SALES (Cap.4: Disputa)”, the compás is thrusted with motorcycle revs and police sirens.
Such sonic fusions enticed a global audience to better understand Rosalía’s music’s past and present—the collation and lyrics of El Mal Querer reinterpret the 13th-century Occitan novel The Romance of Flamenca, a fable about a bride who is imprisoned by her jealous husband. Her latest album has not only shifted the trajectory of Latin pop’s international resurgence but the limits of commercial pop music in general. The chart-topping success challenges the alleged consumer desire for safe pop music. So, while Rosalía is emerging as a pop idol, we can certainly expect her next album to waver at the intersections of several styles and ideas—after all, Rosalía has recently shared that she is collaborating with the Venezuelan singer and producer Arca, who, as the co-producer of 2017’s Utopia, has even pushed Bjork further into experimentation. – Hans Kim
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Ross From Friends
Garnering success from the release of the EPs Aphelion and Alex Brown, Ross from Friends’ full-length debut Family Portrait is storing its own acclaim. An apt album title, Ross from Friends’ musicality was modeled by his father who built his own sound system and DJing operation in the 1980s. Ross from Friends, aka Felix Clary Weatherall, has since established himself as a lo-fi innovator. His music is methodically structured and layered creating an accessible tapestry of beats.
Family Portrait hooks the listener from the first two seconds and maintains a systemized call for attention with each track. Ross from Friends demonstrates a musical fluidity as he incorporates house, dubstep, hip-hop riffs, negative space, and analog instruments. But that list only begins to describe Family Portrait‘s sonic palette. Ross from Friends demonstrates a clear affinity for varying genres and wide-ranging sounds. Right when it seems a track, or even Family Portrait, reveals a calculable next step, Ross from Friends subverts the expectation. This creates a style marking Family Portrait as just that: a musical portrait recontextualizing lo-fi. – Elizabeth Woronzoff
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There are immediate comparisons to be made when listening to serpentwithfeet. His voice sounds immediately like the Weeknd, while his patient, sometimes laborious approach to songwriting owes a great debt to Frank Ocean. Still, Josiah Wise, who has been recording as serpentwithfeet for a couple years now but who finally released his first album (the excellent soil) this year, seems to make a point of ensuring that his music sounds like nothing you have ever heard. Maybe the reason for this is the gentle ebb and flow of odd and seemingly incongruous sounds that comprise the music behind him; maybe it is his insistence on avoiding verse/chorus structure. Maybe it’s a combination of factors; the presence of such an appealing, beautiful voice alternately fighting with and perfectly complementing the experimental music behind it is fascinating to hear.
Wise’s voice holds your attention immediately, and there’s a depth to his approach to composition that keeps you coming back over and over again. serpentwithfeet is just the sort of combination of bizarre and mainstream elements that could one day stumble into a pop radio hit, though it won’t be from the wildly anti-commercial soil. Even if he never gets a sniff of the top of the charts, however, his music remains worthwhile and interesting, and whatever he does next is bound to be one of the most anticipated events of whatever year it happens. – Mike Schiller
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On her debut album Future, Eliza Shaddad’s demonstrates an artistic depth that can take even seasoned artists years to find. To produce such rich, fully formed songs that take in everything from alt-rock to ’80s pop to trip hop is remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is Shaddad’s evident strength of character throughout. Many of these songs seem to have been born from sheer force of will as she struggles to throw water on the dying embers of relationships and attempts to resolve the conflicts in her psyche that would eat others up. Shaddad is a sophisticated songwriter, and with Future, she has written an observant, intuitive album. One rich with experience, vulnerability, and self-doubt but also one full of resilience and determination. – Paul Carr
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South London’s Shame bring punk kicking and screaming into the present. There’s nothing retro about them, although their music and lyrics are reminiscent of the best of the Clash and other bands from the original punk era. They energetically sing and play about issues as big as the refugee crisis in England and as small as personal relationships going wrong with an electric passion that suggests there is no time like the present and now is the time for action. Charlie Steen’s vocals ride atop the instrumental blasts of Sean Coyle-Smith (guitar), Eddie Green (guitar), Charlie Forbes (drums) and Josh Finerty (bass) like a cowpoke at a rodeo on a bucking bronco. There’s something very tight about their performance that threatens to break down into chaos any minute. But Shame’s music makes it clear that we may be surrounded by pandemonium and upheaval, their anarchic sound may be the most stable presence in this entropic world. – Steve Horowitz
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In a year that saw him release his debut full-length MUDBOY, Sheck Wes’ career was defined by a single that preceeded it. “Mo Bamba” is an indisputable hit, one of those songs that everyone has an opinion on as it generates controversy, lights up clubs, and attracts the attention of the likes of Travis Scott and Kanye West. With a dual deal with Cactus Jack and G.O.O.D. Music in place, the hype and expectations surrounding MUDBOY went beyond the sane and advisable. As such, it was destined to disappoint. While solid, the album feels at times rushed and incomplete, full of raw energy that doesn’t go anywhere and instead remains a forceful, flashy skeleton without very much meat or message on it. When it works, at its most raw and direct, it’s an earnest coming of age album—focused on Wes’ childhood and life between Harlem and Milwaukee fused with touches of his Senegalese heritage and love for basketball—and an authentic statement, but these moments seem few and far between, lost in weaker and uninspired straightforward cuts.
Yet despite all this, flashes of Wes’s brilliance and fire interspersed throughout the album showcase an enormous potential beyond the immediate appeal of “Mo Bamba”. With his own deceptively simple but tangled dialect and a dexterity in coalescing form and matter, it’s difficult not to look forward to Sheck Wes’s rise. – Antonio Poscic
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Jorja Smith had been kicking around the UK R&B scene for a little while before this year, releasing a few singles and finding herself the subject of a healthy amount of buzz and a few breathless “next big thing” articles. She ended up on the Black Panther soundtrack with the transcendent and confident “I Am”, upstaging a host of artists that had to that point pulled in significantly more advance buzz. Later this year she released her album Lost & Found, a nearly flawless debut that somehow pulls off the trick of being significantly engaging and giving her room to grow.
Smith has the chops and gift for melody to be a threat at any time to make an impact on pop radio, and she has the credibility to work alongside just about anyone. She is the rare artist that has made her first statement but has stopped short of defining herself, to the point where no future direction would be a surprise. Whatever direction she picks, however, will undoubtedly be worth following. – Mike Schiller
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The last couple years have seen a boom of women in indie rock, featuring excellent material from veteran rockers as well as a slew of new faces. You would think that the genre is becoming oversaturated, making it hard to break through, but Nashville’s Soccer Mommy was undeterred by the competition in 2018, releasing her first full-length album Clean and touring with the likes of Paramore and Foster the People. Though hailing from the Music City, Soccer Mommy’s sound is not so much informed by the country landscape. She instead offers young adult anxieties with a bedroom rock flavor akin to Mitski or Phoebe Bridgers. At just 20, Soccer Mommy’s expression of heartbreak and search for personal identity are profound and relatable. – Chris Thiessen
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Anna St. Louis
A Midwestern native, who used a move to Los Angeles as a creative spark to begin writing songs, St. Louis saw the fruits of her labor fully realized this year with the release of If Only There Was a River. Her first full-length picks up where her introductory work left off with a gorgeously crafted collection of tunes centered around the exploration of those mystical, yet often mundane occurrences that make up a life. Her crystal clear voice gently guides each tune through folk-influenced melodies that hearken back to the pastoral sounds of Fairport Convention or early Van Morrison.
Perfect for early morning or late night meditations, her music will calm your soul and help you to reflect and take stock on the surroundings and tasks at hand. This past year has found her profile growing in stature as working relationships with folks like Katie Crutchfield and Kevin Morby tend to do. As her shows are likely to be played at larger venues in front of growing audiences, it will be exciting to watch her command the rooms with her hushed acoustic guitar and studied ruminations on the world around her. – Jeff Strowe
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If there is a band that could be considered archetypal of our interconnected and sleepless day and age, an age that belongs to Generation Z, it’s London’s Superorganism. Brought together by a meta-reality—one defined by the internet, online forums, social media, and a shared love for memes—Superorganism lived as a loose group of online friends from all over the world bunched together in a virtual bedroom project. Officially formed in early 2017, the crucial part of their inception happened in Japan during the summer of 2015 when its main ingredients, a New Zealand band called the Eversons and Maine high schooler Orono Noguchi, met in the real world for the first time. Between then and the recording of this year’s self-titled debut, most members relocated to London and started working together in the fleshspace.
In a world that is often divided and divisive, this sequence of events, the existence of Superorganism, and the forces that lead to it are positively delightful phenomena, evidence of that elusive unicorn of globalisation’s positive effects. Similar to their multicultural and geographically dislocated genesis, their music is born out of a multicolored mashup of styles. On Superorganism, they play a jubilant variant of indie pop supported by a blend of traditional instruments, electronic effects, and samples that explode frantically in all directions while contrasted and carried by Noguchi’s daydreaming, dulcet vocal delivery. A delightful record by a delightful new band. – Antonio Poscic
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Born in Virginia but spending her time between the United States and Colombia, Kali Uchis grew up knowing full well how pop music had the power to reach across multiple cultures. With collaborations with Tyler, The Creator and Gorillaz under her belt by the time 2018 rolled around, some started to wonder what else Uchis had to offer outside of being a fantastic guest vocalist, but her debut full-length, Isolation, absolutely obliterated any and all expectations had about her. Deftly blending bossa-nova, dance-pop, and her alluring, witty, bilingual lyrics, she immediately established herself as one of pop music’s most forward-thinking visionaries, and one whom we’ll be hearing about for a long time to come. – Evan Sawdey
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The War and Treaty
The EP from 2017 should have let us know what was coming from the War and Treaty, with its charged mix of country, gospel, and rock ‘n’ roll. Married duo Michael Trotter and Tanya Blount-Trotter had more in mind for this year’s Healing Tide, a smoother blend of Americana and soul. On the strength of the album alone – particularly Michael’s songwriting and Tanya’s vocals – the group would be one of the great finds of the year, but their live show and their approach to culture put them in another class.
Their concerts provide the healing tide they sing about, with audience members spending time laughing and crying while the musicians pure everything into a phenomenal show. The pair work for reconciliation through their art, not just in joyful, openhearted lyrics (of which there are plenty) but in their conversations, in their desire to bring together people regardless of race, political affiliation, or any other category. Being good people doesn’t necessarily make someone a good artist, but in this case the combination of heart and artistry have led to something transcendent. – Justin Cober-Lake