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: Benjamin Booker's blues explosion, Mr. Probz's globe-dominating hip-hop croon, Ought's taut indie-rock, the debut of Stones Throw's newest signees and more.
Sounds Like: Howlin' Wolf's scrawny, bipolar little cousin discovered a fuzzbox. A Pop-Rocks-and-soda cocktail for anyone who's ever wished for a younger, edgier version of Tedeschi Trucks Band.
For Fans Of: Jack White, Ty Segall, Reignwolf
Why You Should Pay Attention: His debut LP, Violent Shiver, isn't out until August 19th, but Booker has already checked off some career milestones more worthy of a road-tested vet: a string of dates opening for Jack White, an appearance on Letterman, and a spot on Lollapalooza. It's an impressive running start coming from someone who hadn't played a live show until the summer of 2012. His ascendance comes totally organically, and from someone who never intended to chase the musical dream – he went to school for journalism and chalks up his newfound success to luck. After playing acoustic shows here and there in his adopted home of New Orleans, he got frustrated with the pace, got a band together and is reluctant to give himself anymore credit than having a rep from ATO Records show up at one of his shows.
He Says: "I was just doing acoustic stuff by myself in New Orleans for empty rooms. But then the music thing started picking up and I just didn't want to play acoustic shows anymore — because you know, acoustic shows are super boring."
Hear For Yourself: The catchy album opener "Violent Shiver" chugs along like a cross-country locomotive complete with whistle blowing whoops from the conductor. By Marielle Anas
Sounds Like: If you've only heard his international smash single "Waves (Robin Schulz Remix)," he might remind you of scratchy-voiced soft rockers like Chris Rea or Michael McDonald. But for years he's been a rapper for whom the closest touchpoint might be DMX's "Slippin'" if performed by a Dutch MC.
For Fans Of: Drake, Ja Rule or maybe Chris Isaak
Why You Should Pay Attention: The "Waves" remix is already Number One in the U.K., Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Probz (born Dennis Princewell Stehr) recorded the original in 2013, and the remix took off suddenly and without warning. It's en route to becoming one of the most popular dance records in the world, also charting in Australia and Africa. And while American hip-hop fans have taken few European rappers seriously, Probz has already earned a level of underground success and mainstream cred. He's contributed grungy, emotionally potent choruses to everyone from Joe Budden to Lloyd Banks to C-Bo.
He Says: Probz has overcome his fair share of adversity. In 2010, he was shot in Amsterdam but survived, and "Waves" was a bright light among similarly tragic circumstances. "'Waves' was just something I tried, just a promo song," he says. "Someone gave me a guitar for my birthday, because I was always talking about guitars. It opened my eyes. 'Waves' is the first melody that I taught myself to play on the guitar. Then I lost my house…I was working on a hip-hop album for like three years, when my house burned down and I lost everything. The music that I had on my laptop was the only thing that I had left. That and a box of papers and the jeans that I had on. Then I went on this TV program, I played 'Waves.' Just to see how people would respond to it. I played the song, went outside, smoked a cig, looked on iTunes and it went Number One. That's when I knew things were going to change, because I didn't have anything left."
Hear for Yourself: "Waves" is already starting to pop up in the States; if it does cross over, you won't be able to escape it. Though, if you want to hear his more hip-hop side, hunt down his free 2013 album The Treatment. By David Drake
Sounds Like: Four young men on the verge of a complete breakdown and/or total transcendence; four decades of art-rock refracted into something weird, brilliant and new
For Fans Of: Television, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Montreal band's debut LP, More Than Any Other Day, arrived this spring on Constellation Records, home of forward-looking Canadian acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Do Make Say Think. Since then, it's become a bona fide cult phenomenon. The band's name came from a misunderstanding with drummer Tim Keen, who is Australian. "We were coming up with some really awful band names, and he jokingly suggested that we call the band Art," keyboardist Matt May recalls. "But because of his accent, we thought he said 'Ought.' We were like, 'Ought! That's actually pretty sweet!'"
They Say: Frontman Tim Beeler, 23, often ad-libs Ought's strangely compelling lyrics — like the moment in "Today More Than Any Other Day" where he shouts, ecstatically, "I am prepared to make the decision/Between two percent and whole milk!" Says Beeler, "We were in one of these nasty, $10 rent-a-space rooms that reeked of cigarette smoke. It was the end of August, really hot, and it wasn't the best practice. And then toward the end of the practice the words just came out. It's about that feeling of being in a grocery store or a mall, and having that moment where you're suddenly like, 'Where am I? What is everything doing here? What am I doing here?' It's the feeling of being so alienated from things that your options are either to keel over and die or try and grapple with this feeling."
Hear For Yourself: "Habit" is a slow-burn tour de force. By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Sounds Like: Soul music gone minimalist: All the superfluous bits stripped away and the grooves placed front and center.
For Fans Of: Road-trip mixtapes – full of Sly and The Family Stone, the Delfonics, Al Green and A-sides by lost-to-time R&B acts – that have been slightly warped after sitting out in the sun.
Why You Should Pay Attention: This Baltimore duo garnered notice from hip-hop heads when their glittery disco jam "Face 2 Face" was included on the soundtrack to Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, the documentary about storied California indie label Stones Throw. Peanut Butter Wolf, who founded Stones Throw in 1996, is a fan of the pair's throwback style and his label will release Silk Rhodes's debut full-length, which is full of skeletal, yet precise homages to soul's early-Seventies glory days. An official single is on the way next month.
They Say: "We were on tour together doing separate projects. At some point in the Southwest – Arizona, probably – we started turning our car into an impromptu recording setup," says members Sasha Winn and Michael Collins, collaborating via e-mail. "It was very minimal, lending itself to vocal processing, looping and longform meditative music [that we worked on] while crossing through the desert. After that tour we kind of just started living together in Baltimore, and continued to make music that way wherever we went. The responses we got around the city, as we picked up friends and strangers and would make songs for the people who happened to be on the street, were pretty amazing. The car, which was a '97 Honda CRV, had pretty busted speakers. Using pitch-shifting, we got a sound that was very bass-heavy and attracted some incredible sidewalk audiences."
Hear for Yourself: Handclaps and harmonies help "Face 2 Face" float along like it's the soundtrack for a roller rink on a cloud. By Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: If Kris Kristofferson and Loretta Lynn had a baby; raised her on Motown, Leslie Gore, and the Clash; then let her join an all-girl hotrod gang at 15 (not that she would have asked permission.)
For Fans Of: Neko Case, Lydia Loveless, Holly Golightly
Why You Should Pay Attention: Country may be cracking the mainstream these days, but Music Row this woman is not. Lane arrived in Nashville in to make her first record, 2011's Walk of Shame, for LA's IAMSOUND. She worked odd jobs to survive – photo assistant for onetime chief Rolling Stone photog Mark Seliger, stunt driver in Miranda Lambert's "Fastest Girl In Town" video (she was too fast, they asked her to slow down, please) and pop-up vintage store owner. Then Lane met Dan Auerbach. "I was like, hey, what's up, wanna make my record?" she says. "Luckily Dan was like, come over, lets talk. We wrote a track that day." The Black Keys frontman produced her second album, All or Nothin', which came out this summer, and she spent May on the road with the Old 97's before circling the country on her first headlining tour. Says Auerbach, "She knows where songs are supposed to go instinctually. That's stuff you can't teach people."
She Says: "I've called myself the first lady of outlaw country. I don't want to lump myself in with Willy and Waylon, it's just that people have this impression that what's on Music Row is all that's going on in Nashville. I'm part of this other world. In the Seventies, there was a group of men that weren't adhering to the rules of pop country – they were doing cocaine and misbehaving. I smoke too much weed, but I don't really drink. I'm not misbehaving that bad. I just don't make the shit that's on country radio."
Hear For Yourself: Lane cast, styled and produced the video for All or Nothin's first single, "Right Time," wherein she plays a girlfriend-saving superhero of sorts. By Elisabeth Garber-Paul
Sounds Like: Kicking it with the homies, and then journaling about it afterwards
For Fans Of: Ciara, Jhené Aiko, Solange
Why You Should Pay Attention: The 21-year-old Tinashe is part of an Internet-savvy generation whose creativity eludes classification. She trained as a dancer and a child actress, appearing in movies like The Polar Express and Akeelah and the Bee. She performed in the Stunners, a teen-pop quintet that toured with Justin Bieber. When the Stunners broke up, she built a production studio and garlanded mixtapes with gauzy production and lovelorn, introspective lyrics. This year she dropped her breakthrough single, "2 On," which cracked the Top 40 of the pop charts. Produced by DJ Mustard, "2 On" is redolent of mainstream R&B in 2014, with Mustard's signature West Coast beats and Tinashe's lyrics of getting faded with her clique "when the drink be way too strong." Tinashe plans to incorporate all her "colors," from the urban pop of "2 On" to her indie R&B projects, on her September debut Aquarius. Collaborators range from blog darlings Ryan Hemsworth, Clams Casino and Dev Hynes to rap heavyweights Future, Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky. "I never want to be stuck in a box," she says.
She Says: "When I was 18, I took it upon myself to create a home studio. I bought a bunch of equipment, a camera and microphones. That was when I started teaching myself how to record and mix my own stuff. I wrote and recorded it all there in my room. I used ProTools I started filming my own music videos and editing those as well, and then putting them online. I used Pro Tools. I edit my videos in Final Cut Pro. I produce beats with Logic." Who taught her to do all this stuff? "YouTube!" she answers.
Hear For Yourself: Watch the antics that ensue when Tinashe gets "2 On," including Beyoncé-worthy dance routines By Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: Aswooning, synthy, circa 1982 night drive between neon trees.
For Fans Of: Ultravox, Yaz, Chromatics
Why You Should Pay Attention: That's the duo anchoring College's "A Real Hero" from the Drive soundtrack – pretty much the greatest closing credits song in modern memory. A pair of synth-loving Eighties babies who've been IRL sweethearts since the eighth grade, Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin make the type of euphoric, wistful pop that's more reverent than retro-schtick. For their upcoming debut, Innerworld, they actually worked with Yaz's Vince Clarke and play the iconic Yamaha CS80. "It's probably the most expressive synthesizer ever built," says Garrick. "People know it best as the synthesizer Vangelis used to create the Blade Runner soundtrack, but texture-wise it works wonders for modern productions." Sure, they understand the past, but they don't want to be doomed to repeat it. "Our interest in the pursuit of [the] timeless is not about nostalgia, it's about longevity," says Garrick. "The thought of recreating the past with music is not interesting to us, it's probably been the biggest misconception of our music and what we're about thus far. The reality is, we're much more interested in creating things for the future than things from the past. We are nostalgic people, not in the sense that we long for a different time, because we love the present, but how could we not be reminded of the past when every day, we see the person we had a crush on since 7th grade?"
They Say: "'A Real Hero' in Drive was the first time our music had been seen and heard in it's intended context, meaning that we're always film inspired and our music is very cinematically driven. That's been the intent since before Drive," says Garrick. "I think maybe the weirdest thing [since the song exploded], is some of the covers people do. Like there's hundreds of covers of 'A Real Hero' online, from people on YouTube to bands we know. Even last week I was buying something at a music store in Toronto and the guy that helped me at the counter told me he wanted to send us a video of a cover of 'A Real Hero' he just did with his live hip-hop band dressed as monks."
Hear For Yourself: Their latest single, "Innocence" is warm synth-pop that wonders about the titular state, "Where have you gone?"
Sounds Like: Heavy garage rock performed by people who look like they rehearse in a meat locker
For Fans Of: Bikini Kill, Thee Oh Sees, shows where the lead singer wears lace and kicks you in the face
Why You Should Pay Attention: Le Butcherettes first turned heads when then-teenage frontwoman Teri Gender Bender would cover herself in fake blood, but they got their break when they opened for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and recorded their debut LP with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta. Though they're still best known for their anything-goes performances, the follow-up, Cry Is For the Flies (out September 16th), documents the band becoming increasingly comfortable in the studio, filling out tunes with fuller production and new songwriting tricks. It's loudest when Teri plays guitar but catchiest – almost playful – when she gets behind the keys.
They Say: "I incorporated the blood because I was angry and frustrated with the way I felt that women – such as myself – were being treated in Mexico. I just wanted to send out this message: 'I've got all this menstrual blood! We should be proud of it!' I stopped doing that, and now it's more about the music and the intensity of giving our all no matter what. We had a show in Portugal where there was a power malfunction during the first song and everything turned off, but I sang a cappella and Lia, the drummer, did a few amazing fills, and the crowd didn't even realize anything had gone wrong."
Hear for Yourself: Rather than combust, "Burn the Scab" slowly descends into flames, the bass growing sludgier and sludgier while Teri's frustrated refrain – "I find it hard to pronounce these words" – becomes more and more frantic.
Sounds Like: Ray Lamontagne with access to running water, Robin Thicke after marriage counseling, Daryl Hall in Warby Parkers
For Fans Of: Allen Stone, Mayer Hawthorne, Willy Moon
Why You Should Pay Attention: Is there room in the retro-pop renaissance for a 38-year-old reformed rocker from Norway? That's what Jarle Bernhoft aims to find out with Islander, an album of stylish, slightly off-kilter soul that crackles in all the right ways (yet, tellingly, is also available as "the first true HD music app"). He's already done Glastonbury – and Ellen – and scored a YouTube hit with "C'mon Talk." Now, he's looking for more: "I'm setting my home country up as an island that accelerates away from the mainland," he says, "I'm trying to find myself in the world."
They Say: "My thing live is trying to be shamelessly entertaining for an hour or so, luring my audience into holding hands and singing together, whereby we can create an oasis in the desert of worry," Bernhoft says. "Being from Norway, I've found that my clout in making such maneuvers abroad is a bit thin, so I've written an album about that."
Hear It For Yourself: Islander's opening track, "Come Around," is a perfect primer, showcasing Bernhoft's lithe vocals (and up-with-everybody ethos) atop a liquid, "Love Train" groove. by James Montgomery
Sounds Like: Vintage Nineties VHS tapes of 120 Minutes, chopped and screwed
For Fans Of: Arctic Monkeys, Weezer, White Stripes
Why You Should Pay Attention: Formed by 20-something brothers Eoin (vocals, guitar) and Rory Loveless (drums) in 2011, Drenge play melodic, overdriven alt-rock that continues the rock lineage of bands like Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, who also hail from Drenge's hometown of Sheffield. The duo, whose name is Danish for "boys," has toured with Deap Vally and has played England's Glastonbury festival twice. It was at the pair's first Glastonbury appearance where they first earned some notoriety in the U.K.: That's because Tom Watson, a Minister of Parliament for the U.K.'s Labour Party, caught their set and resigned from his post shortly thereafter, recommending people listen to Drenge in his resignation letter.
They Say: "Usually politicians have very safe, middle-of-the-road tastes when it comes to art, so popular bands would be Mumford and Sons or Ed Sheeran," Eoin says of Watson's affinity for Drenge. "We had obviously awoken his inner punk ideal. I was really bewildered when he quit and said, 'Listen to Drenge.' I thought it was pretty cool. It's kind of the most teenage way to resign from a job. I don't think he's seen us live since. He's still in a really prominent position in the Labour Party but he doesn't have the role he had before he quit. It's mind-boggling."
Hear for Yourself: The Loveless brothers may call this song a "Fuckabout," but Eoin's wild guitar solo and Rory's crashing cymbals say otherwise. By Kory Grow