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: Recent Fetty Wap mixtape partner PnB Rock, Coldplay tourmate Bishop Briggs, languid electronic-pop crooner Ella Vos and more.
Sounds Like: And update of Usher and Young Jeezy's "Love in This Club"
For Fans of: Fetty Wap, Ty Dolla $ign, August Alsina
Why You Should Pay Attention: PnB Rock is part of a new generation of unlikely heartthrobs straddling the lines between R&B and hip-hop, warble-rapping about refusing to commit. The Philadelphia native started developing his voice two years ago during a brief jail sentence where he watched his fellow inmates sing about their own hard-knock lives. But PnB's outlook has gotten sunnier since then, and for good reason: After signing to Atlantic, the latest installation of his RnB mixtape series, 2015's RnB 3: Rockadelphia, debuted at Number 11 on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart. That project, which featured EDM balladry alongside buoyant nightclub rap, set the tone for the big-name collaborations that followed. Fetty Wap, who appears in Rockadelphia single "Jealous," teamed up with him for Money Hoes and Flows, a joint mixtape hosted by hip-hop tastemaker DJ Drama. Starting in November, PnB tours the United States with rap rookies Dae Dae and Shy Glizzy. Meanwhile, he just helped EDM titan David Guetta write an upcoming pop record. "He was playing all different types of beats and I was giving him melodies," he says. "He was just amazed at all the melodies I came up with."
He Says: While PnB Rock can now count on online metrics to gauge his growing popularity, he first learned his music was taking off via actual fan letters. "It gives me a lot of joy to know that I could guide somebody and feel like, not a father figure, but an older brother figure to a lot of people who I don't even know," he says. "When I was in jail, I got mail from over 300 different people I never met. They were all inspired by me. The people were showing me more love than my own family members – it was crazy."
Hear for Yourself: While "Jealous" is mellower than other VIP-section anthems, PnB Rock still has his reasons for refusing to act humble: "Remember we was at the bottom/Now we post up at the top." Christina Lee
Sounds Like: A warm bath with just you and your feelings
For Fans of: Imogen Heap, Frou Frou, vintage Sia
Why You Should Pay Attention: Soundcloud surfers likely discovered Vos when her silky vocals laced "Rolling Dice" by Australian DJ/producer Just a Gent, helping lift this minor-key, SBTRKT-y slab of saudade to more than 430,000 spins. Now she's on track to garner as many with her first solo song, "White Noise," a seductive, gauzy, downtempo offering with enough pop polish to land it on a big soundtrack.
She Says: You could be forgiven for assuming that "White Noise" and its oblique, wistful imagery, makes for another love song – and you'd only be half right. Instead, Vos used her first public offering to tackle a topic which often sends many music-industry folks running: new motherhood.
"I didn't even mean it to be about that situation. I just realized as I was writing those words I was just so depressed and in a weird fog. Nothing was real around me. It was super intense," she says. "But I'm really glad I pushed myself to do it. I'm realizing more and more how much it really matters to put out honest music, and I feel so much better standing behind it, like, 'Yes, this is what I wrote, and this is what it's about, and take it or leave it.'"
Hear for Yourself: "White Noise" is full of subtle pleasures, like its rolling snare solos and mournful, crescendoing organ passage. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: The Jesus Lizard meets early Queens of the Stone Age at the therapist's office.
For Fans of: Melvins, Unsane, Swans
Why You Should Pay Attention: After two acclaimed EPs (2011's Ruiner and 2013's Clean), this hard-hitting Atlanta noise-rock trio is finally serving up their first full-length blast of brutality, this month's Gold. Cathartic, yet also loaded with humor, social commentary and introspection, Gold's ten tracks stay true to the band's self-proclaimed "good times, bad vibes" ethos while expanding their musical reach. "Our goal for this record was just to bring it really, really hard," says Whores. vocalist and guitarist Christian Lembach, "but we didn't just want to do what people may have expected from us." The band begins a month-long tour with Red Fang and Torche on November 18th.
They Say: While the band's Google-averse name has triggered charges of misogyny, Lembach says it's actually a sardonic reference to the challenges of making a living as a musician in the streaming age. "The era of making money off of record sales is over, and it's over forever. You need to find other ways to keep your band going. It requires a lot of time – not only being on the road, but writing and recording. I'm not complaining; I love it, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, but you've got to find ways to make money. So I'm not mad at bands who are sponsored by whoever, or have a song in a commercial or something. People don't understand; they have no idea what it's actually like, day to day, to do this."
Hear for Yourself: Album opener "Playing Poor" comes out swinging with fuzz-drenched post-hardcore fury. Dan Epstein
Sounds Like: Nineties-loving guitar majesty with a heart, soul and spiritual tug all their own
For Fans of: Built to Spill, Neutral Milk Hotel, Silver Jews
Why You Should Pay Attention: After self-releasing 2014's fantastic Hookwink'd on their own Double Double Wammy, this crew of college buddies-turned-Bushwick it-band got signed to Sup Pop, which just put out their deeply excellent Return to Love. On songs like "Hidden Driver," 'Blur" and the incredible guitar meltdown 'Pain," the band hungers for truth and transcendence in a heartwarming way that makes every other crypto-Pavement throwback look they're going through someone else's motions.
They Say: "I was at the Grand Canyon recently," says drummer Greg Rutkin. "I was wearing like a Sub Pop sweatshirt, and this older woman took our picture and was like, 'Is Sub Pop Records still a thing?" And I was like, 'Yeah, it's still a thing.'"
Hear for Yourself: The band's close-knit friendships come through in their music. Witness "Pain," where Mike Caridi, one of the band's three songwriters, tries to work through a friend's brutal romantic trauma. "The song was me working through this thing, like, personally," he says. "When we play it, it feels like we're working through it together." Jon Dolan
Sounds Like: A metallic primal scream from the motherland
For Fans Of: Death Grips, Saul Williams, Pharmakon
Why You Should Pay Attention: Philadelphia-based musician, visual artist, author and activist Camae Ayewa performs and presents her installations at museums and underground festivals across Europe and the U.S. – but a recent deal with garage-rock label Don Giovanni is bringing her Afrofuturist interrogations to a new audience. Ayewa's debut full-length as Moor Mother, Fetish Bones, is an uncompromising statement of personal and historical truth. Over a maelstrom of electronic noise and sampled loops produced by her (as well as guests Transgender VHS, Ohbliv, Drums Like Machine Guns, and Wizard Apprentice), she describes the struggles of the black Diaspora, and the current assaults on the black body in modern-day America in trenchant and sometimes painful terms.
She Says: Ayewa doesn't want to be called a spoken-word artist. "I'm just a straight poet," she retorts. "I'm more in the tradition of Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez, y'know? It's not a performance, my poetry. I'm not in spoken word battles or whatever."
But Baraka and Sanchez recorded poetry albums too, right? "Yeah, but [they were] in the tradition of free jazz, which I also do," she says. "I'm not saying spoken word has no tradition, because you can go to someone I idolize a lot, Gil Scott-Heron, who to me is the father of that. So, I mean, it's different schools of thought. It's a very touchy subject."
Hear For Yourself: "By the Light" features a hard, percussive noise rhythm from Drums Like Machine Guns, and Moor Mother's mutated rhymes about being born in the crack era and breaking the chains of societal oppression. Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: A beachside dreamscape with acoustic guitars and electronic drums washing up on shore.
For Fans of: Alt-J, Foals, Vampire Weekend
Why You Should Pay Attention: The self-titled Columbia debut from these lifelong pals boasts finger-picked acoustic melodies, beats rising to wall-rattling proportions and an unpolished collage of found sound – a street preacher, seagulls and random scraps of conversation. Max Harwood's frantic, Latin-inspired beats are carefully layered against the tenderness in Danny Miller's lyrical abstractions and guitar for a satisfying haze that's even noisier on the stages they've warmed for Børns, Foals and Miike Snow.
"So-called accidents are manifestations of your circumstances and inform your art," says Harwood, who records with Miller out of a cramped bungalow in Rockaway Beach, Queens. "It's stupid to soundproof your room too much because you're just sucking any identity out of it."
They Say: "So much of what we did was broken down and rag-tag," Miller says. "We paid more attention to the energy when we were recording the stuff – as opposed to the way it was being recorded. The sample of church bells and seagulls at the end of the album was because I was in the middle of the bungalow recording the vocals for the song in a single take and the doors to the house were open."
Hear for Yourself: The thick, intoxicating mixture of "Malt Liquor" pairs underwater piano with EDM-leaning beats. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater after a meal of Cap'n Crunch and LSD
For Fans of: New Found Glory, Paramore, the Fueled By Ramen catalog
Why You Should Pay Attention: Crying's debut LP, Beyond the Fleeting Gales, is worth an ear if only to see how this New York trio pull off such an unlikely sound: contemporary emo mixed with the prog-rock of Rush and Styx. Founded in 2013, the SUNY Purchase students would convene in drummer Nick Corbo's basement to craft glitchy chiptune pop, inspired by their favorite old-school video games. The jump to wizardly synths wasn't far. Says singer Elaiza Santos, "If it sounds purple, I'm generally a fan." Catch them playing Legend of Zelda on tour alongside the Hotelier and Joyce Manor this fall.
They Say: "I wanted to make an album that the middle-school version of me wishes he had," says guitarist Ryan Galloway. "Big and cheesy Eighties guitar, J-pop synth sparkle, Motown chord progressions. Like, pretty obnoxious but also completely listenable if you're okay with it." Santos adds, "With a Kirby 64 battle blow."
Hear for Yourself: The band delivers a glimmering walk through Santos' musings on gender identity in their latest single, "There Was A Door," propelled by synth trills and hefty pop-punk breakdowns. Suzy Exposito
Sounds Like: Snorkeling across the Milky Way
For Fans of: Arthur Russell, the Magnetic Fields, Animal Collective
Why You Should Pay Attention: Brooklyn-based producer-singer Roberto Lange has earned a wealth of recent acclaim for Private Energy, his fifth album as Helado Negro, including glowing reviews from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, NPR and more. He began producing in the 2000s under the alias Epstein, collaborating with fellow electronic visionaries Prefuse 73, Julianna Barwick and Sinkane. Existentially occupying the ether between Ecuadorian and American identity, Lange solidifies his ethnic pride and his experimental legacy on Private Energy, tinkering with South American folk and electro-pop palettes. He's also gotten ample attention (and sometimes befuddlement) from summer festival-goers thanks to his shaggy, glittering "Tinsel Mammals" dance crew. Designed with the help of his wife, artist Kristi Sword, his on-stage assistants look like Cousin Itt hitting the glitter.
He Says: "I wrote a lot of this record in 2014. The police officer who killed Michael Brown wasn't indicted. It's easy to create your own bubble, wherever you're at. … Then something bad happens and it enters your bubble, like through social media. And you're like, 'Do I retweet this? Who do I donate to?' People were marching outside my house with Black Lives Matter signs – their reactions were so real. From that moment forward … I took a deep dive into myself and thought about what this meant to me, how I could contribute. That's what the whole record revolves around. … Private Energy is about sharing my reserve of power, my contribution. "
Hear for Yourself: In "It's My Brown Skin," Lange bakes his progressive political platform into a slow jam, served with love and solidarity. "There’s friends of similar shades/Of different ways," he croons, "Who feel the same way/Don’t ever forget them." Suzy Exposito
Sounds Like: Guttural dirges over a Nineties sci-fi film score
For Fans of: Florence + the Machine, Banks, PJ Harvey
Why You Should Pay Attention: The 24-year-old born Sarah McLaughlin hit the Top 10 of the rock and alternative charts this year with her passionate, fiery single "River." McLaughlin moved from London to Tokyo to Hong Kong all before she became a teenager. While in Tokyo, the culture and art of karaoke drew out her love for singing, and watching her dad sing Frank Sinatra inspired her to tackle big voices like Whitney Houston on her own. At home, she'd write and perform "very depressing, dark poetry" for her parents and sister, harnessing her songwriting talent for years until she relocated to Los Angeles at 18 to pursue a career in music full-time, which proved to be a more difficult journey than she anticipated. "It was definitely a difficult time in my life, but I'm so glad I did it." The struggle paid off: She recently toured with Coldplay and is prepping her debut album for an early 2017 release on Island Records.
She Says: Over the course of her nine-day trek with Coldplay, Bishop Briggs had the chance to hang with the band and even get a little advice from Chris Martin. "It was the last date [at Levi Stadium], and Chris came backstage and just sat with us for a moment," she recalls of their meeting. "I voiced to him that I was genuinely sad about leaving and he told me, 'It's okay. You don't want to be an opener forever.' It was ironic to have someone who really paved the way for alternative music tell me 'Do more! Aim higher!' when I'm like, 'But I'm here with you, Chris! I don't want to leave your side!'"
Hear for Yourself: The moody, synth-heavy "Be Your Love," shows that the soulful rocker has pop potential. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: Trent Reznor's workout mix: a lean, murderous blend of synths, samples, pained vocals and industrial rhythms.
For Fans of: Big Black, Youth Code, Agoraphobic Nosebleed
Why You Should Pay Attention: Street Sects vocalist Leo Ashline has turned a lifetime of distress, addiction and violence into an extreme-music triumph. Since 2013, he has collaborated with multi-instrumentalist Shaun Ringsmuth to create nightmarish noise, punk and industrial punchouts, playing strobing, molten shows around Austin. On their debut LP End Position – a title inspired by a lyric from Bonnie "Prince" Billy's "I See a Darkness" – more subtle layers reveal themselves. Amid the anarchy are moments of noir storytelling, black humor and satisfying breakdowns between pummelings. "[Shaun] and I have been through hell and worse together," Ashline says. "And although we have our differences at times, we have always supported and respected one another, as artists, and as human beings. I believe in him, and he believes in me. As corny as that sounds, it's a fucking rare thing to find, in any kind of partnership."
They Say: "I've always admired [Will Oldham's] ability to capture these seemingly grand and complex statements within a style that is very stark and spare," says Ashline. "He also blends humor, absurdity and even a sort of juvenile vulgarity into mature and poignant subject matter in a way that seems effortless. He's the rare kind of writer who can be hyper-specific while still giving his audience room to attach their own feelings and interpretations to his writing. His details are like clues to a larger story. He knows how to build myth and mystery around himself and his body of work."
"Before [Leo] and I started writing music together he had done vocals in a few hardcore bands," says Ringsmuth. "Not to say that the aim of Street Sects is to be hardcore, but there is a manic intensity to the music and lyrics that requires directness, and as a performer he's able to externalize an internal argument like few I've ever seen."
Hear For Yourself: "Feigning Familiarity" is a fatalist anthem that gradually increases in intensity to a final movement of blister-busting excess. Reed Fischer