Music

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.

Algiers

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

 

Angel-Ho

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

 

Banditos

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

 

Bully

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

 

Cam

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

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