Music

The Best Musical Hopes to Break Out in 2016

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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