Ah yes, SXSW. Each year, hundreds of hopeful bands head down to Austin for five days of beer-soaked, sponsor-whoring party-hopping that is all supposedly necessary to “being discovered.” What exactly that means in 2015 demands an answer as multifaceted as SXSW itself, which is to say: there are a lot of ways to get ahead as a new artist down in Texas. One of the best, certainly, is to capitalize on existing momentum.
With that in mind, Flavorwire has highlighted ten of our favorite new musical acts to emerge this year. “New” is a subjective idea here; these days, there are a few ways to be up-and-coming. Some artists on this list — like Girlpool and Tobias Jesso Jr. — initially broke last year but are coming into their own with debut LPs in the coming months. Others — like Juce, Bully, and Leon Bridges — are just starting to have a moment. Meanwhile, Future Brown, Natalie Prass, and Viet Cong are bona fide breakout stars at this point.
Many of these acts will take on Austin this week for big showcases, and hopefully emerge on the other side with even more momentum. Whatever happens, though, they’ve made a solid dent in 2015 so far.
Girlpool have been a favorite on Flavorwire (and elsewhere) since last year, but the Philly-via-LA punk duo has only gotten sharper over the last several months. With each new song, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker find new ways to make their vocal harmonies clash with sour-milk riffs, invoking goosebumps with not only their deadpan delivery but their evocative lyrics as well. No feminist topic is off limits, from the double standards of slut-shaming to white male privilege. Out of any debut album this year, I’m expecting the most from Girlpool’s Before The World Was Big, out June 1 through Wichita).
Nashville’s Natalie Prass was a virtual unknown six months ago, but on the strength of her self-titled January debut, she’s quickly become everyone’s favorite new blue-eyed soul singer. The former touring member of Jenny Lewis’ band and longtime Matthew E. White collaborator offers up a new spin on what was already an interesting musical hybrid: that point in the late 1960s and early 1970s when country and soul fused together for full-band dramatics. The swooning heartbreak that served as those two genre’s common ground thrives under Prass’ tasteful eye.
Philly’s Sheer Mag play Thin Lizzy-esque songs with the grime and grit of true punks. On the band’s hedonistic EP from late last year, singer Christina Halladay sneers with reckless abandon over good-time riffs. Sheer Mag — short for Sheer Magnitude — have existed about a year, and already they’ve caught the attention of likeminded elders like Parquet Courts and Ex Hex, with whom they’ll play this spring.
When they emerged in 2013 with “Wanna Party” — a spacious, sinister single led by Chicago rapper Tink — Future Brown seemed more like a hip production crew than a marquee name. With the release of their self-titled debut on Warp earlier this year, the group — which includes four solo personalities in their own regard, namely Fatima Al Qadiri, Daniel Pineda, J-Cush, and Asma Maroof — made its merging of ominous electronic and global hip-hop understandable through a well-curated bevy of guest vocalists. Their vision is on point with trendsetters like Arca, but in a totally separate lane that should prove influential over the next year.
Throwback soul has been done — and done, and done. Leon Bridges stands out because he’s a Sam Cooke-style purist paying careful homage to R&B’s glory days, rather than trying to completely reinvent them. The young Texan guitarist and vocalist has just a handful of sweet songs out this year, but with Columbia behind him, a big SXSW in front of him, and his debut LP down the line, Bridges’ quantity will soon match his songwriting quality.
Though Bully have been kicking around East Nashville’s thriving garage-rock scene for a while, the quartet’s debut self-titled EP in late 2014 was impressive beyond their years. Singer Alicia Bognanno’s voice is the perfect mix of sweet and a little sour, particularly when poking out of punk riffs as informed by ’60s pop and surf as they are glam and grunge. In recent weeks, it’s felt like the band have been everywhere — from big SXSW lineups to Pitchfork — leading me to believe that the year of Bully is just beginning.
Minneapolis’ Melissa Jefferson bridges some pretty impossible gaps: the attitude and delivery of Salt-N-Pepa, and the outspoken empowerment and body positivity of riot grrrl. The result is high-energy, Southern-tinged party-rap with a strong message, which most recently caught the attention of Sleater-Kinney. A rapper opening for the reunited rockers may seem off-brand, but to see Lizzo and her partner in crime, DJ Sophia Eris, get the crowd revved up with rapid-fire rhymes, it’s clear that both acts share the ability to thoroughly empower their crowds.
Tobias Jesso Jr.
We’ve been on board with Tobias Jesso Jr. since mid last year, when he had only a song or two to his digital name. This week, LA transplant’s debut LP, Goon, will be released to high expectations. As we noted in our March albums preview, Goon is a mostly solid listen with more swoon-worthy hits than missteps, if you’re a fan of indie rock’s current obsession with singer-songwriters audibly inspired by Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson. What sets TJJ apart is his commitment to total emotional sincerity — a strength he plays to in his most devastating love songs, which somehow still maintain a breeziness that makes me want to move to Silver Lake.
London’s Juce is a girl-group for the now. They mix Haim’s throwback pop grooves with the empowered dance-punk of Gossip, and thanks to their big personalities, they have been compared to the Spice Girls in their native England. With UK domination percolating now since the release of debut EP Taste the JUCE! last year, the trio of Georgia, Chalin, and Cherish have an American crossover in their sights. A busy SXSW should help the Island Records signees do just that.
Even if you haven’t been paying much attention to music in 2015, if there’s one new band you’ve heard, it’s probably Viet Cong. The Calgary post-punks released one of indie rock’s biggest debuts of the year — perhaps to the surprise of just about anyone who’s heard the album’s punishing opening track, “Newspaper Spoons,” which Pitchfork described as sounding like “someone trying to punch their way out of a coffin.” If you’re a fan of severe and ambitious rock ‘n’ roll that could soundtrack an end-of-the-world movie, consider Viet Cong. (Their band name, of course, is a whole separate conversation.)