NPR logo Musicians You'll Tell Your Friends About In 2015

Ann Powers

Musicians You'll Tell Your Friends About In 2015

Austin-based Charlie Belle, led by 16-year-old Jendayi Bonds (center) along with her brother Gyasi Bonds (left) and Zoe Czarnecki, will release a debut EP on Jan. 13. i

Austin-based Charlie Belle, led by 16-year-old Jendayi Bonds (center) along with her brother Gyasi Bonds (left) and Zoe Czarnecki, will release a debut EP on Jan. 13. Barclay Ice & Coal/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Barclay Ice & Coal/Courtesy of the artist
Austin-based Charlie Belle, led by 16-year-old Jendayi Bonds (center) along with her brother Gyasi Bonds (left) and Zoe Czarnecki, will release a debut EP on Jan. 13.

Austin-based Charlie Belle, led by 16-year-old Jendayi Bonds (center) along with her brother Gyasi Bonds (left) and Zoe Czarnecki, will release a debut EP on Jan. 13.

Barclay Ice & Coal/Courtesy of the artist

If any message keeps asserting itself within the volatile atmosphere of popular music as we enter 2015, it's that anticipation is for suckers. Predictions, likewise. D'Angelo's late-game mic drop — the release of Black Messiah with only two weeks left to go in the year — redefined 2014 in retrospect, causing fans to reconsider the year's entire timeline in light of its radical spirit of protest and freedom. In the mainstream, some things (okay, everything Swift) happened as planned, but the lingering impact of seemingly novel fascinations — Iggy Azalea, Meghan Trainor — contrasted with the big thud of a few longtime central figures like U2 and Mariah Carey to signal ... what? A generational shift? A gender revolution? Pop getting more uniform or more diverse? The only certain thing was that the year didn't pan out quite the way anyone thought it would.

The same could be said of all the scenes beyond the Top 40. Who knew a 36-year-old former bluegrass punk who'd already ditched his music career once would set the Americana scene on its head? Or that hip-hop would get so fascinatingly weird, thanks to mixtapes like Black Portland and ascendant eccentrics all-star shouter OG Maco. Jazz was unpredictable; indie rock produced unlikely front-runners like the lost-stoner soundtracks of The War on Drugs. The feeling carrying music lovers into 2015 is not only that very little unites us, even within the small rooms where subgenres rule; it's that striving to agree on what's important or great isn't even an interesting practice right now. Instead, artists and fans alike are rearranging hierarchies, talking back to paradigms, focusing on what appeals personally, finding new centers within the margins. It's an exciting time, but one that's not easy to define.

In the spirit of surprise and open possibilities, here are 10 acts you might not find on everyone else's must-have list for the new year. Some of these musicians are several albums into their careers, with devoted followings. Others are fledglings. The buzz machine has attached itself to one or two; a few remain obscure. All plan to be promoting fresh recordings in the next twelve months, but several, adhering to the spontaneity of the sudden-release age, don't have firm date for their projects. If these musicians all played together on a bill, it would be more eclectic than anything the festival circuit offers. What's likely is that each will find an enthusiastic audience in 2015, and some may even grab what's left of pop's spotlight. Let's all meet back here in a year to celebrate their arrival during what will likely be another year full of fancies, flipped fingers and fun.

Musicians You'll Tell Your Friends About In 2015

  • Charlie Belle

    "You don't know if you are going too fast; you don't know if you are going to last," Jendayi Bonds gently intones in "Under the Rug," one of the five spare, sweet-tart pop tunes on this Austin trio's debut EP. The chorus ideally evokes the impulsive yet hesitant forward motion of adolescence. Bond knows that subject — she's sixteen, and her bandmates (brother/drummer Gyasi and bassist/Rock Camp for Girls pal Zoe Czarnecki) are even younger. Unlike many precocious kids, these three avoid talent-show overemoting; they're influenced by wry indie popsters like Magnetic Fields and Bonds is more interested in wordplay than in showing off. Already beloved in the trio's hometown of Austin and currently on a hot chocolate-tasting tour of the East Coast, Charlie Belle is an all-ages sensation that's both empowering and adorable.

    Next release: The Get To Know EP comes out Jan. 13.

    YouTube
  • Tigran Hamasyan

    An ethnomusicologist once used the phrase "the worlding power of play" to describe what this young Armenian-American composer and keyboardist masters in his music. Worlding: an act of creation that encompasses and reshapes the space it occupies. Such a grandiose term suits Hamasyan, though "play" matters too, because his startling combinations of jazz, minimalist, electronic, folk and songwriterly elements (he calls his sound "electro-acoustic Armenian rock"; I'd call it Khosrov forest wizardry) beckon listeners with a magical kind of openness. On Mockroot, his Nonesuch debut, Hamasyan and his collaborators travel musical expanses marked with heavy grooves, ethereal voices, pristine piano playing and ancient melodies. You'll hear nothing else like this album in 2015.

    Next release: Mockroot will be out on Feb. 3.

    YouTube
  • Whitehorse

    Major careers in Canada don't always translate across the nation's Southern border; just think of the Tragically Hip. But with Leave No Bridge Unburned, their third album as Whitehorse, the married singer-songwriters and ace guitarists Luke Doucet and Melissa McLelland are poised for a major breakthrough. Expanding its tense, focused, sexy sound to make room for desert twang and rockabilly hijinks, Whitehorse lends more drama to its compact tales of romance and risk. Spooky entreaties like "The One I Hurt" and first single "Sweet Disaster" would fit right in on the soundtrack to Season Two of True Detective. Every year needs some noir, and Whitehorse brings it.

    Next release: Leave No Bridge Unburned will be out on Feb. 17

    YouTube
  • Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders

    With his booming croon and propensity for decadence, the rocker Jack Ladder often earns comparison to another horseman of the Australian apocalypse, Nick Cave. On their fourth album, Ladder and his band find a distinctive framework in the synth-kissed soft rock of the 1980s. Playmates welcomes comparisons to other skewed visions of that era, like American Psycho and Boogie Nights, adding a gothic tinge in Bauhaus-flavored tracks like "Neon Blue." Sharon van Etten contributes backing vocals on two songs, but this music is more arch than her heartfelt, meticulous stuff. As a vocalist, Ladder maintains an air of distance that reminds us he's playing a role; at key moments, though, the pose collapses, and the emotion seeping through is rough and affecting.

    Next release: Playmates will be out on Feb. 24.

    YouTube
  • Chastity Belt

    The essayist Rebecca Solnit recently published a love letter to feminists of the Internet age entitled "Listen Up, Women are Telling Their Story Now." Seattle band Chastity Belt is the musical manifestation of the confrontationally honest spirit Solnit celebrates. The quartet's second album (and debut on Sub Pop sister label Hardly Art) abounds with confessions that evoke that moment in an argument when the truth is spoken, startling everyone involved. "Everything is beautiful, because we're delusional," singer and main songwriter Julia Shapiro moans to a friend on the binge-chronicling title track; in the anti-mansplaining anthem "Drone," she mourns a loser love: "He was just another man trying to teach me something." But Chastity Belt also believes in something — liberty, specifically. "To all the girls in the world trying to take off their shirts," Shapiro wails in "Cool Slut," "ladies, it's okay." The music is an indie-rock swirl of guitars and careening drums that recalls the team efforts of classic bands like the Raincoats. Please buy this record for every fourteen-year-old girl you know.

    Next Release: Time To Go Home comes out on March 24.

    YouTube
  • Kehlani

    Sometimes good things come from cheesy televised competitions. America's Got Talent introduced the world to this winsome, subtle singer, who was a member of Poplyfe, the group that took home fourth place in the show's sixth season. Since then Kehlani Parrish has been busy collaborating with West Coast wave-makers like Lyfe Harris and producer Jahaan Sweet and dropping mixtapes that have lovers of atmospheric soul music clamoring for more. Her recent single "FWU" is the kind of song that makes summer come on in the middle of a cold snap, and her holiday song "Lonely in December" sparkles like a Minnie Ripperton song. However she decides to share her gifts — she's promising another mixtape before her official debut — Kehlani is one of the most scintillating voices in current R&B.

    Next Release: Little Person, Big Soul will be out some time in the spring. A mixtape might arrive first.

    YouTube
  • Andrew Combs

    When the 28-year-old Texas native Combs first surfaced in Nashville a few years ago, his highly melodic, moody songs earned him some lofty comparisons: People talked about Townes Van Zandt and Mickey Newbury. On his second album, Combs honors those heroes and the moment of their flowering, when country craftsmanship met folk storytelling and the sweet flash of post-Gram Parsons pastoral rock. Combs's voice is so evocative on All These Dreams, and the settings he creates with his collaborators (led by the outstanding guitar duo, Steelism) are so rich, it's a damn good thing his lyrics live up to the presentation. This might be the Americana album of 2015.

    Next Release: All These Dreams will be out on March 3.

    YouTube
  • Mickey Guyton

    Mickey Guyton has the kind of voice that gives people hope: Her tone is round and and inviting, her sense of phrasing deftly dramatic but warm. Specifically, she's giving mainstream country insiders hope that the genre will welcome another young woman into its still-pretty-macho top echelon. Guyton's got some heavy hitters behind her, including former Taylor Swift mentors Nathan Chapman and Dann Huff. And she's a writer as well as a singer, inspired by heroines like Dolly Parton to forge her own path. Her inspirational single "Better Than You Left Me" is already eliciting tears and cheers from Guyton's growing fan base. Go, Mickey: country needs you.

    Next Release: Guyton's Capitol Records Nashville debut will be out in late summer.

    YouTube
  • Leon Bridges

    A young soul revivalist from Texas is this year's miracle man. A former aspiring choreographer who took up music because he thought it was a more viable career (what a dreamer!), Bridges was stuck playing open mic nights until he he ran into White Denim members Josh Block and Austin Jenkins, hanging out in a Fort Worth club. Impressed with his snappy style, the fuzz-rockers invited Bridges to jam — and discovered his dazzling ability to conjure the spirit of the young Sam Cooke. Soon enough, they were making an album together. One stellar Nashville show ignited a fire among music-biz insiders; now Bridges is signed to Columbia, planning a tour, and winning more hearts — even with the few rough mixes he's put up on his Soundcloud — every day. It's always nice when a new voice makes classic sounds relevant again.

    Next Release: Bridges' Columbia Records debut will be out in late summer.

    YouTube
  • The Anchoress

    For half a decade, Catherine Anne Davies has been making dark, intriguing music informed by her literary passions — she has a PhD and a published treatise on Walt Whitman's "queer children" — and influences like Bowie and Kate Bush. A new persona has energized her: The music she's making as The Anchoress is delightfully theatrical and sharp as a bloody blade. "One For Sorrow," her most assertive statement so far, takes on the institution of marriage with a moodiness that Siouxsie Sioux would admire. The Anchoress is currently completing two albums and touring with Simple Minds; Davies has many illustrious fans in her corner, and she just might prove to be Wales's (much more explicitly feminist) answer to Lana Del Rey.

    Next Release: Confessions of a Romance Novelist will be out in the summer.

    YouTube

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