The Top 20 Most Underrated Artists Of Fun Fun Fun Fest 2015
Who doesn’t love a music festival, right? It’s all the best parts of a concert–music, friends, alcohol and drugs…just lots and lots more of them! Each year, more and more of them are popping up all over the place, over 75 happen in the U.S. each year alone. As you probably already know, one of the biggest and baddest (and also one of our personal favorites) is always Fun Fun Fun Fest. There are a few main stream acts but this is the best of the underground scene. The 10th annual fest is to be one of the most incredible and diverse line ups this year–hell, maybe even ever! I mean we’re talking about Venom, Wu-Tang Clan, Jane’s Addiction, Ride, L7, MSTRKRFT, Coheed and Cambria, Gogol Bordello, Hudson Mohawke, Peaches, and Fucked Up among others. Over the past decade performers and highlights appearing at the gatherings have included Run-D.M.C., Slayer, Passion Pit, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Girl Talk, Ra Ra Riot, Wavves, Public Enemy, Girls, Danny Brown, Tanginess, We Were Promised Jetpacks, M83, Devin The Dude, Geographer, Bad Religion, A-Trak, FIDLAR, Gwar, Explosions In The Sky, Odd Future, MGMT, The Polyphonic Spree and many more.
A few larger indie music sites will publish guides which present a good summary to the impressive bill, but who doesn’t already know about most of these celebrity performers? Yet one of the best reasons to go is to discover new music! Almost everyone will want to watch performers like CHVRCHES, Future Islands, Grimes, Chromeo, Converge, Neon Indian, Cass McCombs, ScHoolBoy Q, Toro y Moi and Odesza. For each of these well known artists, there are a ton of massively talented, vastly underrated ones they don’t get the attention they deserve. That’s why we want to draw your attention to this list and that’s why we are here to help. What happens if you don’t have time to catch an artist you wanted to see, or if it’s too crowded? And everyone loves an underdog! Besides, these some artists that could very well be at the top of the lineup next year or the year after.
Anyone who has ever been or considered going to experience a massive event like this knows what it feels like when looking towards the bottom of the schedule. It can almost feel like reading a foreign language, seeing bands listed that you have never heard of. That’s where we come in to help.
Live music festivals are still, despite all the advanced technology of 2015, one of the best methods of discovering new music. These are artists that are already turning up everywhere this year, and others we expect to follow them very soon. The list includes everything from pop to hip-hop to EDM to rock. So in our best and on going effort to cover the best in up and coming music, we present our picks for The Top 20 Most Underrated Artists Of Fun Fun Fun Fest 2015. The list is not presented in any logical or sequential order whatsoever. You can also see our list of picks for The Top 20 Most Underrated Artists Of Fun Fun Fun Fest 2014 here. See the entire lineup for this year here.
Shamir is Shamir Bailey, a 19-year-old musician from Las Vegas. He grew up not on the strip but in the desert, right across the street from a pig farm. Like many people his age, Shamir listens to all kinds of music, and sees no difference between Taylor Swift and Mac DeMarco. He played in a punk band called Anorexia, and taught himself guitar by learning old country songs. Northtown, his debut EP on small New York label GODMODE, had gospel, house, pop, disco, and country elements.
But mostly? That voice. It’s Shamir’s alien, androgynous voice that got people talking this year. Nothing sounds like Shamir, and nope, that’s not falsetto. As powerful as it is though, Shamir’s voice has a humble quality to it. He uses simple words and sings about relatable feelings. He knows which words to simmer on, and which ones to let go. Shamir can be exuberant, and his joy can be infectious. He can also sing of loneliness – and make us all feel less alone.
“On The Regular,” his first single on XL, is strictly the former – 100% pure id. It’s a hip-house tune that features Shamir rapping in a fast-paced early 80s playground style. His boasts are ridiculous. His taunts are absurd. A certain toy manufacturer does not come out looking good. As for the rest of us? It’s hard to listen to this song and not feel invincible.
We placed the Las Vegas artist in our list of picks for The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2015 (see here) and he just released his debut album Ratchet 5/19 on XL.
2. Viet Cong
For Fans Of: Eagulls, White Lung, Perfect Pussy, Ex Hex, Iceage, Total Control
Viet Cong is a canny fusion of four quite distinct voices from their home town of Calgary, Alberta. Featuring former members of the much-loved —but sadly defunct— band Women and members of Chad Van Gaalen’s backing band, Viet Cong offers up an intriguing mixture of sharply-angled rhythm workouts and euphoric ‘60s garage pop-esque melodies. This open-ended framework is balanced with a penchant for drone-y, VU-styled downer moments, altogether spinning what has been called “easily one of the best new Canadian bands in quite some time.” On stage, Viet Cong is hugely engaging, delivering pop gems and instrumental acrobatics with equal aplomb, clearly delighting in the navigation of these catchy, intricate songs. Viet Cong’s self-titled debut LP came out on January 20, 2015 via Jagjaguwar Records.
3. The Outfit, TX
Born and raised Texans Dorian, JayHawk, and Mel make up the hip-hop band The Outfit, TX. Consisting of two producers and three emcees, TOTX’s story begins in the city of Dallas, where all three members are born, raised, and currently reside. Enrollment at the University of Houston in 2006 brought middle-school partners Dorian and Mel to JayHawk and three years later, The Outfit, TX was formed.
Since its commencement, The Red Bull Sound Select artists have been hard at work developing their patented brand of “Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk.” The trio has released several notably successful local projects, including the 2010 OG Ron C-hosted Chopped Not Slopped version of their self-titled debut project and a buzz-worthy 2011 mixtape with regional powerhouse DJ Mr. Rogers.
The members of TOTX are fully cognizant of both their individual sounds and their collective sound, blending unabashed southern credo with smooth synth bass, moogs, 808s, and synthesizers. Their first official studio album, Starships and Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk The Album, exists as a perfect exhibition of that. In 2012, Starships was voted one of Houston’s “Best Underground Rap Tapes” by the Houston Press, receiving coverage from the likes of 2Dopeboyz, Fox Austin, and Complex Magazine. MTV Hive called them “The Best Rap Group You’re Not Talking About (Yet)”. Their most recent project, the double-disc album Cognac/Four Corner Room, exists as two varying solo projects conjoined at the hip to represent the juxtaposed unity that makes up TOTX. Entirely produced, written, and engineered by Mel and Dorian, Cognac/Four Corner Room takes listeners deeper into the individual spirits of TOTX’s two founding members. Complex ranked it as one of the top ten Houston Rap Mixtapes of 2013.
TOTX has performed with the likes of J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, The Clipse and Kendrick Lamar. They headlined their first sold out show at Warehouse Live in Houston, TX in March 2013, then hit the road, performing at several music festivals including A3C’s “Best in Texas” Showcase, and Spune’s Index Fest in Dallas, TX.
The future holds much more for these three southern gentlemen. This October, they opened for legendary rapper Scarface, at the A3C hip-hop festival in Atlanta and will embark on their first tour alongside Run The Jewels. They are already getting attention from NPR Music, The Fader, Complex, MTV, Spin, Noisey
The Outfit, TX’s brand of artistry is one small step for Texas, one giant leap for southern kind.
Photo by Jaret Ferratusco
For Fans Of: Bass Drum Of Death, Rubblebucket, FIDLAR, Twin Peaks, Mikal Cronin, King Tuff
Any working rock and roll band will tell you that the path to success— however you choose to define it — is rarely easy. In the case of Oklahoma band BRONCHO, the path leading to the release of their excellent sophomore album, Just Enough Hip To Be Woman, is one characterized by lots of luck (both good and bad) and a series of left turns that no one could have predicted would end up resulting in one of 2014’s most unexpectedly superb rock records.
Formed in 2010 by Ryan Lindsey, BRONCHO made a name for themselves playing in and around Oklahoma before recording their debut album, 2011’s Can’t Get Past The Lips. That record, which instantly called to mind gritty 70’s punk and glammy surf rock vibes, helped the band stay on the road for the better part of two years and generated the singles “Try Me Out Sometime,” “I Don’t Really Wanna Be Social” and “Record Store.” Still, just as momentum was building for the band their record label very unceremoniously collapsed, leaving them out on the road with no real support. For a lot of young bands, this might have been the death knell, but for BRONCHO the experience proved to be oddly liberating. “It was really no one’s fault,” says Lindsey, “Just one of those things. We decided to just keep trucking through it and to focus on making new songs. We really believed in these new songs. There was never any moment when we thought about quitting. If you are a musician, you just keep making music. That’s what you do.”
Label woes aside, things eventually turned around for BRONCHO. In a nice bit of serendipity, one of the band’s new demos — the unstoppably catchy “It’s On” — found its way to GIRLS creator Lena Dunham who used the song as the end title for the season three premiere of her series. “We couldn’t believe how much attention that gave us,” recalls Lindsey. “Suddenly there was all of this renewed interest in the band. Our feelings about what we were doing had never wavered, but now people were paying attention again.” Seeing their fortunes turn once again, the band eventually worked out a new label deal with Dine Alone Records and set about putting the finishing touches on album number two.
Just Enough Hip To Be Woman is a bold step forward for BRONCHO. Though it certainly bears the hallmarks of their previous work — fuzzy, guitar driven rock – the production and energy of the record moves into decidedly sleeker and decidedly more new wave directions (think Cheap Trick meets the Drive soundtrack meets every great song from Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets the greatest after-hours party you’ve never been to). Tracks like “Stay Loose,” “NC-17” and “What” are the kind of pop-rock that could have easily been beamed in from the same universe that gave rise to The Cars (or a looser version of The Strokes), while the album’s first single, “Class Historian” — with its unstoppable “do do do do” vocal refrain is the kind of song that seems scientifically engineered to stick in your brain forever and is arguably best played loudly over a car stereo with the windows down and your long hair blowing in the breeze. Clocking in at just more than 30 minutes, the eleven tracks on the new record are a potent statement of intent: an effortless sounding rock record that dips its toe into a variety of different styles without every succumbing to any of them. It’s a record that sounds like the summer. Or the future.
For Lindsey, making Just Enough Hip To Be Woman was more than just a labor of love; it was the culmination of a lifetime of playing around in bands and spending a million hours kicking around in rock clubs. Having just made one of the year’s most infinitely playable records, BRONCHO will spend much of the fall on the road, which is just fine with the band. “Playing live is the entire reason you start a band,” says Lindsey, “We always want to change things and keeps things new —and I’m really proud of how this record came out and the ways we were able to push things forward — but playing live is always the test. We want people to hear us. We want everyone to have a good time.”
They recently toured as the opening support for Billy Idol. We placed the rockers in our list of picks for The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2015 (see here). You can also see our interview with the band here.
For Fans Of: Pity Sex, Merchandise, Whirr, Diiv, Deafheaven, True Widow
Rolling Stone recently tipped Nothing in their ‘New Artists You Need To Know’ feature and had previously tipped Nothing as one ‘CMJ 2013’s 10 Best Discoveries’ after seeing them perform live; since then the band has toured with Whirr, opened for Cold Cave for Red Bull Music Academy Sound Select, and opened for DIIV on New Years Eve. Now, Nothing will be embarking on new tour dates including a run down to SXSW with Weekend and spot dates with Ty Segall, Pup, and Solids.
Nothing was formed in 2011 by Domenic Palermo. Previously Palermo was the brains behind the early 2000’s hardcore/punk act Horror Show. In 2002 Horror Show was put on hold after Palermo was incarcerated for a stabbing that eventually led to a 2 year prison sentence. Upon his return Palermo would take a lengthy hiatus from music. In 2011 Palermo released a demo tape titled “Poshlost” under the moniker NOTHING. After several attempts at constructing a solid lineup for the band Palermo met Brandon Setta. Setta would bring a lush, rich soundscape and a fresh approach to Palermo’s vision for Nothing. Setta and Palermo would handle the writing for the next release, a very rare 12″ EP that was released on Japanese boutique label Big Love Records called Suns And Lovers (A play off of the D.H. Lawernce book). It was limited to 300 copies and the bands share was donated back to the label for a Tsunami Relief Charity. The next release, Downward Years To Come was a 5 song EP and was recorded at the Rubber Tracks Studio in Brooklyn with Kyle “Slick” Johnson. The record was released by Baltimore Label A389 Records in November 2012. Written by Palermo and Setta, the concept behind Downward Years To Come was a dedication to several different poets who had taken their own lives. Setta and Palermo would again head into the studio, this time with Jeff Zeigler at Uniform Recordings to write their debut LP, Guilty of Everything, and sign with Relapse Records.
The album Guilty of Everything came out March 3, 2014.
We placed the rockers in our list of picks for The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2014 (see here).
For Fans Of: Deltron 3030, Astronautalis, Murs, Brother Ali, Grieves, Atmosphere
Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree consists of rappers Cecil Otter, Dessa, Lazerbeak, Mike Mictlan, P.O.S, Paper Tiger and Sims. Doomtree started as a mess of friends, fooling around after school, trying to make music without reading the manual. The group had varied tastes — rap, punk, indie rock, pop — so the music they made together often bore the toolmarks of several styles. When they had enough songs, they booked some shows. They made friends with the dudes at Kinkos to print up flyers. They burned some CDs to sell. The shows got bigger. Of necessity, Doomtree’s seven members figured out how to run a small business. Lazerbeak’s garage became the merchandise warehouse; P.O.S’ mom’s basement became the webstore. A decade and fifty releases later, it’s all properly official-Doomtree is now a real, live label with international distribution-but not too much has changed. Doomtree still partners with people who aren’t jerks. If they can’t find something they need, they make it themselves. Although each member has a career as a solo artist, every so often the whole crew convenes to make a collaborative record as a group.
The most recent Doomtree record was called No Kings. A lot of people liked it. Happily, some of those people were writers at places like Vice, NPR, Rolling Stone, etc. According to the Village Voice, Doomtree is “one of the most talented and dedicated rap groups working today.” VH1 says the crew has “the aggressive energy of a punk act with just the right amount of hip-hop swagger.” In support of No Kings, Doomtree made laps around the U.S. and hit Europe a couple times too. They played at festivals like Lollapalooza, SXSW, and Belgium’s Dour Festival.
The newest Doomtree record is called All Hands, released January 27th 2015. The title nods to the nautical rally cry, “All hands on deck,” and the album stands as the most collaborative and cohesive project the crew has yet produced. The production from Cecil Otter, Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, and P.O.S twists through 13 booming tracks, building the raw and epic soundscapes that the group has become well known for, while adding more of-the-moment musical elements and techniques for a genre-spanning effect. This is the sound of old friends fine-tuning their craft, both together and individually, for over a decade, and it shows. Lyrically, All Hands sounds hungry as all hell. The three-year gap between Doomtree albums has given each of the five emcees substantial time to grow as solo artists, and the group’s return finds everyone tour-tested with plenty to prove. Sims, P.O.S, Mike Mictlan, Dessa, and Cecil Otter drive home razor-sharp cadences, hard-hitting punchlines, and monstrous choruses, passing the spotlight back and forth until the house lights come up.
To write All Hands, crew members sequestered themselves in a cabin with no cell reception to distract from the task at hand and no neighbors to be bothered by the music playing through the night. The process informed the product: the record creates and operates within its own sphere-a particular mix of menace, humor, beauty, and adrenaline. Though the Minneapolis sound is present on All Hands, the record is as much a product of seven friends, relying only on each other, working in international waters. Both the catchiest and densest album in the group’s catalog, All Hands adeptly walks a tightrope of immediately memorable hooks and in-depth lyricism that rewards repeated listens. The result is equally worthy of up-to-11 trunk-rattling drives as it is late-night headphone sessions.
7. Speedy Ortiz
For Fans Of: Black Moth Super Rainbow, Parquet Courts, Diarrhea Planet, Allah-Las, Milk Music, Ringo Deathstarr
Speedy Ortiz is proud to announce their sophomore album, Foil Deer, which was released via Carpark Records on April 21st. It is the follow-up to last year’s Real Hair EP and 2013’s debut album Major Arcana.
Speedy Ortiz said they would get the flowers themselves. What a lark! What a plunge!
When considering Massachusetts’ Speedy Ortiz, that line from Virginia Woolf comes to mind. Not only for the obvious echoes to DIY, a form and function that’s characterized the band’s nascency, but in the proto-feminist undertones driving much of their sophomore album, Foil Deer. “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” Sadie Dupuis sings on “Raising the Skate,” invoking in spirit one half of the Carter-Knowles clan and echoing the other’s wordplay. And wordplay makes sense, considering Dupuis-the band’s songwriter, guitarist, and frontwoman-spent the band’s first few years teaching writing at UMass Amherst. She’s drawn to the dense complexity of Pynchon, the dreamlike geometry of Bolaño, the confounded yearning of Plath-all attributes you could easily apply to the band’s 2013 debut Major Arcana, which fans and press alike have invested with a sense of purpose and merit uncommon in contemporary guitar rock.
The group, including Mike Falcone on drums, Darl Ferm on bass, and new addition Devin McKnight of Grass is Green on guitar, have spent the last year on an almost endless cross-continental touring jag, tagging along with the likes of The Breeders, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks and Thurston Moore. That shift into full-time musicianship brought with it an attendant reordering of priorities when it came to songwriting, and the band members’ lives in general. They would get the damn flowers themselves.
Dupuis wrote much of Foil Deer at her mother’s home in the Connecticut woods, where the songwriter imposed a self-regulated exile and physical cleansing of sorts, finding that many of the songs came to her while running or swimming alone. “I gave up wasting mental energy on people who didn’t have my back,” she says. “Listening to our old records, I get the sense I was putting myself in horrible situations just to write sad songs. This music isn’t coming from a dark place, and without slipping into self-empowerment jargon, it feels stronger.” Many of the songs deal with a similar sense of starting over, editing out the unnecessary drama. “Boys be sensitive and girls be, be aggressive,” she sings on “Mister Difficult.”
And while their debut album was recorded on the fly, Speedy Ortiz spent almost a month in the studio on Foil Deer. Falcone’s drums are taut, mechanistic; Ferm’s bass ranges from the aggressive rattle of an AmRep classic to smoother, hip-hop inspired lines. McKnight, meanwhile, lends spacier, textural riffs to complement Dupuis’ wiry, melody-driven guitar style. “The demos for our songs have always had tons of small details and production experimentation, but we never had any money to pay for more than a couple days in the studio, so the songs came out very live-sounding and guitar heavy,” Dupuis says. It was recorded and mixed at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room with Nicolas Vernhes (Silver Jews, Enon, Deerhunter), with the record mastered by Emily Lazar (Sia, Haim, Beauty Pill), lending a more polished sound and a pop sensibility that will stand out to existing fans and new converts alike. For all the lyrical complexity and guitar-based excursions Speedy Ortiz have built their reputation on to this point, Foil Deer has a sense of light-footed fun. What’s the point of doing things yourself if you’re not going to enjoy the trip?
8. together PANGEA
Los Angeles-based trio together PANGEA has received much praise for Badillac, with Consequence of Sound awarding the album an A-, noting Badillac is “moody, it’s fun, and it’s the sort of thing I want to believe in – one of those rare listens where you think, Okay, I get this… and I think it gets me.” MTV News ushered in its release by listing the album as one of the ten “Most Anticipated Indie Albums of 2014,” while Stereogum declared “gear up for one of 2014’s wildest records.” VICE Magazine awarded Badillac with “Album Cover of the Month,” and lauded the record, exclaiming “finally, a garage band with some fucking balls. Let ’em fly, motherfuckers.” MTV Hive summed up the band aptly, saying “together PANGEA is just one fucking fun band.” Referring to the 7-inch that preceded Badillac, Pitchfork said “Snakedog” is “an absolute shredder worthy of its awesomely ridiculous title.” Badillac is now available on iTunes and Amazon. We placed the band in our list of picks for The 50 Best Bets Of SXSW 2014 (see here).
together PANGEA do rock ‘n’ roll as it was meant to be – raw, unpredictable, and probably dangerous, but also blazing with intelligence, emotion and edgy experimentation. The Los Angeles-based trio made their bones as purveyors of post-millenial punk, but with their third full length release – and Harvest Records debut – Badillac, they pay their debt to the supersonic 90s rock that first inspired them. The band has not sacrificed a spurt of precious energy, instead integrating nuance and dynamic momentum to songs like “No Way Out” and the undeniably badass title track. The volcanic riffs and massive melodies are matched by an equally provocative lyrical stance, with songs like “Sick Shit” and the album-closing “Where the Night Ends” casting an acerbic eye over the wreckage of the party they helped start – it’s 3 am and the drunken fun has given way to sexual panic, anxiety and self-doubt. Slightly stoned but by no means slack, Badillac reveals together PANGEA to be both confident and surprisingly committed, their audacious ambition already impossible to contain.
“It might be confusing for people, assuming we’re like this garage punk band and then hearing this record,” says singer/songwriter/guitarist William Keegan. “But we really don’t want to get trapped at all.”
Keegan first started writing and recording in his Santa Clarita bedroom, his teenage tapes eventually coming to full flower with the aid of bassist Danny Bengston and drummer Erik Jimenez. Known then simply as Pangea, the band played countless beer blasts in and around CalArts, their boozy mayhem and breakneck pop hooks quickly earning them frenzied crowds throughout the Southern California DIY scene and beyond. A string of seven-inches, cassettes, and LPs – including 2011’s ace second album, Living Dummy, released by Burger Records and The Smell’s Olfactory label – followed, as did gigs alongside a veritable who’s-who of like-minded rockers, including Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, Wavves, and The Black Lips (not to mention 2013’s epic “Burgerama Caravan of Stars” U.S. tour).
Badillac was recorded with their longtime producer/engineer Andrew Schubert over three intensive sessions at his Tarzana studio, their roster augmented by second guitarist Cory Hanson (of the electronic pop outfit, W-H-I-T-E). While many bands in their position would have simply continued banging out the party punk, together PANGEA decided to throw a curveball at themselves and their fervent fanbase.
“We wrote like 30 plus songs for this record,” Bengston says, “half of which have the same punky bubblegum vibe of our last record. Then we had this other batch of songs, a little more melancholy, a little heavier, a little darker. I think in the end we just decided to try to not make the same record twice.”
“When I write, there are certain songs that I feel fit the band,” Keegan says, “and then there are songs where it doesn’t feel like they fit. At some point, I was like, maybe we should try some of the songs that don’t necessarily fit. Because I realized that they do fit – they’re just different.”
Though Keegan cites such unexpected heroes as Pete Seeger and 21st Century K Records artists like Little Wings and the Microphones, he fully fesses up to Badillac’s most primal inspirations. Indeed, songs like “Why” and the cello-laced “No Way Out” fuse classic post punk ambivalence with fist-pumping stadium rock, their neurotic hooks, throat-rending vocals, and fat, distorted riffs hearkening back to the glory days of the alternative nation.
“To me, the album is so obviously influenced by the shit that I was listening to when I was 16,” Keegan says. “Growing up in the 90s, all that stuff – Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer. It wasn’t conscious, the album just sounds like that. It feels like that music is etched in deeper that music I’ve listened to as an adult. For whatever reason, the music you listened to when you’re confused and young gets in deeper than anything you might listen to later.”
Badillac also sees together PANGEA stepping away from their association with a much-hyped scene they believe too often revels in its own idiocy, Keegan’s wry lyrics pushing both their music and subject matter towards unsettling themes of impotence, fear, ennui, and detachment.
“We think less and less about how we fit into this garage punk scene that we never even technically felt a part of,” Keegan says. “We just kinda get lumped into that. I’m not really stoked on what a lot of those bands are saying, there’s a lot of misogyny and stuff I’m not into.”
Like any angst-ridden tunesmith worth his salt, Keegan also directs his gaze inwards, coming to turns with his own cynical view of relationships on songs like the mordant “Offer,” their cracked melodies and jaundiced skepticism fueled by his recent romantic struggles.
“I went through a really difficult relationship where we were breaking up every three months for four years,” he says. “At the end of it, I was just like, “This is never gonna work.’ It was pretty intense and I think that informs a lot of the songs on the album.
“It’s kinda funny,” he adds. “As soon as we finished this record, we broke up for good.”
Badillac will drive together PANGEA through 2014, their imminent plans essentially consisting of touring until they drop. Nevertheless, the band finds themselves in the unprecedented position of having to ponder the future.
“We’ve been discussing where the next record is gonna go,” Bengston says, “we still haven’t put our finger on it yet.”
“It’s weird,” Keegan says, “because we never had to have those formal discussions, like, ‘What should the next record sound like?’ It’s always been pretty natural. Hopefully that’s what’ll end up happening again.”
9. Kembe X
For Fans Of: Chuck Inglish, Isaiah Rashad, The Underachievers, Alex Wiley, Flatbush ZOMBiES, Mick Jenkins
Kembe X is a teenage rapper from the South Suburbs of Chicago, who broke onto the scene with his debut mixtape Self Rule that was featured on sites such as 2dopeboyz, Illroots and Forbes as well as Impose Magazine. Him, Alex Wiley and his crew The Village have gained recent attention with their hit single “Dollar Please” from their group EP titled Can I Borrow A Dollar. Kembe’s sound is clearly rooted in chill, 90s thoughtful hip hop, although the Scion AV artist has shown versatility on tracks such as “Dollar Please”, “Extremely Good”, and “Schemin On The Scoochies”. He loves pizza, cheeseburgers, chicken and salad. Milkshakes are awesome too.
For Fans Of: Ducktails, Mr. Twin Sister, Fear Of Men, Blue Hawii, Craft Spells, Pure Bathing Culture
TOPS are a four-piece band from Montreal deliver a raw punk take on AM studio pop. Their new record, Picture You Staring, is a lush array of timelessly crafted songs. Picture You Staring gathers strength through intimacy. Self-written, recorded, produced, the record is the result of 12 months spent holed up in Arbutus Records’ Montreal warehouse. This album contains 12 impeccable examples of pop craftsmanship that will reward repeat listeners.
David and Jane met in middle school, but didn’t stay in touch until they reunited in Montreal where they’ve been collaborating since 2009. Unintentionally initiating a pop music scene in Montreal, their strange homemade recordings have gained an international following. In 2011 they joined Riley Fleck and started jamming at the loft space La Brique where they wrote and recorded their first record, Tender Opposites. TOPS continue to engineer and produce their own records and make their own videos in collaboration with fellow artists and filmmakers. In opposition to commercially driven pop music, TOPS pursuit lies in creating moving songs that succeed earnestly, disregarding trends and myth-making.
Since the release of Picture You Staring in September 2014 TOPS have done multiple tours of the U.S., Europe and an extensive tour of Japan. They’ve also released six music videos for the record, which range from highly conceptual to animated comedic meditations on life and death to lush choreographed dance. This fall they embark on a headline tour of North America with Los Angeles based artists Puro Instinct. They are currently working towards completing their third album.
Snakehips are a production duo based in Camden, London, UK who got together at the end of 2012.
Since forming only 18 months ago, Snakehips have made their name with Hype Machine chart-topping remixes for BANKS, The Weeknd, Bondax and Wild Belle, which between them have notched up more than 30 million plays on Soundcloud and YouTube. Last May, the mysterious production duo built on their early acclaim with ON & ON, a Radio 1-championed debut single that set out their signature sound, a sensual up-to-date take on old school R&B and hip hop.
In time to usher in another summer and ahead of appearances at major festivals across the UK and abroad, Snakehips are ready to release their glorious, second single, Days With U, featuring Disclosure and Rudimental vocalist Sinead Harnett. With the vibe of long, hot, hazy days coursing through its veins, Days With U sounds both retro and fresh and as dreamily laid-back as it is dancefloor-friendly. Driven as much by melody as by hip hop beats and shimmering synths, it’s a song about heartbreak that, somehow, sounds resolutely life-affirming.
With a debut album well underway and due out early next year, Snakehips have decided it’s time to reveal themselves as 24 year old Londoners Oliver Lee and James Carter. Despite a shared home city, the pair met on separate business trips to Hong Kong, where they bonded over shared musical interests. They shared a flight to L.A., began talking music and booked a studio in which to work on a track. It went so well that within days of returning to London they nudged their laptops together and Snakehips was born.
The pair’s first release was a remix of Chicago band Wild Belle’s It’s Too Late; their next a remix of Gold by electronic duo Bondax. Both used only the original vocal, topped the Hype Machine chart and revealed Snakehips’ love of ‘90s hip hop, disco and vintage soul.
The reaction to their own music, however, was in a different league. The steamy, sultry, lushly-produced ON & ON, featuring up-and-coming, Australian singer George Maple, sent blogs in to a frenzy, reached the Top 10 of the iTunes electronic charts on both sides of the Atlantic and caught the attention of Radio 1’s Zane Lowe, Annie Mac, Mistajam and Monki, for whom Snakehips recorded a guest mix. Like Days With U, On & On was a song about heartbreak that sounded like summer. Or as Ollie outs it: “It’s about a bloke George was in love with who didn’t love her back.” On & On’s soulful blend of retro and modern became Snakehips’ trademark.
“We love the vibe of 90s music – Hi-Tek, Pete Rock, that golden era of R&B with singers like Aaliyah and SWV,” says James. “We’re suckers for anything with cool soul samples and old drum beats. But we’re also influenced by living in London. We borrow from the past to make music for the future.”
Last year, Snakehips heard the BANKS’ song Warm Water and loved it so much they contacted Banks, asking to remix it. She sent the acapella, they added funky disco music, had another blog hit on their hands and were rewarded by being asked to rework The Weeknd’s Wanderlust. After The Weeknd tweeted his praise for their version, it received a million and a half plays in less than a month.
In between official singles, Snakehips have put out a handful of sample-based tracks, among them the Annie Mac-premiered Make It and Miss U Always, a love song posted for fans on Valentine’s Day. They sold out a tour of Australia, shows across the UK and were in demand to play clubs and festivals everywhere from Paris, Vienna, Warsaw and Berlin to the Netherlands. The pair’s debut London date, this May, at Village Underground, sold out so quickly a second show had to be added.
Most of 2014 so far has been spent working on their as-yet-untitled debut album, which will be preceded by a third single, Falling, featuring Meleka. All releases are on Snakehips’ own label Hoffman West, named after a fictional character Ollie created to get in to clubs for free.
“Put the name Hoffman West, plus five, on a guest list and no one asks questions when you get to the door,” he explains. “There’s something about that name that sounds so important that you’re always ushered straight in.”
It’s a busy summer ahead for Snakehips with appearances lined up at festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, Love Saves The Day as well as European jaunts at Outlook in Croatia and Pitch in Amsterdam. With a debut album also in the pipeline, there’s certainly a lot more of exciting things in store from the London based production duo.
12. Benjamin Booker
Benjamin Booker’s self-titled debut album is out now on ATO Records, you can see our record review here. Benjamin Booker is a young New Orleans based singer-songwriter, influenced by The Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson, and T. Rex. The album has already earned early raves from SPIN (“a contender for rock record of the year”), GQ (“The suavest kid in Southern Rock”), Rolling Stone (“a fierce debut”), ELLE (“The god we’ve been waiting for”) and Vice (“a layer cake of guitar shredding, incorporating Dinosaur Jr. quality riffs with an insistent, punk-like forward motion”).
When Benjamin Booker played Lollapalooza, Rolling Stone named him the weekend’s Best Rock Star Moment (“though Lollapalooza is always filled with countless rock acts, Booker may have been the strongest and most refreshing”). When he played Newport Folk Fest, Billboard named him the second best performance of the entire event (“a tight, raucous set that comes with enough well-placed gaps in the riffage onslaught to highlight his searching, soulful lyrics”). When he toured opening for Jack White, Jack brought him back out during his own set for a show-closing guitar duel. We placed him in our list of picks for The Top 20 Most Underrated Artists Of Lollapalooza 2014 (see here).
Naming him the first of ten July “Artists You Need To Know” last week, Rolling Stone said Benjamin sounds like “Howlin’ Wolf’s scrawny, bipolar little cousin discovered a fuzzbox.” Watch his “Violent Shiver” live video below.
“A fierce debut.” – Rolling Stone “Contender for rock record of the year.” – SPIN
“The #1 Under the Radar Artist You Should Be Listening to Right Now” – TIME Magazine
“a raucous, unruly mix of punk, blues rock and soul” – New York Times
“The suavest kid in Southern Rock.” – GQ
“If you’ve not heard of Benjamin Booker yet, get ready.” – NPR
13. Joanna Gruesome
For Fans Of: Waxahatchee, Girlpool, Eternal Summers, Swearin’, Perfect Pussy, Speedy Ortiz
Joanna Gruesome’s new album Peanut Butter entered the world on May 19 via Slumberland (U.S.) and May 11 via Fortuna POP! (UK) and Turnstile (ROW). Rival groups will be disappointed to learn that the record is a further experiment in combining hyper melodic pop music with sonic violence. Officials have confirmed that the record contains a record number of hooks, traces of nut and elements of jangle pop, British hardcore punk, atonal music, screaming and drone organs. Yet they have issued warnings of “a marriage of radical politics with peanut butter spread”.
Like their debut, the new album was recorded by MJ from Hookworms, with the aim of heightening the group’s “pop” and “aggressive” elements to excessive and hitherto unrecorded levels. As songwriter Owen Williams explains: “We tried to make it shorter, more economical and attempted to pack as many hooks and screams in as quickly possible in order to avoid short changing the consumer or wasting her/his/their time. Lyrically it’s more obtuse and surreal but also attempts to mock trad masculine rock themes whenever things do get more lucid. But sometimes musically we embrace them by doing embarrassing guitar solos. I’m not sure how much else I’m at liberty to say but one thing I will disclose is that the record is a response to threats posed by rival groups.”
14. The Growlers
The music of The Growlers is unmistakable.
Sure, you can hone in on some influences baked into the work of this California-bred band. Heck, even they’d cop to a few, like Ricky Nelson and The Clash. But once those same RIYL tags have been filtered through the minds and hands and voices of this five-piece, there’s simply nothing else like it.
The Growlers took the phrase “Beach Goth” as an apt descriptor of their music. Sunburned and salty, that term perfectly describes their distinctive melding of reverb heavy surf guitar and Bakersfield-style honky tonk with ‘80s post-punk.
This is especially true of Chinese Fountain, The Growlers’ fifth full-length released on September 23rd, 2014 via Everloving Records. The 11 songs found on it are some of the strongest that they’ve committed to tape yet; a byproduct not only of eight years in the trenches together, but finely honing their gypsy folk dirges and psychedelic sea shanties to fans at close to 150 shows each year. The connection between vocalist Brooks Nielsen and guitarist Matt Taylor (the principal songwriters of the group) has only grown deeper.
“The band played better than they’ve ever played,” says Nielsen. “We’ve got the process down now. There’s less screwing around to get the songs laid out and we weren’t waiting around for take after take. We knew it and we played without much time to spare.”
That confidence bleeds through every track on Chinese Fountain, with the band assured enough to layer in shades of many new influences: the loping ska beat of “Dull Boy” and “Going Gets Tuff,” the playful disco beat behind the title track, or the Teardrop Explodes-like agitation of “Good Advice.”
Not that the band left themselves much room to second-guess anything. The five spent about three weeks writing the tracks, and about half that time in the studio recording them. That may sound rushed, but it’s not as if you can hear any strain on the finished product; Chinese Fountain is as rock solid and watertight as anything in their still-growing discography.
There’s evolution to be heard in Chinese Fountain as well, courtesy of some of Nielsen’s most pointed and poignant lyrics to date. He takes our obsession with the online world to task on the funky title track. When he drops the bomb that obliterates that most famous of Beatles’ claims with “The internet is bigger than Jesus or John Lennon” he re-contextualizes Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” in the same breath. He urges positivity no matter the obstacles (“Going Gets Tuff”). Too, he reveals a tattered heart to the world on tracks like “Rare Hearts” and “Love Test.”
“This is my chance to let it all out,” Nielsen says of these songs. “I kind of bottle things up and don’t really get emotional. But I think if I don’t open up, I’d be a really stale person.”
15. Power Trip
For Fans Of: Cro-Mags, Windhand, Intronaut, The Sword, Iron Reagan, Pig Destroyer
Formed in early 2008, Dallas 5 piece Power Trip draw from the sacred texts of classic hardcore, punk, and metal. After the success of their self-titled Lockin’ Out 7”, Power Trip has unleashed their debut LP Manifest Decimation, out now via Southern Lord Records.
Surging with a modernized translation of the works of mandatory crossover pioneers Nuclear Assault, the Cro-Mags. Exodus, Leeway, Sepultura, and more, Manifest Decimation hurtle the band’s “steel, speed and destruction” ethos direct at the jugular with thirty-five minutes of crossover intensity that sounds like it was excavated from a 1987 time capsule with sixteen tons of radioactive dynamite. Recorded by Arthur Rizk and Daniel Schmuck, and produced, mixed, and mastered by Arthur Rizk at Solomon’s Gate in Philadelphia, Manifest Decimation wages war on all in its earshot, with nearly thirty-five minutes of thrashing violence. In the wake of their rabid live shows, images of impending doom and destruction have become synonymous with the name Power Trip.
For Fans Of: Joey Fatts, Sony Digital, Young Thug, OG Maco, Metro Boomin, Travis Porter
Two-9 is a hip-hop collective group based in Atlanta, Georgia. Consisting of FatKidsBrotha members Lightskinmac11 & Dave, Curtis Williams, Retro Sushi members Jace & Ceej.
17. Ringo Deathstarr
Ringo Deathstarr is an alternative rock band from Austin, Texas, which channels such diverse influences as Fugazi, The Cure, The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine, and The Velvet Underground. The band was originally formed by singer/songwriter Elliott Frazier in 2006, and released their eponymous EP soon after. After trying to get off the ground for 2 years with a constantly rotating cast of members, Elliott met Alex Gehring and a year later, Daniel Coborn moved to Austin and joined. Since 2010 the band has released two full length albums, 3 EP’s, a compilation of old songs, and two 7”s.This was followed by a string of singles and a series of international tours hitting both coasts and Japan, Europe, Hong Kong, Israel, South America, Mexico and the UK. The band’s debut full-length album, Colour Trip, was released in February 2011 by Club AC30. They toured with The Smashing Pumpkins in the winter of 2011/2012 and this past week just opened for Jane’s Addiction.
The new album has just been finished and will be out Nov 20, along with more touring of the world.
For Fans Of: Atoms For Peace, Sparta, A Perfect Circle, Queens Of The Stone Age, Fugazi, Refused
Antemasque is an indie rock band created by former At the Drive In and the Mars Volta members vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez with the latter band’s touring drummer Dave Elitch and bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Their sound is tight, uptempo, indie rock that moves on from both the post-hardcore of their earliest band and the prog revival of MV.
After Bixler-Zavala announced the end of MV the spring of 2013 — hinting at a creative split — it took less than a year for him and Rodriguez-Lopez to begin working together again at the behest of Flea. The quartet recorded a three-track EP, followed by a full-length in the bassist’s studio that was released in November on the Nadie Sound label. Before the recording was released, Flea, unable to tour due to his many other commitments, was replaced by the equally gifted Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez in the bass chair.
For Fans Of: Whirr, Nothing, Colleen Green, No Joy, Wavves, True Widow
Creepoid have released two acclaimed albums, Horse Heaven (2010) and Creepoid (2014) and two EPs, Yellow Live Giver (2010) and Wet (2014). Their much-anticipated third full length Cemetery Highrise Slum came out June 23, 2015 on Collect Records.
Creepoid has shared the stage with Dinosaur Jr., Against Me!, Kurt Vile, Refused, Failure, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Protomartyr, Best Coast, Swervedriver, …Trail of Dead, A Place To Bury Strangers, Twin Shadow, Warpaint, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Night Beats, Psychic Ills, Wooden Shjips, Black Lips, Cloud Nothings and Cymbals Eat Guitars.
“Earlier in the night…Creepoid took the stage. They played as if they were reviving the grunge-filled chaos of Sonic Youth circa ’93, but with the finesse of mid-period Creation Records shoegaze acts like Swervedriver or Slowdive. The sound was full of fury, but the dual vocals of guitarist Sean Miller and bassist Anna Troxell soared like an airy wave that enveloped the listener in a blanket of sweet nothings.” – Dallas Observer
“Nightmare or dream, you come out the other side intact. I think that’s Creepoid’s masterstroke – They’re able to transcend their own darkness to find an incredibly revelatory light.” – Exploding In Sound
“…Creepoid is something altogether novel. The young, co-ed Philadelphia quartet knows full well how to crank up the distortion–but it does so in service of a dreamy, drifting, wistful indie-rock. That said, Creepoid’s debut full-length, Horse Heaven, isn’t some polished piece of car-commercial fodder; just raw and snaky enough to feel eerily unhinged, the disc simmers like vat of molasses as the vocals of guitarist Sean Miller and bassist Anna Troxell build to a sweet, black oblivion.” – AV Club
“When Philadelphia foursome Creepoid (Anna and Pat Troxell, Pete Joe Urban and Sean Miller) convened last winter and recorded the EP Yellow Life Giver, they did not foresee the blog buzz coming their way. That’s not the case on the rock band’s debut LP, Horse Heaven, which features more defined melodies, intimate female-male vocals and instrumentals that burst at the seams.” – NPR
“…somewhere between Blonde Redhead, Sonic Youth and Asobi Seksu, which means it’s complex, occasionally dissonant and entirely likable.” -RCRDLBL
“Combining a tuneful whine over languid guitars, all drenched in a Deerhunter-esque wash, “Golden String” is an infectious and swoon-worthy ’90s throwback.” – CMJ
“Creepoid is a delicious combination of influences I already fucking adore, from Beck to Gomez, but with the desperate and angry sense of a modern day Hole.” – SYFFAL
“Why hadn’t I heard of this band before now? Like my favourites The Olivia Tremor Control, Creepoid don’t shy away from adventure. What I mean is starting on a path (with acoustics, or a folky lilt), then taking a sharp left-turn (a wash of distortion with howling guitars piercing through the haze, or hey-day grunge-crunch), all while we (the listener) stay safely seat-belted in on the ride. This collection of songs sounds like Creepoid skimmed the crème off the top of bands like Wilco, Eric’s Trip, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Beck, Nirvana (and the best of the rest of my record collection), churned in something sinister, and served up a rich n’ satisfying milky brew better than anything I’d tasted in a long while.” – CROSSFADER (Canada)
20. Roger Sellers
Photo by Tess Cagle
For Fans Of: White Arrows, Gold Fields, NONONO, Lord Huron, Here We Go Magic, Weyes Blood
The artistic style of Roger Sellers is widely accessible. Imagine folk-dance-americana-electric-symphonic fusion, where Philip Glass, Sufjan Stevens, and Joanna Newson all groove to late night ambient house music in George Martin’s livingroom.
Roger Sellers paints vivid aural landscapes where his multiple-layered instrumentation pierces through the terrain like musicological formations, as they compile higher and higher. Compelled by the splendor projected, you, the listener climbs to the top of Roger’s finely crafted mountain, where you are met by the enlightened composer. Just as you catch your breath, Roger takes your hand and shows you his panoramic view; at that moment you absorb the deepest beauty that inherently waits within Roger Sellers’ profound concept.
Instruments are easy in his hands, and he literally plays them all. Guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, bells, organ, piano, drums. From one-man acts, to a full band, Roger Sellers’ live performances sweep his audiences clean from external focus- until the attention is solely paid to him. Similarly, in the studio, Sellers plays the engineer, producer, director, composer, and lyricist.
With three self-produced albums of professional quality under his belt at the young age of 25, Roger Sellers’ songs attest to the erudition of his musical training and confidence as a master of recording. The newest release, “8 Songs”(2012), is out and available, as well as his first two albums. As well as recording, Sellers has also mastered the art of live performance, playing at festivals like SXSW and FUN FUN FUN FEST in 2013.
The Red Bull Sound Select artist has performed at showcases opening for Neon Indian, Tobacco, Night Drive, Thundercat, Nothing, Kurt Vile, Toro Y Moi, Mirror Travel, The Tontons, Young Magic and Robert DeLong.