Sounds Like: A stomping, swaggering rock & roll balancing act teetering between blinding light and total darkness
For Fans of: Cage the Elephant, Kings of Leon, Rag'n'Bone Man
Why You Should Pay Attention: Even if the name Barns Courtney doesn't spark recognition, his 2015 song "Fire" might. A blues-leaning rock song that evoked both Ennio Morricone and Kanye West's "Black Skinhead," it was a crossover radio hit and was licensed for Volkswagen, Bose and the Bradley Cooper film Burnt. At the center is Courtney's world-weary voice, a chameleonic instrument showcasing range (and a few bars) on this year's full-length debut, The Attractions of Youth.
Youth combines "Fire" and other early singles with a slate of newer genre-splitters like the psychedelic "Golden Dandelions," and an overt hip-hop turn on "Hobo Rocket." Here and there, an occasional vocal flourish hearkens back to his more-polished, pop-punk past. "[The album is] about the naive, seemingly indomitable passion for music that burned in my gut since I can remember," he says.
Just a few years back, a previous record deal fizzled out, and he was left wondering if a career in music would still be possible. As his luck changed, Courtney landed slots opening for the Who, Blur, Ed Sheeran and more. While he's enjoying his success, he admits, "I find it harder to write songs when I feel happy and everything's all right than when everything's up against the wall."
He Says: "In my very first bands, essentially what we wanted to be was Metallica or Led Zeppelin. The bands we listened to – like Zeppelin or Iron Maiden – they had these huge, high-range vocals. As I got older, I started listening to the pop-punk bands like Panic! at the Disco or Fall Out Boy. It was driving that same message home: The best singers can sing the highest. That's what I aspired to do. I completely ignored my natural range, which is lower. I thought it was good for nothing but cheesy Frank Sinatra covers. It wasn't until I got a lot older and I did a cover of a Lana Del Rey song with my last band, Dive Bella Dive. We got the key wrong and I ended up singing it really low on the verses. And I was like, "Actually this is a natural home for my singing voice.'"
Hear for Yourself: Inspired by medieval poet John Donne's "Death, Be Not Proud," the haunting "Golden Dandelions" finds Courtney envisioning his own death as a pleasurable experience. Reed Fischer