The Best New / Emerging Artists of 2015

There was no shortage of new and exciting music in 2015. From the rise of a major new jazz talent challenging boundaries to ever more experimental R&B, this crop of artists gave us a lot of great music this year.


American indie rock has never been known for its political activism, but the typically inward-looking gaze of the genre came across as stale in the volatile environment of 2015. Intentionally or not, Algiers have upended that notion. Their moody, nervy take on post-punk fuses with soul and R&B to create something akin to a gospel choir announcing the apocalypse, with singer Franklin James Fisher's voice and lyrics acting as an accusatory finger pointing at the bastards that brought us here. It's a far cry from the days of "post-punk" as a catch-all tag for derivative bands in the early 2000s; Algiers make music with a purpose, not as a fashion style. Their music is an alarm clock, and it's about damn time we woke up and took notice. -- Kevin Korber



Cape Town, South Africa artist Angel-Ho labors between two of 2015's most groundbreaking labels -- Rabit's Halycon Veil, which put out his essential, brutal, and jarring foley grime EP Ascension (mastered by Arca) and NON, a loose collective of international artists lead by Angel-Ho, Nkisi, and Chino Amobi. In his own words, "NON is a collective of African artists and of the diaspora using sound as their medium to articulate the recurring violence on non-white bodies." That violence is everywhere on these cuts. Angel-Ho and Amobi both drop mixes like narratives; they grate like global conflict, scream and howl like awakening demons, and snarl and thrash like the proper come-uppance of the institutions that stifle us. But there's great beauty in all this ugly. It follows more of the legacy of Throbbing Gristle's documentary pan and scan (though less Eurocentric in scope) than the parochialism of a disquieted Dizzee Rascal. It's not as much about the strength of street knowledge as the chaos of information overload and the way its would-be exploiters create new dangers in that clutter. Breathless in its breadth, Angel-Ho's music assures us that he's not done with us, and this is a very frightening and exhilarating concept indeed. -- Timothy Gabriele



It's a good thing the Americana music tent is so large, because Nashville-by-way-of-Birmingham's Banditos officially arrived at the party this year and promptly proceeded to take up a ton of space, both physically (there are six of 'em!) and sonically, as their self-titled debut is a wild mash-up of bar room boogie 'n' stomp, R&B, garage, country, soul and psych rock. These guys (and gal) are no genre-hopping dilettantes, however; their musical knowledge runs deep, with rockabilly blowouts like "Still Sober (After All These Beers)" and the jazzy "Long Gone, Anyway" nestled comfortably next to each other on their freewheeling album. Signed to the perfect record label for their musical styles (Bloodshot), Banditos also had the good fortune to make the scene the year No Depression magazine triumphantly returned to print after a seven-year hiatus. Americana music never really goes away, however, and Banditos happily, joyfully, bring it to the party all at once. -- Stephen Haag


Courtney Barnett

Australian-born Courtney Barnett made a bit of splash with the 2013 single "Avant Gardener" with its swirling, psychedelic-cum-noise hooks and smart, sharp lyrics that were equal parts laugh and lesson, so when her ode to suburban desperation "Depreston" hit radio earlier this year the most obvious thing for it to do was catch fire listeners. And catch fire it did. Reminiscent of the halcyon days of slackerdom (the 1990s) with Pavement/Breeders-style feels and the kind of observational lyrics that only come around once in a blue Lou Reed, the songs that occupy Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit are perfectly biting, catchy, and loveable. -- Jedd Beaudoin


Leon Bridges

Leon Bridges has a honeyed voice that makes everything sound sweet. He's also good-looking, has nice posture, dresses well, and is immensely charismatic. Bridges has went from washing dishes in Houston to appearing on Saturday Night Live in record time, due in part to his breakout success at South by Southwest. Live, he can mesmerize a crowd though his very presence and on record he can break through the clatter of products out there just by singing. Bridges is that good. He evokes the sound of early '60s soul yet comes off as something markedly contemporary. Bridges does something different just by doing something traditional, a neat trick that indicates a bright future ahead. -- Steve Horowitz



Alicia Bognanno is a cool older sister, the person who seems to reveal too much until "too much" seems like an irrelevant way to categorize information, the person through whom you can see and against whom you can test the social and existential crises that were certain to be visited upon you later, who listened to Veruca Salt and L7 and knew Courtney Love was smarter than she was crazy. In fact, she is who made you rethink the concept of craziness, and rethink love and care, too, rethink what you're allowed to say for yourself and allowed to ask for, who showed you how loud a guitar could really go, and exactly how loud you have to scream to be heard over it. -- Michael Opal



Sam Hunt's label just re-released the EP he made more before his breakout album, which suggests that in this weird digital space where everyone is impatient and the single reigns -- a career can be made on five songs and no physical product. Maybe it's my poptimist heritage, but I always get more excited about a single than an album and so Cam's EP was this year's Hunt. I don't care about the new full-length, I don't care that she had a half aborted career as a pop writer before she moved to Nashville, all I care about is that this year. Over streaming, and on YouTube cuts clipped from pressers, morning shows and award shows, I got to hear how she fronted past heartbreak on "My Mistake", and the best train song since Josh Turner's break out single, "Long Black Train". It's also 80% less cynical than the CMA coronation of Chris Stapleton. -- Anthony Easton


Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara's rise to popularity has been startlingly fast and, considering her faux-outcast pose, paradoxical. "Here", the song that propelled her to stratospheric heights, is the perfect battlecry for the lonesome. In it, Cara half sings, half speaks, soundtracking a very particular, definite existential crisis taking place at college parties. An antisocial pessimist, as she puts it. 2015 has been more than "Here" for Cara. This year has seen the release of her inaugural, almost obligatory first EP, Four Pink Walls, as well as her debut album, the aptly titled Know-It-All. Somehow, this extraordinarily rapid chain of events brings me back to one of "Here's" best lines, which is not even a line per se: "I guess now you got the last laugh", a mysterious, ghost-like voice says in the background, over some pristine beats. And, guess what, she didn't say it. I guess being the outcast really pays off after all. -- Danilo Bortoli


Cave of Swimmers

In the past two years, these two Venezuelan American metal dudes from Miami have released two spellbinding short albums on their own label; each album contains four songs. I'm pretty sure if you add all that shit up you get 666, or at least something close. But lest you go reporting Cave of Swimmers to Cultwatch, note their 2015 single, "The Prince of the Power of the Air", is actually a prayer for deliverance from said Prince. In fact, it's the most badass prayer you've ever heard, and it seems directed towards God. If you're playing along with your Metal Bingo card, you should have covered the spaces for indie, Latin, and sort-of-Christian-y by now, but I promise these guys don't sound like Soulfly. No, this pair delivers a decidedly prog-sludge racket with a subtext of Miami disco. G.E. Perez's guitar switches effortlessly between pretty ostinatos and diabolical flat-note soliloquies; his singing trembles with operatic menace. Drummer Arturo García enjoys leavening the proceedings with danceable grooves. Case in point: Their instrumental "Reflection", which closes their must-hear album Reflection, suggests a heavy take on Change's classic Italo-disco album ender "The End". In my mind they're still running. -- Josh Langhoff


Steven A Clark

After an album and an EP on Secretly Canadian, Steven A Clark's sound still felt fairly anonymous until 2015. The release of The Lonely Roller made Steven A Clark a stand out musician this year. The album itself is a triumph, with a sound somewhere between Kelis and Peter Gabriel. The title track cleverly mixed a pulsating four on the floor beat with a tale of a lone wolf in a city eighth bright lights. However, the standouts on the album include "Floral Print", an amazing song about regret which bests some of Frank Ocean's best heartbreak material. The other highlight from the album is "Bounty", which is reminiscent of a late ‘90s hit with influences of blues, indie pop, soul and electronic music. With an album that is more genre-bending than most other alternative R&B albums this year, it's easy to see why Steven A Clark is one of the prime hopefuls for innovation in R&B. -- Devone Jones

Next Page






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.