Once again, we talked to 10 of the hottest artists who are climbing the charts, breaking the Internet or just dominating our office stereos. This month: Philly rap star Lil Uzi Vert, Australian chart-topper Grace, Rihanna co-writer Bibi Bourelly, eclectic Louisiana rockers Seratones and more.
Sounds Like: A fitful collision of punk, soul and jazz echoing out of a shed strewn with whiskey bottles.
For Fans of: The Dirtbombs, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Alabama Shakes
Why You Should Pay Attention: Word traveled like a sonic boom after the Shreveport, Louisiana group's first gig, and they quickly signed with Fat Possum. Tours with the Dandy Warhols, St. Paul & the Broken Bones and Thao & the Get Down Stay Down followed — and soon they'd record upcoming full-length debut Get Gone. Before all this, the Seratones' chameleonic vocalist-guitarist A.J. Haynes' progression of musical influences had taken several fortuitous left swerves. As a kid in Louisiana, she sang in church and heard raunchier blues at home. In her teens, it was straight Billie Holiday and eventually indie rock. Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat and brown liquor further muddied the picture as she got to know her eventual bandmates, guitarist Connor Davis, bassist Adam Davis, and drummer Jesse Gabriel. All of the above fed the Seratones' barbarous artistic appetite. Every song on Get Gone hits a different pocket of the party: heavy, buzzed-out moments slide into Winehouse-infected soul. "It's eclectic," Haynes says. "That reflects Shreveport. Shreveport doesn't have a brand. Take a bunch of stuff, throw it in a bag and shake it up."
They Say: "We were in New Orleans the day that [Prince] died and I did a cover of 'The Beautiful Ones,'" says Haynes. "I could barely make it through the song. It's hard when you feel so close to someone's music. I've adopted his stage presence to imitate, honestly. The way that he wore femininity and used it to say powerful things. I still can't process it. What a badass, until the day of his death."
"In my mind, I think Jello Biafra would've been a phenomenal jazz singer — when you think about his phrasing and how he interprets the song. We've always loved the improv side of jazz. There'd be nights where we'd put on a DIY show at Big D's, a barbeque shack, and try not to be shut down by the cops. Then we'd have a bunch of friends over and listen to Kind of Blue on repeat. Without batting an eye. There's not a sense of loyalty to a certain genre or sound. It's just whatever I fucking feel like listening to."
Hear for Yourself: "Sun" is scorching art-punk. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: A string of soulfully sung "fuck you"s over guitar
For Fans of: Rihanna, Elle King, Alessia Cara
Why You Should Pay Attention: Twenty-one-year-old Bourelly, the daughter of guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, has been surrounded by music her whole life, claiming to have written her first song at the age of two. "To me, it's like a language," she says of how quickly she picked up on her musical abilities. "It's so relevant in my life and happens in my head as much as we speak in English." The lifetime of self-training helped her launch her career early and with a bang as she was revealed to be behind Rihanna's 2015 single "Bitch Better Have My Money." From there, she appeared on a track with Lil Wayne and collaborated with Nas and Usher on "Chains," a powerful song addressing the Black Lives Matter movement. Following more high-profile credits on Selena Gomez's Revival and Rihanna's Anti, Bourelly is ready to launch her turn in the spotlight with the two-part EP Free the Real. The first half, addressing the "first chapter" of her career, launches on May 6th. "I love creating things that come from my gut and my soul," she says. "I don't give a shit about money. I love it when it's really about the music and about purity. My goal is to change the art industry."
She Says: "I believe that I exist for the people. I'm just here to try to make a difference and hopefully the people listen and trust me enough to contribute. I'm here to spread truth, which is so obnoxious and preachy. I want my brand and Bibi Bourelly to represent honesty."
Hear for Yourself: Single "Sally" matches her soulful voice with an Americana melody and a candid perspective. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: Flexing, giving pounds and talking smack while hugging the block
For Fans of: Young Thug, Wiz Khalifa, Soulja Boy
Why You Should Pay Attention: Given the blond dreadlocks, skater look, odd melodies and strangely lilting trap voice of Lil Uzi Vert, you might mistake him for another Atlanta iconoclast. But the 21-year-old hails from Philadelphia, a city with deep hip-hop roots extending back to the days of Lady B. "I enjoy down South music. When I was young, I listened to Ying Yang Twins and Mike Jones. But I also listened to [Philly] guys like Beanie Sigel, too," he says. "So instead of just flexin' when I rap, I also talk some grimy stuff." Born Symere Woods, he attended Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School and played cornet and trumpet. By high school, he began making rap songs. "[A friend] said, 'You rap fast, like a little Uzi, like a machine gun," he says. "Vert is, like, straight to the top, like a vertical leap." A 2014 track, "U.Z.I.," caught the attention of Atlanta DJ Don Cannon, and earned him a deal with Cannon and DJ Drama's Generation Now imprint, which is distributed by Atlantic. He found mentors in Wiz Khalifa and A$AP Rocky, and scored a big EDM hit with his appearance on Carnage's "WDYW." Last October, his first major mixtape, Luv is Rage, logged over five million SoundCloud streams, and on April 15 he dropped a new mixtape, Lil Uzi Vert Vs. the World.
He Says: Many of Lil Uzi Vert's vocal ideas are influenced by a youth absorbing hard rock and emo bands like Paramore, Flyleaf and My Chemical Romance. "In my elementary days, I took a liking to rock & roll music," he says. "I dabbed into Marilyn Manson, which became my favorite. I just take rock songs and mix it with hip-hop and a little bit of R&B. It's not so much the tone, but the different [vocal] pitches, because rock stars can go from a very high to a low pitch. It's something that they do all the time. I make it a little bit more darker as far as the melodies, so it plays out well."
Hear for Yourself: "Money Longer" has nearly 12 million SoundCloud plays. Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: The minimalist blues-rock of the Black Keys and the White Stripes, bolstered by a singer unafraid of his falsetto and — finally! — a bass player.
For Fans of: Led Zeppelin, Al Green, Morphine
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Record Company have opened for artists as diverse as Mavis Staples and Social Distortion, made their national TV debut on Conan in March and, following a European tour, will play Bonnaroo in June. After spending his formative years working on his family's Wisconsin dairy farm, the Record Company singer-guitarist Chris Vos (he favors lap steel) hightailed it to Los Angeles, where he bonded with bass player Alex Stiff and drummer Marc Cazorla over a shared love of the blues. But it'd be unfair to label the lean, deliberate three-piece as a simple blues-rock band. The songs on their stomping debut album Give It Back to You (recorded and mixed in Stiff's Los Feliz living room) would be right at home on alt-rock and Americana radio. "We are rock & roll," says Vos. "We're a band for whom the roll matters as much as the rock. The roll is the soul, the gospel, the swing and where it all lives.
They Say: "Soul voices are everything to me. [My falsetto] came from Al Green … and from listening to Prince. Hearing a guy sing like that when I was a young kid, I thought, 'I wonder if I can sing that way too?'" says Vos.
"We try to play our guts out every time we play. You have to take the stage like it's one less time in your life, not one more. Meaning you only get so many times in your life. It may sound kind of morbid, but you have to leave it all up there onstage."
Hear for Yourself: Give It Back to You's lead single "Off the Ground" opens with a snaking bass line before building to a woozy slide-guitar climax with Vos singing "Let the truth be told" in his highest register. Joseph Hudak
Sounds Like: If Adele had a little sister from Australia
For Fans of: Demi Lovato, Joss Stone, Miguel
Why You Should Pay Attention: Grace Sewell is only 18, but she's already had a Number One hit in her native Australia with a fiery cover of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me." The cover was Quincy Jones' idea. The blockbuster producer took notice of Sewell's expressive vocal range and recommended the 1963 classic. Like Gore, Sewell was 17-years-old when she recorded her version, which was updated for the modern consumer with a hip-hop verse from G-Eazy. You can hear Gladys Knight, Janis Joplin, and Shirley Bassey in the swells of her smoky voice. Those were the artists Sewell says her parents — an illustrator and a BMW salesman — kept on in her childhood home in Brisbane. Sewell's debut album is set for release early this year.
She Says: "I'm usually not inspired by watching TV in my downtime, but I've been watching the show Love & Hip Hop a lot and a song called "Burn Your Clothes" is fully about this couple on that show. … Rasheeda and her husband get in a big fight and she messes up all his stuff. My stories usually come from other people's journeys. … I think, 'How would I react if that happened to me?'"
Hear for Yourself: Grace faces the ultimate betrayal when her Jay Z stops calling her his Beyoncé on "Boyfriend Jeans," a soulful ballad that balances deep regret with the burn of teenage love. Sarah Grant
Sounds Like: Listening to a lucid dream
For Fans of: Mount Eerie, Asobi Seksu, Grouper
Why You Should Pay Attention: The side project of Little Big League leader Michelle Zauner began as an exercise in discipline when, during the summer of 2013, she set out to record one song a day during the entirety of June. The project soon evolved into an act of survival when Zauner put her life on Philadelphia on hold and moved to Oregon to care for her mother, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. She passed away six months later. In the ensuing months Zauner poured her grief (and several of those modified song-a-day recordings) into what would become a stunning debut, Psychopomp. Its taut, gossamer pop songs leave behind any trace of the emo-tinged indie rock Zauner played in her past life, while still giving her a chance to flex her talents as a deft and emotive songwriter. This summer, she and her three-piece live band will open for Mitski.
She Says: "In this book I was reading by Carl Jung, there was a caption talking about [the word] 'psychopomp,'" Zauner says of the album's title. "I really liked it because it sounded like the word 'psychotic pop,' and I think that's what my record sounds like sometimes. In mythology it's supposed to be an usher of a spirit to the afterlife, specifically a guide that has no judgment. In a lot of ways, when I was living with my parents, it really felt like that was my role throughout that whole process. I wasn't there to judge my mom when she decided she only wanted to do two chemotherapy treatments. I was just there to support her and help her through her time, and in some ways I feel like I was there to help her die. In Jungian psychology [the psychopomp] is also supposed to be this mediator [between] the conscious and unconscious. I was having a lot of these dreams about my mother, and it brought me some comfort that I could continue to connect with her."
Hear for Yourself: "Everybody Wants to Love You" is stomping power pop with Zauner's swelling voice twinkling alongside Radiator Hospital's Sam Cook-Parrott guesting on backing vocals. Paula Mejia
Sounds Like: Two parts punch-drunk neo-soul, one part New Wave boom-bap and a light garnish of house music
For Fans Of: J. Dilla, Basement Jaxx, J-Rocc
Why You Should Pay Attention: Kaytranada initially perked ears with remixes of songs by Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott — classics that he retooled with brash, bottom-heavy rhythms. Since then, he's been cosigned by veterans of the era he loves — producing for Talib Kweli and Mobb Deep — and has worked with other artists who wear their love of the late Nineties and early Aughts on their sleeves, like the Internet, Disclosure and AlunaGeorge. Kaytranada's debut album, 99.9%, hits shelves May 6th, and the record finds the producer uniting two generations of collaborators — Craig David sitting easily next to the rubbery young rapper GoldLink, for example — in the service of beats.
He Says: "Neo-soul caught my attention more than any other sub-genre. I was really attracted by that sound. It made me do what I do musically: trying to find the same type of vibes, those nostalgic vibes." But his music isn't only about nostalgia. "On albums I used to hear, there were a couple uptempo but very soulful R&B songs," he says. "There would be one song that would sound that way. My thing was to bring more of that to the table. That uptempo neo-soul, I wanted to bring that to life. Something dope, but something dance-y at the same time."
Hear For Yourself: On an album full of vocal features, an instrumental cut may speak the loudest: "Bus Ride" features the razor sharp drumming of Karriem Riggins and an unfussy keyboard line — lounge music pushed to a neck-cracking extreme. Elias Leight
Sounds Like: Afropop meets Caribbean dancehall and soca by way of New York
For Fans of: Kevin Lyttle, Rupee, WizKid
Why You Should Pay Attention: Ayo Jay's smash single "Your Number" was recorded several years ago while the London-born, Lagos-raised singer was attending Baruch College in New York and studying economics and finance. But after a long, slow climb — and a remix with Fetty Wap — it's about to cross over in the United States. Ayo Jay grew up on American pop music (he names Eminem, 2Pac, Michael Jackson and Akon among his influences), but didn't invest himself fully in the homegrown Afrobeats sound until after he left to attend college, becoming obsessed with making his own music in the wake of Nigerian artist Wande Coal's 2008 breakout Mushin 2 Mohits.
Immediately after graduating college in 2013, Ayo Jay signed to One Nation records and released "Your Number," the success of which took him by surprise. Although the song fits in well with the cutting edge Afropop sound, it was immediately apparent to Ayo Jay that the song had a bigger following internationally than in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria.
"It was a difficult song to push in Nigeria because it's not the usual vibe that we vibe to in Nigeria," he says. "But online, when I put the song out, a lot of the comments weren't even from Nigeria — from the UK, from the United States, from the Middle East. So we knew it had international potential."
He Says: "That song was actually recorded in the projects in Brooklyn, East New York, in [producer] Melvitto's room. I used to go there because my cousin lived in the same building. One day he played me these beats, because he just came back from Nigeria and he had a bunch of beats that were free, that no one was using. I did a freestyle, and the first thing I sang was "Can I get your number?" And we built around that. I think the process took two days, we recorded the whole thing. And that was it, put it out."
Hear for Yourself: "Your Number" is has a melody so perfectly simple you'll wonder how no one stumbled across it before. David Drake
Sounds Like: Low-end-heavy indie rock with disarmingly honest lyrics
For Fans of: Exile in Guyville-era Liz Phair, Alabama Shakes, Joni Mitchell
Why You Should Pay Attention: Trained on instruments ranging from fiddle to trombone, inspired by Elliott Smith and Bill Withers, this California-born singer-songwriter's first full-length, Emotions and Math (due June 16 on ATO) shows off an ability to create heady, openhearted rock. Her upcoming tourmates — moody synthpop band Lucius, folk pair the Milk Carton Kids and jazz-rock outfit Lake Street Dive — show the breadth of her appeal. Her upcoming Bonnaroo appearance will be a chance for her voice — which can sound both gnarled and feather-light — to charm a field of people.
She Says: "I produced this record. I started to demo all of the songs a while back; I had the demos on an iPad and was doing multi-tracking through GarageBand to get all my ideas down. By way of that — and I didn't quite know it yet — I started producing it. Lots of different ideas were coming through; ways to pan things, different sounds, different sections of things started to come to the surface. From there, my partner and I bought some recording equipment and I decided to record it more officially. That would be in my room, because I couldn't afford to go to the studio."
Hear for Yourself: The title track to Emotions and Math is strutting yet off-kilter, neatly capturing its lyrical themes of wide-eyed longing. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: Where dubstep mutates into post-punk
For Fans of: Actress, the Haxan Cloak, Sonic Youth if they scored a vampire film
Why You Should Pay Attention: Taken with the punishing rumble of dubstep, Reading duo Raime coupled it to gothic bleakness and industrial noise that suggests apocalyptic times — earning the admiration of Aphex Twin along the way. Their debut, 2012's Quarter Turns Over a Living Line, earned some good reviews and upcoming follow-up Tooth finds them incorporating live guitar and drums, giving their dark electronics a more serrated edge.
They Say: "Getting back to rhythm was a priority for us this time," the pair says over e-mail. "Dance music has always been the backbone of our influences so propulsion comes pretty naturally, but we really started getting into bands a lot more over the last seven years or so and experienced what they can offer dynamically. We thought it might create more immediacy and ultimately move our sound on. We realized that we wanted to change the way we were saying things, lay a few old tropes to rest and try something new, ultimately learning how to make records according to different rules."
Hear for Yourself: "Dead Heat" is a menacing, dissonant slow-build. Andy Beta