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: Jetta's emotional pop, Future Islands' beaming new romanticisms, Lil Herb's Chicago rap update, Sturgill Simpson's honky-tonk revisionism and more.
Sounds Like: Glammy, maximalist U.K. pop filtered through a singer-songwriter's passion for introspection
For Fans Of: Florence Welch's dog days, Emeli Sandé's kind of love
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Liverpudlian hails from a musical family – her dad was an engineer on Nineties Britpop classics by Inspiral Carpets and Teenage Fanclub, and her mum performs in Sense of Sound, an a cappella group that competed on BBC talent show Last Choir Standing. Jetta was something of a prodigy, entering the music biz while studying her O levels (that's high school, for you Americans). At 16, she toured with Natasha Hamilton of Atomic Kitten; then she sang backup with Paloma Faith for two years; and landed UK dates in CeeLo Green's band, including a "surreal" concert at Wembley Stadium. As she climbed the industry ladder, she taught herself production on Logic software and made plans for running an indie label. It never materialized: In early 2012, she posted an iPhone video made with friends for "Start a Riot," and Polydor Records promptly scooped her up. Thus began several months of exhausting recording sessions with producer Jim Eliot (Kylie Minogue, Ellie Goulding). "It can be hard to let go of something that you've just been doing on your own," says Jetta. "When you're working with one person, you experience so many emotions together." They paid off, though. Her Start a Riot EP earned plaudits for its dramatic and soulful tones and incisive lyrics, while "Feels Like Coming Home" was picked for Google's Zeitgeist campaign, all setting the stage for a full-length later this year.
She Says: "The main thing Paloma taught me was walking in giant, giant heels. The first time I went on stage with her, she was like, okay, we're going to go onstage now and you're going to dance in these heels. And out came these six-inch Nitelife stilettos, like, platforms. They were insane. And I wasn't thinking, oh no, I can't forget the words, or anything like that. I just didn't want to fall."
Hear For Yourself: "Feels Like Coming Home," where Jetta weaves a heart-wrenching tale of survival and loneliness, from being hit by a car to living out of a hotel room. MOSI REEVES
Sounds Like: Classic Eighties New Romantic bombast led into the emotional abyss by a raspy, passionate frontman.
For Fans Of: ABC, OMD, Spandau Ballet
Why You Should Pay Attention: Singles, the fourth album from this Baltimore outfit, is full of lush new wave that wouldn't sound out of place at an Eighties revival party – synth spangles and crisp hooks abound. But the emotional quotient is sent into the stratosphere by frontman Samuel T. Herring. On record, he's a close talker, his gritty rasp scraping against the smooth textures laid down by his bandmates. The live show, however, operates on another level – Herring throws himself into each syllable, commanding the stage with his movement and emotion. His dancing so transfixed David Letterman that, after the band appeared on the Late Show, the talk-show host used clips of it to punctuate his monologues. "People hear with their eyes, too," Herring says. "You put the things together – the movement and the sound, it comes together."
They Say: "We wanted to make music that was high-spirited and would bring energy into a room, so people would have a good time," says Herring. "That's something in the Baltimore scene, too – people want to do something and have a good time with it, and have fun with it. There's many different reasons why we make music, but the jumping-off point is that we did this because it brought us joy and it brought our friends joy. That's why we did it, and that's why we continue to do it."
Hear for Yourself: The performance of "Seasons (Waiting On You)" that launched a flurry of Letterman asides. MAURA JOHNSTON
Sounds Like: A throbbing, yelping party polyglot that detours through dissonant post-punk, no wave, Nubian music, modal jazz, and Afrobeat but still comes out bumping through every chorus.
Why You Should Pay Attention: The London-based sextet's reputation as a live band precedes them: Reviews have noted their penchant for turning the party out with their epic workouts that keep audiences dancing, grinding, and sweating. Ignoring the fan/band barrier, Melt Yourself Down shows culminate in audiences dancing and singing on stage and founder Pete Wareham crowdsurfing with saxophone in hand. The buzz has been building since the release of their debut last year, but the smattering of breathless reviews from their Stateside debut at SXSW proves they have managed to live up the substantial hype.
They Say: "We like to break down the wall between the people and the stage. It's like a workout session for us, we go crazy, jumping everywhere, getting people onstage and giving them the mic to shout out," says Wareham. "The music makes a bridge between us. If the Americans are up for it, it'll make for a ballistic, crazy night." And how hard is it stagedive and crowdsurf while playing saxophone? "Depends on how big the stage is," laughs Wareham. "It's difficult. We play with a mic inside the sax, but I am trying to go wireless so it'll be easier.
Hear for Yourself: The explosive skronk of album opener "Fix My Life." JESSICA HOPPER
Sounds Like: Chart-topping U.K. pop at the intersection of hip-hop, R&B, and dance music
For Fans Of: Sam Smith, Tinie Tempah
Why You Should Pay Attention: Though still pretty much unknown in America, British producer Shahid Khan (a.k.a. Naughty Boy) has followed a long road to massive success in the U.K. – including stops working at Victoria's Secret and Dominos Pizza before attaining national prominence on the game show Deal or No Deal. He's worked with Rihanna and Leona Lewis, and produced a large chunk of English singer Emili Sandé's Our Version of Events. But he didn't break out on his own until his 2013 debut album Hotel Cabana, which reached number two on the U.K. chart thanks in large part to its excellent single "La La La" featuring neo-soul singer Sam Smith. The album – which also features Wiz Khalifa, Bastille, and Ed Sheeran – will get Stateside release in May.
He Says: "With me, personally, my focus is on making my music famous, he told Rolling Stone. Doing interviews and things is making yourself famous, which is not part of my plan. I want it to be faceless but I want my music to be famous."
Hear for Yourself: The elegant, Bollywood-tinged bounce of "La La La." JON DOLAN
Sounds Like: The re-re-rebirth of New York rap, one time zone over. Lil Herb, often working with collaborator Lil Bibby, is a Chicago teenager obsessed with writing bars and telling stories: the raw reality of Chief Keef and Lil Reese's "drill music," but molded to resemble traditionally lyrical hip-hop.
For Fans Of: Mobb Deep, Dipset, Jadakiss
Why You Should Pay Attention: In the wake of Keef's success, various artists and scenes – like Chance the Rapper's hippie-soul and the cotton-candy pop of "bop" – have sprouted up to make the city's hip-hop vibrant and diverse. But Chicago's best lyricist may well be Herb. On his recently released debut solo mixtape Welcome to Fazoland, the 18-year-old proves to be a commanding but slippery MC, whether he's talking shit ("At the Light"), flossing ("Designer") or repenting ("Mamma I'm Sorry"). But he was tabbed as a star long ago: Early last year, Drake posted a video to Instagram rapping along to Herb on his and Bibby's early single "Kill Shit."
He Says: "I don't really consider myself as drill music, cause I really don't know what drill music is. I don't follow up on drill music. I'm interested in real music, real bars, real lyrics, real stories. You gotta make some type of stance… [Drake rapping our song] was a pretty good moment, it built some excitement. But I just like to stay humble, so I didn't really let it get to my head. It didn't mean anything. We don't have a song with Drake or anything. I appreciate the shoutout from Drake, but we just stay humble and keep working. Before Drake I got a shoutout from Waka Flocka and Kevin Durant, and I just took it as a reason to go harder."
Hear for Yourself: Check him out on the first half of the Drake-endorsed "Kill Shit" with Lil Bibby. JORDAN SARGENT
Sounds Like: A group of young 20-somethings having a Dischord-ant nervous breakdown.
For Fans Of: At the Drive-In, Unwound, people who pronounce Ian MacKaye's last name properly
Why You Should Pay Attention: With feedback-saturated guitars, catchy melodies, and the sore-throat yowls of frontman Shehzaad Jiwani, Greys sound like lost transmissions from the underground punk scene that thrived in the years between Nirvana and Limp Bizkit. The group hails from the same Toronto punk scene that gave birth to the similarly anachronistic guitar aggressors in Metz and operatic post-post-hardcore howlers in Fucked Up. Regardless of their pedigree, Greys have packed their debut, If Anything, with their own brand of angsty riffs and fist-banging chants. "That kind of guitar-rock revival that is happening now wasn't happening when we formed," says Jiwani says. "We just wanted to write songs that sound like bands like we like."
They Say: "I was 13 when At the Drive-In put out Relationship of Command," says Jiwani. "It was insane. The heaviest thing I'd ever heard was Korn. So [ATDI] was just otherworldly to me. You see these guys with Afros bouncing about the stage, and you're like, OK, this puts everything I am listening to shame. This is a whole universe of art and culture I'd never heard of before."
If Anything's lead track, "Picciotto," pays tribute to another hero, the guitarist and vocalist of Fugazi. "Guy Picciotto is my favorite frontman and guitar player and, in a lot of things we've played, you can hear me trying to rip them off vocally," Jiwani says. "The song is not specifically about him. But he's the coolest, have you ever seen [the Fugazi movie] Instrument, man? He's the coolest. . . I don't know how I would feel if someone wrote a song about me. I'd think, 'That's cool,' but I'd want to keep a distance from them maybe."
Hear for Yourself: The frazzled, anxious, innately punk-rock commentary on classism, "Use Your Delusion." KORY GROW
Sounds Like: A classic hip-hop party – held somewhere in the Andes
For Fans Of: Jean Grae, Manu Chao, Flora Purim
Why You Should Pay Attention: Ana Tijoux is an old-soul in the rap world. The fierce French-Chilean has been honing her serious estilo since the Nineties, first in the popular Chilean hip-hop group Makiza, and later as a global pop star who collaborated with Julieta Venegas, toured with Manu Chao, and got a co-sign from Thom Yorke. The latter accolades were for her single "1977," off her eponymous and well-received 2009 album, which later appeared in Breaking Bad and Broad City. Though she's released two albums since, "1977"'s classic hip-hop style and banda-influenced horn section predicted the turn she's taking on her latest, Vengo, which celebrates her love of old school hip-hop but forgoes samples in favor of traditional South American instruments like Andean charango and Colombian gaita. These underscore lyrics about indigenous culture, feminism, and most importantly – giving birth to her second child. Plus, when was the last time you heard a pan-flute solo played on a rap song? Timbaland samples do not count.
She Says: "I've never had a big connection the way I'd like to with the planet, because I've always lived in big cities and buildings as my way of life. So I had the chance to travel to Ecuador to see a friend of mine who works with indigenous people, and had amazing conversations with him – it was a moment where I understood. I was like, you know what? I should make a song about bringing these ideals back again, almost in a manifesto of the planet being born again, and understanding the history of countries with new eyes, decolonizing everything that you've learned. Reclaiming our identities and relearning everything in our lives."
Hear for Yourself: Title track "Vengo" is a boom-bap banger hinged on Andean pan flute, underscoring Tijoux's determinate raps in Spanish about "decoloniz[ing] what we were taught" and celebrating "our black hair/our high cheekbones." JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD
Sounds Like: Merle Haggard with a stack of books on cosmology and metaphysics.
For Fans Of: Buck Owens, Gram Parsons, Jason Isbell, storytellers who make you say "I used to know a dude like that. Wonder when he's getting out of jail?"
Why You Should Pay Attention: Simpson's debut, last year's self-released High Top Mountain, was one of 2013's best under-the-radar country records, full of classic, roughneck, pedal-steel-spiked honky-tonk jams with lyrical bon-mots like "They call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain," delivered in a handsome barrel-aged baritone. His forthcoming Metamodern Sounds In Country Music stretches his vintage sound even further with dub effects and lines like "Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, DMT, they all changed the way I see/But love's the only thing that's ever saved my life."
He Says: "I've had some profoundly powerful psychedelic experiences. To each their own, and maybe they're not for everybody. But I figure something that forces you to look at things that you're not able to, helps you work on being be a better human, raises your level of empathy and lowers your ego, that's probably good for everybody once in awhile.
Hear for Yourself: Check the pill-poppin', Dukes of Hazzard-watchin' narrator of "You Can Have the Crown."" WILL HERMES
Sounds Like: The soundtrack to an Eighties science-fiction-fantasy-romance-drama. Particularly, the slow-motion sex scene.
For Fans Of: M83, Kate Bush, beds with gauzy white curtains
Why You Should Pay Attention: In Cold Blood is Morgan Kibby's debut album as White Sea, but she's already received accolades for her work as a touring member and frequent collaborator with M83. She co-wrote three songs on the band's 2011 album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, including "Midnight City," which sold 920,000 downloads in the U.S. and garnered Kibb got her first Grammy nomination. Fans of M83 will love the futuristic and cinematic drama of White Sea's instrumental arrangements, soaring voices, and crashing bells. But this is a break-up-and-rebound record at its core. On songs like "For My Love," she and her lover sound like they're either separated by a few time zones or exist in different dimensions, but everything comes crashing down when she notes one of their reasons for separating: "But you just want that pussy."
She Says: "I love drama. I come from a theater background and high emotion and a penchant for showmanship are in the fiber of my being. "For My Love" is truly a mishmash of things thematically though. It's first about losing someone, the repeated empty actions that happen after intense loss, and then it becomes about a tearful, giving of oneself to someone new. That new, open and joyous lust that happens in a honeymoon period. It's also got an underlying feeling of desperation which is a huge theme in the album. I don't think there was a song I sang that, at some point, I didn't cry while recording."
Hear for Yourself: Press play on the epic and ardent "They Don't Know." Then climb onto a car roof to stare at the stars. JESSICA SUAREZ
Sounds Like: Nimble-tongued, beat-fractured L.A. hip-hop spilled over the abrasive crunches, squeals, clangs, slurps, and static of experimental musique concrète.
For Fans Of: Death Grips, Run the Jewels, Public Enemy
Why You Should Pay Attention: Their Sub Pop debut, clppng, is definitely the first album to have a Gangsta Boo cameo and a John Cage cover. Hip-hop is headed to noisier terrain, and the Los Angeles trio does Kanye and Death Grips one better by recording with actual noises: The tip-tapping beat of "Work Work" was made by rolling a ball-bearing in a metal Thermos, smashing cinder blocks, and crumpling a beer can. William Hutson, who co-produces with Jonathan Snipes first mentally connected the dots between hip-hop and musique concrète when he first heard the latter in high school. "It sounded like, 'Oh, people are doing what Public Enemy was doing, but they're just losing the regular rhythms," says Hutson. "I wanna say maybe specifically, it was Drew [Daniel] from Matmos in about 2000, I was reading something he was writing where he argued that the baby laughing in that Aaliyah song, "Are You That Somebody" – that was Drew's argument that hip-hop and musique concrète are the same thing. I always go back and remember that as some sort of justification. This is what we're doing, that's what they're doing, We're just part of a tradition."
They Say: Some of rapper Daveed Diggs's nimblest rhymes are on "Get Up," a song performed over most people's least favorite sound, the incessant beep beep beep of an alarm clock. "I think that beat manages to at once propel the song the way a beat should, but also be kind of the harshest thing we've done," says Diggs. "Using something that is really painful, generally, as the percussive element for a beat, I think is cool…. To me that song ends up sounding really beautiful – but maybe that only happens after you listened to it 200 times. It was terribly hard for Steve [Kaplan], who was mixing and engineering the album. I had to constantly turn it down in the studio. It never bothered me. But, I also don't wake up to an alarm clock [laughs]. I'm an artist, so days don't start on any regular time."
Hear for Yourself: The ball-bearing and cinder block symphony "Work, Work" featuring Cocc Pistol Cree. CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN