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: Milky Chance's chill electro-folk, Joyce Manor's emo revivalism, the Canadian indie rock of Alvvays and a duo with most important response to "bro country" yet.
Sounds Like: Laid-back folk made propulsive by sparse and smart electronic touches, plus the occasional (and remarkably un-corny) reggae-ish upstroke
For Fans Of: Gotye, Citizen Cope, Junip if José González caught a wicked sore throat
Why You Should Pay Attention: Kassel, Germany-based bandmates Clemens Rehbein (vocals) and Philipp Dausch (production) pulled together their debut LP, Sadnecessary, over two low-key weeks at home with whatever tools they had laying around — computer, microphone, basic interface — and tossed single "Stolen Dance" up on YouTube with the expectation-equivalent of a shrug. Month later: 500,000 views. A little over a year later: more than 56 million views and counting; top-of-charts status in 14 countries; gold, platinum or double-platinum plaques from Austria to Australia; and a calendar that's bouncing them from the Montreaux Jazz Festival to Reading and Leeds. And they'll probably be in the States eventually: Sadnecessary is due for U.S. release in October.
They Say: Although Dausch and Rehbein aren't about to deny the attention-whiplash that comes with a viral hit, they're not in much of a hurry to dissect the draw of "Stolen Dance" — or worry about figuring out how to repeat it. "We can definitely still feel the buzz, and it's still overwhelming for us because everything happened in such a short period of time," Rehbein says. "The only thing we learned is that you can't predict anything. We started out of the living room and nobody thought we would come this far."
Hear for Yourself: It can't hurt to start with the strummy, YouTube-romancing "Stolen Dance" — the video for which puts a suitable spotlight on Rehbein's majestic hair. Though "Down by the River" might be an even more affecting representation of the way Milky Chance mixes melancholy and subtle danceability. By Nicole Keiper
Sounds Like: A light dusting of sugar and spice and everything nice over country hooks sharp enough to draw at least a few drops of blood
For Fans Of: Dixie Chicks, the Wreckers, Taylor Swift
Why You Should Pay Attention: No country single has been a hotter topic this year than Maddie & Tae's "Girl in a Country Song," the first major response to the "bro country" trend. Country radio made its majorly macho turn while Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye were finishing high school and cultivating a long-distance songwriting relationship through Skype sessions and road trips (Marlow was in Texas, Dye in Oklahoma). Less than a year after they moved to Nashville together, diplomas in hand, they and a co-writer dreamed up a riposte to a trend that was, by then, wearing out its welcome. Rushed to radio at the right moment, "Girl In a Country Song" cracked the Top 20 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and the music video — which makes an outrageous show of flipping the gendered script — is closing in on five million views. Timing's one thing, but the song wouldn't have turned nearly as many heads without the pair's savvy songcraft.
They Say: "When we get up onstage," says Marlow, "people are like, 'OK, we've seen this before: two blond girls. Probably gonna sing about love and boys and all this kind of stuff.' And we do get inspired by that and write about it. But there's a lot more to be said. The cool thing is, we're coming from a real place in everything. So no matter what we're discussing, it's definitely real." Adds Dye: "I think it makes all the difference in the world that we met and bonded so naturally. If someone were to put [a duo] together, you never know; the personalities could be too much alike, could be too different, and it just might not blend. But the cool thing with us is we were such good friends first. And then it turned into the songwriting, and then it turned into the singing."
Hear for Yourself: The artful sass of "Girl In a Country Song" has lyrics laced with clever call-outs, punchy vocal phrasing and loops that toy with the male-identified hick-hop sound. By Jewly Hight
Sounds Like: Twentysomething joy, excitement, doubt and disappointment expressed with precision and wit.
For Fans of: Camera Obscura, Belle and Sebastian, Orange Juice
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Toronto band's self-titled debut was the most-added album at college radio after its July release. It's full of impossibly catchy songs like the winsome single "Archie, Marry Me." "That's more of an anti-marriage statement than a pining necessity of getting hitched," explains singer Molly Rankin. "Just two kids without any direction, doing it on a whim in a courthouse, saying 'Who cares?' to everyone else who has all of their ducks in a row before settling down. It was the most romantic thing I could think of at the time."
They Say: Rankin and guitarist Alec O'Hanley wrote many of the debut's songs while she was working at a Toronto smoothie shop in the dead of winter, but "Archie" dates back to an earlier time when lived in a farmhouse on her native Prince Edward Island. "It was probably 30 kilometers away from any kind of establishment whatsoever, and it was the worst winter in PEI in probably the last 30 years, so we were surrounded by six feet of snow," she says. "We had a snowmobile to get to the road, but we ended up burying the snowmobile. I guess we were inspired by it being so bleak."
Hear for Yourself: "Adult Diversion" is an instant rush of jangly emotion. By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Sounds Like: Midnight R&B melodies intermingled with post-grime and post-Grimes beats — and a penchant for Fiona Apple
For Fans Of: La Roux, James Blake, Rihanna, the occasional acoustic ballad
Why You Should Pay Attention: Jillian Banks went from un-Googleable to unavoidable in early 2013 when the Soundcloud-osphere devoured her churning dance track "Work" and the breakup anthem "Before I Ever Met You." Managed by Trevor "Yung Skeeter" McFedries — whose turntable and industry résumé boasts Katy Perry, Spotify, Shwayze, and Steve Aoki — the 26-year-old Los Angeleno has since stitched up with U.K. synth-pop's next wave via collaborators like Lil Silva and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. After dropping the The Fall Over and London EPs Banks toured with despondent R&B royalty the Weeknd. Oft-photographed with her hair shadowing half of her face and vague in interviews, she keeps a heartbroken and fit-to-be-tied narrative mysterious on debut full-length Goddess, due September 9th. Enhanced by her frequent London studio cohorts, as well as Al Shux ("Empire State of Mind") and Justin Parker (Lana Del Rey, Rihanna), the album is a black sky dotted with pop fireworks.
She Says: On providing her phone number — (323) 362-2658 — to the public: "When I first started, it was my mission to answer everybody. I really did it, but now it's gotten harder. I definitely answer as many people as I can. I don't see myself ever getting rid of that number. Maybe one day I will. Even though I can't answer every person now, the people that I do, it's just an incredible way to connect to people who connect to your music. I think about growing up… If I were able to text Fiona Apple, and have her respond to me, I don't even know what I would've done."
Hear for Yourself: The Shlohmo-produced "Brain" begins as the tip of a cold, calculated iceberg that erupts into an avalanche — each line cutting deep as it flies past. By Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Anthemic soundtracks for classy conquest of the club, hygienic house music made in bacteria-free environs
For Fans Of: Disclosure, Katy B, Sam Smith
Why You Should Pay Attention: In a kind of pairing that happens bloody often in London, Matt Robson-Scott and Kye Gibbon came together over an affinity for the legacy of club music at its lushest and deepest extremes. House music in all its soulful, floating, weightless glory powered their formative 2013 single "Real," and since then the Gorgon City sound has been streamlined and buffed to an evermore immaculate shine. "Ready for Your Love," a skipping club banger with impassioned vocals by Brit belter MNEK, drifted toward the top of the UK charts earlier this year, and "Here For You," with throaty cooing by Laura Welsh, followed suit. Each of those three singles figures on Sirens, a debut album due out October 7 and featuring other prominent vocal turns by Katy B, Erik Hassle and Jennifer Hudson (yup), as well as songwriting support from Disclosure crony Jimmy Napes.
They Say: "At first it was a little bit random," Robson-Scott says of the name, suggestive of stone-faced menace and mystery (gorgons were snake-haired creatures in Greek mythology). "We were working with some reggae samples, and there's an reggae guy called Ninjaman whose alter ego is Don Gorgon. We made the connection to Medusa, and now it's turned into its own thing and we created a world around it. It's like an ancient Greek world with modern futuristic vibes: sunshine, beaches, people having good times with music, enjoying life — kind of like Ibiza but with history involved." As for a less idyllic but maybe more important setting, Robson-Scott says Gorgon City is jazzed by what's going on with dance music in America: "It feels like it's changed a lot in the past six months, with Disclosure on the charts and all over the radio. There's a feeling that people are getting it a little better now."
Hear for Yourself: "Unmissable" shows of all of Gorgon City's strengths, with a fleet house beat at work beneath a purring bass line and soulful vocals by Zak Abel. By Andy Battaglia
Sounds Like: Disappointment in two minutes or less.
For Fans Of: Jets to Brazil, Jawbreaker, Weezer
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Southern California punks recently put out their third album, Never Hungover Again, which showcases their aptitude for writing short but not-so-sweet Nineties-style emo. Songs like record's "Christmas Card" are so confessional and raw that they've gotten frontman Barry Johnson in trouble with his girlfriend ("Looking at your face in the dark/You don't even look that smart"), even when he says the songs aren't specifically about her. But regardless of their inspirations, the group's angsty yawps have earned them a place on this year's FYF Fest, upcoming gigs with Des Ark in the States in late summer and a European headlining trek this fall.
They Say: "I was surprised at how people would say, 'It seems like you're so angry and so sad and on the verge of suicide always. Are you OK?,'" Johnson says about the reception to his lyrics. "I just thought that was normal. I'm happy a lot of the time. It would be weird for me to write a song about all the good times we've shared. I don't know. It's just corny."
Hear for Yourself: The fast-and-furious 65-second salvo "Catalina Fight Song," which has a video featuring the band getting battered in a martial arts studio. "We're all scrawny, not-athletic types," Johnson says. "We were all just super, super sore the next day. I've never done anything like that. I've never been flipped like that… We only had, like, two hours, so we went from doing rolls on the ground by ourselves to being flipped in a matter of 30 minutes. It was fine but it was definitely scary. I think the people at the jujitsu school assumed we'd be more athletic, period." By Kory Grow
Sounds Like: A portable beach radio that's able to pick up and configure some of summer 2014's hottest trends — breakbeat diva house one moment, dancehall-touched R&B the next.
For Fans Of: Gyptian's slow jams, shows sponsored by streetwear brands, that three-volume compilation of unreleased Cassie songs
Why You Should Pay Attention: A former classmate of One Direction's Zayn Malik, Melissa Steel made her rise to Number One the old-fashioned way: Gig like crazy, write as many songs as possible and find an A&R who can put you on the right tune. "It sounded like something I would write," she says of that breakthrough hit, "Kisses for Breakfast," a track she loved so much that she recorded her vocals with a horrible infection rather than risk letting it pass her by. Now that it has topped her native England's R&B singles chart, Steel is looking ahead, recording songs for a debut LP, listening to as much music as possible and working, like so many of her generation, to become the next Aaliyah.
She Says: "I make R&B, but I'm putting my album together now and trying to keep the island feel infused as well — plus a little trap and drum-and-bass. I think it has a good vibe — energetic music, real music, very empowering to other girls. The other day I was in Topshop, and these nine-year-old girls came up and asked me for my autograph, which was really cute."
Hear for Yourself: Over handclaps, acoustic guitar and a simple piano melody, "Kisses for Breakfast" casually describes a love so passionate that even afternoon delight won't do. By Nick Murray
Sounds Like: Sitars, tablas, and Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil vocals recombine with spy rock, porn funk, and spaghetti-Western strings in a colorful, contemporary update of classic Bollywood maximalism
For Fans Of: Dengue Fever, Asha Bhosle, the Village People
Why You Should Pay Attention: Masked and costumed for maximum visual impact, this Melbourne-based 11-piece crew covered Bollywood hits like RD Burman's "Dum Maroo Dum" and Kalyani-Anandji's "Theme from Don" before evolving into a self-mythologizing song-and-dance spectacle unto itself. With each member assuming an iconic B-movie persona (the Lady, the Tiger, etc.), the Royale is fashioning an ongoing, open-ended narrative from video to video and album to album — Dr. Dre meets Dr. No on The Island of Dr. Electrico, their latest. Having played everywhere from Glastonbury to GlobalFest, the group hits the road in Australia with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings in September.
They Say: "We're obviously a Melbourne band playing in 2014," explains Bombay Royale founder-saxophonist Andy Williamson, a.k.a. the Skipper, "so we're not trying to sound like a Bombay band in the Seventies. At the same time, it's a love affair and we're having a good conversation with it." How do Western audiences take to the show? "I guess I always imagined beautiful female groupies. But at one particular Melbourne club there were four Skippers dancing together in the front row, which was fairly confusing."
Hear for Yourself: The Skipper abducts the Tiger and jets to Dr. Electrico's hideout in a cliff-hanging clip for "Henna Henna." By Richard Gehr
Sounds Like: MGMT if they were paranoid androids
For Fans Of: Phantogram, Phoenix, Ratatat
Why You Should Pay Attention: As of last summer, New York-born and Brooklyn-based musician Alan Wilkis was working in music licensing by day and making tracks on nights and weekends, self-releasing his electronic-tinged rock under his own name. At a friend's wedding, he met someone who worked in information architecture and kept talking about "big data" and the name stuck. A fortuitous meeting with Rochester, New York's Joywave led Wilkis and vocalist Daniel Armbruster to work on music together. Obsessed with how life in the internet age leads to paranoia and surveillance, Big Data also teamed up with designer Rajeev Basu to create Facehawk, an interactive music video that hijacks your Facebook account to the strain of the group's breakout single "Dangerous." Thanks to an extreme, trenchant and borderline NSFW video that's racked up over a million YouTube views, the song soared to the top of the Alternative Nation charts on Sirius and is now the Number One song on the Billboard Alternative chart. This month, they made their late night debut on Seth Meyers.
They Say: "On the 'Dangerous' video, we worked with a horror movie special effects guy whose trick to making something stuff look really gross is to put raw bacon on the surface," says Wilkis. "The first proper head explosion is covered with raw bacon with fake blood poured on it. The first girl headbutts it and gets bacon slime all over her. At video's end, they make out and the second girl was vegan and totally grossed out by the taste of raw bacon." A hit video also means that Wilkis has been traveling like crazy. "I've been on 11 planes in 13 days," he says. "I went to L.A. to try and finish the Big Data album. I also DJed in Vegas at a huge hacker convention called Def Con. I spoke on a panel to youth hackers, half talking about music technology and half about what my favorite hockey team was."
Hear for Yourself: Big Data's infectious, Facebook-hacking hit "Dangerous." By Andy Beta
Sounds Like: A half-remembered vision of the electronic Nineties; a foggy, slow-motion rave near David Lynch's Lost Highway.
For Fans Of: The Haxan Cloak, Boards of Canada, Wolf Eyes
Why You Should Pay Attention: 37-year-old Lee Gamble, raised in Birmingham but living in London, is of the first generation of U.K. kids to grow up with electronic music as popular music. "The alternative you had in the early Nineties was this fucking terrible Britpop shit," he says. "I'm definitely not walking around with a fucking parka on, driving a scooter and pretending I'm one of the Beatles. Fuck that." In turn, his music as an adult plays like forgotten, blurry, techno Rorschach text: the textures of vintage house and jungle used to create dark, claustrophobic, strangled thumps. His upcoming album KOCH, is his third album for PAN, currently the hottest art-techno label in the game. However, the fact that he's "of-the-moment" probably isn't much of a concern for someone contextualizing vintage sounds. "This idea of constantly pushing on and having new, new, new all the time. Is it possible to keep up with that as an artist?" he says. "Generally the stuff I tend to warm to seems to be stuff that's gestated, has a bit of time, has a bit of depth in it. When I DJ… it's nice to pull back and say, 'Look this record sounds like a record that people would go crazy for now, but it actually was made in '94. It's still only 20 years ago, it's not that old. It's not fucking Mozart."
He Says: "I kind of grew up as more of a raver. I don't think think I saw a band until I was about 25 — someone with a guitar onstage. I had some sort of weird aversion. I remember going to this one, it was on a boat, and it was [U.K. grindcore band] Extreme Noise Terror. And there's me standing in the middle like, I got a decent spot to watch; and then they start and then it just fucking goes mental, like mad moshing. I didn't know what to do, I never experienced this. Got right to the back and just stood at the bar. 'OK, This isn't like a rave.'"
Well, do you still go dancing? "Nah, I never did," he says. "I was always at the back. I was more going to the jungle clubs. It wasn't some white gloves, waving hands in the air and hugging each other. It was more, 'Heads down.'" You'd try to get the best trainers you could and the best jumper you could and not fuck 'em up. You wouldn't wanna be jumping around in some sweaty pit all night."
Hear for Yourself: The throbbing "Motor System" is like a Detroit techno banger as enjoyed from a toilet stall. By Christopher R. Weingarten