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: Marmozets' mathy punk fits, George Ezra's indie-folk croon, YP's impassioned Chicago hip-hop, Tanya Tagaq's avant-rock take on Inuit throat singing and more.
Sounds Like: Five kids raised on math-rock, metalcore and pop, setting out in search of a shout-along.
For Fans of: Paramore, Be Your Own Pet, Savages
Why You Should Pay Attention: Though they were named "Best New Band" in Kerrang!'s year-end poll, this Yorkshire five-piece (actually two sets of siblings) have been together for seven years, forming before they could finish school: A teacher served as the link between dual guitarists Sam Macintyre and Will Bottomley, who were once rivals. Although they just released their debut, The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets, in late September, they've already brought their chaotic live show to Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and a month-long American tour.
They Say: With long highway treks and diminished creature comforts, the road typically isn't conducive to writing new songs. But singer Becca Macintyre says they can't help themselves. "We're constantly writing. We get caught up all the time on tours because we do our soundcheck, and at the end of it, we're just writing and jamming while we're onstage. We're often kicked offstage and told to go back to our dressing rooms," she explains with a laugh. "We're doing shows, but any free time we get while we're on tour, we're going to be rehearsing and rehearsing and writing and writing. We've already written three new songs, and I know that the next album is going to be ridiculous. I can say that because we've been working. We're one of these bands that lives this as a lifestyle. We're serious."
Hear For Yourself: "Why Do You Hate Me?" sneaks tricky time signatures into anthemic, scream-tastic pop. By Grayson Haver Currin
For Fans Of: Björk, Mike Patton, Diamanda Galás
Why You Should Pay Attention: Inuit avant-garde throat singer Tanya Tagaq has been transporting and terrifying audiences since joining Björk on the Icelander's 2000 world tour and subsequent album of extreme vocalizers, Medúlla. Tagaq recently triumphed over Arcade Fire and Drake to snag Canada's 2014 Polaris Music Prize for her fourth album, Animism, a powerful collection of abstract, electronics-enhanced tracks evoking both fracking and fucking. A typical Tagaq performance, however, is a freely improvised shamanic ritual during which she exorcises her demons in real time, accompanied by violinist Jesse Zubot and drummer Jean Martin. Tagaq, 37, is self-taught and didn't start singing until her mid-20s. She later learned traditional Inuit music, which involves two women singing literally into one another's mouths. "If I love the person I'm singing with, we can really get into it."
She Says: "The person I am onstage and the person I am as a day-to-day mom cooking lasagna are totally different. My shows are cathartic. They release all the things that collect in us every day, the questions and fears about how to grapple with life and how we're all going to die, the thoughts you're not supposed to have. The best show I ever did — the most terrifying, darkest, grossest and sexiest — was last November in Montreal. It was so scary that when I'd go up the front of the stage, this packed room of people would all back away. They were terrified! Someone fainted. But other shows can be very sweet. When I don't do concerts, everything just builds up and I get eczema — and depressed.
Hear for Yourself: For her 2014 Polaris Music Prize performance, Tagaq, her band and members of the Element Choir performed in front of a screen that listed the names of hundreds of Aboriginal women that were murdered or went missing. By Richard Gehr
Sounds Like: The frantic sproing of Amsterdam "hardstyle, the deep drops of American trap music and vuvuzela-style electro-horn melodies. Yellow Claw's Nizzle describes the latter as "like a cry from the technology wilderness to drag you onto the dance floor and make you forget everything else but that sound."
For Fans Of: DJ Snake, Baauer, RL Grime
Why You Should Pay Attention: The three producers in Dutch boom factory Yellow Claw — MC Leo "Bizzey" Roelandschap and DJs Jim Aasgier and Nils "Nizzle" Rondhuis — have worked alongside no shortage of bass music all-stars since dropping their first track in 2012: Major Lazer, DJ Snake, Flosstradamus and an official Iggy Azalea remix. They signed to the esteemed Spinnin', where they run the Barong sub-label for their Dutch and Belgian pals (including Coone, Dirtcaps, Mightyfools, Wikek and Yung Felix). Their video for the diva-trap hit "Shotgun" has 38 million views and counting, and will appear on their upcoming debut LP Blood for Mercy. "We did our first USA tour in 2013, selling out small venues just because of SoundCloud and YouTube," says Aasgier. "It's insane for three guys from Amsterdam to be in Philadelphia for the first time and there are 3,000 people screaming your name. From there of life gets crazy and sometimes Entourage-like. Your favorite producers check you out to work with them, your favorite shoe brand sends you a lifetime supply of shoes and so on. It's like that Dire Straits song… And we don't even bring guitars, or are on MTV!"
They Say: While their sound leans towards heavy drops, Aasgier says, "'Aggression' has a negative sound to it, like there would be people fighting at our shows. We see it more as 'energetic.'" With a traditional "frontman" for their live show, they're very good at adding to that energy. "There was a moment at EDC Vegas last year when Bizzey made a 40-feet front-flip stage dive and my heart stopped beating," says Nizzle. "Jim and I looked at each other like, 'Did he make it?' After a few seconds of just darkness in the crowd, he came up with the mic in his hand and the adrenaline hit all three of us to go even harder.
Hear for Yourself: "Shotgun," featuring Dutch X Factor winner Rochelle, mixes her soaring croon with the Claw's monstrous breakdowns. By Christopher R. Weingarten
Sounds Like: Folk-game Sam Smith, Mumford's most charming son
For Fans of: One Direction's rock tendencies, the Once soundtrack
Why You Should Pay Attention: As of this writing, Ezra's debut album, Wanted on Voyage, is sitting at Number One on the U.K. charts for the fourth week. However, he's currently stateside, opening for Sam Smith as he attempts to charm the U.S., one arena at a time. Ezra formed his first band because he wasn't very good at sports. When his friends lost interest, he went solo, picking up guitar and searching for the common ground between old-guard singer-songwriters and contemporary acts like Vampire Weekend and Bombay Bicycle Club. Maybe that's why the 21-year-old's lyrics are so mature — both self-aware and endearing — and his melodies are so graceful. Catch him at Coachella in April.
He Says: "My dad's CD collection was Tom Waits, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon. When I first heard Dylan's debut album, he's a 20-year-old singing on that album, and whether you're 20 years old in the Sixties or 20 years old now, I think you're gonna be on some sort of level. I understood what he was going on about, even though he didn't sound like any of the 20-year-olds I was hanging around with at the time."
Hear for Yourself: "Blame It on Me" is a peppy acoustic guitar jam that — contrary to the title — is completely free of self-pity. By Nick Murray
Sounds Like: Dense rhymes and elongated lines that have the effortless precision and architecture of rappers like Big L — though with a more personal, heartfelt approach.
For Fans of: Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, AZ
Why You Should Pay Attention: YP has been a known quantity in Chicago hip-hop for several years. "I drove 19 hours with Big Homie Doe to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest in 2010 when people didn't know about it," he says. "I did A3C. I did those shows when people were like, 'It's rappers in Chicago?'" In fact, YP was temporarily signed to Universal Republic in 2012, prior to Chief Keef's ascent. He's maintained a steady presence since that time, but had his world shaken this past August with the passing of his infant son. Since that time, he's redoubled his efforts in music, crafting two of the strongest songs he's yet released: 2014's "Thinkin' Bout" and this year's "Let Us Pray," both manifesting a mood at once searching and despondent.
He Says: "This is the first time ever in my career I don't really know the name of my next project. I went through a lot in the month of August 2014. I lost my son. I had things going on in my family. I didn't really want to do music any more. It's a reality that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But I felt as if I've dealt with every emotion since that. I'll put it this way: I'll never ever criticize the person who's ever contemplated suicide ever again…."I know that [my son] wouldn't want me to sit down. He would want me to keep going. So that's why I put my all into these raps. These last couple raps. Either go hard or go home, jack."
Hear for Yourself: "Let Us Pray" is a poignant reflection that's carefully crafted and emotionally raw. By David Drake
Sounds Like: A gang of punks with a not-so-secret love of Seventies classic rock
For fans of: Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, beat-up microphones
Why You Should Pay Attention: In the year since they formed, this Philly band has earned a devoted word-of-mouth following for their sweat-soaked live shows, super-catchy tunes and self-titled 7-inch. In the next few months they have shows lined up with similarly hook-centric bands like Parquet Courts and Ex Hex.
They Say: Lead guitarist Kyle Seely came up with the band's name and designed their vintage-style logo. "It's short for 'Sheer Magnitude,'" explains charismatic singer Christina Halladay. "I think he wanted it to sound like a rock band with huge stacks of amps." So is that what a Sheer Mag show look like? "Sometimes!" she adds with a laugh. "It really depends on what other bands are playing. It could be a punk show where I get headbutted and have a bloody lip, or it could be a big stage and everyone's singing all the words."
Hear for Yourself: "What You Want" is an exuberant, riff-packed jam. By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Sounds Like: PJ Harvey covering Loretta Lynn at a haunted debutante ball
For Fans of: Those Darlins, the Carter Family, Tennessee Williams novels
Why You Should Pay Attention: South Carolina-born and Nashville-based Adia Victoria has only officially released one song but she's already solidified herself as one of country music's most exciting new stars. Since June, her eerie, angst-y anti-Southern pride anthem "Stuck in the South" has gained thousands of SoundCloud plays; and she spoke on a panel in Yale's Department of African-American Studies about Paramount Records alongside Greil Marcus and Jack White. "Everything still kind of feels the same," says Victoria, who just began her first-ever tour. "This year I look most forward to distill the world around me into art." Roger Moutenot, who has worked with Yo La Tengo and Sleater-Kinney, is producing her upcoming LP.
She Says: "I think I bring to the table a voice not given much attention. As a marginally employed, self-driven woman of color there aren't many microphones being shoved in my face or chances to speak my own truth. Perhaps people should check out my music to find that the superficial differences that society erects between people are just that — not real. You might just find you have more in common with the girl handing you your burger at the drive through than the gilded millionaire on the radio trying to twerk her way into relevancy."
Hear for Yourself: "Stuck in the South" is the swampy, bluesy track that put Adia Victoria on the map. By Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: Billie Holiday reincarnated in a bohemian chanteuse and flipped over dusty hip-hop beats
For Fans Of: Erykah Badu, Solange Knowles, Dev Hynes
Why You Should Pay Attention: Since Lion Babe released "Treat Me Like Fire" in 2012, the New York duo toured with Childish Gambino (who guests on second single "Jump Hi") and the Roots, and have logged studio time with Pharrell Williams, Jeff Bhasker, Mark Ronson and Dave Sitek. Jillian Hervey, whose mother is singer/actress Vanessa Williams, is the titular lion babe, a performance artist with a blond, curly mane and a memorably stylized voice. Lucas Goodman is Astro Raw, a guitarist, keyboardist and crate-digger: He found Eunice Collins' 1974 R&B obscurity "At the Hotel" while interning at Truth & Soul Records, and sampled it for "Treat Me Like Fire." Lion Babe released their self-titled EP in December on Interscope, and a full-length is expected this year.
They Say: "In a perfect world, I wish I could live in the jungle and run free with the animals. But I've gotta pay rent and be a real person," says Hervey. "It's been my escape….I'm always watching Planet Earth, or Animal Planet. I've always been interested in animals and nature."
Hear for Yourself: On "Jungle Lady," Hervey exhorts us to "run into the dark and touch the moon above."
Sounds Like: Justin Timberlake trying to out-falsetto Jeff Buckley's in an ambient synth rainstorm: Pop has rarely been this emotionally unashamed since the days Spandau Ballet
For Fans of: James Blake, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver
Why You Should Pay Attention: Almost right away, Tom Higham and Ben Fletcher's pastoral electronic project from the scenic English village of Silverdale started blowing over the U.K. press with SoundCloud singles "Calling Me" and then "You There." Each song — captured on a pair of EPs — combines intensely emotional vocals and pillowy synthesizer wizardry: Think "Chariots of Fire" maestro Vangelis toying with Future's robot vocal effects. Following attention from The Guardian and BBC Introducing, the duo's fourth show ever was at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival, and more festival appearances have followed. Higham and Fletcher now share a flat where they're working towards a full-length album.
They Say: "When we first started making the music, we had never thought about how we were going to play it live — that was never our intention," Fletcher says. "We weren't living off music, so Tom was working in a factory and I was working in a cafe. We were only able to practice once a week, really. Our first show was basically a practice show in front of friends and family in the local pub where we lived, which is just near Lancaster. After that, we played two more shows, and then we played Glastonbury with BBC Introducing. It's a fairly big step up."
Hear for Yourself: The Sohn-produced "Human" gradually piles effects and voices atop piano chord progression until it's a closing-credits spectacle. By Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Tough, ragged Nineties indie-rock revivalism with just the right amount of anthemic lift to push them beyond the basement.
For Fans of: Jawbox, Lungfish, Unwound, other bands that scraped at their angst with jagged guitars and body-confusing post-punk charge.
Why You Should Pay Attention: The teenage trio from Nottingham, England had a bit of a coming-out party at this year's Glastonbury festival, where they made good on U.K. hype built on their artfully retro sound and an ebulliently downcast live show. The band will be releasing their debut full-length soon and, if their great 2014 single "It Knows It" b/w "Adjust the Way" is any indication, it should be a fun little bummer of a record.
They Say: "Being born in '95 in England meant we kinda missed the Nineties," says guitarist Cai Burns. "It was at our first few gigs where we got people mentioning Smashing Pumpkins and Fugazi. The names meant very little to us. It was a world we hadn't even poked our noses into. I checked out some bands mentioned in a review of one of our gigs and instantly felt at home amongst them. A few long, dark days at my computer followed. What a religious moment it was finding Dischord Records…..It just happens that when we play songs together they fall into that style. I try to write simple catchy songs but they always seem to end up a bit wonky and wrong."
Hear for Yourself: The pumpy, smashy "It Knows It." By Jon Dolan