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10 New Artists You Need to Know: February 2017

Julia Michaels, Khalid, Judah & the Lion and more

Palberta, Jahkoy, Code Orange, Buscabulla, Khalid, Beachheads, Maggie Rogers, Judah & the Lion, Julia Michaels, Ray Blk

Maggie Rogers and Judah & the Lion.

Katia Temkin, Chloe Horseman

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: Justin Bieber hitmaker Julia Michaels, genre-crossing Twenty One Pilots tourmates Judah & the Lion, rising R&B star Khalid and more.

Ray Blk

Hayley Louisa Brown

Ray Blk

Sounds Like: A soulful rose that grew from the South London concrete

For Fans of: Mary J. Blige in her My Life heyday, Jazmine Sullivan, Estelle

Why You Should Pay Attention: Ray Blk is an artist who both resembles the current R&B landscape and sounds nothing like it. She's a rapper-turned-singer that can still spit a rhyme or two, as she proves on the just released single "Patience (Freestyle)." Her beats, made by producers like SG Lewis (Gallant, Disclosure), have the same electro-pop tones that most of her peers use, but she sings with the full-throated passion of an earlier era – think Mary J. Blige on "Happy. "I learned how to sing from choirs, and from listening to my mum's Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston CDs," she says. 

On her second project, Durt, she writes about a life growing up in her gritty South London neighborhood, whether it's with the defiant "5050," or "Chill Out," where she asserts her right to have platonic, casual relationships with the opposite sex. It's those qualities that helped her win BBC's Sound of 2017 poll last month. Meanwhile, her Durt EP has nearly a million SoundCloud streams, partly thanks to her "My Hood" collaboration with hot grime rapper Stormzy.

She Says: While unknown to most Americans, the annual BBC Sound of poll is highly regarded in the UK music industry. Past winners who went on to major success include Adele, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and Haim. Ray Blk is the first indie artist to top the poll. "I feel like from the second I put something out, labels have been trying to contact me and sign me, from, like, when I only had 200 listens. I don't know how they find people! But from that early state, labels have been approaching me. I've had conversations and stuff, but I just decided that, for me, I kinda just want to stay independent. If the time comes and I decide there's a right offer for me, and the right partner to partner up with, then I might be up for it."

Hear for Yourself: In the video for "Chill Out," Ray Blk's demand for self-determination takes on a new tone. Filmed in Jamaica, the clip spotlights members of the Gully Queens, a transgender community that has suffered homophobia and persecution. Mosi Reeves

Palberta

Jane Chardiet

Palberta

Sounds Like: Basement-show Beefheart

For Fans of: The Raincoats, the Residents, Half Japanese

Why You Should Pay Attention: After two well-received cassette full-lengths, Brooklyn/Philly noise-rock trio Palberta are finally going straight to vinyl for their third album, Bye Bye Berta. For their first release for Brooklyn's Wharf Cat Records, the D.I.Y. staples sing disjointed playground punk that embraces both dissonance and innocence, trading instruments as quickly as they change ideas: A good 80 percent of the songs poke and scurry off before two minutes are up. "At this point writing short songs feels more intuitive for us than intentional – it's the natural way," says Nina Ryser. "It kind of reflects the song writing process itself: frenzied, fast, kind of jumbled."

Though Palberta recall angular British post-punkers like Liliput and the Raincoats, the band is more likely to be listening to Al Green, Fleetwood Mac and Arthur Russell these days. To wit, the highlight of Berta is their cover of "Stayin' Alive," a spectral, funky, 68-second deconstruction of the disco classic in the tradition of the Slits' "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."

"'Stayin' Alive' is one of the greatest songs ever, it makes you feel like a million bucks!" says Ryser. "We only knew fragments of the lyrics so Lily [Konigsberg] decided to stick with her rendition: 'Jenny's eatin' burgers and everyone's uh-shakin and uh-stayin alive.'"

They Say: "We still switch instruments as a result of writing our songs in different formations. It's a great thing, because we're all eager to learn and grow as drummers, bassists and guitarists, so it gives us a chance to rock on each instrument," says Ryser. "The drawback is that it lends itself to pretty awkward transitions when we play live – mostly because breaking up loud, heavy songs with silence can be awkward. Lots of muttering aloud as we pass instruments to each other, sometimes someone is stuck with a bass and guitar in each hand, tripping over cables."

"It happens all the time and it's hilarious," adds Konigsberg. "The transitions, though sometimes awkward feeling, definitely add to our performance and make it more uniquely Palberta."

Hear for Yourself: Within the span of 90 seconds from start to finish, "Ode to Honey" switches from Yoko-centric skronk-funk into dreamy, harmony-soaked broken pop. Christopher R. Weingarten

Buscabulla

Quique Cabanillas

Buscabulla

Sounds Like: The score to a Puerto Rican retelling of Boogie Nights

For Fans of: Helado Negro, Goldfrapp, Glass Candy

Why You Should Pay Attention: Under the Spanish moniker for "troublemaker," Brooklyn-based electronic duo Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo Del Valle are accelerating a delicious new wave of Latin alternative sounds, ripe with unabashed sensuality and buffed with a vintage Seventies sparkle. The pair met in New York, when Berrios played a house show in a cheeky two-woman folk-punk band called En Teta. They hit it off at once, both creatively and romantically. The two were later scouted by Dev Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), who would produce their silken 2014 EP, Caer. That same year, the band's song "Métele" themed the critically acclaimed documentary film Mala Mala, which spotlights transgender communities in Puerto Rico. Of their new EP, II, Berrios says, "We're fighting so hard to make this work – while paying rent, raising a kid – there's a new aggressiveness here. The spirit of the hustle is embedded in this record."

With their two-year-old daughter Charlie in tow, they joined Helado Negro – who features in the new EP – on the Northeast leg of his recent U.S. tour. "We played from Boston to Baltimore with a toddler in the back," says Berrios. "One night we had to stay extra late, sitting with the baby in a green room, with all these dicks drawn on the wall. I was like, 'We have to get the fuck outta here. Are we doing the right thing? What are we putting our child through?'" 

Alfredo Del Valle describes Helado Negro as "a samurai," who mollified the band with encouragement. "He described it as a breakthrough," says Alfredo Del Valle, "We played our best show that night.

"Now, we look to the Paul and Linda McCartney in Wings example," he laughs. 

"Well, they had a ton of money, and a staff. … And the worst hair," says Berrios. 

"But we've gotten to Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile," says Del Valle. "We make it work."

They Say: In the video for "Tártaro," filmed in the Rococo kitsch of San Juan's Hotel OK, Berrios tiptoes across the tiles in ankle socks and sinks into a heart-shaped tub. "In Puerto Rico, the sex motel is a countercultural thing," she says. "There's a strip in a town called Caguas, full of kooky sex motels. I lived with my parents through college, so I used to go there with my boyfriends, or hang out and drink with my friends. I was really inspired by the author Mayra Santos-Febres – while she was going through a divorce, she rented a room at a sex motel to write books and get peace and quiet. Cut to my obsession with Frankie Ruiz, who's like this seedy Eighties salsero with a gold chain, loves coke and women, but has the most beautiful voice. I wrote "Tártaro" as a tribute to him, and wanted to film the video in a sex motel. We took Adam [Uhl], the cinematographer from Mala Mala – but the motel has a strict two-person policy, so we had to hide him in the trunk. It was like we were robbing a bank. We even brought cleaning products because everything was sticky, it was so gross."

Hear for Yourself: "Tártaro" is a beguiling revamp of Eighties salsa erótica, stimulated by Berrios' softcore purr. Suzy Exposito