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: Echosmith's sun-stroked angst-pop, Amanda X's lo-fi chug, Deorro's booming house and H09909's art-hop wig-out.
Sounds Like: Teenage daydreams inspired by new wave angst and California sunshine
For Fans Of: "If You Leave" and other aching selections from John Hughes soundtracks, Paramore's "Last Hope," Fleetwood Mac circa Mirage
Why You Should Pay Attention: Made up of four siblings — Graham, Jamie, Noah and Sydney Sierota, who range in age from 15 to 21 — this Los Angeles outfit has been garnering notice for their tireless touring schedule and their breezy yet downcast anthems. Lead vocalist Sydney has a gentle and firm voice that gives even peppier tracks like the bright "Talking Dreams" a wistful end-of-vacation feel. This past summer, Echosmith played the main stage of the Warped Tour, which helped propel them to the upper reaches of the iTunes singles charts. They're touring as part of the Honda Civic Tour with American Authors in October and headlining a short run of club dates in November.
They Say: "We all, as a family, would go through a record we loved and played it till we got burnt out on it, like Fleet Foxes' self-titled album and Hot Fuss by The Killers," says guitarist Jamie. That all-for-one ideal has persisted: "[Our songwriting process] is very collaborative and everyone plays a part in it," says Sydney. "The inspiration for our songs comes from our perspective on love and adventure in all its forms. 'March Into the Sun' is about worrying [over] the end of the world and living life with purpose." Adds drummer Graham: "Any of us can come up with a melody or lyric. It's fun!"
Hear for Yourself: Echosmith's breakout single "Cool Kids" is a back-to-school-season anthem for those feeling disaffected by their peers. By Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: A dream-journey through Los Angeles singer-songwriter history in a phenomenally well-stocked guitar shop
For Fans Of: Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Fiona Apple, Van Dyke Parks, the Laurel Canyon sound
Why You Should Pay Attention: In high school Mills formed a band named Simon Dawes with Taylor Goldsmith, who renamed it Dawes after Mills bailed. Since then Mills has become a triple threat: an in demand sideman/session-man (Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams), a producer (Sky Ferreira, Conor Oberst), and a singer/songwriter. His second album, Heigh Ho (released on Verve), features assists from Apple, Jon Brion, Don Was, and other admirers — of which he apparently has many. He's collaborated with Danielle Haim; indie-rock philosopher Will Sheff of Okkervill River has heralded his writing; and no less than Eric Clapton called his guitar skills "phenomenal." He's currently in the studio with Alabama Shakes, producing their second LP.
He Says: "I was working with Jakob Dylan, and he brought by a couple of his dad's old guitars," recalls Mills, 27, of a recent session. "I was playing this Sixties sunburst Telecaster with a white pickguard; it had this really strange, almost broken sound. And while I was holding it, Jakob pulled up a video on YouTube of Bob playing that guitar with the Rolling Thunder Revue, in a turban, doing "Idiot Wind." And I'm sitting there playing along with the video, on the same guitar, just geeking out — total nerd goosebumps."
Hear for Yourself: "If I'm Unworthy" has a quicksand groove and junkyard-transformer guitar howls. By Will Hermes
Sounds Like: The assertive, masculine seriousness of Chicago drill rap, but with poetic lyrics, neo-soul beats and a considerably different moral outlook performed by a 6'5" baritone whose voice reverberates with no-nonsense authority.
For Fans Of: Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa
Why You Should Pay Attention: Chicago is a very competitive hip-hop scene in 2014, but even as saturated as it feels, Jenkins stands apart. His latest record, The Water(s), is a strong, cohesive album, and the rapper will be spend this fall opening for Method Man and Redman on the Smokers' Club tour. Jenkins was inspired by the rap style of Andre 3000, the sensibilities of Little Brother and the music his parents raised him on: neo-soul and gospel. He moved from Alabama to Chicago when he was a kid, and after adjusting to the culture shock, began to find his way into hip-hop. Jenkins' unique lyrical style was honed studying and performing poetry through Young Chicago Artists and the city's Harold Washington Library Lyricist Loft project — the same hothouse that has bred any number of stars, from Chance to Vic Mensa to Saba to No Name Gypsy, all of whom have collaborated with Mick.
He Says: Mick is a man of many influences, and a lot of them tend to be outsiders, those who take a hard look at authority and social norms and suspect something isn't quite right. Perhaps the most unexpected example is a Newbury-award winning young adult novel. "The Giver is definitely my favorite book," says Jenkins. "It's a younger read but that shit shaped — the movie just released, and when I go back to it now, there's just a lot of parallels in the way that society tries to keep people closed off. The Giver is just a perfect metaphor for real life." So what was he trying to get across with The Water(s)? "There was no hard concept or one message to receive," he explains. "There's a lot of different topics that I touch on throughout songs. I just want people to think differently. It's not a one-listen project. You need to go through that front to back a couple times before you can really assess it. That process just makes me people think."
Hear for Yourself: The entire record is a piece, and the way his intense lyrics balance with the album's overall relaxed vibe makes the most sense when heard together. But "Dehydration" stands out as a dramatic highlight. By David Drake
Sounds Like: Wild Flag singer Mary Timony tearing up all the magazines in Fugazi's "Waiting Room"
For Fans Of: Guided By Voices, Speedy Ortiz, The Woods-era Sleater-Kinney
Why You Should Pay Attention: Guitarist Cat Park, bassist Kat Bean and drummer Tiff Yoon met while kicking around Philadelphia's D.I.Y.-friendly Kensington neighborhood and created Amanda X living in their beloved warehouse home, Big Mama's. The band, named after an obscure Simpsons reference, recorded their first EP, Ruin the Moment, a mere five months after playing together for the first time in 2012 — they've since opened for Marnie Stern, the Dum Dum Girls and Parquet Courts. Their debut album, Amnesia, spins despair into defiance with a surprising arsenal of post-punk hooks, high-velocity drums and a secret love of Enya. Best of all, the reverb is scaled back to keep the vocals untouched. "There are moments of emotion — grit and teeth gnashing — that we wanted to be present on the record," says Bean.
They Say: "There's always one person after every show — I always want it to be a girl, but it's always a dude — who says, 'Sick Hendrix style, I'm surprised you can do that,'" said Park, on playing her guitar upside-down. "Then they tell me about their friend that does it, and I'm like, 'I'm never going to remember that or meet your friend.'" Bean added that at their last Brooklyn show, "There was a guy over by the merch table who was like 'Your set was really adorable,' and I was like, 'I want to hurt you.'"
Hear for Yourself: Park's guitar opens the door to "Dream House," a song about maneuvering through a difficult relationship. When Bean sings, "Is it all for nothing?" her soprano grows guttural, like she's desperate for light in a room full of boarded-up windows. By Sarah Grant
Sounds Like: Dance music that's hard but not aggressive, blunt but full of nuance
For Fans Of: The musical side of Steve Aoki, the spine-shaking side of Martin Garrix's "Animals," main stages everywhere
Why You Should Pay Attention: Growing up in L.A., Deorro (then Erick Orrosquieta) was reggae-obsessed kid who could play piano, guitar and drums. Reggae, however, led him to jungle, jungle led him to hardstyle and now, barely five years later, he's one of EDM's rising stars, down with everyone from electro-cumbia trio 3BallMTY to genre headliners like Tiësto and Aoki. His tracks — constructed not from live instruments or pre-fab samples but his own manipulated vocal recordings — feature unusual filters and witty transitions that stand out in just about any DJ set.
He Says: "I started listening to EDM when was 16 years old, because with Limewire and iTunes it became a lot easier to venture out into different kinds music. It really caught my attention — I was like, 'This doesn't sound like guitar! This doesn't sound like a drum set!' I was so curious, so I asked some people at Guitar Center and they told me it was created on software. Ever since then, I went straight EDM."
Hear for Yourself: "Five Hours" twists and turns but never loses its funk-inspired groove.
Sounds Like: The Geto Boys clashing with the Big Boys in a hardcore/horrorcore chainsaw fight
For Fans Of: Death Grips, clipping., Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Atari Teenage Riot
Why You Should Pay Attention: Eaddy and the O.G.M. of New Jersey's Ho99o9 (pronounced "horror") live at the intersection of hip-hop, punk rock and screaming the body electric — their high-octane 30-minute slot at New York's Afropunk Festival in August had them crowdsurfing, spitting, blowing fuses, smashing mikes against their foreheads, playing Bone Thugs' creep-out classic "Mr. Ouija" and rapping over a Dead Kennedys sample. The duo had loved hip-hop in their teens, but fell into punk after hitting up Brooklyn underground shows by bands like Japanther, Cerebral Ballzy and the Death Set. "We've been to a million rap shows and we've been to punk shows. And a lot of rap shows, come on, everybody's just fucking standing around," says Eaddy. "When you get on stage, you gotta fuckin' wig out like you just snorted a line of fuckin' heroin. You gotta make people uncomfortable."
They Say: "I get really drunk and get crazy. A little bit psychopathic," says Eaddy. "I might pull my dick out. It's made some appearances." Though it didn't show up at Afropunk, their antics did include hopping on a cameraman's shoulders and flicking spit into the photo pit. Do they hate being documented? "It's cool, cause if I kick a cameraman or spit in his face or throw my dick on his forehead, my kids' kids' kids' kids will know about it," says Eaddy. "I want them to be like, 'You see your great-grandfather? You see what he used to do?' I'd just have a portrait of me, 20 years from now in my kids' place with me with my dick out. And every time they walk in, they go, 'That's a legend on the wall.'"
Hear for Yourself: This performance of "Blacc Flag Into the Unknown" live at Afropunk 2014 gives some taste of their live insanity. By Christopher R. Weingarten
Sounds Like: Sweet, sun-drenched folk-pop with a sparse, moody lyrical edge — and the Rick Rubin Production Seal of Approval
For Fans Of: Of Monsters and Men, Damien Rice, Feist, the Civil Wars
Why You Should Pay Attention: America is behind the times on this brother-sister duo: They’ve been an award-winning, Number One-record-holding, bonafide established act in their native Australia for almost seven years. But when songwriting for their follow-up to their second LP, 2010's Down the Way, stalled, the duo went their separate ways as artists and kicked off critically-lauded solo careers. That was supposed to be that until Rick Rubin called them up and admitted to being a fan. Since few musicians would hear Rick Rubin calling and not pick up the phone, Angus and Julia began working on their long-awaited third full-length as a duo, which they released earlier this August. Single "Heart Beats Slow" has been gaining steady momentum for months, and the rest of the record is so accessibly catchy-yet-layered that it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on.
They Say: "Before this record, Angus and I didn't really have any intention of collaborating again," says Julia. "We were really happy as solo artists. And that's what made it so crazy when Rick Rubin contacted us out of the blue. We started hanging out with him and getting to know him without any thought to it, and then four months into that he said, 'I really want to make a record with the two of you.'" Adds Angus, "He's kind of like the Wes Anderson of the music world. He's very humbling to be around. He'll bring up some story about a guy he's worked with, just talking about it like it's anybody you'd know, and then you find out he's talking about Johnny Cash."
Hear for Yourself: "A Heartbreak" is the perfect example of their songwriting style: California folk-pop that sounds sweet until you realize they're singing about how your home life is a lie. By Cady Drell
Sounds Like: Generation Y travels back to the future through hip-hop's second golden age
For Fans Of: Joey Bada$$, Madvillain, Ka
Why You Should Pay Attention: Despite turning 18 in August, Bishop Nehru has already drawn the attention of hip-hop's thought leaders. A widely circulated Fuse TV clip shows Kendrick Lamar giving praise to the young MC whose stage name refers the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who he admires for helping spread Gandhi's message of non-violence. Nas' new label Mass Appeal Records is in contract talks with the Nanuet, New York artist that writes cold flows for viral consumption, loops head-nod tracks from stacks of vinyl and directs his own YouTube videos. He has released an EP, Brilliant Youth, with 9th Wonder and Dizzy Wright, and September 23 brings NehruvianDOOM, a full-length album with the eccentric verbal mastermind MF Doom. Much of Bishop Nehru's sound is firmly in the current vogue for Nineties butter beats, leading to comparisons with other boom-bap revivalists like Joey Bada$$. But he has broader ambitions, too. Earlier this year, he toured with UK pop-house duo Disclosure and collaborated on a single, "You Stressin'." Meanwhile, his Bandcamp page features a remix of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy." "I like all kinds of music — rock, pop, alternative rock. I think that you gain a musical ear from being open," he says, adding that he wants to make a jazz record as well.
He Says: "Meditation is something I do frequently," he says (the first single from NehruvianDOOM is titled "Om"). "For me, meditating isn't a religious thing. It's just breathing. If you think about it, it's one of the most essential things to life. I felt like the fact that we don't cherish our breath enough is the reason why I meditate. I'm not really into religiousness, but I am into spirituality and God himself."
Hear for Yourself: On "You Stressin'," Bishop declares himself "the master of the 16 bars" over Disclosure's dubby glitch-hop. By Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: Heart-felt soul crooning atop songs that lie somewhere between blues, R&B, hip-hop and electronic pop
For Fans Of: Justin Timberlake, Mayer Hawthorne, Gorillaz
Why You Should Pay Attention: Frost, 22, was a wayward musical soul in his hometown hotbed of Austin, playing in blues and roots bands and collaborating with hip-hop artists before he dropped out of college to focus on solo material. "White Lies," an up-tempo dance-pop number that's super-sized hooky like Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" or Pharrell's "Happy" set music blogs afire with no promotion when it was independently released last spring — Atlantic Records won the subsequent bidding war to sign him. The label released his Low High Low EP last year, with another EP due in November and a full length — which sees him embracing a wide creative palette alongside collaborators like Jeff Tweedy and Benny Blanco — due for release in 2015.
He Says: "I was in a slump after South By [Southwest] 2013 because my instruments and two years of music got stolen with a hard drive in a backpack that got taken. I'd lost everything I'd ever made. Then this blog picked "White Lies" up off of SoundCloud, and then more kept picking it up. I learned about this because I still had my email set up to get a notification every time someone downloads the track. I woke up one morning and I was like "Why the fuck do I have 1,000 emails on my phone?" We were caught totally off guard as the song was taking off. That's when the phone started ringing and we started getting flown to L.A. But here I was about to sign a deal and I had no other songs to show them, and no choice but to move forward. The first EP was old songs I'd had to completely rework."
Hear for Yourself: "White Lies," the song that lit the fuse on Frost's career, starts out with a singer-songwriter strum and then hops on board a beat that chugs it's way straight to the dance floor. By Chad Swiatecki
Sounds Like: Thin Lizzy on an ayahuasca bender, helping to reclaim the positive connotation of "busy guitar work"
For Fans Of: MC5, Lungfish, Autolux, Silversun Pickups
Why You Should Pay Attention: After issuing two LPs with singer/guitarist Hans Zimmerman in the producer's chair, the Young tapped an outside helmsman — Tim Green, late of Nation of Ulysses — for newly released third album Chrome Cactus, the band's second for Matador. The aesthetic fit turned out to be an inspiringly snug one: Green — plenty practiced at exploring brawn, atmosphere and unbound noodling — helped the Young wrap up an album that blends those sensibilities impeccably, never leaning muddy or masturbatory. And for Zimmerman, the switch was a welcome change. "We needed something bigger and more full range, so heading into a proper studio seemed natural," he says. "Removing that layer of stress — worrying about mic placement or what's going to tape — meant I could just focus on the performance and lock in with the guys."
They Say: An August cover of hometown pub The Austin Chronicle dubbed Zimmerman "a new guitar hero," but the praise doesn't exactly seem to be inspiring an ego emergency. "It was a nice bit of copy, but I don't really view myself that way at all," Zimmerman says. "There are plenty of peers in town that I would nominate for that title before even tossing my name into the mix. For every nice thing someone says about me or the group there are just as many tripping over themselves to diminish what we do. Good or bad, it's kinda just noise to us."
Hear for Yourself: Chrome Cactus opener "Metal Flake" has a muscular growl, chug, swirl and squall. By Nicole Keiper