The World Cafe Next 20

Hear From 20 New Artists Featured On 'World Cafe: Next'

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World Cafe Next 20 sampler cover

This month, World Cafe celebrates its 20th anniversary as a showcase for music discovery, intimate interviews and live performances. While the 20 artists showcased in The Best of World Cafe are legendary, we want to get a head start on the 40th-anniversary celebration by looking ahead at who could step into the spotlight next.

World Cafe Next was designed to highlight up-and-coming artists; those who are on the precipice of buzz-band status or the cusp of becoming a household name. To bring you in on the fun, you're invited to check out this sampler of 20 bands to watch in the coming years. All the songs have been handpicked by the minds behind World Cafe, who seem to have a knack for predicting who will make it big. World Cafe Next alumni include Fleet Foxes, St. Vincent, Dawes and Peter Bjorn & John, who have put out some of the best and most exciting albums of 2011.

For the month of October, click above to download the entire sampler and read about the individual tracks below. And, in the comments section, tell us who you think has staying power from this list. You can say you were there when it all started.

This sampler is no longer available for download, but explore music from the artists below.

The World Cafe Next 20

  • 1. Carter Tanton "Horrorscope"

    Carter Tanton i i
    Courtesy of the artist
    Carter Tanton
    Courtesy of the artist

    Album: Freeclouds

    From: Boston, Mass.

    Rolling out a voice thick with wanderlust, Carter Tanton (also a member of Lower Dens and Tulsa) sounds like he's struggling to achieve some kind of clarity in his revelatory, often chaotic music. Amid fuzzed-out, ragged guitar rips and the bass drum's skull-shaking thump, "Horrorscope" is a dizzying journey into the region somewhere between jangly alt-country and basement indie rock.

  • 2. Pink Skull, "Hot Bubblegum"

    Pink Skull. i i
    Shane McCauley
    Pink Skull.
    Shane McCauley

    Album: Psychic Welfare

    From: Philadelphia, Penn.

    Continuing in the tradition of alternative dance-pop exemplified by The Dandy Warhols in the late '90s and early '00s, Pink Skull stakes its claim in effervescent electronic noiseplay. DJ/producer duo Julian Grefe and Justin Geller, known for their adventures in mixing and remixing, have expanded into a live band for which "programming" is still a necessary role.

  • 3. Canon Blue, "Indian Summer (Des Moines)"

    Canon Blue. i i
    Courtesy of the artist
    Canon Blue.
    Courtesy of the artist

    Album: Rumspringa

    From: Nashville, Tenn.

    Scandinavia has had a positive influence on Daniel James, whose Nashville upbringing is eschewed in favor of stirring chamber-pop swells and airy gracefulness. He recorded in Copenhagen with his tourmates in Efterklang and Iceland's Amiina on strings (the latter group also provides the extraordinary string orchestration for Sigur Rós). A jauntily melodic conversation gives way to shimmering harmonies that cut straight to the heart.

  • 4. Superhuman Happiness, "Needles And Pins"

    Superhuman Happiness. i i
    Tatiana McCabe
    Superhuman Happiness.
    Tatiana McCabe

    Album: The Physical EP

    From: Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Superhuman Happiness' "Needles and Pins" takes the whimsy of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" and plops it on top of Phish-like laid-back vocal attitude and the joyful funk of James Brown. It's peppered with restrained brass flourishes, which sound as if any member of the horn section could easily spin into a complex improvisation if given the chance. Bandleader Stuart Bogie, saxophonist for the Afrobeat band Antibalas, evokes something truly uplifting, giving credence to a well-deserved band name.

  • 5. Jonathan Wilson, "Rolling Universe"

    Jonathan Wilson.
    Courtesy of the artist

    Album: Gentle Spirit

    From: Forest City, N.C.

    Jonathan Wilson recognizes himself as someone for whom place, both physical and spiritual, plays a large role in his music. A childhood among the Blue Ridge Mountains gave way to this album's recording in L.A.'s historic Laurel Canyon. It's an appropriate location for someone who sounds both at peace with the world and unsettled by it, as if coming to terms with the temporal reality of nature. His lullaby voice evokes images of Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith.

  • 6. Nikki Lane, "Gone, Gone, Gone"

    Nikki Lane. i i
    Glynis Selina Arban
    Nikki Lane.
    Glynis Selina Arban

    Album: Walk of Shame

    From: Greenville, S.C.

    It's always refreshing to find a woman playing the part of the wayward rambler, and Nikki Lane happily assumes the role in her new record's ode to the South. She updates the great Wanda Jackson's slick rockabilly to reflect a more, well, modern take on relationships. In "Gone Gone Gone," hear the slide guitar whine at the just the right points, then bloom with a sound that's both sorrowful and freewheeling.

  • 7. I Break Horses, "Hearts"

    I Break Horses. i i
    Alex Southam
    I Break Horses.
    Alex Southam

    Album: Hearts

    From: Stockholm, Sweden

    Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck's synth-steeped post-rock is as entrancing as it is danceable, depending on which layer you're paying attention to. With pulsing beats and a constant forward drive, "Hearts" pounds along, always on the verge of spinning out of control.

  • 8. Still Corners, "Cuckoo"

    Still Corners.

    Still Corners. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

    itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist

    Album: Creatures of an Hour

    From: London, U.K.

    Moody and mysterious, Still Corners evokes the suspense and ethereal romance of a classic film noir. The femme fatale in this case is vocalist Tessa Murray, her voice a pristine whisper which, when paired with the organ's drone, builds upon itself to achieve a spacey omnipresence. Even the guitar sounds otherworldly. Murray sings of obsession and losing her mind in the most beautiful possible way.

  • 9. The Stepkids, "Santos & Ken"

    The Stepkids. i i
    Jesse Mann/Matthew Bologna
    The Stepkids.
    Jesse Mann/Matthew Bologna

    Album: The Stepkids

    From: Bridgeport, Conn.

    It's possible to describe The Stepkids' explosive style by adding the word "psychedelic" any of the following genres: jazz, punk, soul, funk, even classical. With a shout-out to the best shape-shifting qualities of Beck's Midnite Vultures, The Stepkids' members take similar inspirations from Parliament, The Beatles, Rufus & Chaka Khan and Cake — and visit them all in a single song. Particularly delightful is the exuberant sax jam that comes in during the track's second verse.

  • 10. Dreamers Of The Ghetto, "State Of A Dream"

    Dreamers of the Ghetto. i i
    Courtesy of the artist
    Dreamers of the Ghetto.
    Courtesy of the artist

    Album: Enemy/Lover

    From: Bloomington, Ind.

    Dreamers of the Ghetto would fit easily alongside Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp on the soundtrack to a big-budget '80s movie — in the part where the hero celebrates his victory, of course. Composed of brothers Jonathan and Luke Jones, and Luke's wife Lauren, the band's familial friendship shines through in the ease with which its members play off one another.

  • 11. TV Girl, "Lizzy Come Back To Life"

    TV Girl. i i
    Wendy Stumman
    TV Girl.
    Wendy Stumman

    Album: Benny and The Jetts EP

    From: San Diego, Calif.

    Where TV Girl's banger "If You Want It" pulls off a funkification that would put Toro Y Moi to shame, flipping a Todd Rundgren sample into the second coming of "Since I Left You," "Lizzy Come Back to Life" is where the band really goes someplace that hasn't been explored before. Its boomy breakbeat and Ghostface-ready soul sample almost obscures the dejected narrator's post-breakup lamentation: "Everyone dies, it ain't nothing new on a gloomy afternoon."

  • 12. The Devil Makes Three, "Tow"

    The Devil Makes Three. i i
    Max Blau
    The Devil Makes Three.
    Max Blau

    Album: Stomp and Smash

    From: Santa Cruz, Calif.

    While The Devil Makes Three's resonator guitars and herky-jerky gait invite ragtime, country and folk classifications, the enveloping darkness in "Tow" elicits a deeper ethos of early-20th-century backwater. This is true American roots music. Frontman Pete Bernhard sings like a crusty Reconstruction-era Civil War vet, tortured by memories from long ago.

  • 13. Family Of The Year, "St. Croix"

    Family of the Year. i i
    Elizabeth Weinberg
    Family of the Year.
    Elizabeth Weinberg

    Album: St. Croix EP

    From: Los Angeles, Calif.

    Family of the Year's ebullient "St. Croix" is full of stylistic left turns: There's the "Kokomo" drum intro, swaths of atmospheric synths, Thin Lizzy-style doubled guitar lead, and finally the fadeout's passing reference to the "Taxman" bassline. And yet somehow it all fits seamlessly, a gem for driving to the beach with the windows down and the volume cranked; it makes July feel so close and yet so far away. This is a vacation in a song.

  • 14. Sonya Cotton, "Frozen Hands"

    Sonya Cotton. i i
    Elizabeth Weinberg
    Sonya Cotton.
    Elizabeth Weinberg

    Album: It Is So

    From: San Francisco, Calif.

    In "Frozen Hands," a heart-wrenching elegy from Sonya Cotton's tribute record to her late mother, the slide guitar is mournful, like a theremin or a stranger crying in the next room. The pain of losing a loved one becomes inescapable when the gorgeous chord progression lifts a harmonized Cotton up with the words, "White bone is buried and breaks / while blood flows in ways, like waves / and you're in mine always."

  • 15. Warm Ghost, "I Will Return"

    Warm Ghost. i i
    Courtesy of the artist
    Warm Ghost.
    Courtesy of the artist

    Album: Narrows

    From: Brooklyn, N.Y.

    The late John Hughes' influence on popular music is incalculable. The music featured in his movies — including General Public's "Tenderness," The Dream Academy's "The Edge of Forever" and, of course, Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" — made new wave the iconic vehicle of emotional sincerity. When chillwave auteur Warm Ghost's "I Will Return" materializes into fuzzy Microkorg synths and overdriven drum sounds, a slow-dancing, prom dress-clad Molly Ringwald materializes under colored lights.

  • 16. Letting Up Despite Great Faults, "Teenage Tide"

    Letting Up Despite Great Faults. i i
    Olivia Hemaratanatorn
    Letting Up Despite Great Faults.
    Olivia Hemaratanatorn

    Album: Paper Crush EP

    From: Los Angeles, Calif.

    The melancholy dissonance of teenage inferiority and uncontainable optimism course through this wistful piece, finding lead singer Mike Lee sounding both nostalgic and caught in a moment that feels never-ending. "Teenage Tide" revels in the highly saturated emotions of adolescence before abruptly self-destructing. The audio distorts as if the listener's headphones have become dislodged while running home from school.

  • 17. Peggy Sue, "Changed And Waiting"

    Peggy Sue. i i
    Anika Mottershaw
    Peggy Sue.
    Anika Mottershaw

    Album: Acrobats

    From: London, U.K.

    Mountainous and brooding, "Changed and Waiting" builds slowly, just waiting to explode, but it never does. Peggy Sue singers Rosa Slade and Katy Young capture the feeling when a relationship's inadequacy becomes undeniable, and sing through clenched teeth, "You will find me changed and waiting / wanting more than you could hope for."

  • 18. Zola Jesus, "Vessel"

    Zola Jesus. i i
    Courtesy of the artist
    Zola Jesus.
    Courtesy of the artist

    Album: Conatus

    From: Madison, Wisc.

    The cathedral-goth ruminations of "Vessel" phase in and out of clarity, at times succumbing to digital abstraction or perching, crystal clear, over industrial syncopation. Nika Roza Danilova is often recognized for her powerful voice, and rightly so; it is an instrument with the emotional heft of an artist beyond her years.

  • 19. Mariah McManus, "Say It Again"

    Mariah McManus i i
    Courtesy of the artist
    Mariah McManus
    Courtesy of the artist

    Album: Nice to Meet You

    From: Los Angeles, Calif.

    Mariah McManus has the kind of voice that glossy L.A. producers pull all-nighters to replicate. Twinkling xylophone and resonant piano intersperse with 808 in "Say It Again," a love song which nuzzles somewhere between Taylor Swift's earnest puppy love and The Fray's "Over My Head," but without all the mess. Good luck getting this out of your head.

  • 20. Alabama Shakes, "I Found You"

    Alabama Shakes. i i
    David A. Smith
    Alabama Shakes.
    David A. Smith

    Album: Alabama Shakes EP

    From: Athens, Ala.

    Artists have been beating around the soul-revival bush for close to a decade now, and some — Amy Winehouse, Raphael Saadiq, Sharon Jones — have gotten closer than others. Alabama Shakes wins a spot on that list from lead singer Brittany Howard's first purr in "I Found You," an ineffable plea made from a mold long thought to be broken. Howard is jubilantly forthright, unhinging her voice such that any chinks in her armor let her soul shine through.

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