These are the best new artists of 2018 and they spring from all across the musical spectrum.
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
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
+ + +
- The 25 Best New Musical Artists of 2016 - PopMatters ›
- The Best New and Emerging Artists of 2011 - PopMatters ›
- The Best New / Emerging Artists of 2014 - PopMatters ›
- The Best New Artists of 2012 - PopMatters ›
- The 25 Best New Musical Artists of 2016 ›
- The 25 Best New Musical Artists of 2017 - PopMatters ›