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: Dej Loaf's viral rap&B, Dorothy's blazing rock, Oliver Heldens' unique house blend, a country supergroup starring a Black Crowe or two — and much more!
Sounds Like: True versatility. One minute the Detroit-bred vocalist is a deceptively sweet-sounding, throwback R&B devotee and the next she's an in-your-face, fire-spitting madwoman.
For Fans of: Jeremih, Aaliyah, Drake if he manned up and became a woman
Why You Should Pay Attention: The 23-year-old Detroit rapper seemingly came from nowhere when she released the darkly twinkling "Try Me," but she's been on a rollercoaster ever since. After getting the coveted Drake co-sign (he put some of her lyrics on his Instagram), Dej saw her song reimagined by Wiz Khalifa and E-40, appeared on a track with Eminem and got a deal with Columbia — becoming one of the few female rap artists with a major label contract. Her latest mixtape, Sell Sole, shows her ability to embody whatever corner of the genre she chooses, with a confidence and a writing ability well beyond her years. "My style is free, I do whatever I feel at the moment," she says. "If I feel like singing, I sing, if I feel like rapping, I rap. I used to be too shy to sing on my earlier songs when I first started out, recording now is more comfortable. So I let loose and do what I want. Swanging!"
She Says: "Nowadays I feel like women rappers come into the game with the same mentality from way back. They think, 'It's hard to be a female in the industry.' They come in using that and it gets them nowhere. My mentality is just to create. No rules. No old-school remedies. What's next for me is to stamp my name everywhere and become one of the best to ever do it."
Hear for Yourself: Listen to where it all started with "Try Me" — 13 million plays and counting! By Cady Drell
Sounds Like: Swamp-rock stomp electrified by the caterwaul of lead singer (and band namesake) Dorothy Martin.
For Fans of: Led Zeppelin, Black Mountain, Deap Vally, Fireball chasers
Why You Should Pay Attention: The debut EP by this Los Angeles outfit (released as a free download by the headphone company Skullcandy) is menacing and electric, with Dorothy's vocals — which bring to mind the ear-bending acrobatics of Janis Joplin and Robert Plant — lighting the way through a bog of muddy riffs and bone-shaking beats. This month, the band has been honing its live show at Los Angeles' Bootleg Theater, where they've set up shop every Monday night. "You really get the full energy from everybody, because they put their heart and soul into the performance," says Dorothy. "It's more loose; it's not going to be exactly like the record. There's a lot of energy and vibe."
They Say: "Basically, we want to make songs that we think Beavis and Butt-head would like," Martin declares. "When we heard Dorothy's voice, we were like, 'Holy shit — if we put this behind some serious old-school metal riffs, we'll have something big,'" adds guitarist Mark Jackson. "A lot of the [recordings don't] have live drums, just huge kick drums and claps and stuff. It sounded so cool when we did it, just having that fat bottom of old-school hip-hop records with metal guitars [playing] really simple riffs. [We're taking] this back to AC/DC or Sabbath —just one guitar, one bass, and drums and bad-ass vocals."
Hear for Yourself: The clip for "After Midnight" shows how Dorothy flings herself into her performances (and shows how to effectively pair a vintage rock tee with a fur). By Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: Syd Barrett's freewheeling poetry teamed with the guitar strangle of Eugene Chadbourne or Derek Bailey
For Fans of: Captain Beefheart, the Incredible String Band, James Blood Ulmer
Why You Should Pay Attention: The 33-year-old Newcastle avant-troubadour has made one of the most unique singer-songwriter records in recent memory with the abrasive, vivid Nothing Important. He worked at U.K. record stores for 10 years, so his ill-angled folk is partially a music geek explosion — in describing why he likes his guitar slightly out of tune, he quickly references jazz great Thelonious Monk, revered Bahaman guitarist Joseph Spence, microtone alchemist Harry Partch and Japanese "post-minimalist" composer Mamoru Fujieda. He claims his broken, lo-fi sound was mainly inspired by a CD by Kenyan fingerpicker Henry Makobi. "He basically was recorded in a hotel room all in one go, and he would put coins in his guitar," says Dawson. "So, the thing would buzz and rattle and just kind of quiver, and you can hear these coins sloughing about and people coming and going in the room, and I was just really entranced by that." But a lot of Dawson's distinctive sound comes from, well, less cerebral measures. "I got a pretty cheap guitar, and then I stood on it once in my old house by accident," he says. "Then my pal Nev Clay…he trod on the guitar again and really finished it off…Then this guy came and fixed it. It's a pretty unique, crappy instrument now."
He Says: "I want things to be truthful; but sometimes if, say, if it was a cut, I might exaggerate it to be a really nasty gash. Or, if somebody was just having a little bit of a kiss in a doorway, I might turn that into full-blown, just filthy animal sex in a cave somewhere. The idea of accuracy is really faulty anyways. It's an illusion of things being crisp, especially when you talk about memory. The idea that there's one way that things are is wrong. So, I feel OK to play fast and free with my own experiences, because I can't be sure that my memory of them is correct anyway."
Hear for Yourself: Nothing Important's 16-minute epic "The Vile Stuff" (here shortened to 11) details some booze turning a school trip into a parade of mishaps. By Christopher R. Weingarten
Sounds Like: Disclosure on steroids, EDM that doesn't wear neon
For Fans Of: Deorro, Disclosure, arriving at the club after midnight
Why You Should Pay Attention: Combining Disclosure's warm vibe with the hard Dutch house beat he first heard at pre-teen school parties, 19-year-old Oliver Heldens came upon a sound that enraged purists and made the biggest DJs in the world nostalgic. David Guetta recently cited the young producer as one of his favorite new artists, and Tiësto gave him his big break. He immediately fell for the way Heldens' "Gecko" brought back a Nineties groove without seeming the slightest bit retro. Unable to crack his Fruity Loops demo, Heldens made his first beats using Windows Movie Maker to link together seven-second fragments. Now, his dance tracks are some of the biggest in the world.
They Say: "There was never some groovy or deep house that was being supported by the big EDM DJs. At the main stages, the hard stuff makes people jump — my music makes people dance. But in a club the DJs have one-and-a-half or two hours and they don't want to play two hours of hard stuff. So 'Gecko' became more of a club record, even though it still gets played at festivals."
Hear for Yourself: "Koala," a new hit that pushes the "Gecko" template forward, introducing a thick, dynamic bassline and throwing drums, hi-hats and whooshing sound effects into its orbit. By Nick Murray
Sounds Like: A country-rock acid flashback while Linda Ronstadt sings "When Will I Be Loved" in Bonnaroo's This Tent.
For Fans Of: The Black Crowes, Alabama Shakes, earnest cowbell
Why You Should Pay Attention: With the Black Crowes on an indefinite hiatus, drummer Steve Gorman had been trying to kick off this side project with session bassist Nick Govrik for years, boasting little success and a lineup as unstable as the Robinson brothers' relationship. It took the addition of "One of Us" hitmaker Joan Osborne along with guitarist Tom Bukovac and the Crowes' Jackie Green to finally hit the right stride and seal a deal with Rounder Records. On their self-titled debut, there's plenty of soul-steeped harmonies, striding dual guitars and bluesy licks. Their ace musicianship can blow many less seasoned bands out of the water — just like they did during Americana Fest, when their explosive set sent plenty of aspiring folk acolytes whimpering towards the door with their fiddles between their legs.
They Say: Naturally, Trigger Hippy has been bestowed with "supergroup" status, and Osborne's OK with that. "If people are going to throw that word around, I feel like we're pretty ready to live up to it," she says. "Hopefully I'm not overreaching by saying that, but what we all bring to the table and what we're able to make happen is pretty intense. Everyone is so strong as an individual, and then you get us together and we're bouncing off each other and pushing ourselves. There's no one person who is a leader, and we're at a point in our lives where we can hang with that and let it be this five-headed-monster."
Hear for Yourself: The swampy doo-wop chorus and hemp-wrapped happycore of "Rise Up Singing" is like a less naughty, folked-up version of Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good." By Marissa R. Moss
Sounds Like: Entering a coffee shop on another planet and ordering the most chilled-out cold press ever conceived. Futuristic R&B and soul on a cloud of its own.
For Fans of: Rhye, the Internet, Zero 7-era Sia
Why You Should Pay Attention: After a chance meeting at a party a few years back, Denitia Odigie and Brian "Sene" Marc plotted to combine her ice-cutting vocal skills with his serrated, beat-driven synthesizer experiments. Their partnership flourished naturally at the Clubhouse, a four-story Victorian home reimagined as a creative space deep in Brooklyn's Ditmas Park neighborhood. ("It's like if the Royal Tenenbaums had all played instruments and made music," Sene offers.) Following the genre-hopping Blah, Blah, Blah EP, and last year's His and Hers LP — which hit Number 11 on the iTunes R&B chart — they've returned with a focused digital slice, the side fx. EP, coming out via Red Bull Sound Select. Each song coalesces Nashville-seasoned Denitia's evocative range of emotion with Sene's pixelated tones (and some harmonizing) for a FaceTime-era transmission of the joys and challenges of modern love.
They Say: "The micro storyline of Denitia and myself is comedic — always me trying to sing less, and her trying to make me sing more," Sene says. "On the song 'Call U' on His and Hers, we kind of broke off on the electronic influence to it [for side fx.]. We latched onto the 'Call U' sound, even though it's not one of our most popular songs, as far as the singles and all that. Every time we do that live, the way people respond is special."
"Pretty much we could just be anywhere at this point," says Denitia. "With some recording gear, and something cool would probably happen. I don't say that in a way that, 'We're so great.' At this point, whatever we've done at the Clubhouse, it developed us. We take that vibe with us wherever we work."
Hear for Yourself: "Runnin." from side fx. sounds like a cyborg singing along with the XX. By Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: A noisy, Technicolor, garage-rock nightmare
For Fans of: Thee Oh Sees, Savages, Metz
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Leeds, England-based Hookworms have a knack for spanning several moods within a single song — juxtaposing raging screams with plaintive singing, garage rock riffs with staticky noise, danceable rhythms and pulseless drones — and they've earned some diverse fans because of it. Punk-rock filmmaker Julien Temple has sung their praises, as has opera-singing pop star Charlotte Church. Even Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine ordered a copy of their 2011 debut album, Hookworms. "I don't know if he liked it, but he ordered it," says the group's bassist MB with a laugh. (The group's members, who range in age from 24 to 34, go by initials, "just so my boss at work can't trace me," MB says.) In recent years, the band has gotten the attention of acts like Slowdive and Loop who asked Hookworms to open for them, and the group is keeping the momentum going with its latest record, The Hum, which finds the quintet at its most upbeat.
They Say: "After we put out our first album, we got to a point where we were playing shows and the audiences were standing completely still," MB says. "But as soon as we finished, people rushed up to us to tell us how great it was. We found it weird that people didn't react physically when they were watching us. So last year we did a one-off seven-inch, 'Radio Tokyo,' and started playing it live and we noticed people were really reacting to it. So when it came 'round to the album, we decided to re-record 'Radio Tokyo,' and everything followed suit. We wanted this to be a record that we could play from start to finish and be fitting to play live."
Hear for Yourself: "On Leaving" is an uncomfortably hypnotic, slow-building torrent of feedback. By Kory Grow
Sounds Like: Nina Simone's brother steps into an elegant French café, sits down at the piano and tears open a vein.
For Fans of: Antony and the Johnsons, Nina Simone, Edith Piaf
Why You Should Pay Attention: Born in London to Ghanaian parents, Clementine, 25, was discovered busking in the Paris Metro in 2013 by a French music agent. In short order, the heroically cheek-boned singer who prefers to perform barefoot released his first EP, Cornerstone, and appeared on the BBC TV show Later With Jools Holland, where his galvanizing rendition of the title track earned a big thumbs-up from fellow guest Paul McCartney. His 2014 EP, Glorious You, sealed the deal with another set of proudly despairing kicks against pricks. Benjamin goes international in January with the release of his debut full-length, At Least for Now, and first U.S. tour. A collection of poetry titled Life Through the Eyes of a Wild Greyhound is also in progress.
He Says: "It came out of despair. I just wanted to eat, to survive. I started singing a cappella in bars. I saved up money to get my first guitar and started writing songs. Fame is like icin' on the cake. What I've done mostly is work my ass off. I'm literally nowhere yet…When things started going well, this French designer called Ami gave me some shoes and clothes to wear. But when I sat down to play the piano, the very new shoes kept slipping off the pedal. So I took them off, threw them away and have never worn shoes while playing the piano from then on."
Hear for Yourself: Benjamin is "all alone in a box of stone" in this powerful solo rendition of "Cornerstone." By Richard Gehr
Sounds Like: Tuneful EDM that prominently showcases acoustic instrumentation — folksy guitars, smooth saxophone, peppy flute, even harmonica on a track that is helpfully titled "Harmonica."
For Fans of: Avicii, the harmonica hook on Pitbull's "Timber," the poppier strains of deep and tropical house.
Why You Should Pay Attention: Levi and Nico are two 20-year-old Germans (based in Stuttgart) whose tracks are inching up their country's iTunes dance charts. One such composition, "Journey," which features vocalist Emma Carn offering her take on Ellie Goulding-style ethereal longing, landed in a Fujifilm ad. The duo plan to release a video for "Harmonica" before the end of 2014, and there's a collaboration with Spinnin' Records signee Sam Feldt planned for next year. In addition, Bunt. hopes to work with a broader range of musicians and integrate live instrumentation into their performances as well.
They Say: "Our neighbors and family members are not always happy with us producing in our homes," says Nico. "Dance music isn't very neighbor-friendly! Just like in old cartoons, our neighbors will knock on the walls to tell us to turn down our music, especially when we get excited about a song and want to listen to it over and over again. But our families' opinions matter very much to us as well. [Our parents] can be very honest; if they tell us it's shit, we go back to the drawing board. But when Levi's mom dances to it, we know we have a hit."
Hear for Yourself: "Harmonica" is an electro-hoedown with a lonesome drawled vocal. By Keith Harris
Sounds Like: Club kids, Cali weed and Tumblr R&B
For Fans of: Chance the Rapper at his sing-songiest, Miguel, AlunaGeorge
Why You Should Pay Attention: With its allusions to Low End Theory-styled electronic beats, chirpy radio pop and house, Brandon Anderson Paak's impressive, genre-blending debut, Venice, exemplifies R&B's post-Internet metamorphosis. But his roots run deeper than your typical Bandcamp rookie. Born in Oxnard and raised a Southern Baptist — he still plays drums every Sunday at St. Paul Baptist Church — Paak toiled in L.A.'s underground for years as Breezy Lovejoy, from busking as a session musician with innovative soul producer Shafiq Husayn to rapping and singing with experimental hip-hop crew Hellfyre Club. Around 2012, he switched to his government name. "It was hard for me to imagine introducing myself working with certain idols like Dr. Dre and Kanye West and introducing myself as Breezy Lovejoy. It made me cringe a little bit," he says. Anderson Paak's Venice arrives just as he's starting to gain wider notice, thanks to a opening slot on Watsky's tour and a duet with TOKiMONSTA for the electro-soul ballad "Realla."
They Say: Paak explains the story behind one of Venice's better cuts, the DJ Nobody-produced "Milk N' Honey": "It's about my experiences with older women. Sometimes when I'd play in clubs, I wouldn't have a place to stay, so me and other musicians would bang older broads in order to have a place to stay and eat. Sometimes these older women would spend money on us and feed us. Whether we'd have sex with them or not, they were down to help us in our journey. So I took that and expanded on it to tell a story where you have a sugar mama, and you're having the greatest time of your life with her money, but it turns around on you."
Hear for Yourself: In a stunning B&W clip for "Miss Right," Paak investigates the murder of a video model. By Mosi Reeves