25. The Accidentals
Traverse City, MI’s Accidentals have made a name for themselves purely off of the backs of their family, and we’re not just talking about this innovative trio of youngsters’ parents and siblings. Their fanbase is passionate and growing as the band makes their way around the States on a very regular basis to spread their compassion as people and a genre-bending blend of folk, rock, hip-hop, classical, and more to new venues and audiences across the country. Arguably one of the hardest-working bands in recent memory, the group — comprised of Savannah Buist, Katie Larson, and Michael Dause — have captured the hearts of thousands strong with their incredible stage presence and evocative means of telling a story in song.
With a whopping 218 recorded stops, Bandsintown named them as the band with the most tours in 2015, and it wouldn’t be hard to believe if they made the list as its chart-topper yet again this go-around. In a way, they perfectly encapsulate the traditional idea of the American dream — working hard and getting places as a direct result of your blood, sweat, and tears — though their sound is undeniably accessible to people around the globe. They’re in the studio at the time of this write-up and are hard at work on their third consecutive full-length, following up a seriously scintillating seven-track EP released earlier this year that gives a delicious taste of what the trio is capable of since 2013’s Bittersweet. — Jonathan Frahm
24. Adia Victoria
With this year’s debut album Beyond the Bloodhounds, Adia Victoria doesn’t exactly explode onto the scene — at least, not right away. At first, she floats like a chilly morning mist, eerie and ethereal, and then she strikes, belting out bluesy odes to life in the Deep South, fighting the devil, and coming to grips with mortality. Victoria is an artist who knows how to take the bitter parts of life and use them well. She’s talked candidly in many an interview about what she’s faced as a woman of color growing up in the South (and living in the United States today), and Beyond the Bloodhounds always paints vivid, unapologetic pictures of her real life.
Real rock and roll thrives in Victoria’s music, sometimes with in-your-face electric guitar riffs, sometimes with acoustic chords, and always with a stark, haunting melancholy, the kind that raises hairs and echoes in every corner. She’s full of fire, ice, and delta blues, and there’s sure to be much more of that where her first album came from. — Adriane Pontecorvo
23. UV Boi
As an emerging light of the buoyant Australian electronic scene, UV Boi has had a memorable 2016 as he announced himself as a major talent on the global stage. Releasing his debut EP L.U.V and performing shows across Australia and the US, Brisbane native Emmanuel John fuses jarring electronics with swirling synths and urban soundscapes to create boundary-pushing future bass that sounds effortlessly current in the post-EDM world.
Picked out by Ryan Hemsworth as a teen from his SoundCloud recordings he is also proof of the changing face of music, as much like hip-hop mixtapes in the ’90s and ’00s, the potential for self-promotion from the confines of the bedroom grows ever clearer. With others like KLLO following hot on his heels and the continued success of stars like Flume, Australia is having something of a moment as we end the year and the endless creativity of UV Boi is a testament to this. — William Sutton
22. The Cactus Blossoms
If there’s any truth to the phrase “you can’t rush perfection”, it can be found in You’re Dreaming, the debut album from the Cactus Blossoms. Brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey formed the band in 2010 and released a self-titled debut album (now out of print) in 2011, and a live album in 2013. Since then, they’ve been crafting their sound in venues like St. Paul’s Turf Club, gaining fans like Nick Lowe, and soaking in the sounds of early country by way of the Everly Brothers. The result is an irresistible album that goes by in a warm breeze. That’s not to say it’s forgettable by any stretch. Tracks like “Stoplight Kisses” and “Clown Collector” promise to set up shop and linger in your memory after the first play. — Sean McCarthy
Hinds do a fair amount to polish their casual image. It only takes one look at the album cover to their debut Leave Me Alone — the four Spanish girls in the band making goofy faces in oversized t-shirts, two of which are holding beers, in a sporadic picture that is both crooked and obstructed — to figure that out. In interviews, they focus on the drunken pleasure of being young and in a band, and in concert, they bookmark songs with stumbling, jubilant laughter. Their music reflects this high-spirited lightness, taking the onslaught of their garage-pop influences (think Ty Segall, the Strokes, Velvet Underground) and flipping it on its back so that it rolls around in breezy euphoria, jangling more than it punches. Their sound centers around the airy vocal chemistry between the two frontwomen Carlotta Cosials and Ana Garcia Perrote, whose vocals twist and turn through flat, bold, slithering, and whiny textures. The songs themselves usually peak with a spontaneous, playful refrain or an ultra-pleasant and fearlessly delivered guitar riff or melody line. That’s all it takes to describe Hinds’ music, and it doesn’t seem like much. However, when you consider the consistency of their music, it turns into something a lot bigger; these girls are phenomenal songwriters, a valuable tool that allows them to transcend the confines of their aesthetic. — Max Totsky
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In his 1962 travel memoir, Steinbeck once wrote, “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike… we find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” This sentiment is the core essence of Auckland-based Leisure, a quintet fueled by the desire to make good music and live within the moment. The groove-centric New Zealand collective of Tom Young, Jaden Parkes, Jordan Arts, Djeisan Suskov and Josh Fountain never set out to form a band; it instinctually emerged from the fruits of their creative labor. Despite possessing wildly disparate musical personalities, Leisure has gone on to deliver one of the most gorgeous, cohesive debuts of any year in recent memory.
Leisure is the sound of sunset champagne toasts, late night clubland romps, and retro-chic, poolside pleasures, a selection of songs that sound like a greatest hits collection. From the lounge-like swagger of opener “Got It Bad”, the Tame Impala-esque groove of “Hot Love”, and the ebullient, disco-kissed “Take It to the Top”, there isn’t a duff track in the lot. The highlights are innumerable, but cuts like the deliciously woozy “Nobody” with Gold Link, and the slinky “Moonbeam”, with a bassline to die for, display a seasoned maturity that belies the infancy of the electro-soul outfit. Leisure is a debut that delivers on the promise of its exceptional promotional singles and proves the industry hype machine is not always selling us a lie. — Ryan Lathan
19. Kate Tempest
Those who mix in different circles may argue that Kate Tempest is not in fact a new artist. The English wordsmith has already earned a reputation as one of the premier poets and playwrights of our time, however, not until the release of her second album in October has she genuinely been able to add musician to her list of credentials. Tempest’s Let Them Eat Chaos, with its politically focused themes, is a concise retrospective of an ideology gone mad. Armed with minimalistic sounds and articulate verse, Tempest wrestles with capitalism, consumerism and the fabrics of our Western world from the beginning of the record. Her examination is both fully realized and innovative, giving a face to the performance poetry genre with her emotive style of delivery. At the same time, Tempest walks the line between accessible and confronting with grace and daring. With any luck, she will continue to do so in the years to come. — Jasper Bruce
The Los Angeles-based trio KING — twin sisters Amber and Paris Strother, and Anita Bias — has been on the rise for about five years, but 2016 was when they really stepped into the spotlight. Their fascinating debut album We Are KING is a dreamy take on the smoother side of ’90s R&B. They’re taking quiet-storm vibes and turning them into a slightly strange, always-gorgeous trip, with harmony as their base and vintage analog synthesizers as the dressing. Many of the songs on their debut are love songs, in their essence, but with a daydreaming quality. Yet what might seem like a love song may also turn out to be something else, like a tribute to Muhammad Ali (“The Greatest”), a sign that their view of love runs broad and deep. — Dave Heaton
17. Lil Yachty
The new school of style-over-substance rappers reached peak meme in 2016, but before Lil Uzi Vert and 21 Savage had their fair share of radio smashes there was a neat little project making its way to the forefront of Soundcloud called Lil Boat. In addition to being one of 2016’s most reliable consistent carefree rap releases, Lil Boat introduced one of rap’s most divisive characters: Lil Yachty. You either shivered with disgust at the sound of his auto-tuned warbles, ranted about his lack of awareness and technical skill, or you embraced the fact that rap was in need of a smirking, attractive product like him, even if you could still cringe at his hilariously disjointed tracks and lyrics that were prime bait for Supreme-wearing fuccbois to chant amidst the halls of their New York City private schools. Either way, Lil Yachty was a sensation, and even when he attained massive mainstream recognition with D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli”, he was still the “king of the teens”, young as fuck and rich as hell, with a sound and look that remained infuriatingly fresh. — Max Totsky
Although Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen has a 2014 debut album under her belt, the Danish singer-songwriter’s status among pop music watchers grew in the last year and a half, thanks in large part to a very popular 2015 collaboration with Major Lazer and DJ Snake. 2016 continued that forward momentum with a pair of popular singles, led by the uplifting, impassioned rallying cry “Final Song”. Couple that with an appearance on Fallon and a North American tour that showcased her energetic, punk-derived take on electropop, and you’ve got some very, very high expectations for MØ’s new album in 2017. — Adrien Begrand
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15. Japanese Breakfast
Japanese Breakfast does a lot of things well, but one thing they don’t do well is fit easily into genre classification. Michelle Zauner’s songs could be called “indie pop” as an umbrella term, but she’s really a master at synthesizing distinct genres into something completely fresh. On the brilliant Psychopomp, she presents dream-pop, twee, and shoegaze in equal measure. Similarly, as a lyricist, she alternates between sweetness, sexuality, and self-loathing, and it never once appears to be a put-on or pastiche. Whether writing about struggle or joy, Zauner displays a maturity often lacking in songwriters of her ilk. Never does she look to music for affirmation or plaudits. For her, the mere act of expressing through song the beauty and ugliness of living is more than enough of a reward in itself. After all, we all do what we can to get by, and if a pop song is what it takes, then who’s to stop the Michelle Zauners of the world from making things a little bit easier? — Kevin Korber
English pop singer Shura began building an online following starting with the single “Touch” in 2014, though it was not until this year that she revealed her full potential on her debut LP Nothing’s Real. The album is a non-stop parade of pop perfection, each song immaculately constructed with a kind of deep, intuitive knowledge of what makes synthpop connect. Shura’s sensitivity, her unabashed queerness, and her devout independence guarantee the devotion of her fans. She has the voice of a diva, but catch her in concert and you will experience a no-frills, no-bullshit affair. When I saw her earlier this year at a dive bar in Boston, she crooned perfectly on stage adorned in a toboggan and a thick winter coat. To hell with image obsession and celebrity culture, she seemed to say. She is an ideal pop star for the sensitive misfits of the world, and she will doubtless pull more of these into her fold as her career progresses. — Andrew Paschal
13. Kedr Livanskiy
Speaking about the Russian music scene, Yana Kedrina, who currently goes by the pseudonym Kedr Livanskiy, had this to say: “we have no market, no manufacturing really, no experience creating electronic labels. In general, there is no music business.” It’s a strange reality for a country that you think would have so much creative fuel. That said, this industrial drought is precisely what spawns collectives like Johns’ Kingdom, a self-described “record label and a group of pretty unknown artists from Russian suburbs” of which Kedr Livanskiy is a part. Artistic expression in Russia was severely limited during the years of the Soviet Union, but the Internet has opened many doors for artists like this to strive. And if you look hard enough, you will find something brilliant like Kedr Livanskiy, whose January Sun EP possesses some of the most strangely soothing electronic music you will hear all year. January Sun is made up of familiar elements: the way it trembles with the pulse of pop, the way it sounds like it could all soundtrack the same dream sequence, the way its character is consistently hidden somewhere in the distance. But it’s hard to find an artist who takes it all on quite like Kedrina, and if she were to stretch her blemish-free track record out into an entire album, the result would likely be one of the most thinly intoxicating electronic experiences around. — Max Totsky
12. Katie Gately
When an album gets classified as “pop”, yet has no tracks running under four minutes, but is still somehow more commercially accessible than an artist’s previous work, there’s something special going on. After the 13-minute vocal-samples-only “Pipes” thrust California’s Katie Gately into the view of tastemakers, the question was what a full-length would sound like. 2016’s Color answered this question emphatically, combining traditional lyrics (“If I give you all my money, would you do it for me?”, she questions on opener “Lift”) with a barrage of edited wordless vocals that, I’m guessing, can only entirely be picked up by the composer herself, along with blips and screeches and drones the sources of which probably run the gamut of everyday items. Gately inherently understand pop’s core motive: get the song stuck in your head and your body moving, and the fact that she’s doing it in a long-form, maximalist way makes her emergence this year all the better. — Brian Duricy
11. Swet Shop Boys
The debate continues, but in this post-9/11 world of Islamophobia, xenophobia, abject police violence, and resurgent racism, is it the responsibility of artists to use their high-profile status as a platform for confronting the social injustices around them? Regardless of opinions, too often than not, these pop-glossed messages are poorly constructed and muddied with pathos. Enter the Swet Shop Boys. Iconoclasts in the making, Riz MC (Rizwan Ahmed), a British actor-rapper of Pakistani decent, and Heems (Himanshu Suri), an Indian-American activist and rapper from New York City, understand the visceral power behind the spoken word.
Their debut album, Cashmere, has quickly garnered attention for its vivid, genre-defying sonics and acerbic political commentary, but above all, it’s fun. Over the years, hip-hop has become the global lingua franca of the disenfranchised, and the Swet Shop Boys’ Casio meets Bollywood anthems never mince words as they touch upon issues like discrimination (“Shottin”), radicalization (“Shoes Off”), and racial profiling (“T5). To their credit, it’s never a heavy-handed affair, and anyone looking for party tunes will be more than satisfied with tracks like the kaleidoscopic “Tiger Hologram”. As the stellar singles continue to drop, keep on eye on this duo, as they inevitably break into the public consciousness. — Ryan Lathan
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10. Kadhja Bonet
With her debut album The Visitor, Kadhja Bonet put down on record an aesthetic that seems to hover between genres, eras, and universes. She sets a hippie-Bohemian version of neo-soul with psychedelic folk-pop that recalls the late ’60s without bringing any particular moment or musician to mind. Even when the songs are overtly personal in nature, there’s a strange, gentle mix of distance and transcendence that makes it all hard to place. Her singing voice itself presents an unusual case of old and new meeting and making us feel out of step with our time. There’s a sci-fi quality to her music too; her album opens with an “earth birth” scored as a dramatic unveiling as if she’s a visitor from across time and galaxies who has suddenly appeared among us in 2016. — Dave Heaton
9. Margaret Glaspy
A crash course in Margaret Glaspy’s striking and obvious talent can be found in her Tiny Desk Concert for NPR — she supplies the perfect amount of pretty, seemingly-effortless, sometimes-slightly-snarling vocals with ridiculously satisfying and just-busy-enough guitar playing, along with a consistent backing of tight drums and supplementing bass that make it easy for you to get lulled into a sway. Her debut album from this year often reminds me of a sound I always dreamed Ingrid Michaelson would head into after the then-new Girls and Boys was one of my favorite albums years ago. Glaspy’s tunes of pretty vox and rocking guitar also immediately recall St. Vincent, as well as other greats like Kate Bush, Joanna Newsom, Sharon Van Etten, or even Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock. Glaspy’s sounds seems to reflect a growing up of learning from such artists, a legacy to which she’s sure to add. — John DeLeonardis
8. Maren Morris
Not only is Maren Morris one of country’s brightest new songwriters, she’s also the best cusser in the game. She’ll look you in the eye, smirk, and utter an impeccably placed “SHIT” as offhand as her fun-loving musical persona. But don’t be fooled: behind the jokes and insults on her major label debut, Hero, lie untold hours of craft honing and song sharpening. Drawing on hip-hop (“Rich”), reggae (“Drunk Girls Don’t Cry”), gospel (“My Church”), and the sleek throb of ’80s Mercedes rock (“’80s Mercedes”), Morris also created one of the year’s most diverse country albums. Why, I’ve heard Steve Harvey talking up “My Church” on country radio, and I’ve heard the song sung in recital on Chicago’s North Shore. If that ain’t crossover success I dunno what is. — Josh Langhoff
Oakland native Kamiyiah shocked everyone as she emerged from almost nowhere with “How Does It Feel” at the turn of the year. She followed it up with the feel good debut album, A Good Night in the Ghetto, with its everyman social commentary and party feel set around a loose concept record about a night in Bay Area. In the process she created the soundtrack for the average Joe, with her work best defined by her sense of humour, confidence and ear for melodies and hooks. Thick, lush basslines and snapping 808s are the hallmarks of an album born on the West Coast and drenched in ’90s R&B nostalgia, courtesy of CT Beats and Trackademics, with samples including Earth Wind and Fire. The 24 year old has already featured alongside YG (who also appears on the album), Drake and E-40 and feels refreshingly free from any constraints of what a rapper, and particularly a female rapper, should sound like in 2016, providing great hope for more to come in 2017. — William Sutton
Maryland born singer, Christopher Gallant, just started gaining some serious traction before the release of his 2016 full-length debut, Ology. On the heels of a tour with Sufjan Stevens and studio sessions galore, Gallant is becoming a notable and appealing vocalist. His strong and unabashed falsetto is certainly a signature that sets him apart, but his real charm comes from a clear reverence for cornerstone R&B and pop sounds and history. As hip-hop’s lines continue to blur around pop, jazz, and soul, Gallant is the kind of artist who can fit into a lot of slots but can stick out just the same. — Dan Kok
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5. Isaiah Rashad
Top Dawg Entertainment houses some of the most important modern rappers and lyricists, notable Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and more. That’s a lot to live up to, but Isaiah Rashad, on of the label’s newest signees, looks ready to meet that bar. He has the kind of bravado and self-assurance that comes off as obnoxious from some other artists, but Rashad manages to stick to the bounds of reality. With his 2016 breakthrough, Rashad displays an impressive range and sounds equally comfortable on soulful R&B tracks and Mike Will Made It trap-tinged beats. Versatile, unique, and intensely listenable, so far Isaiah Rashad checks all of TDE’s boxes for success. — Dan Kok
On point features and precise production separate this Haitian by Montreal DJ. As music’s center continues to splinter to the sides, and its sides continue to split into subgenres upon subgenres, 99.9% honestly sounds like 2016 — funky house plus alternative R&B with some instrumental hip-hop tossed into the juicer. And an Anderson Paak feature in 2016 is like a Kendrick feature in 2015, perfectly timed. The record is jammed full of bangers, but Kay’s crisp production separates it from a school bus full of imitators. “Glowed Up” for instance is a tight, hazy pop song with hooks for days, but at three minutes instead of fading out, brittle drums fade in, and the song goes for round two, like catching an uber home and finding out the whole nightclub followed. — Landon MacDonald
3. Margo Price
After three albums with Buffalo Clover, Margo Price wowed critics and fans alike with Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Neither wholly country nor entirely rock, the collection reveals a songwriter who has no problem baring her soul across material such as “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” and “Since You Put Me Down”. The writing is expert and authentic and made all the better by her lack of affectation. What’s more, she proves that while being an outsider can be painful one need not dwell on the pain. You can get over it all, live well and maybe find some sliver in salvation while producing art that cuts deep. — Jedd Beaudoin
The world is frightening, and society certainly needs music that isn’t afraid to address that. But it also needs to feel better about things, and while that can happen in a lot of ways, Chicago’s Whitney managed to achieve Doctor Strange level escapism on what feels like a Moonlight budget with their debut album, Light Upon the Lake. Comprised partially of members from Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the band is masterminded by Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek, but features seven members in total. Their sound is sunny, nostalgic, timeless light rock with a dash of detached cool. Ehrlich drums and sings leads, and his yeoman-like tenor is another layer of vintage grain atop the band’s breezy chords. Light Upon the Lake is slight, clocking in at barely a half-hour, but listening to it straight through feels as restorative as a long weekend at a friend’s cabin spent swimming in a creek and shooting beer cans with a BB gun. That’s a feeling the world will likely need more of in 2017, so hopefully, Whitney cooks up their sophomore album in short order. — Grant Rindner
1. Anderson Paak
Anderson Paak has been releasing mixtapes for years, but it’s taken until now for him to finally start receiving the recognition he deserves. This is largely thanks to a healthy boost from his appearances on Dr. Dre’s 2015 album Compton, but Paak hasn’t rested on those laurels. He’s bookended the year with albums Malibu and Yes Lawd!, made guest appearances on no fewer than ten other albums, including the latest from Kaytranada and A Tribe Called Quest, and promoted with bass-heavy single “Come Down”, a feverish dance track that runs hot all the way through. Paak kneads hip-hop, R&B, funk, and soul into new shapes, and this year, he’s done it everywhere from NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series to Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party. His dynamic showmanship and unstoppable energy made him one of the biggest hits of this year’s South By Southwest, a goldmine of exposure to top off a stellar year. With every release, Paak proves his sheer talent again, and now, the world is finally paying attention. — Adriane Pontecorvo