We continue with our Favorite Hidden Gems of 2016 list, offering Part 2 of 2. As we mentioned yesterday, the list identifies artists who are on the verge of a breakthrough or who have the talent to be among the best. We tried to avoid naming musicians and bands who did experience a boom in popularity this year. Hopefully, this year’s choices will be among 2017’s biggest movers. Without further ado, here are the remaining 15 selections.
Ian Sweet (USA)
In 2016, Ian Sweet released their first LP, Shapeshifter. Ian Sweet truly are shapeshifters. Tracks like “Slime Time Live” and “All Skaters Go To Heaven” rock hard. Tracks like “#23” have a killer groove with really great guitar work. Medford’s voice is reminiscent of Karen O’s. It can be dreamy when it needs to, but dang, can it get loud! There are lo-fi tracks like “Pink Marker” and “Knife Knowing You” mixed in with perfectly produced tracks. Ian Sweet started as the solo project of Jilian Medford, and with the addition of bassist Damien Scalise and driummer Tim Cheney, on Shapeshifter, they have created a sonic aesthetic that is unlike any other. ~~ Rich
Lewis Bootle (England)
For those who like their music live, Lewis Bootle may not be quite fit the descriptions as a “hidden gem”. Having performed some 30 gigs through 2016 with a couple of appearances to come in London before the end of the year, Lewis is putting in the miles and the hours that mark him out as a serious performer. Bringing quirky originality to his urban folk fusion – put Ed Sheeran, Nizlopi and John Legend in a blender, the result might be Lewis Bootle – Lewis’s style is rooted in authentic, observational storytelling. There are tours of Scandinavia and Italy planned for 2017, which could well be Lewis’s breakout year. ~~ Flo
Central Jersey’s Lowlight has built a delightful version of hazy folk-rock (think a bit more of a grounded relative to Lord Huron) in their home studio/practice room in South Bound Brook, NJ. Their music is completely in service of the song, rather than certain instruments dominating or taking too much attention. Singer Renee Maskin’s immediate, unpretentious, focused sound is all you really need to pay attention to, as a mix of synth washes and simple Americana-style guitar leads provide a comfy bed for the lyrics to settle onto. These musicians are not newcomers to the scene, but 2017 should be a great year for them as they’ll definitely be touring their 2016 release, Where Do We Go From Here. ~~ Nick
Lucia Fontaine (Scotland)
One of our favorite artists to cite is Liz Phair and the influence she had on indie rock and indie pop over two decades ago. While many artists have looked upon her as inspiration, very few have embodied her musical spirit and no-nonsense, say-it-as-it-is attitude. Lucia Fontaine, however, could be the second-coming.
For a couple of years, Fontaine made a name for herself within Glasgow’s music scene as a great covers musician. It was only this year when she shared her first original singles, including the killer, reverb-filed “Lose My Mind” and the fuzzy bomb “Best Boy”. Her garage-pop / noise-pop blend is enrapturing, following somewhere between The Raveonettes and The Kills. However, don’t mistaken her music nor the song titles trick you in thinking she’s just another new musician singing songs about young people’s issues. Fontaine has a sharp tongue and tremendous wit, where the core themes are more relevant than you think. Sort of sounds like someone familiar, possibly one of indie music’s legends? ~~ Ben
Mal Devisa (USA)
Massachusetts artist Deja Carr – aka Mal Devisa – created one of the year’s most powerful records with her debut, Kiid. Power in more ways than one. It has a lyrical honesty, inspired partially by the Black Lives Matter movement among other social issues. Her voice has a raw power that is undeniable, especially when it soars and roars over a bass rumble on the track “Sea of Limbs”. When you combine the two, you have this package of just amazing music that is heartfelt and real. ~~ Rich
The Mindoor (England)
Patience rewards anticipation. The Mindoor‘s debut album has been six years in the making, courtesy of creative force and eccentric Brazilian rock god Davi Drak (guitar/vocals/keys). Alongside Davi are Daniel Callaghan (guitar/vocals), Remi Jalabert (drums), and Nir Kitaro, who is responsible for the towering vocal that characterizes their first release, “The Road”. It’s been a while since we’ve had such an unapologetically solid rock band to appreciate. 2017 should be The Mindoor’s year, just keep an eye on their Facebook page for the moment when they finally emerge into view. ~~ Flo
Ninet Tayeb (Israel)
If any of you read of the SXSW recap earlier this year, it’s no surprise Ms. Ninet Tayeb is on this list. Her onstage presence and energy commands everyone’s respect. She also gains our respect as a human being for deciding to go her own musical direction, even if it meant being ostracized from her native Israel. We embrace female rockers all day long in America, NINET so you know we would welcome you here with open arms.
Her mix of straight-up, electrifying rock mixed with world influences have us hooked. Soon, the rest of the world will get to understand our love affair, as her new album, NINET, arrives February 3, 2017. It can be pre-ordered here. With the current singles released so far from the new album (“Child”, “Paper Parachute” and “Superstar”), this could be her best material yet. (Well in English, that is as her other releases are in Hebrew). ~~ Wendy
PALM HONEY (England)
Every year, several rock bands from the UK unexpectedly emerge as breakout stars. There isn’t a formula per se; a band just needs to make memorable music (see Temples, Royal Blood, Wolf Alice, Eagulls, Blood Red Shoes). Our pick for 2017: PALM HONEY.
While a year ago they released their Tame Impala-esque debut single, “Bewitched”, it was their futuristic take of psychedelic-pop on “You Stole My Blackout” that caught our attention. Their next single, the anthemic “Bones”, made us realize the Reading quartet had some serious talent. Then came along “Stick The Knife In” – a hurricane-force rocker that swept us off our feet. The song displayed that PALM HONEY could not only make us feel hazy, but they could also make our hair stand on edge. It’s only a matter of time before everyone else discovers the sheer force that are Joseph Mumford, Harrison Clark, Sebastian Bowden, and Ayden Spiller. ~~ Ben
The Pennsylvania-based Petal is the project of songwriter Kiley Lotz. However, their status as a hidden gem is in jeopardy, thanks to tours with bands like Pity Sex, PWR BTTM, Julien Baker, and Kevin Devine. Their 2015 record, Shame, is full of life and energy. At times, the LP rocks hard. At other times, it’s dreamy and emotional. Bring these two things together and you have one great record. It’s an album a lot of people missed out on when it was first released (including us — SORRY!!!), but it found more appreciation this year. With his buzz, it’s only a matter of time before Lotz and Petal truly break out. ~~ Rich
The Regrettes (USA)
What can we say except The Regrettes just totally kick ass. The LA-based quartet are blazing a trail already, and they have only been together as a band for less than a year. Frontwoman Lydia Knight completely impresses with her rockin’ attitude and stellar songwriting. And oh yeah, she’s only 16.
Their debut album Feel Your Feelings Fool! will be out in January. So far, we have heard an awesome mix of influences coming from Joan Jett, Karen O and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ty Segall, and King Tuff. Let’s also not forget the addition of ’50s and ’60s doo wop and surf rock in their sound, which is evident on on their latest single, “Marshmallow World”. One thing is for sure – they should definitely be on everyone’s list to see live if they end up touring outside of California. ~~Wendy
Seattle’s SGF is an intoxicating, electro-pop group that has spent the last few years playing all over Seattle and the West Coast. Their music inspires comparisons to various places in the north-midwest USA from the late ’70s to the early ’90s. There’s a heavy dose of classic Detroit house and obvious Minneapolis Sound worship. Frontman Ryan Batie’s chameleonic delivery can play many different roles: seducer, beggar, party MC, and balladeer, and they’re all engrossing and delightful. David Balatero and Rob Hanlon provide a prolific and endlessly variable soundscape for SGF. What’s really cool about these Seattle residents is that they’ve been providing their music song-by-song all year, using Bandcamp’s subscription system to keep fans engaged. In a world some people feel is post-album, SGF is a post-album band with a pre-internet sound. Subscribe to keep up with them as they groove into 2017. ~~ Nick
We shared a track earlier this year by indie-rock trio VVELLS , and at that time all they had was a SoundCloud account. Luckily now there is a Facebook page, and we know a tad bit more about this talented band. VVELLS is a new project by members of Sillyboy and Fever Kids. The Athens-based band impressed us with their track “Green Lights”, which was an amazing mix of shoegaze along with a bit of psych-inspired indie pop and a really funky bassline. “What is Real”, which is above, further captivated us with its dreamy psychedelia. Can they sustain the momentum in 2017? We’re betting on it. ~~Wendy
Wolfie’s Just Fine (Canada)
Jon Lajoie – the Canadian comedian, actor, and internet celebrity – is better known the comedy series The League than as a serious, introspective folk singer who performs as Wolfie’s Just Fine. But the release of his debut album in April has lots of folks changing their minds about him. For starters, the songs on I Remembered But Then I Forgot are, quite simply, well-crafted works. Here you’ll discover tales of murder and unrequited love – without a punchline.
Wolfie’s Just Fine creates audio escapism through storytelling that’s on par with Damien Jurado or Radical Face. In a year marked by surprises and disappointments at every turn, it seems fitting for a comedic performer to reveal his dramatic side. Lajoie does just that on his debut album, to the delight of fans both old and new. If you’re inclined to send a “Merry Christmas (exclamation point!)” text this year to friends people you know, consider adding a link to this impressive LP. ~~ Hollie
A fresh sound blew out from Arizona in February with the stunning debut from psychedelic, cumbia, indie-rock outfit XIXA. No other album this year has produced the same hallucinogenic rush as their Bloodline LP. XIXA (pronounced “she-shah”) includes band members directly associated with Calexico and Giant Sand, which explains some of the stylistic overlap. But what you hear – especially on “Dead Man” – is a unique sound all their own, one that’s warm as a Sonoran Desert sunset. This is another example of audio escapism that was prevalent this year: each listen transports you to another realm, letting you press pause on your own life as you bask in the rich soundscape they create.
They’re still early enough in their career album-wise to be considered an emerging talent, despite being one of the leading bands in Tucson. The dusty brilliance on display here has us convinced that 2017 will be a huge year for these guys. ~~Hollie
With the events of 2016, the next year and beyond promises to be filled with protest songs, which makes the future awfully enticing at least musically. London-based quintet Yassassin, however, have a head start on the pack. In 2016, they released two of the most poignant and brutally honest songs of the year with “Social Politics” and “Pretty Face”. Combine the thoughtful and timely lyricism with a rock style that ranges from Le Butcherettes’ blistering rock to Sleater-Kinney’s full-throttle riot grrrl, 2017 could be the year when Anna, Joanna, Moa, Raissa, and Ruth are recognized alongside these giants. But more importantly – and as we said just a month ago – Yassassin is the type of uncompromising band of which the word needs more. ~~ Ben
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