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: reggaeton sensation Maluma, raucous Toronto indie rockers Dilly Dally, dreamy vaporwavers 2814 and more.
Sounds Like: A lighter, more eco-friendly alternative to Daddy Yankee's reggaeton "Gasolina"
For Fans of: J. Balvin, Nicky Jam, day parties under cloudless skies.
Why You Should Pay Attention: Reggaeton was born in Panama and Puerto Rico, but a new group of artists is rebooting it in Colombia. Maluma, a 21-year-old out of Medellín, grew up listening to salsa, but he was a Don Omar fan recording his first studio sessions by the time he was 16. By 18, he was at the head of this class: Magia, his debut album, was a viral hit, and the young star became the first reggaetonero to establish himself on social media before reaching radio. Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy, the follow-up, favors simple, warm arrangements filled with fleeting melodies and rich basslines. Last month, the LP reached the top of Billboard's Latin Albums chart. Lately he's been talking with salsa producer Sergio George about what he can do differently on record three.
He Says: "In Colombia, we have a lot of passion. We work a lot, and we have a lot of discipline because we are really tired that people know Colombia as a violent country. We just want to change that face of the country, and the music that we're doing is the music that people want, that people love. I'm really excited. I'm just 21 years old, and my life is great."
Hear for Yourself: "Borro Cassette" is sung by a narrator hoping to recapture a night of drunken dancing, and its languid beat suggests the kind of sounds that might have put him and his boo in motion. Nick Murray
Sounds Like: An unleashed id with a sick distortion pedal
For Fans of: Nirvana, the Pixies, PJ Harvey
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Toronto four-piece's blazing full-length debut, Sore, has earned rave reviews, and their live show turned heads at this year's CMJ festival. "It feels more natural for me to be onstage than it feels anywhere else in my life — it's like the opposite of stage fright," says singer-guitarist Katie Monks, who founded Dilly Dally with guitarist Liz Ball, her best friend from high school. "It's like an alternate life where you can speak a language that's a lot more free." Along with powerful originals like "Snake Head" and "The Touch," their recent sets have included a memorably surly cover of Drake's "Know Yourself." "Nobody here calls Toronto 'the 6' at all," Monks notes. "So there's a layer of sarcasm to the cover. But it's still a fucking awesome song! Drake is so honest about being lame that it's endearing."
They Say: Monks says her vocal cords are doing just fine, thank you, despite some concern-trolling she's encountered lately. "I resent the people who wrote about the record, like, 'Let's see how her voice holds up on tour,'" she says. "I'm like, what the hell?! I've been playing shows for six years. I just do my half-assed vocal warm-up of singing Sinead O'Connor before we go onstage, and that's it, really."
Hear for Yourself: "Purple Rage" finds post-breakup liberation in a rowdy mosh pit. "This relationship I was in fizzled out, and I was left with these negative feelings that I wasn't good enough," Monks says. "That song is me fantasizing about a new life and a new Katie." Simon Vozick-Levinson
Sounds Like: A mid-2000s R&B singer with dreams of headlining a modern EDM festival instead angling for a Drake co-sign.
For Fans of: Ne-Yo, Pitbull, viral Vine hits that can exist outside of the app's limited format
Why You Should Pay Attention: The 23-year-old Brooklyn-based singer previously tried Myspace and YouTube to jumpstart his music career, but it was the video sharing app, Vine, which scored him his first hit. Last year his song "Just Girly Things" gained traction through the app and this year he proved his initial success wasn't a fluke by repeating the formula with the giddy bubble-trap hit "Dessert." "I would say I put more attention on Vine at the time and people were willing to share," says Dawin. The delirious song spread through fan-made videos — though the official one sits with over 50 million YouTube views.
He Says: "There was a time when I didn't have any connection or opportunity and I had no one and ["Just Girly Things"] was me singing to myself, 'Yo live it up, don't let nobody bring you down.' I felt like if I could feel encouragement of myself … then so would other people." His favorite fan-made video of "Dessert" has a similar idea of self-empowerment: "In New Zealand someone made a video with "Dessert" and … they took dessert and some other food and fed the homeless."
Hear for Yourself: The goofy post-genre mash-up "Dessert" recently got a breezy remix with fellow viral sensation Silentó. David Turner
Sounds Like: Top-shelf indie-rock where all finest indie-rock emotions — anxiety, entropy, malaise, fumbling desire, fear, rage — become the engine for sweet guitar epiphanies.
For Fans of: Swearin', Waxahatchee, Liz Phair
Why You Should Pay Attention: On their fantastic second album, All of Something, recorded while most of the band was still attending tiny Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, singer-guitarist Carmen Perry fires out great lines like "Take my mind off the empty space in this heart of mine/And I'll take your mind off the empty space in your bedtime" over catchy, caffeinated power-pop. Elsewhere, they turn laundry day and room cleaning into acts of heart-splitting existential drama. Sports will tour this winter but their status is up in the air — drummer Benji Dossetter is in med school in Boston, bassist James Karlin teaches Latin in Arizona and singer-guitarist Jack Washburn is a senior at Kenyon. Perry and guitarist Catherine Dwyer now live in Philadelphia where they're working on a project together.
They Say: "It was definitely weird this summer when I was working all the time and I'd come home late at night and see all this stuff on the Internet that was really nice and I was really grateful for," Perry says in reference to Sports' critical success this year. "But it just felt like it wasn't actually real. And I remember being on the phone one night with Jack, crying and being like, 'I feel like my life is only on the Internet, and that it's not actually real.' Since I moved here, I've met more people and gone to more shows. It definitely seems to be more connected."
Hear for Yourself: The excellent "Reality TV" is one of the best lo-fi bangers in a year that's produced scores of great ones. Jon Dolan
Sounds Like: The perfect post-party cool-down — though nothing indicates that the night is over
For Fans of: Cashmere Cat, Odesza, Kelela
Why You Should Pay Attention: For nearly three years, this London-based electronic music duo have been making smooth, hypnotic, trap-inflected songs. Oliver Lee started making music as Snakehips, but after meeting James Carter at a bar in Hong Kong, the pair carried on the name as a collaborative project. "We got chatting [about] music, and it went from there really," Carter says. "We both found ourselves on a flight together to L.A. and agreed to get in the studio together when we got back to London." Snakehips' most recent collaboration with Tinashe and Chance the Rapper, "All My Friends," has proven the pair's collaboration to be a success, banking over 1.2 million views on a SoundCloud preview. "We're in the studio all the time, writing and producing," Lee says. "We just did two weeks out in L.A. working with some amazing singers and writers, too. There are loads more things on the horizon."
They Say: "It comes from a dance I used to do," Lee explains about the origins of the Snakehips name. "I had this pair of Levis that were a bit tight. You get the idea. The jeans are gone now, though, so it's lost in time."
Hear for Yourself: "All My Friends" finds the happy medium between the DJ Mustard-leanings of Tinashe and the jazzy flow of Chance. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: Quadratic equation rock performed by malfunctioning, sputtering appliances
For Fans of: Oxes, Bellini, Guerilla Toss
Why You Should Pay Attention: Like a Beefheart made for loft shows, Philadelphia-based fractal-rock quartet Palm's sounds improvisational while being rooted in utter precision. On their debut, Trading Basics, guitar parts deconstruct themselves in real time; bass lines dart and duck; drums propel the action while also seeming to comment on it. Vocalist-guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt's vocal harmonies add more tension to this outfit's heady mix. Palm are wrapping up a nationwide tour and are already preparing to head back into the studio and record album Number Two.
They Say: "For the most part, our music starts with a seed, and then we all come together and add our own elements to it," says Alpert. "It's important that we're all doing something, that the song is all of our parts. A lot of times, we like when the rhythm section takes the foreground of a song. We like to deconstruct what a pop song could be, and we like to be pretty jagged in our sound."
Hear for Yourself: The lurching, churning "Garden" shows off Palm's ability to create gorgeously realized chaos from ragged pieces. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: The street-soul feel of New Jack Swing, updated for contemporary hip-hop listeners
For Fans of: The Black Hippy collective; D'Angelo; and, in the words of BJ himself, "Al Green with the vest on and the gold chains and no shirt"
Why You Should Pay Attention: Over the past couple years, Bryan James Sledge's gospel-influenced croon has lent an unforgettable touch to tracks by the contemporary scene's best conscious-minded rappers. That was BJ on Schoolboy Q's late-night reflection "Studio"; that was BJ again on Joey Bada$$'s mournful, boom-bapping "Like Me" — not to mention on tracks by Chance the Rapper, Big K.R.I.T., Dr. Dre and more. But his seeming overnight ubiquity was years in the making. Raised in the church-music world, he got his start in his native Chicago as a drummer before going on to work with soul greats like Mary Mary. From there, he moved on to writing songs and lacing vocal tracks for a who's-who of modern-day hip-hop and R&B greats, from Kanye to Kendrick to Mary J. Blige.
Though he self-released a 2012 full-length, Pineapple Now-Laters, his forthcoming effort for Motown, In My Mind, marks his proper major-label debut. Think Sixties-style soul brass and percussion, married with head-nodding beats and a much-needed infusion of old-school romance for the Tinder generation.
He Says: "I talked about the 'New Cupid' in so many interviews I had to write a song about it," BJ says of the album's gospel-inflected, Stax-flavored rave-up of the same name. "People would ask me in interviews, did I think love is important, or popular? Yes, I think love is important, but it's not popular. Cupid is very much busy in the club, rolling up weed, and smoking, and drinking cognac at the bar like everybody else. He's not doing his job like he used to. So I'll call myself the New Cupid."
Hear for Yourself: "Church," closing in on one million YouTube plays and featuring Chance the Rapper, neatly sums up BJ's deft straddling of multiple worlds. Over a loose breakbeat and funky strings, the crooner struggles to avoid a party girl's temptations and make it, instead, to his usual spot in the pews on Sunday morning. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: Self-immolating anxiety set to reverberating guitar
For Fans of: Bon Iver, early Low, Throwing Muses
Why You Should Pay Attention: Memphis-based punk screamer turned singer-songwriter Julien Baker turned 20 only a couple months ago, and she's already playing her austere indie-folk supporting Wye Oak, Torres and EL VY. Her recently released debut, Sprained Ankle, contains nine sparse, beautifully morose coming-of-age tableaus finding the European lit major poetically reliving battles with addiction, car wrecks and feelings of worthlessness that enveloped her adolescence. On "Everybody Does" she delicately declares, "I know I'm a pile of filthy wreckage," and on "Something," she feels the "walls of my skull bend backwards" while missing a friend. Other than a few moments when she finds faith in God, the hope on the record lives in her gauzy, haunting guitar lines and the crystalline quality of her voice. "I think I really connect with sparseness," she says. "The less tools you have, the more you have to rely on the narrative of your lyrics."
She Says: The album opens with "Blacktop" a song that alludes to drug use and a near-fatal car wreck. "Everything was going wrong in my life, and I wanted to be a self-destructive kid," she says of the teenage years that inspired it. "I was in that nihilistic phase of rejecting everything and being bitter at God. I was like, 'Why should I not get high and wander around my neighborhood?' Then I started to see God's presence show up in subtle ways. A lot later, when I was 16, I was leaving church in my first car — my mom's Honda Accord — in the middle of the day when a light pole fell on me and turned my sedan into a hot dog. Every part of the car caved in except for the space around my head. When they took the door off and I got out of the car, I was unscratched. I was covered in powdered glass, but I was not bleeding at all. I was like, 'This is insane.' I know people say there's a distinction between coincidence and miracles, but I think they overlap. Why, when I was putting all kinds of crazy chemicals in my body, why when I was going out to parties I shouldn't have been going to with people who may have been recklessly driving, why didn't I die? Because I have something else to do. 'Blacktop' is a pastiche of these experiences."
Hear for Yourself: From Baker's opening line — "Wish I could write songs about anything other than death" — "Sprained Ankle" is sad and beautiful. Kory Grow
Sounds Like: A shambolic mix of psychedelic blues and manic punk, ripping open the cushions of a vintage paisley couch and lighting the stuffing on fire
For Fans of: The Birthday Party, A Place to Bury Strangers, Kurt Vile
Why You Should Pay Attention: London trio Yak's introduction to Jack White's Third Man Records was a 10-minute stoner rock take on folk standard "Cumberland Gap," a distant cry from Lonnie Donegan's frenetic skiffle version that was a hit in the Fifties. According to the group's gregarious singer-guitarist Oliver Burslem — an ex-thrift store operator who used to host jam sessions in the shop's basement — the performance video reached White's friend Ben Swank of Soledad Brothers and the rest is garage-rock history. Following up hard-charging Fat Possum singles "Hungry Heart" and "Plastic People," the No EP just arrived on Third Man. Its three songs capture the group's blistering live energy and sinister melodic leanings in just over seven minutes. Produced by Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, the EP was recorded while bassist Andy Jones was in denial about a broken finger, which didn't slow him a bit.
They Say: "[The No EP] didn't take much time," Burslem says. "We got it mixed, sent it to Third Man and they were really into it. It was kind of a painless experience. We tried not to fuck around with the initial live recordings we had that day. All of the bands we like, it's not too edited, I suppose. Once you start editing conversations or editing anything, it can kind of lose the charm of it. I always have loads of ideas. I sit at my desk here with notes, loads of nonsense. I try and fill my brain with as much clutter as possible, and then we get together as a band and vomit it all out.
Hear for Yourself: Loaded with amp-rattling feedback and Burslem's unfiltered musings at the top of his lungs, "No" is a sludgy garage stomper. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: A late night cruise through the cyber-future dream highway
For Fans of: Boards of Canada, Oneohtrix Point Never, Kavinsky
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Internet-birthed "vaporwave" aesthetic — highly nostalgic, highly reverbed, highly sampled — seemed like a trend destined to die in the place where irony met #feels. But as 2814, London performer HKE and his fellow enigmatic SoundCloud dweller Telepath have captured all the romance and wistfulness through bold, original compositions. "We wanted to show how the whole vaporwave vibe could be made as original music rather than just relying on the same muzak and kitsch-pop samples everyone else had been using for years," says HKE. "While I thought the whole idea of playing with samples was cool … I've always been more enamored by its thematic concepts — its focus on dreaminess and surreal futurism and on painting a narrative through music." The next-level gambit paid off with second album 新しい日の誕生, an unparalleled success within a small, passionate pocket of the internet. The album is a staple of the Bandcamp charts, the purple cassette version goes for $40 on Discogs and an Indiegogo campaign recently launched a 2xLP vinyl version. In short, it's the most popular release the genre has produced in four years.
They Say: "I don't take any kind of drugs. But my whole worldview has always been that of a "dreamer" though, and a lot of what drives me spiritually in life would probably be considered esoteric and obscure by most," says HKE. "I sit in a dark room lit by a red light almost every night these days and I just take inspiration from the world around me. I have pretty vivid dreams and nightmares often and have suffered from recurring sleep paralysis and hallucinations since I was a teenager. I've been reading a lot about dreams, philosophy, history, religion, science, etc. and have developed my own theories on music being some kind of objective divine language of the universe that I could and will probably write a book on one day. Ultimately it all comes down to trying to understand the human condition."
Hear for Yourself: 新しい日の誕生's opening track, "恢复," is a dreamy, gorgeous cascade of deep drone, cascading piano and distant sirens. "The track's name in English is "Restore," explains HKE. "It's about reliving the same story in another time and space … again and again. Not so much reincarnation but the endless cycle of the universe as it expands and contracts forever, time repeating itself." Christopher R. Weingarten