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 artist that Taylor Swift calls "amazing," the man behind the It Follows soundtrack, the voice of Major Lazer and DJ Snake's "Lean On" and more.
Sounds Like: Feisty synth-pop that's pugilistic and introspective
For Fans of: Robyn, Lykke Li, Spice Girls (and the subsequent solo career of Mel C)
Why You Should Pay Attention: A Top 20 presence thanks to her starring role on Major Lazer and DJ Snake's "Lean On," this Danish singer, born Karen Marie Ørsted, has been wowing festival crowds with fun sets of spiky pop that can fill the dance floor while still being highly personal. Her debut full-length, last year's No Mythologies to Follow, is slinky and smart, full of pulsing beats and dreamy, diaristic lyrics: She records in her childhood bedroom, which she's retrofitted as a studio.
She Says: "A lot of things have inspired me over the years. [When I was young], it was the Spice Girls, and all kinds of pop music. When I was a teenager, it was Black Flag and Sonic Youth and Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. And when I turned 19, it was M.I.A. and Santigold — electronic and hip-hop stuff, which got to me so hard. . . .It's super important that you keep [music] personal, and when you make music you don't strive to sound like what's hot right now. I love pop music, and I've always loved pop music — I love catchy songs, and I love music that can appeal to a big audience. But I think it's so important that you don't just copy, or try to be someone else. It's so important that you keep it personal and unique, and you push the borders instead of staying in your comfort zone."
Hear for Yourself: The handclap-driven "Pilgrim" bridges the gap between Mø's bedroom and the festivals. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: A trippy, take-no-prisoners glimpse at R&B's bright future
For Fans of: Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, Lorde
Why You Should Pay Attention: Eighteen-year-old Alessia Cara has the type of natural, raw songwriting talent that takes some artists years to master: Her track, "Here," released in May, already has 2 million views. Surprisingly, Cara didn't begin writing songs until she stepped into the studio to begin working on her debut album, Know It All, due this fall on Def Jam. "I was always making short stories, poems and stuff, but I didn't actually start writing [songs] until two years ago," she says. "It's still pretty new to me, but I think every day I'm getting better and better." Cara's contract came after she began covering artists like Miguel and Amy Winehouse on her YouTube channel. Now, the Canadian teen has a hit on her hands and has been called "amazing" by no less pop authority than Taylor Swift, who caught Cara's recent take on "Bad Blood."
She Says: "I think I have something to say," Cara says of her self-described "opinionated" debut album. "I'm not trying to be anything, and I'm really just trying to just get a message across while doing what I love. I think my songs can be relatable and help but they can be catchy, too."
Hear for Yourself: With its Isaac Hayes sample and smoky vocals, the honest "Here" is one of this year's most refreshing tracks. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: An all-ages acid trip
For Fans of: Tame Impala, the Velvet Underground, Menace Beach
Why You Should Pay Attention: Brooklyn's fuzzy, neo-psychedelic Sunflower Bean are hitting the pavement hard this year. The trio of Julia Cumming, Nick Kivlen and Jacob Faber formed the band two years ago and rapidly became teenage heroes of Brooklyn rock. They've been playing for primarily older crowds, but it hasn't come with too many hurdles. "Sometimes there have been venues where we have to stand outside of the venue the whole time and can only go in to play," says Cumming. They released their debut EP, the excellent Show Me Your Seven Secrets, in January and are dropping their seven-inch, "I Hear Voices" on July 24 via Fat Possum. They're currently hard at work on their debut full-length, due out next year.
They Say: When the band celebrates the release of their latest seven-inch at Rough Trade NYC later this month, expect a party. "Our EP release show at [Brooklyn venue] Baby's All Right was really fun and definitely felt really special to us," Cumming recalls. "[The EP] was our first collection of music besides our singles that we put out, so we put streamers everywhere and served baked goods."
Hear for Yourself: "The Stalker," the B-side to "I Hear Voices," stomps even harder than the other side.
Sounds Like: Noah "40" Shebib dropping some downtempo EDM
For Fans of: Skrillex, Odesza, producer Bangladesh if he actually were from Bangladesh
Why You Should Pay Attention: Sajeeb Saha, 23, lives in the middle ground between electronic music and hip-hop. He adopted the moniker Jai Wolf to make a break from a dubstep past, but the project garnered unstoppable buzz when he gave Skrillex's "Ease My Mind" an Eastern makeover. The bootleg remix caught the dubstep auteur's attention and got Jai Wolf signed to the OWSLA imprint. He's since played Coachella and Bonnaroo and remixed Odesza. Three weeks after the upload of his latest, the sun-infused downtempo track "Indian Summer," he's garnered a million views and is currently in the iTunes Electronic Top 20.
He Says: "When Skrillex dropped my remix at Glastonbury last year, my mind was blown. I still get tweets about it from kids," Saha says. "We went to see Jack Ü play Madison Square Garden on New Years Eve, Skrillex opened his set with my "Ease My Mind" remix. I just knew it was going to be a good year." Though he found some success there, he's wary of falling into the cyclical nature of uploading music to Soundcloud. "What's happening is that all these kids spend time on Soundcloud and try to emulate certain artists. But it only creates copycats, where there's hundreds of Flumes out there now. It's unhealthy."
Hear for Yourself: Jai Wolf's dramatic, Arabic-tinged take on "Ease My Mind" has 2.8 million Soundcloud plays. Andy Beta
Sounds Like: One in the morning at your favorite cabaret bar
For Fans of: Emeli Sandé, Melanie Fiona, Seinabo Sey
Why You Should Pay Attention: Don't be fooled by the images of Andra Day in doo-rags and vintage furs like a post-millennial Billie Holiday. Far from a retro artist, her music spans from "Forever Mine," which is inspired by the Flamingos' doo-wop classic "I Only Have Eyes For You," to the soaring empowerment anthem "Rise Up," which she performed last month on the BET Awards. "I'm not going to put myself in a box," she says. "Whichever chord progressions move me, whether it's rock, jazz, doo-wop or soul, I'm going to put it together and not be worried about whether people can put it in a lane or not." Born Andra Batie and raised in San Diego, she grew up singing contemporary Christian music in church as well as studying at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. She was performing in local nightclubs when none other than Stevie Wonder discovered her. He put her in touch with Adrian Gurvitz, who signed her to his production company Buskin. Andra then filmed a series of popular YouTube covers such as Muse's "Uprising," Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best" and a mashup of Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and Amy Winehouse's "He Can Only Hold Her." Those clips piqued Warner Bros. Records' interest, leading to a label contract and, now, her forthcoming debut album Cheers to the Fall. Featuring contributions from Raphael Saadiq, the Dap-Kings, and ?uestlove, it's scheduled for August 21.
They Say: Andra's imaginative rearrangement of Eminem's "Lose Yourself," which has clocked nearly a million views, may be the highlight of her covers series. "'Lose Yourself' came about because my sister and I were just playing around with the music, like, what could we do with the chords? She played the music, and I just sang it, but I sang it completely different [from the Eminem version]."
Hear for Yourself: Day's "Forever Mine" is an unabashedly romantic testament to spiritual love and commitment — with a video directed by Spike Lee. Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: Nirvana vinyl played way too slow, way too loud and backwards (for the subliminal messages)
For Fans of: Electric Wizard, Boris, Mudhoney
Why You Should Pay Attention: Windhand may be a swampy doom band following in the cloven footsteps of Black Sabbath, but their last album, Soma — widely hailed as one of the best metal records of 2013 — sounded as much like stretched-out grunge as it did tried-and-true stoner rock. So it made perfect sense for the Richmond, Virginia quintet to team up with Seattle-based producer Jack Endino, who has helmed records by Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, for the follow-up. The result, Grief's Infernal Flower, seethes and crawls like magma, with singer Dorthia Cottrell's mournful wail and molten hooks no longer buried in the mix, blazing the way through a craggy, psychedelic wasteland.
They Say: "The early Sub Pop records were a huge influence on me," guitarist and songwriter Garrett Morris says. "Being a teenager in the late Eighties and experiencing that music while it was actually happening was pretty special. And of course Jack's engineering and production is what gave it that 'sound.' I spent a good part of my teenage years unsuccessfully trying to emulate the sound of his recordings on my little Tascam Portastudio. All those bands wrote incredibly timeless music that will never sound dated, as far as I'm concerned. They were all successfully able to mix pop hooks with heavy, noisy guitars. It was an incredibly huge influence on us."
Hear for Yourself: The lead single from Grief's Infernal Flower, "Two Urns," simultaneously lurches and soars. Brandon Geist
Sounds Like: England's best New Zealand indie-pop band
For Fans of: Luna, the Bats, Olivia Tremor Control
Why You Should Pay Attention: The duo of Jack Cooper and James Hoare has followed up last year's acclaimed self-titled debut with Green Lanes, continuing a fondness for neatly composed, quietly beautiful pop songs. They've toured with Twerps, shared bills with White Fence and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and will be back in the U.S. this September for a selection of dates around Memphis' Goner Fest.
They Say: "There’s a lot happening in America. We did some pretty extreme drives," says Hoare. "We drove over a thousand miles in one day and only stopped twice. There's always some kind of shenanigans going on."
"We were touring with Twerps, and they got ill, so we decided to drive to Austin from Atlanta," adds Cooper. "It was a brutal drive. When we were telling people about it, hard-tourers were like, 'Holy shit.'"
"I drove the whole thing. I just like to push myself in certain areas," says Hoare. "Endurance."
Hear for Yourself: The duo's latest single, "(I've Got The) Sanctioned Blues," is an earnestly disorienting, lightly profane pop shuffle. Tobias Carroll
Sounds Like: An Ibiza weekend undercut by herb-induced paranoia
For Fans of: The dark ends of Robin Schulz, the pop side of Paul Kalkbrenner, house music that's unafraid of the uncanny
Why You Should Pay Attention: France had found its carefree song of the summer in OMI's "Cheerleader," but after 10 weeks at Number One, the global smash bowed to an unlikely local hit: Feder and Lyse's smoky "Goodbye." The producer behind it first arrived in Paris as the city's dance scene was beginning to move away from Justice-style electro, and he soon fell for the deeper house music coming from Germany. Nearly half a decade later, his remix of Rodriguez's "Can't Get Away" became a minor blog hit, adding an easy groove without overpowering the original's acoustic instrumentation. "Goodbye" — also built around a guitar line — then broke in Eastern Europe, topping the charts in Russia, Turkey and Switzerland before returning home.
He Says: [Translated from French by his manager] "When I made the first riff of guitar, it gave me the feeling that "Goodbye" had to be groovy with unusual instruments. I think it's an unclassified song but with some common points halfway in between house and deep house. I try to bring something unexpected on my tracks but at the same time keep the house music code because I deeply feel like I belong to house music. House music at the beginning was something really classy and we have to keep that feeling."
Hear for Yourself: "Goodbye" hits like the ominous theme for a #TrueDetectiveSeason3 centered around bitter lovers, deceptive synths and a body buried under a nightclub. Nick Murray
Sounds Like: Two-minute power pop anthems foretelling the nuclear holocaust
For Fans of: The Ramones, the Exploding Hearts, Bad Religion
Why You Should Pay Attention: "I don't wanna die, I got a thousand things to say," Radioactivity frontman Jeff Burke sings on the post-punk blast "Silent Kill." Similar sentiments of dread and disillusionment arrive with speed, gusto and sweet beds of backing harmonies on his band's sophomore release of the same name. "The feel of some of the songs was influenced by experiences I had in Japan," says Burke, who toiled in the late Nineties and Aughts in cult garage-rock bands like the Reds and the Marked Men. After Japan's 2011 earthquake left thousands dead and caused nuclear power plant accidents, he was thinking about radiation every day. "That affected the way I looked at a lot of things and led to what a lot of people have said sounds a little darker on this album," he says. Even with a wealth of life experience for inspiration, Burke's drive to record quickly was held back by the paper-thin walls in typical Japanese apartments. He moved above a jazz bar so he could rehearse freely and had to haul his gear to a pay-by-the-hour studio to get anything done. The speedy, power-pop created with his Japanese band, the Novice, signaled the direction he'd head for 2013's Radioactivity and this year's Silent Kill, both released via Portland punk label Dirtnap. Now Burke is back in the garage rock hotbed of Denton, Texas.
They Say: "[When I lived in Japan,] I worked in an office where I did translation from Japanese to English," says Burke. "Immediately after the [2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster], my job shifted to getting information available for foreigners living in my region. I had to translate ways for people to get out of the region, and then it turned into how safe it was. 'What's the level of radiation in the air and in our vegetables and our fish?' That's the kind of information I was translating every day. Then I'd go home, and turning off work mode and thinking, 'Is it okay here?' That fear is what influenced the songwriting more than what I did at work."
Hear for Yourself: Burke's gnashingly sweet vocals on "Silent" lead a bleak, yet triumphant punk anthem. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Where melody meets atmosphere, whether as an an eerie horror soundtrack or some soothing video game bloops
For Fans of: Haxan Cloak, Emeralds, Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works II
Why You Should Pay Attention: The 29-year-old Staten Island musician born Richard Vreeland composes for games and movies, but he's garnered a following that rivals many rock bands. He's behind one of 2015's most celebrated scores, It Follows: a deeply tense creepscape of dissonant digital punctuation, swooning synth melodies, ambient fog and an electronic update of Bernard Hermann's Psycho stabs. Director David Robert Mitchell was using Vreeland's soundtrack to the acclaimed, cube-happy 2012 indie video game, Fez, as the temporary score, and it became Vreeland's job to top his own sounds. "I think having practically zero background or prior interest in horror made it a really exciting undertaking for me," he says. "I listened to Goblin as a budding guitar player and read Goosebumps as a kid, but I can count the horror movies I've seen on less than one hand." For those who have less tolerance for the creepy stuff, Vreeland has an extensive back catalog of game soundtracks that conjure the blips of the Nintendo era. "I think [8-bit] can be a really gratifying form because you have to work within a very confined set of limitations," he says. "Every decision you make, whether it be about rhythm, harmony, timbre, etc., carries a ton of weight."
He Says: "I thought some people would like [the It Follows soundtrack] for some of the more melodic stuff, and people seem to dig that, but what's been most surprising is how much people seem to enjoy the really screwed up dissonant stuff too. Somebody sent me a Vine of themselves listening to the soundtrack and looking over their shoulder periodically, which I thought was pretty funny. I've had people send me messages like, 'I listen to it when I walk home so I can purposely feel fear biting at my neck,' and at least one person who told me the music made them horny. Cool, I guess!"
Hear for Yourself: The It Follows theme slowly rolls in like a John Carpenter fog and booms like dark ambient thunder. Christopher R. Weingarten