This vibrant gang of musicians is approaching 2016 from all different angles.
Katie Kuffel and more...
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
"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
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
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
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
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