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 man behind the song that makes Beyoncé "so happy," the band you keep hearing on that Jeep commercial, Ariana Grande's favorite songwriter, some West African future shock and more.
Sounds Like: Bombastic rock that's as stomping as it is diaristic, leavened by big-tent pop hooks and a hint of hip-hop swagger
For Fans of: Imagine Dragons, the Killers, Diddy-Dirty Money's "Coming Home"
Why You Should Pay Attention: Vocalist Sam Harris, keyboardist Casey Harris and guitarist Noah Feldshuh have known each other since Sam and Noah's kindergarten days in Ithaca, New York, and that friendship eventually blossomed into musical collaboration. Fast-forward to 2012, when the trio (plus drummer Adam Levin) crashed the playlist of the Hampton Roads, Virginia station 96X. Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds heard an unplugged version of the ballad "Unconsolable" and wrangled them onto Interscope's KiDinaKORNER imprint, which is releasing the band's debut VHS, a heady collection of skyscraping rock songs interspersed with archival audio from the band members' younger days. VHS' lead single "Renegades" doubles as the theme for Jeep's reboot of their Renegade model. It reached Number One on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart a mere eight weeks after its first appearance, a quick climb for an act making their debut.
They Say: "Ithaca is a small college town, and there's a good college radio station there, but that was pretty much it," says Sam Harris. "We didn't have much access to cool new music. What we heard on the radio was everything to us. That's why there's such a pop influence in our sound; we listened to what everyone else in the rest of the country was listening to, and when I was a kid, whenever I'd get a record that kind of came from different places, that was exciting."
Hear for Yourself: The brooding rebellion anthem "Renegades" balances gentle strumming with an army of "hey-hey-hey"-ing backup singers. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: The perfect soundtrack to any summer kickback
For Fans of: Fetty Wap, ILoveMakonnen, The Magic School Bus
Why You Should Pay Attention: In less than a year, Virginian newcomer D.R.A.M. has captured hearts with his infectious and playful party-starter "Cha Cha." Over 1.5 million listeners on SoundCloud "love to cha cha," as do Chance the Rapper and Beyoncé, who posted an Instagram video of herself dancing to the track with the caption "This song makes me happy!" As Bey learned, it's difficult to not feel joy while listening to D.R.A.M. flirt "with a Dominican who resembles Taina" and dance "like a chameleon who's hanging with Mrs. Frizzle." The song and his brilliant EP have opened up a number of doors for D.R.A.M., including a feature on Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment's Surf and some studio time with the legendary Rick Rubin.
He Says: The rap-singer still can't get over the love Beyoncé shared for his song. "I lost my mind! I had random people come up to me and say 'Beyoncé likes to cha cha! Beyoncé likes to cha cha!' I was in New York at the time and stood on top of a bench and screamed 'Beyoncé loves to cha cha!' Just going ham on it. Then my phone died right after I posted [about it], and when I turned it back on, my shit was just [blowing up]. It was unreal. Shout out to Queen B."
Hear for Yourself: Get as happy as Beyoncé by listening to the song that has made D.R.A.M. a star. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: A dive into a watering hole on a sweltering summer day
For Fans of: Laura Marling, deep thinking, humming, head-bobbing
Why You Should Pay Attention: Watford, England's Staveley-Taylor sisters — Camilla (vocals, ukulele), Emily (vocals) and Jessica (vocals, guitar) — grapple with universal feelings of longing with their harmonic folk. They've joined Mumford and Sons onstage to sing "A Little Help From My Friends" on Glastonbury's main stage and toured with the likes of the Civil Wars and Bon Iver. Justin Vernon invited them to hang out at his April Base Studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, after an extensive global run promoting their first album, 2012's Dead & Born & Grown. The trio accepted, going in with no expectations (they didn't even tell their label). But the "special, sacred" time evolved into a stunning collection of songs: Vernon ended up producing the sisters' latest album bred from the experience, the gripping If I Was. Released on March 31, the band's second album (and Nonesuch debut) is full of swelling orchestras, dense vocal arrangements and thoughtful lyrics.
They Say: "[Growing up] we were sort of on the outside a bit," says Emily. "Outside London and outside Watford. The kind of Watford night out involves the classic drinking to excess and either getting into a fight or throwing up or copping off with someone. Do you have copping off in America? That may just be an English term. It means having a little snog. We always felt a bit marginalized because we were the people that went out on a weekend wearing trainers and jeans, not dressed up to the nines, and we wanted to dance to rock & roll. It was kind of a feeling of being left out, not the norm, then we'd gravitate to those other people at parties who'd pass the guitar around."
Hear for Yourself: "Blood I Bled" is If I Was' triumphant opening track. Paula Mejia
Sounds Like: Being 19 with no limits
For Fans of: Kid Cudi, Alt-J, Sampha
Why You Should Pay Attention: Armed with youthful ideologies and a Sly Stone-esque "come one, come all" mindset, this positive-energy-infused Atlanta teen has toured all over the world and garnered studio time with sonic architects like Om'Mas Keith (Frank Ocean, Sa-Ra) and Paul Epworth (Adele, Florence and the Machine). His music reverberates with honesty and a pleading call to a moral standard; and he's garnered a huge audience, as attested by his more than 41,000 Twitter followers. His debut album is due later this year, but until then Raury will be headlining the 2nd annual Raur Fest with Trinidad Jame$ and Big K.R.I.T. At all live events — including this year's Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza — you will probably find him in his his trademark hat. "When I'm home, I don't wear my sunhat," he says. "It helps me separate between the realities of being artist Raury and Raury Raury."
He Says: "I've learned life is happening way faster than you think it is," says Raury in a hurried tone. "Right now, whoever you are, however old you are: If anything is going the way you don't want it to be going, you take the horns right now and you make whatever you want to happen, happen. When I was touring, life was happening. I could have easily gotten wrapped up in drugs, wrapped up in other women. I could have easily changed and not even realized it. I actively decided to take care of myself. I went vegan since the top of the year. This piece of advice Andre 3000 gave me: Fuck what people want, you need to be an artist and make what you want to make. That's what I've been living by. Within this one year, it's probably been like five years of growth for myself."
Hear for Yourself: His new song, "Devil's Whisper," is a sweeping fusion of folk-rock and hip-hop. Mustafa Abubaker
Sounds Like: The musical equivalent of waking up to a defibrillator shock
For Fans of: Converge, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Black Flag
Why You Should Pay Attention: Experimental hardcore crew the Armed run the gamut from spazzed-out, caffeinated blasts of fury to ponderous, electro-tinged post-punk on their densely textured new LP, Untitled, which they made available as a free download. The new album has long been a work in progress for the Detroit band, who chooses not to print the names of its members since the lineup is "ever-changing." "I think I can speak for the whole band in saying we don't really care what anyone thinks of the record specifically; we just care about the intensity of the reaction," bass and guitar "contributor" Cara Drolshagen says. "The worst thing you can do is just contribute to the blandness of the artistic landscape."
They Say: "The whole album is sort of a commentary on appropriation in art and the culture of curation versus creation," Drolshagen says, while explaining Untitled's album cover, a punky riff on David Bowie's Aladdin Sane. "The Bowie cover was our way of nodding toward that theme. We had initially taken it to even further extremes: The original cover was just the cover of [Bowie's] The Next Day with the title crossed out and our working title written above it. The cover for The Next Day, of course, is the cover of 'Heroes' with a big white box over it. So it would've been a third-wave Bowie concept. Our printer refused to print it at the time though, so we ended up going in a different direction. It was probably for the best."
Chaos plays a major role in the group's concerts. "We try to welcome everyone to do whatever they want in live scenarios," she says. "People regularly jump all over us and our gear and do all kinds of stuff. An unfortunate byproduct of this, of course, is occasional injury. Maybe one of the worst, or at least most shocking was one time where a guy kept jumping on one of our guitarists' backs as he was playing, and [the fan] eventually caught a headstock to the mouth. His front teeth actually ended up breaking through the skin between his bottom lip and his chin and breaking off. He totally just powered through it for a while and kept going nuts but he was bleeding everywhere and had no teeth so he took off after another song or so."
Hear for Yourself: "Polarizer" is screamy, wah-wah chaos — and the video treats music videos like samples. Kory Grow
Sounds Like: If Flannery O'Connor fronted the Replacements: Sharply observed short stories set to incisive, insistent guitar music
For Fans of: Waxahatchee, Eighties R.E.M., Neutral Milk Hotel
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Philly crew signed to the venerable indie label Saddle Creek last fall, right around the time singer Frances Quinlan duetted with Rivers Cuomo at a Weezer gig; and this spring, Hop Along opened for the War on Drugs on tour. But their second LP, Painted Shut — one of Rolling Stone's 45 Best Albums of 2015 So Far — reveals a band that should be headlining. Over 10 songs, Quinlan sketches out bracingly vivid characters. The heartbreaking "Horseshoe Crabs" imagines the inner life of the late, troubled Sixties singer-songwriter Jackson C. Frank. The album's emotional centerpiece, "Powerful Man," recounts an experience in which the singer witnessed a man beating his child in public and felt powerless to stop it. "It's not a hero's story," she says. "I wanted it to be about how horrible that was, and how I was a part of it by not doing something." Another standout track, "Happy to See Me," finds strange poetry in the image of a lonely father posting to YouTube at 4 a.m. "That's based on a real person," Quinlan says. "This was back when everyone was freaking out about 2012 and how everything was going to end. This man was routinely posting these videos, and there'd be a lit candle behind him, and he'd go into his spiritual revelations. I got really into watching those."
They Say: Hop Along is a family affair: Quinlan's older brother Mark is their drummer. They see their sibling dynamic as mostly a good thing when it comes to the music. "We're so emotionally invested in each other that there's not the courtesy of warming someone up before you get to the heart of the matter," says Mark Quinlan. "We just get to it."
Hear for Yourself: In the album's knockout opener, "The Knock," the narrator wakes up to find Jehovah's Witnesses at her door. Simon Vozick-Levinson
Sounds Like: Congolese rumba and soukous guitar riffs bubbling and blurting as abrasively percussive Kinshasa street musicians and an Irish-expatriate studio wizard take it into the red
For Fans of: Konono No. 1, Adrian Sherwood, Staff Benda Bilili
Why You Should Pay Attention: Last year, producer Liam Farrell (a.k.a. Doctor L) was invited to the Congo's capitol to record a group of musicians who included Coco Yakala Ngambali and Théo Nozonza Nsutuvuidi, former members of Staff Benda Bilili, a band of mostly wheelchair-bound paraplegics who broke up in 2013. Back home in France, Farrell says he stripped down about 70 percent of what he recorded, added some ridiculous Jean Claude Kamina Mulodi guitar parts, and processed everything heavily. The results are a startling blend of West African traditionalism and Afrofuturism, a science-fiction sound full of nasty percussion, outer-space sonorities and sweet Congolese guitar riffs. Like their friends Konono No. 1, whose amplified mbira thumb pianos embellish a track on their debut, From Kinshasa, Mbongwana Star's music sounds very real, weird and uncompromised — and the group's live shows suggest stranger things to come. Earlier this month, From Kinshasa was named one of Rolling Stone's 45 Best Albums of 2015 So Far.
They Say: "This project happened with no premeditation, nothing," says Farrell. "It all happened by accident. I came over a few times and recorded outdoors, on the street. Everything's very noisy. Kinshasa is full of Baptist churches on every street corner, and everyone's running generators because there's no electricity. You've got to stay focused because it's kind of funky. They don't know what a producer is or what a recording studio is, and it's only in bourgeois countries where you can afford to be interested in 'art' and 'producing.' People are so poor here that there's no instruments. They take bits and bobs and make stuff, which is brilliant because it's new sounds. When you record it, most people will say that 'it sounds electronic,' but it's just a guy banging on a dustbin."
Hear for Yourself: In the video for "Malukayi" (How Are You?), a spaceman walks the streets of Kinshasa as Konono No. 1 join the band. Richard Gehr
Sounds Like: Lorde if she was actually goth, evil Björk on downers
For Fans of: PJ Harvey, Jarboe, Zola Jesus
Why You Should Pay Attention: She's the reigning dark priestess of goth-scarred art rock, romanticizing "Grey Days" and "Simple Death" in hazy, haunting songs that span grinding industrial, sparse folk, doomy metal and droning noise. It's foreboding stuff — and yet Queens of the Stone Age took her out on tour and the producers of Game of Thrones chose a track of hers (2013's "Feral Love") for the series' Season Four trailers. Wolfe's latest record, Abyss, is her most intense and dynamic yet. "We've been touring a lot for the past few years so I think naturally I had it in my head that I wanted my new album to have songs that would translate well live," she says. "And what I was writing about was really heavy, so even the more subdued songs have that feeling to them."
She Says: The album's heavy subject matter includes Wolfe's lifelong struggle with sleep paralysis, a phenomenon in which a person is unable to move or speak while passing between wakefulness and slumber; it's often accompanied by a sensation of bodily pressure or choking, as well as terrifying hallucinations. "I've always had sleep and dream issues, since I was a kid," Wolfe says. "I've dealt with sleep paralysis for a long time and recently starting talking about it with other people, comparing experiences. I didn't set out to channel it into the music, it's just, I think having that connection to an in-between state for so many years started creeping into the way I wrote about things — sometimes the anxiety or strangeness of it would follow me into my day."
Hear for Yourself: Wolfe strings gossamer vocals over metal-on-metal scraping and piston-pumping percussion on Abyss' unnerving yet strangely seductive opener "Carrion Flowers." Brandon Geist
Sounds Like: Lovelorn R&B, restless youth, whispered conversations in the night, spilled secrets
For Fans of: Tinashe, Jhené Aiko, Brandy
Why You Should Pay Attention: Ariana Grande has tweeted that Victoria Monet McCants is her "favorite writer": The 22-year-old has penned hits for Fifth Harmony, Jordin Sparks, Chris Brown and Kanye West. Now, she's emerging from the studio shadows and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Frank Ocean, Ester Dean and other songwriters-turned-pop hyphenates. Monet has a recording deal with Atlantic, but she opted to release her first project, Nightmares & Lullabies, independently. "My goal is to deliver the best product I can directly to my fans, and not come up with excuses about record label drama," she says of her warm, intimate solo debut, which features guest spots from T.I., B.o.B and Ty Dolla $ign. It's the kind of scrappiness she's exhibited throughout her young career. As a teenager working various odd jobs in her native Sacramento, she used MySpace to catch the attention of R&B veteran Rodney Jerkins. He brought her to Los Angeles for his girl group, Purple Reign, but despite a development deal with Motown the project languished. Undeterred, Monét made quick friends in the industry, and landed her first major credit with Diddy-Dirty Money's Last Train to Paris. Together with her current production (and romantic) partner Tommy Brown, she's building a behind-the-scenes reputation with a goal of front-and-center stardom.
She Says: In addition to her solo music, Victoria Monét is "about 10 songs in" on Ariana Grande's forthcoming third album. "I started working with her four years ago, back when she wasn't on the music industry's radar. She was more of a Nickelodeon icon at the time," remembers Monét. "She's the type of artist who's really loyal. If something works, she'll keep doing it. No matter how successful she gets, she'll reach down and bring people up with her, which I really appreciate."
Hear for Yourself: Filmed with ancient VHS technology, Monét's "90s Babies" clip pays homage to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Seattle Supersonics, 2Pac and FUBU. Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: Artfully crafted solo acoustic guitar with storytelling capabilities than belie the lack of lyrics
For Fans of: Jack Rose, William Tyler, John Fahey
Why You Should Pay Attention: Guitar savant Daniel Bachman's seventh album, River, is a rippling suite of the tradition-spanning solo picking he's honed since his teens. Inspired by the Rappahannock River in his native state of Virginia, it was recorded and mixed last year by Brian Haran (Vetiver, Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun) at Pinebox Recording in Bachman's current home of Durham, North Carolina. "We did everything first take, pretty much," he says in a warm, southern accent. "I was fresh off the road, so all that stuff was tight anyway." Alongside his intricate, meditative combination of folk, psychedelia and blues are re-toolings of "Levee" by his hero Jack Rose and William Moore's nearly 90-year-old "Old Country Rock." The first proper studio experience for the frequent collaborator of Ryley Walker sounds like the satisfying results of 10 years of exhaustive practicing and year-round touring for half a decade. To replenish his powers for tension and release, Bachman has disappeared into the wild landscape that informs his work. For most of the summer, he plans to stay off the grid working with the Virginia State Park Youth Conservation Corps Program. He'll spend his days without cell service — but not without an instrument. "I'm hoping when I come back I'm gonna be charged up to work on new stuff, you know what I mean?" he says
He Says: "I own three [guitars] currently. I got a mid-Eighties Guild, an early Seventies Martin and a no-name lap guitar I bought in Nashville a couple years ago. I play electric every once in a while for fun. I'm not a total gearhead. I have what I have, and they serve their purpose. I've totally honed it in at this point — even down to the fingerpicks I use. It's like finding that perfect pair of shoes and then you keep buying them forever. . . . I've got a setup in my house where I can sit down with a mic and run it into the computer, but when I do that by myself I get really frustrated. I'll hate it. I'm not an aggressive person, but I'll get super aggressive, throw my guitar and scream and stuff. [Working in a studio], you can't act like a baby around other people. So you kinda gotta just go in and knock it out. Having someone else push the button, that's the biggest difference."
Hear for Yourself: The 14-minute "Won't You Cross Over to That Other Shore" provides plenty of drama through dynamic shifts, willful speed and the right alternate tuning. Reed Fischer