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: the first singer-songwriter signed to Skrillex's OWSLA label, Mark Johns; hard-touring Toronto punks Pup; Janet Jackson songwriter Mickey Shiloh and more.
Sounds Like: A quickly-shifting dream full of bright lights and saturated colors
For Fans of: A Sunny Day in Glasgow, My Bloody Valentine, Swirlies
Why You Should Pay Attention: Hailing from St. Petersburg, Russia, Pinkshinyultrablast planted a flag for Russian shoegaze when they released their first EP in 2009. After a years-long hiatus, the band has roared back to life, releasing the expansive Everything Else Matters last year and putting together Grandfeathered for release this month. The band's heady blend of blown-out guitars and sugary melodies hits a shoegaze sweet spot that only becomes more satisfying on repeated listens, which tease out the detailed arrangements lurking underneath the heavy distortion. And they're already working on their next record, which will likely bring forward the electronics that make their sound so vital.
They Say: "It's curious to me how different words work together, and how different associations and images work together in a song," says vocalist Lyubov Soloveva. "There are a lot of nonsensical associations that come together — it's like that moment when you wake up and you don't realize what's a part of your dream, and what's part of the next morning. That's the moment I've been wanting to explore on [Grandfeathered]; it gives me more room to be playful."
Hear for Yourself: On the swirling "The Cherry Pit," bouncing basslines and shards of guitar blossom into glorious noise. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: Electronic music rendered on a laptop pulled from a smoldering building
For Fans of: Oneohtrix Point Never, Holly Herndon, Arca
Why You Should Pay Attention: It's not every day that an indie rock singer becomes a figure of geopolitics, but that's what happened when Ashkan Kooshanejad and his band Take It Easy Hospital were featured in the Cannes Special Jury Prize-winning documentary No One Knows About Persian Cats. While playing underground rock concerts had already attracted a police presence in Kooshanejad's hometown of Tehran (and landed him in prison for three weeks), after the film was smuggled out of the country to international acclaim, Kooshanejad and bandmate Negar Shaghaghi became "persons of interest" and sought asylum while on tour in the U.K. Now he's focused on his uncompromising, dizzying and dense electronic album, I AKA I, which will be released by Ninja Tune in April.
He Says: "Before the internet in Tehran, music was very random via people bringing in tapes and records," said Kooshanejad, who now calls London home. "It was either Backstreet Boys or Pink Floyd's The Wall. We picked tapes based on their covers. I was into Pink Floyd and then Nirvana. Electronic music was rare." Kooshanejad formed bands and taught himself how to produce. "No one was teaching about this kind of music, about found sound or how you can manipulate sound with a computer. It was experimental and I was self-taught. It was just for myself and personal." He still doesn't know much about the genre he finds himself in and instead draws inspiration from classical composers. "Vivaldi is someone I'm trying to see myself in," he says. "For me, electronic music is just a method — it's just because I use a computer."
Hear for Yourself: "Mudafossil" is a collision of Eastern violin and Western noise. Andy Beta
Sounds Like: Einstein on the Beach: The Alt-Pop Years
For Fans of: Animal Collective's prismatic glee, Dosh's loony loops, Philip Glass' catchiest pulses
Why You Should Pay Attention: Using a hillock of mixers, pedals, keyboards and sequencers to build his big pop songs, Roger Sellers first earned attention onstage in his homebase of Austin. However, hidden behind wires and surrounded by beats, many mistook him for a DJ. He took the moniker Bayonne and began piecing together Primitives, the arching and immersive debut he will release through Mom+Pop on March 25th. He will be coming to your town soon, as his schedule is filled with club dates with Small Black and festivals like Sasquatch and Levitation. "We don't have the entire year booked up yet," says Sellers, who is still not a DJ. "But it's pretty busy. We're going to be all over the place."
He Says: Sellers first got into music at age three — falling for Clapton and playing guitar. "I was obsessed with Eric Clapton, and when we moved into our new house, when I was five or six, my parents bought Eric Clapton & Friends: Live 1986, and Phil Collins plays drums. They did 'In the Air Tonight,' and it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. My first concert was when I was nine, with Phil Collins — here I was, this little kid, watching this man play the drums," says Sellers. "I was always trying to imitate somebody at some point, and my Phil Collins obsession was how I learned to play the drums."
Hear for Yourself: When Sellers began cutting Primitives, he worried the energy of his live setup, which causes him to volley between pedals and sequencers and drum kits, would be lost. Captured by Philadelphia's Out of Town Films, watching this studio take of "Appeals" makes sure you won't miss it. Grayson Haver Currin
Sounds Like: Pris, Daryl Hannah's "basic pleasure model" android in Blade Runner, dancing while crying in the neon-streaked rain
For Fans of: Depeche Mode, the Weeknd, Eighties action movies
Why You Should Pay Attention: Best known as the terrifying daredevil frontman of spazz-metal vets the Dillinger Escape Plan, Greg Puciato fully exposes his sensitive side in the Black Queen. The trio, which also features erstwhile Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer touring member Joshua Eustis and former Dillinger and NIN tech Steven Alexander, recently self-released their debut album, Fever Daydream, a black celebration full of sultry R&B-inflected vocals and shimmering, pulsing electronics. "We lived together from early 2013 until early 2015," says Puciato, who's fresh off the Black Queen's first-ever live performances — sold-out gigs in L.A. and London. "It was just this two-year period of pretty much only hanging out with one another, working on music and only being awake at night, in a really bleak area of downtown L.A. around the corner from skid row, amongst pure grime. That played a big part in the sound: just being in this desolate environment of urban blight, completely self-contained, making this heavily emotional music together."
They Say: While few fans of Puciato's main band will be surprised at his love of electronic music — Dillinger have covered Aphex Twin and Massive Attack over the years — his appreciation for R&B, and the style's major influence on the Black Queen, may come as a surprise. "I love Nineties R&B. Like fully and non-ironically. As much as I love metal or hardcore or punk or rock & roll," the singer enthuses. "It was a big part of my childhood. I would listen to it as equally as Slayer or Metallica or Soundgarden or Bad Brains. Some of the production and songwriting and singing on the R&B records from that time period are just unreal. It was rare to find someone else who I could talk about Death, Leprosy, with as well as a New Edition song."
Hear for Yourself: "Ice to Never" is the sort of chilly yet romantic synth-pop cut Ryan Gosling's Drive character might have played on repeat if his choice vehicle were a DeLorean. Brandon Geist
Sounds Like: That great late-ish Nineties dovetailing of soul, R&B and downtempo electronic sounds, updated via social media
For Fans of: Jessie Ware, Lianne La Havas, slowly easing into a leisurely Sunday morning
Why You Should Pay Attention: Singapore-raised, L.A.-based artist Mark Johns boasts the kind of discovery story that can only happen in the social media era. She came to music late, as a freshman during a college stint in Miami, uploading covers — including Yung Lean's "Gatorade!"— with a low-budget USB mic and eventually collaborating with friends online. She started to upload them publicly and reluctantly made a Twitter account where she got an unexpected DM — from none other than Skrillex. Almost unbelievably, he had found her cover of Kanye West and Jay Z's "Niggas In Paris," produced by pal Sable, while surfing SoundCloud. Subsequently, Johns is the first solo singer signed to his OWSLA imprint. And while the label's known more for its electronic sounds, Johns' upcoming debut EP bucks all the expectations — it's old-school, full of organic instrumentation and a chunk of classic hip-hop beats.
She Says: "The EP is very reflective of where I'm at right now, and I think a lot of young adults can find themselves in this place," she says of the quarter-life existentialism and nomadic life examined on her new material. "Things don't happen as fast as you want them to, and you realize there are a lot of other people out there with the same dream as you. You start to ask yourself what you're contributing, and if it matters."
Hear for Yourself: Most of Johns' output floating around online features her guesting on more purely electronic tracks, but "BTFU (Mommy Issues)," a kiss-off to a whiny would-be beau, hints at her EP's new direction. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: Psych-rock, noise and punk melting together like rainbow sno-cones in the hot sun
For Fans of: Parquet Courts, Fuzz, Savages
Why You Should Pay Attention: L.A. garage rock crew Feels create songs that force confrontation. Alternating between really fast and really slow, between full-throated harmonies and skull-pummeling guitar solos, these three carryovers from the psych-surf group Raw Geronimo (plus bassist Amy Allen) have a louder, more-frenzied agenda than before. "It was important to have a new name in the same way it's important for a caterpillar and a butterfly to be called different things," vocalist-guitarist Laena Geronimo says. "In Raw Geronimo there was a lot of experimenting and a lot of trial and error and figuring out what direction to go. [Feels] got heavier and a little more punk." Geronimo and crew have followed up last year's limited-edition live debut Live At Gaucho's Electronics with producer Ty Segall. Recorded live in one day with no overdubs at Segall's "shred shed," Feels makes a hazy racket so big that the amps hiss after each song ends.
They Say: "He has a really bright energy that we all got sucked into together," says Geronimo on recording with Segall. "We went in at about noon and by about 8 we were done tracking. He has a really cool backyard with a lot of plants. It doesn't really feel like you're at a recording studio. It just feels like you're hanging out with your friends. "
"There was no pressure," says Allen. "His style of recording his own albums is like, 'Hey, sometimes the fuckups are the coolest parts.' You just kinda wing it. We were like, 'Well, whatever, we'll keep that, that was interesting.'"
Hear for Yourself: The wall-shaking "Tell Me" is a sorta-love, sorta-frustration song that closes with a psychedelic shoegaze freakout. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: A sax-y, dance-y throwback that stays contemporary
For Fans of: Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars, Estelle
Why You Should Pay Attention: Fleur East was just as surprised as her fans were when she tried out for the U.K. edition of The X Factor for a second time back in 2014. In 2005, she had originally auditioned as part of the girl group Addictiv Ladies, who didn't go further than Week One. "I didn't actually think I would go back," East admits. "I tried to make it in the industry on my own in-between and gained a lot of experience. It wasn't really happening for me. I didn't get the break that I wanted. I thought The X Factor was the last big risk I felt I could take at that time. Thankfully the risk paid off."
East ended up as the season's runner-up and was later signed to Simon Cowell's label Syco Records. She spent her 2015 recording Love, Sax and Flashbacks, a catchy, retro, upbeat album that spawned her European hit "Sax," which recently appeared in the trailer for Season Two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
She Says: East ran into controversy when she performed Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' hit "Uptown Funk" on The X Factor five weeks before the single was due to officially be released in the U.K. "I met Mark Ronson last year and he was really nice," she says. "He said 'I feel like I owe you a drink or something. He was really cool. I was hearing all these rumors that he was annoyed I performed the song before he released it, so I didn't know what to expect when I met him. But he was lovely."
Hear for Yourself: "Sax" is a post-"Uptown Funk" groove with a Michael Jackson flow. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: Good tunes for people who love bad news. Though his band's music might imply otherwise, lead vocalist Stefan Babcock promises that he's "not as much of a bummer dude."
For Fans of: The Get Up Kids, the Menzingers, self-deprecation
Why You Should Pay Attention: These Toronto thrashers forge rollicking, pop-tinged punk with serious bite. Pup was born one fortuitous day when all four members quit their jobs and then went on a bender to celebrate. When the band recorded and released their eponymous debut in 2013, they didn't think anyone outside their friend circle would hear it. Cut to these underdogs touring for two years alongside the likes of Modern Baseball (they played a whopping 250 shows in 2014 alone), and sweeping the nominations for Canada's most coveted music prizes, including the Prism, the Juno Awards and the Polaris Music Prize. Now Pup's back with a lean, throttling sophomore album, The Dream Is Over. Due later this year, Dream features cheeky, self-referential numbers like "If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will."
They Say: "We really feel like we've been living the dream for the past two years," says Babcock. "It's awesome and we are having a great time, but you get a little bit of … disillusionment. We miss our girlfriends and barely scrape together money for rent. These are sacrifices that we're willing to make, but there's a realization that like any job, it has ups and down. And that's when we started joking with each other that the dream was over. I remember one time [our guitarist] Steve spilled ketchup on himself and someone was like, 'Ah, the dream is over!' On our last tour, a doctor found a cyst on my vocal chord and [it] was hemorrhaging like, day one of a seven-week tour. She said to me, word for word, 'The dream is over.' We had spent half the year using that as our inside joke and the doctor made that joke into a terrible reality."
Hear for Yourself: "DVP," the album's first single, is a lickety-split ode to freaks, geeks and every outsider in between. Paula Mejia
Sounds Like: Degrassi: Next Class pop-R&B
For Fans Of: Rihanna, Tinashe, The Love Below
Why You Should Pay Attention: From 2007 to 2009, Michaela "Mickey" Shiloh was signed to producer Rodney Jerkins' Darkchild Records. Despite still being a teen, she co-wrote songs with enough commercial sex appeal for Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Pitbull. Now, however, Mickey balances writing for Jackson's Unbreakable with releasing SoundCloud-streamed pop-R&B confessionals about dating in the Tinder age. For now, anyway: Rather than release a proper debut, Mickey hopes to post all her music on her official site, so fans can "make their own albums." Her seemingly off-the-dome lyrics reveal how her messy sex life can get her in trouble — like in "Nauseous," which sounds like Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You" if it was about taking a pregnancy test without Plan B handy. Meanwhile, "Drunk on the Mic," the song that Demi Lovato, Kylie Jenner and Justine Skye shouted out on Twitter and Snapchat is at more than 320,000 plays.
She Says: Occasionally Mickey takes fan requests, like when a satellite engineer for the Japanese military said she should cover "Prototype" by Andre 3000. "We met on Instagram and I was talking to him one night," she says. "He said I should do 'Prototype' because he loves that song and I did the song in two hours. I downloaded the MP3 off YouTube and I wrote the song. It was released that same night. … I never met [Andre], but my friend Tara is a friend of his. I think we're probably very similar because we get a feeling about something. It's just that feeling when you hear a beat and track, and know what you want to say already because it inspires you in that moment. If I met him someday, we would vibe really well and I would instantly want to get in the booth."
Hear for Yourself: "Drunk on the Mic" is a turbulent, Weeknd-inspired panic attack where Mickey blows her own cover about being a player: "I told you that I fucked guys when I was 16/What a fucking lie, what a fucking lie/I only slept with one, baby." Christina Lee
Sounds Like: Icelandic blues-folk that combines Delta riffs, somber balladry and frontman JJ Julius Son's falsetto wail.
For Fans of: Both Bon Iver and the Black Keys
Why You Should Pay Attention: Not long after beginning in a garage in the small town of Mosfellsbær, Iceland, the band became a sensation back home, scoring five Number One singles on the Icelandic charts. Their hushed sing-along "All The Pretty Girls" helped score them a deal with Elektra/Atlantic Records and last year they moved to Austin, Texas, to draw from the city's blues history. But they haven't seen much of it: They played 40 different states last year. "I can't complain because we're very fortunate," says Julius Son. "All The Pretty Girls" has since gathered more than 10 million Spotify streams and their stomper "No Good" can be heard on the soundtrack to Vinyl. Last week, Kaleo kicked off its first U.S. headlining tour. "It's obviously a new experience being a headliner," says Julius Son. "We have to prove ourselves again in a totally new market. It's been an exciting journey."
They Say: While the band often get mistaken as American, Juliusson sees the band's hometown as important as any musical influence. "Growing up in Iceland, you definitely are very inspired and connected to nature," he says. "We do have long and dark winters and summers that are very special to us. So you can hear that, in a way. That probably has something to do with the music."
Hear for Yourself: The band's dark, spooky ballad "Way Down We Go" is the perfect showcase of Julius Son's otherworldly vocals. The band appropriately performed the song live inside Iceland's Þríhnúkagígur volcano last year. "We were actually down there for 22 hours," Julius Son says. "We got a helicopter to hove the whole rig to the mountains and then we had to carry it down an elevator. But the best thing were the acoustics down there. They were amazing." Patrick Doyle