the-best-musical-hopes-to-break-out-in-2016

The Best Musical Hopes to Break Out in 2016

This vibrant gang of musicians is approaching 2016 from all different angles.

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Ruby Amanfu

One could argue that Ruby Amanfu has already hit it big. Her accomplishments are extensive, and her list of collaborators is just crazy: Jack White, Norah Jones, Ben Folds, Kelly Clarkson, etc. But still, those are household names and hers is not — proof that the supposed meritocracy of popular music is mostly sham. Amanfu put out the best covers album of 2015, better by far than Ryan Adams’s paltry 1989, yet she’s still on the cusp of stardom. I’m not sure what it would take at this point for her to really break through to mainstream consciousness, but that voice is there, just waiting to inhabit you, to turn you into a fan if you give it the chance. — Adam Finley

 
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Julien Baker

“Wish I could write songs about anything other than death” is quite a statement from a 20-year-old with one full length under her belt. But if you’ve heard Julien Baker‘s Sprained Ankle you’ll know her words are as crushing as they are true. Wonderfully composed and with its title-track a late addition to the song of the year running, Sprained Ankle was quietly, wonderfully, one of the saddest albums of 2015, propelled by Baker’s silky voice and sharp ear for subtle dynamic touches. Chelsea Wolfe once sang that “pain Is beauty” and she might as well have been talking about Baker’s music. Although Baker will surely evolve and grow with a debut this great, for now we’re lucky to have someone like her already. — Nathan Stevens

 
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Cam

Having picked up royalty checks from Maggie Rose and Miley Cyrus, country singer-songwriter Cam has turned her attention to her own solo career. Like Garth Brooks before her, Cam takes up virtues prized by classic country stalwarts — storytelling detail, rueful wordplay, an every-persona — and glosses them up with colorful pop-country production. In the case of Cam’s debut EP, Welcome to Cam Country, the producer is mainstream heavyweight Jeff Bhasker, who also helped shape Mark Ronson’s fine 2015 album, the one that included “Uptown Funk!” Speaking of “Funk!”, Cam has taken to covering it live, which gives her band the enviable chance to shout out “Hot Cam!” while honing their acoustic funk riffs. All of this — songs, sound, performing joie de vivre, a name that’s easy to rhyme and pun — indicates America will soon be full of Cam radio enthusiasts, unable to camouflage their affection. She’s smooth as camomile. She’s killing it like Son of Cam. (Once you start doing that it’s really hard to stop.) — Josh Langhoff

 
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Cayetana

Formed in 2012 and signed on the strength of a three-song demo, spirited Philadelphia pop-punk trio Cayetana has spent the greater part of the last three years honing its raw talent playing festivals like CMJ and Florida’s the Fest, touring with fellow Philly acts Waxahatchee, Restorations and the Menzingers, and supporting Against Me! and Billy Idol. Released in August 2014, Nervous Like Me, the band’s debut LP, is 31 minutes of scrappy pop-punk gems, boundless energy and hooks galore. Fronted by the restrained anxiousness of Augusta Koch, Allegra Anka’s chiming Peter Hook bass lines and Kelly Olsen’s thundering drums fill out the band’s songs of 20-something angst, suburban escapism and urban realism. Signaling what’s in store for 2016, the band just released a two-song EP, Tired Eyes. Featuring the weary single “Freedom1313”, the band’s New Order connection comes full circle with the faithful b-side cover of “Age of Consent”. 2016 looks very bright for Cayetana. — Eric Risch

 
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Christine and the Queens

After making a name for herself in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Quebec under the moniker Christine and the Queens (the charming “Christine” was an international smash) French artist Héloïse Letissier made a modest splash in America in late 2015 with the (slightly Anglicized) re-release of her 2014 album Chaleur Humaine. Identifying as pansexual, Letissier tackles the subject of gender identity throughout the album with sensitivity and poetry, a direct reflection of the album’s title, which translates as “human warmth”. And that warmth translates to the live setting too, as she is a wonderful performer, full of with and friendliness, with not an air of pretension. Like Tove Lo in 2014, Christine and the Queens’ breakthrough in indie circles is a breath of fresh air, and one can only hope that continues into the mainstream in the coming year. — Adrien Begrand

 
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Clara-Nova

Something of an enigma in the oftentimes over-looked Los Angeles music scene, Clara-Nova, aka Sydney Wayser, is poised to become the next big sonic starlet with her highly adventurous left-field synthpop. Her wildly ambitious single, “An Island”, has this ability to constantly keep you guessing with all sorts of artful embellishments without discarding the power of a tuneful melody. The single is featured on her debut EP, The Bronze Age, one that she describes as a new chapter after having completely discarded her previous creative pursuits. As the confident head-scratcher “Island” proves, she may have finally found her stride. — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

 
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Laura Denisse

Banda, the modern take on Mexico’s traditional brass band style, is an unabashed pop music genre — its songwriters and producers aim for the charts and front-load their three-minute songs with hooks. Nowhere is this more evident than in the music of Laura Denisse, whose music sounds as much like Linda Ronstadt in full throated countrypolitan mode as it does the late Jenni Rivera. (Of course, Rivera herself made banda-pop, and her daughter Chiquis is working hard to push the mix even further… but I digress.) Denisse’s 2015 album Sigo Enamorada (Con Banda) swaggers and struts through backbeats, cumbias, and the requisite polkas and waltzes. While not a crossover effort, it has universal appeal. With her open, relaxed singing, Denisse turns in 10 of the most optimistic vocal performances in recent memory. Even when she chews out a rival in the swinging “Eres Muy Poca Mujer”, she sounds indomitable, like Loretta Lynn standing with her fists on her hips. Enamorada is Denisse’s seventh album overall but her first for L.A.’s powerhouse Fonovisa label, and her first to be widely available for streaming. Go get hooked. — Josh Langhoff

Dilly Dally and more…

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Dilly Dally

It would be nice for Toronto’s music scene to be known for more than the hip-hop of Drake and the indie outfit Broken Social Scene. Grunge-lovers can finally rest assured knowing that their genre’s scene has the bruised and dirty Dilly Dally. The band is bound to break ground with their blend of Pixies-inspired cooing, brilliant flickers of guitar riffs courtesy of Liz Ball, and the extremely grimy vocal tendencies of Katie Monks, all especially prominent on their single “Desire”. While their image could be described by pictures of blood-splattered vanilla ice cream cones, they hold a promising madness to each scream and blaring instrumentation. Dilly Dally’s debut record Sore already demonstrates that Canadians can grit their teeth and bite. — Dustin Ragucos

 
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Sam Gelliatry

“Soundcloud” could, and should, be its own genre. There’s a definitive aesthetic to the producers whose work is disseminated on that site, and 2015 saw the sound break onto the mainstream stage in the form of Bryson Tiller’s “Don’t”. Utilizing pitched-down vocals in the backing production and sparse, slow drums, the style perfected online has finally begun to see its day in the sun. Few producers are as equipped to capitalize as Sam Gellaitry, whose glacial trap is all at once euphoric and pensive, nodding to the potential of being one of the most sought-after producers of the Soundcloud era. — Brian Duricy

 
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A Giant Dog

A Giant Dog is a lean rock and roll band from Austin, Texas known for its blistering live shows. The band has previously put out two records: 2012’s Fight and 2013’s Bone Both albums distill the band’s strengths — the deep hooks, the powerful rhythm section, singer Sabrina Ellis’s strong, rangy vocals — into sets of catchy rock ‘n’ rock jams. But now the band has signed with Merge Records and is prepping their third record for release in early 2016. The album was produced by Mike McCarthy, who also produced Bone. With a new album on Merge, one of the great live bands working will have a pretty good excuse to light out onto the road and play all around, building their name on the strength of a new record. And if there’s any justice, a band that already has the kind of material they have can build their audience by leaps and bounds next year. Sure, we’ve got plenty of garage rock band — or bands we pigeon-hole as garage rock — but A Giant Dog is neither of those. This is a band that reminds you that whatever else rock and roll can be, it’s got to be primal, it’s got to be raw, it’s got to be sneering, and it’s got to be really goddamn fun. — Matt Fiander

 
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G.L.O.S.S.

Hardcore band G.L.O.S.S.‘s biggest story this year was one they would rather not have been a part of. In the condensed version, indie shoegaze band Whirr lobbed some pretty disgusting transphobic vitriol toward them over Twitter, which lead to Whirr being dropped by their label and fans of both bands engaging in a ridiculous feud known only to the digital age. While the incident had some serious consequences for Whirr, its biggest effect was in showing why all the rage and fury in G.L.O.S.S.’s music, which takes a radical approach to advocating for transgender issues (their name stands for “Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit”), was so necessary and powerful. Their 2015 release, DEMO, is a condensed channel for frustration and aggression toward a culture that largely refuses to accept the validity of the transgender community, full of incredibly pointed lyrics, classic, blistering punk, and, more importantly, a truly indispensable message. Ostensibly G.L.O.S.S. can push even further in 2016, hopefully without their biggest piece of press being about how people still refuse to listen. — Colin Fitzgerald

 
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Girlpool

L.A.’s own Girlpool consists of only two members, guitarist Cleo Tucker and bassist Harmony Tividad. It’s appropriate they have a member named Harmony as much of the thrill of their music comes from the duo’s uniquely beautiful vocal harmonies. Beneath the two’s harmonies, particularly on this year’s album Before the World Was Big, sit some impeccable songwriting. While chordally simple, their songs contain impressively complex structures and lyrical ideas. For example, the album’s title track alternates between 4/4 verses and a 3/4 chorus. They connect the two in a way that’s simultaneously seamless and viscerally exciting and then double down, breaking the ending down into a choral round. Their song “Chinatown” contains the year’s best individual line in the question “do you feel restless when you realize you’re alive?” Before the World Was Big features a lo-fi recording sound reminiscent of their earlier Bandcamp recordings, but without the occasional shrillness that those recordings fell into. With a little more polish, their music seems poised for an indie pop breakthrough within the next year. — Logan Austin

 
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Hannah Diamond

Hannah Diamond is the least strange of all the people/CGI groups who make up PC Music‘s roster. That might happen because she’s the closest said label has got to a popstar. The archetype of a popstar, I should add, however. Currently working on her debut album, Diamond’s artistic persona exists in between those spaces. In “Attachment”, her best single released to date, she sings of a relationship that exists only in the internet. That’s a proper announcement for the kind of pop music she makes and what she (and PC Music as a whole) seems to represent: pop music is all about keeping up appareances. Somehow, in 2015 that still sounds transgressive. And sad and beautiful, just like Hannah Diamond’s music. — Danilo Bortoli

 
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Hinds

In 2016, Hinds could prove somewhat divisive. This is obviously a good thing. Their ramshackle, raw, rough-edged nature won’t appeal to all, but this Spanish quartet’s debut Leave Me Alone has charm, spirit and sincerity in spades. In our airbrushed, ‘plastic-perfect’ fakery age it feels refreshingly real. Irresistibly alive and kicking. A dozen spiky, ’60s kicks and ’90s garage rock barnstormers which shimmy ‘n’ shake like a hot, late August evening spent with your best mates from school. Yeah life’s still mostly about the party but there are a few minor-chord clouds on the horizon too. Hinds’ riotous live happenings are already the stuff of myth and legend and they’re coming to get you. Let yourself be converted. — Matt James

 
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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Having formed in 2011 in Melbourne, Australia, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are gaining more traction in North America every day, and justifiably so. They’ve released four albums in the past two years alone, and they’ve already demonstrated that they are capable of more variety from album to album than the unimpeachable Thee Oh Sees. 2014’s I’m in Your Mind Fuzz slayed a spooky heavy-psych vibe, which was greatly contrasted by 2015’s Quarters, a record consisting of four ten-minute jazz-rock jams, followed up mere months later by the breezy, low-key Paper Mâché Dream Balloon, all three of them superior to respectable recent releases by Tame Impala and Temples. What’s more, they can bring all of their profound spark to life in the live setting, as proven in their increasingly frequent stateside tours. They not only sound like some fantastic hybrid of Traffic, Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa in the studio, but they can actually play like it, and they arguably have the greatest band name in the music history. They can only get bigger from here. — Alan Ranta

Katie Kuffel and more…

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Katie Kuffel

Back in October, Katie Kuffel quietly released Pearls, the follow-up to her criminally unheard Animal Pragmatist EP. Pearls sounds like alternate-reality Regina Spektor, heavily steeped in the Pacific Northwest with bright piano and a gorgeous voice gliding, rich and effortless, through craftily constructed songs that balance whimsy and self-awareness. The Spektor influence is clear, but there are hints of Anna Vogelzang’s needle-sharp lyrical constructions and Norah Jones’s gentle blues as well. Kuffel has a shockingly strong repertoire for someone with no label backing, but I suspect she’s a KEXP showcase or breakout festival performance away from changing that. — Adam Finley

 
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LIZ

“When I Rule the World” wasn’t the first time we heard from LIZ. Having already an EP back in 2013, she helps us testify why pop music is the ultimate source for reinvention in culture (when you have deep pockets and a great idea in mind, that is. Backed by PC Music associate SOPHIE, “When I Rule the World” is a testament to the excesses of pop music when it is left not dosed properly — it rapidly becomes a parody of pop and excess itself. Still, the genius of LIZ, the character or the artist, is that everything about her remains secretive. Until you figure out she’s reportedly working on her debut album, due to 2016. That’s how the best advertising seems to work nowadays, it seems. — Danilo Bortoli

 
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Lotic

J’Kerian Morgan, who releases music under his Lotic moniker, is a sound designer at heart, a term which, for some, carries a certain kind of perfid language. Still, sound design, when done correctly, can convey real emotion. Having released in 2015 an EP (Heterocetera) and, allegedly, a mixtape which sounds like a proper album in many ways (Agitations), Morgan’s sounds are aggressive, propulsive designs. Battering drums and distorted, fragged synths. That is a recipe for chaos that, in some ways, makes for some life-affirming music. — Danilo Bortoli

 
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Lera Lynn

A year before True Detective made her mainstream famous, Lera Lynn released her sophomore LP, The Avenues. It flew under the radar, but is a marvelous and affecting record. Not nearly as dour as the material she co-wrote with T-Bone Burnett and Roseanne Cash for the HBO drama, her principle oeuvre mines Americana traditions, her intimate songwriting ensconced in folk and country templates. Amid recordings lush and warm, an evocative pedal steel anchors most tunes amid a near orchestral instrumental depth. Inherent to each of her songs is a degree of intimacy, both lyrically and instrumentally. Through it all, Lynn puts her dusky-hued voice front and center. Longing at times, defiant at others, Lynn’s vocals imbue her narratives with compelling perspectives. Lynn brings a form of noir alt. country adapted for modern times and ready for a larger audience. — Cole Waterman

 
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Brendan Maclean

The pop world is about to witness one hell of a seismic shift in 2016, if Brendan Maclean’s brilliant new single “Tectonic” is any indication. Four EPs in, the 27-year-old, Australian singer-songwriter, actor, and dancer has already been crowned “a king of pop in the making” by The Guardian and touted as “a modern day Mick Jagger” by film director Baz Luhrmann. Following his recent cinematic turn as Klipspringer in The Great Gatsby, his starring role in the critically-acclaimed stage show Velvet with disco legend Marcia Hines, and collaborations with Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and Cobra Starship’s Alex Suarez, this stylistic chameleon continues to defy expectation.

As if the muscular flamboyance of Patrick Wolf and Freddie Mercury were fused with the fragile eccentricity of an artist such as Perfume Genius and squeezed into one creative being, the openly gay Maclean effortless flits between folk, indie rock, cabaret and synthpop with a glitter-bombed, theatrical flair and an introspective vulnerability. A massive pop track like “Tectonic” doesn’t come around very often, and neither do massive male pop stars like Maclean. When he sings, “We’re getting closer over time” on the song’s epic chorus, one hopes it’s only a matter of months before life imitates art. — Ryan Lathan

 
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Native Construct

With avant-grade/tech progressive metal artists like BTBAM, Devin Townsend, and uneXpect leading the way, it can be difficult for an up-and-coming band to leave its mark on the landscape. Fortunately, Massachusetts trio Native Construct manages to do just that on its debut LP, Quiet World. By permeating brutal foundations with a ton of other lenses (such as jazz, musical theatre, and symphonic prog), the band has crafted an inexorably wide-ranging, dazzling, and complex gift that fares well against anything released by the aforementioned darlings. A concept album about an eccentric outcast, Quiet World bursts open with “Mute”, a grandiose mixture of shifting rhythms, orchestral touches, and fiery playing that announces the specialties of Native Construct with ease. Later on, “Passage” balances delicacy and brutality even better, while the one-two punch of “Chromatic Lights” and “Chromatic Aberration” send the record off on a multilayered, atmospheric, and adventurous high. Native Construct may be the new kid in town, but it deserves to rule the playground. — Jordan Blum

Tunde Olaniran and more…

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Tunde Olaniran

On record and on stage, Tunde Olaniran seems less like a person than a cosmic force of nature. With a stage show involving synchronized backup dancers and costume changes, Olaniran appears as an otherworldly entity that has deigned to grace the earth with his musical menagerie. A resident of Flint, Michigan, who has lived in Germany and England and is of Nigerian descent, Olaniran brings his global background to the fore of his art. Full-length debut Transgressor showcases his amalgamation of synthpop, hip-hop, art rock, and R&B, the diversity of touchstones only equaled by his stunning vocal range. Equal parts danceable fun and reflective, Olanrain’s lyrics run the gamut from humorous and playful to inspiring and heavy with social gravitas. Whether he’s belting out a jaw-dropping falsetto, rapping, or crooning, no two songs sound alike, yet they all sound distinctly like Olaniran. Experimental yet melodic and accessible, Olaniran is nothing if not pervasively captivating. — Cole Waterman

 
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Hayden Pedigo

Hayden Pedigo is a guitarist (primarily acoustic) from the dry, hot plains of Amarillo, Texas. Most profiles highlight his young age and, while that shouldn’t be a factor, it’s worth noting for the amount of accomplishments he’s achieved already. Now 20, he’s already been profiled in Vogue magazine (of all places), Paste, The Fader, and Texas Monthly, which proclaimed his music “the most innovative and audacious in the country”. He curated an installment in the respected Imaginational Anthem compilation series of guitar music, and he’s collaborated with legends such as Fred Frith, Charles Hayward, and Acid Mothers Temple’s Kawabata Makoto. He’s someone to watch, not just for his guitar prowess, but also because he’s set his gaze beyond six strings, further afield into ambient and experimental soundscapes. With three solo albums under his belt so far, he’s currently working on an album which will involve a collaboration with noted counter-cultural artist Chip Lord (Cadillac Ranch, the Ant Farm collective) on short films for the songs. — Rob Cadlwell

 
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Pusher

Toronto’s Pusher is only a year or so into making music, has no official releases to his name, and has already amassed a steady 34,000 SoundCloud followers. He has managed this by splitting his personality into two distinct types. On the one hand, he makes ebullient, joyous maximalist club tracks that usually bounce about in a state of stupid delight before exploding into bouts of euphoria. These cuts sound like being trapped on the Rainbow Road level of Mario Kart with eternal star power. On the other, he produces badass demented trap like his takes on Jack U’s “Take U There” and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” or his killer skittering and bombastic original 2015 cut “Basic”, a mix so undeniable it wound up as a surreal dance routine on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Whatever comes next has the potential to be even bigger, even more ecstatic, and even more infectious. Heads may just explode. — Timothy Gabriele

 
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Caoilfhinn Rose

Pronounced “Keelin” Rose, this UK singer-songwriter is yet to release a full-length album, although she’s self-released an EP (Daydreamer) and a number of impressionistic folk-flavored pieces through her Soundcloud and YouTube pages. In addition, she provided lead vocals on the four standout tracks on last year’s Chronicle XL, by the Durutti Column. Adept at creating experimental soundscapes (“Nostalgia”) as well as sensitive, affecting character pieces (“Wild Anemones”), Caoilfhinn Rose has an adventurousness and exploratory nature, which bodes well for an interesting musical future. Usually accompanying herself on piano, or occasionally guitar, her voice is an expressive mix of youth and lightness tempered with an edge of maturity. — Rob Caldwell

 
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Seinabo Sey

Swedish-Gambian singer-songwriter Seinabo Sey‘s Pretend heralds the arrival of an artist who clearly has no time for the caged confinement of genre conventions. As debuts come it’s hardly a perfect record, yet the blistering highlights overshadow any of the marginal filler material, promising great things to come for the 25-year-old, soulful pop artist. From the thrilling, war-like stomp of “Hard Time” and the airy, string-soaked “Younger”, to the storming, electro-pop beats of the title track, the gospel choir heights of “Burial”, and the smoldering, skittering “Pistols at Dawn”, Sey mesmerizes when she’s got her game face on.

Comparisons to Nina Simone, Gabrielle, late career Michael Jackson, Sharon Jones and Mary J. Blige are all undeniably warranted at one point or another throughout the duration of the album, but Pretend‘s strengths and Seinabo’s captivating presence establish this singular artist as a veritable force to be reckoned with. The lyrics of “Pretend” perfectly sum up her career thus far: “All turned out as great as it could. Things are going just as they should, knock on wood.” Keeping knocking Seinabo, the world is listening. — Ryan Lathan

 
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Shura

Everything we’ve heard to far from Manchester’s Aleksandra Denton (a.k.a. Shura) suggests she is heading to the Toppermost of the Poppermost. The ultra-romantic, silky smooth R&B glazed “Touch”. The 21st century Janet Jackson, Tenderoni sparkler “2Shy”. The cool breezin’, ’80s discotheque jam known as “White Light”. The sensual, “Ooh that sounds a bit like Madonna’s ‘Holiday'” smouldering swinger that was “Indecision”. This is top drawer, modern age, luxury soul pop, precision cut for summer days and sweet dreams. As far as owning your radio in 2016, Shura is surely a sure thing. — Matt James

 
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Tove Styrke

After a 2009 debut album that wasn’t exactly memorable, Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Styrke returned in 2015 with the saucy, sleek-sounding Kiddo, a pleasantly surprising statement of defiance and originality for a pop album. Part Suzi Quatro, part Robyn, part Annie, with a willingness to utilize reggae beats in audacious fashion, Kiddo bursts with life, expertly crafted as only the Swedes can do, loaded with hooks and never for a second short of attitude. If Tove Lo can break big internationally, then Tove Styrke can pull it off as well. It’s just a matter of getting more people to hear this wonderful, wonderful album. — Adrien Begrand

 
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Marlon Williams

Far removed from the ’80s/’90s Kiwi rock scene that still looms behind most bludgeoning New Zealand indie artists, Marlon Williams couldn’t distinguish himself any more if he wanted to. In fact, a quick, cursory listen to his deep croon could give the impression that he’s a Southern-bred folk artist who’s rigidly indebted to his roots upbringing. Already a sensation in his native land, for which he won two Tuis at the most recent New Zealand Music Awards, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter is poised to win over the NPR-listening crowd with his backwards-gazing, though wholly contemporaneous brand of Americana. The rollicking “Hello Miss Lonesome”, the first reveal off of his upcoming effort as a signee of popular indie label Dead Oceans, is a slick, strummy number that showcases Williams’s knack for writing intricate arrangements without taking his impressive vocal range for granted. It’s a simple formula that works, though also consider his earlier material and you’re sure to become spellbound by his highly versatile and eclectic style. — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

 
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Vinyl Williams

Vinyl Williams‘ preoccupations with songwriting don’t stop at coming up with a great hook or lyric. When he was creating his second full length album, Into (released this July), or creating the saturated digital worlds that reflect his sonic atmospheres, Williams employed concepts of Egyptian Bio-Geometry to the writing and recording process in pursuit of conveying a feeling of higher bliss. He even went so far as to place a specific kind of pendulum on the tape magnet when transferring recordings from four-track tape, though he admits that he can’t tell if it had any real effect or not on the final product. Still, Into is a radiant and fluid body of songs that flow in harmony from one to the next, expertly layered and smoothed into loose shape. If Williams continues to focus his unique energy in the way that he has, he might yet be able to harness it and take the transcendental act of listening to a higher plane. — Ian King

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