It’s Christmas Eve, and everyone is anxious to unwrap the gifts that sit idly under the tree. There will be plenty of surprises on this day, which is the perfect time to unveil the bands and artists who we met for the first time this year and left us astonished. Hopefully one day, our 20 Favorite Hidden Gems of 2018 will become sensations across the globe.
Ariel Beesley (Los Angeles, USA)
The ’80s gave us new wave and synth-pop. It also gave us Ariel Beesley. Well, not quite, as the Los Angeles-based artist was born in 1995, but her music shouts that of a child that grew up with big hair, wearing leotards and neon-colored shirts, and endlessly watched John Hughes movies. Her debut single, “Slower Than Usual”, bubbled with the infectious qualities of Cyndi Lauper yet possessed a modernity to it. She followed that with the euphoric “Awake All Night” and the groovy intimacy of “Love Me Better”. Could we witnessing the next Madonna emerging right before our presence?
Now if the singing career goes sideways for some unexpected reason, her ability to craft relatable yet imaginative stories will serve her well in writing screenplays. So maybe she’ll be the next John Hughes instead. Either way, Beesley’s name is one we will hear for years to come.
Black Doldrums (London, England)
We’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating again – very few bands can match the intensity and ferocity of Black Doldrums. What is even more impressive about the sonic fireworks that come from the darkgaze, psychedelic-rock, post-punk outfit is that they are just two people. Specifically, Black Doldrums are singer and guitarist Kevin Gibbard and drummer Sophia Lacroix, and yet they unleash tidal waves of noise à la Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and A Place To Bury Strangers. Throughout 2018, they released songs that always made us exclaim, “Fuck yeah!”, such as “People’s Temple”, “Those With A Rope Around Their Neck (Don’t Always Hang)”, and the absolutely epic “There Is No Eye”.
The duo’s new EP, Sad Paradise, is coming via Club AC30. This is a band that must be seen live (but bring earplugs!).
Bootchy Temple (Bordeaux, France)
Forget the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, fondues, soufflés, and bonbons. If you’re planning to go to France, go for its burgeoning music scene, particularly in the psychedelic spheres. One band at the forefront of the country’s musical renaissance is Bootchy Temple, who in the autumn released their new album, Glimpses, is on Howlin’ Banana Records.
They are the descendants of fellow French psych-rock duo The Limiñanas with splashes of Wooden Shjips and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. In other words, they are crafting songs that are immensely hazy and delirious, such as on “Lady Sunshine” and “Nail’s Ward”. Martinez, Paul, Sam, Luc, Lucas, and Greg are also heavily influenced by The Doors, where they can make psychedelic sound like a romantic breeze, as revealed on “The Man With The Cane”. Pretty soon, they won’t be imitating anyone, but rather others will be trying to replicate their groovy and trippy sound.
Claire George (Los Angeles, USA)
It’s probably not out of line to say that Claire George came out of nowhere this year to become one of the year’s best DIY stories. While the LA-based singer-songwriter and minimalist synth-pop artist has been off-and-on creating music for over four years, this year she fully dove into her musical project and released her debut EP, Bodies of Water. Originally, it was going to be self-released until Cascine jumped in at the last minute and agreed to distribute the record. Since then, George has opened eyes and ears of many while leaving mouths agape with the beauty of her music.
The intimacy of “Where Do You Go?”, the aquatic sensation of the engrossing “Orbits”, and the jittery exhilaration of “Second Guesses” (which features George’s best vocal performance) showcase a young woman with the talent to rise to indie stardom like Maggie Rogers. All she needs, however, is get Pharrell Williams to hear her music and proclaim he has once again heard indie-pop’s future.
Fishing In Japan (Dallas, USA)
Fishing In Japan have only been creating music together for the better part of 2018. The band uploaded their demo “Constantinople” on SoundCloud and have already garnered over 10k spins. They also recently played at a rally for Beto O’Rourke in Dallas before the election back in November. The amazing part about this band is that most of the members are still in high school.
Fishing In Japan’s sound is melodic indie-pop that is quite addicting. So far they’ve only release one EP, All This Time and a handful of singles. “Here For You” is an uplifting track that offers support for anyone that might be struggling. Their most recent single “Salieri” takes it down a notch with a bit more of a serious tone. Even though some of their lyrical content ranges from lighthearted to a bit more of a serious tone, their overall sound does elicit a feel good vibe. It will be interesting to see what the talented quartet will come up with in 2019.
Fishing in Japan are Wolfgang Hunter (vocals/guitar), Landon Headstrom (guitar/synth), Matthew Luna (drums), and Dante Zatto (bass).
Fur (Brighton, England)
Brighton-based Fur are not a new band. They’ve been around for a good three years, and their first three singles were viral hits. We, however, have only started paying attention to Murray, Harry, Tav, and Flynn this year, and just in time. On Valentine’s Day 2019, they will release their self-titled, debut EP via Nice Swan Records (pre-order it here). If their initial singles were clues as to what to expect, we’ll be in for a jukebox treat.
The quartet are reviving classic rock, specifically the music of the ’50s and ’60s. Their songs would be perfect for Happy Days or maybe a future Quentin Tarantino movie soundtrack (Pulp Fiction 2?) – numbers that get the hips wiggling and the toes tapping like “Angel Eyes” and “What Would I Do?“. If you dive a little deeper into their music catalogue, they also craft the perfect slow dance tunes (check out “If You Know That I’m Lonely”). Hmmm… maybe we’ll have to sign these guys for a house party one day.
Gaffa Tape Sandy (Brighton/Bury St Edmunds, England)
After catching Gaffa Tape Sandy at Truck Festival this year, their EP Spring Killing has been regularly played in these parts. The garage-rock band have been named “Best New Band” by a few outlets thanks to their fantastic live performances over the past year.
The Brighton/Bury St Edmonds-based trio have also been played some great support slots recently, but hopefully we’ll be seeing them on a headline tour in 2019 with their catchy and memorable songs. If you’ve yet to listen to Gaffa Tape Sandy, check out “Manager”. It’s definitely an earworm that you’ll be glad to have rattling around your head.
Gaffa Tape Sandy are Kim Jarvis (vocals/guitar), Catherine Lindley-Neilson (vocals/bass), and Robin Francis (drums/percussion).
Husky Loops (London via Bologna, Italy)
Husky Loops‘ experimental-rock sound sounds so familiar, yet it is also very much different to what you have heard before. The Italian-London based trio’s 2018 EP, Spool, has been very well received with the energetic track, “Everytime I Run”, getting a spot on the FIFA 19 soundtrack.
With a place on the SXSW 2019 line-up wrapped up, this next year should be a big one for the band, as they look to establish their name across the pond. They’ve got the sound and attitude to make it big, and their shows in smaller-capped venues are doing well. Maybe 2019 will finally be the year that Pier Danio Forni, Pietro Garrone, and Tommaso Medica explode and be one of indie’s breakout bands.
HMLTD (London, England)
HMLTD formed back in 2015, but they only hit our radar screens this year. And now, they’ve engrained themselves in our psyches. Formerly known as Happy Meal Ltd, the London-based sextet are charting a new course for glam rock and punk with their extremely outlandish live performances. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re watching the cast of a musical as lead vocalist Henry Spychalski dances his way around stage through their sets. There is almost certainly no other performer or performers around like HMLTD.
They’re going to be a big love or hate band, but that’s probably what the band will be trying to draw out of those watching. The music is like a mix of Bowie and Adam Ant, with real cool ’80s vibes in songs like “Proxy Love”. The experimental band were picked up by Sony Records in 2017, so expect to hear a lot more from HMLTD over the next few years, whether it’s love for their sound or dislike for their bizarre style. Either way, they’ll be great to get a reaction.
HMTLD are Henry Spychalski (vocals), James (guitar), Duke (guitar), Nico (bass), Zac (keys), and Achilleas (drums).
I’m Kingfisher (Lund, Sweden)
Back in February, we were introduced to Thomas Jonsson’s project, “I’m Kingfisher”, when he released “What Good Would Loving Do Me Now?“, and we were immediately hooked to his graceful and ambient alt-folk. It was, as we like to say, a First Impression to remember, as he reminded us of Damien Jurado, Iron and Wine, and The Tallest Man on Earth. More than one song, however, is needed to leave an everlasting scar, and Jonsson delivered and in a big way.
His debut album, Transit, which is out on Fading Trails Recordings, is filled with impeccable songs. The haunting broodiness of “Luck Underwhelms Me” is spine-chilling gorgeous while the fable-like “Sarajevo” is beauty at its most fragile. His music, as we once wrote, is a sort of refuge where you can be alone with your thoughts and emotions. It is escapism at its finest.
Nana Adjoa (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
In just over a year, Nana Adjoa has emerged as one of the Netherlands’ most exciting artists. It’s still early in her career, but her debut EP, A Tale So Familiar, revealed a young talent who expertly dabbles in multiple musical forms. She also has a sensational voice that changes with the type of music she plays, as it can be raspy, assertive, or soothing and mesmerizing. She is, in other words, like Neneh Cherry, who amazes with her multi-faceted and multi-genre compositions, poetic songwriting, and, of course, her stellar vocals. Now all she needs is a break-out hit like “Buffalo Stance”, and the entire world will know her name.
Never Betters (London, ON, Canada)
We’ll be honest – we are praise the higher order when a Canadian band goes outside the Canadiana framework and delivers rock music that reminds us New York City of the ’80s and ’90s or present United Kingdom. In other words, songs that feature smooth female vocals juxtaposed against the blistering and anthemic rock approach. One such band doing this are Never Betters, who fittingly come from London, Ontario.
Their most recent single, “Alone”, is an ultra-cool rocker. However, “Pictures”, which they uncorked in March of this year, epitomizes what the quartet of April, Danny, Davita, and Pat are capable of achieving. This is one of the great rock songs of the year, and it got us thinking the foursome could be Canada’s next great rock band. Forget think, we believe they can be if they continue down this track.
Never Betters’ debut EP, Guns + Roses’ Roses split w/ Grievances, is out now and available on Bandcamp.
The Ninth Wave (Glasgow, Scotland)
We admittedly were a little late to The Ninth Wave party, which is unusual given our adoration of Scottish bands and post-punk music. Then again, the Scottish outfit led by co-lead vocalists Haydn Park-Patterson (guitar) and Millie Kidd (bass) and includes Louise MacLennan (synths) and Lewis Tollan (drums) are still in their early ’20s and their careers are just taking off. The two EPs they released this year on Distiller Records – Never Crave Attention and FLESCH – are modern-day post-punk masterpieces with songs like “Swallow Me” and “A Wave Goodbye to the People Who Said I’d Win“ highlighting the respective records. What catches your attention is The Cure- and Joy Division-like wail and urgency of their sound and the unbridled honesty and poignancy of their songs. Comparisons to these two legendary bands have been earned, and the quartet can and hopefully will one day reach these lofty levels.
Otha (Oslo, Norway)
Two years ago, Othalie Husøy introduced her project Otha to the world with the song, “hey”. As quickly she appeared, she disappeared. We have no clue why she took an immediate hiatus, but in that time off she reinvented herself a bit. Instead of straight-up electronica, she delved into electro-pop. The transformation has made a few taste-makers, including ourselves, thinking that Grimes finally has a legitimate competition for the crown of electro-pop’s top star. “I’m On Top” and “One of the Girls” were not just bouncy, sensual, and addictive affairs, but they were also intelligent and socially poignant. So when she tells us to “move your feet out to the open space”on the latter, she’s not only encouraging us to dance. She wants us to stand up for who we are and get active, just like how the Norwegian artist is doing today and hopefully for years to come.
pizzagirl (Liverpool, England)
pizzagirl burst onto the scene this year, as he released cleverly written tracks about teenage nostalgia with a definite ’80s and ’90s slant. From the confines of his bedroom studio (AKA The Beatzzeria) in Liverpool, pizzagirl’s musical mind wanders through the decades and over the Atlantic. Capturing the wistful, romantic reminiscence and coming-of-age sentiment in classic Brat Pack-era films, it’s as though the Liverpudlian planted himself as a character in a John Hughes screenplay.
pizzagirl recently released his Season 2 EP, and it’s full of laid-back singles. “blossom at my feet, flower” is an awesome breezy love song that reminds of the beginnings of teenage love. “highschool” and “gymnasium” also take us back to those awkward days of attempting to fit in. pizzagirl has been a nice. Building on this theme, he also shared a holiday-inspired track, “Pizza For Christmas”, which is for anyone that might be spending the holidays alone. So if you’re home alone, let pizzagirl be your company.
Rascalton (Glasgow, Scotland)
There seems to be a plethora of new talented bands coming through Scotland at the moment, and Rascalton are one of the picks of the huge bunch. The Glaswegian punk-rock band will be one to keep an eye out for with their cool gritty sound.
Upbeat songs like “Told You So” from their 2018 EP, C S C, are helping them to stand out from the crowd. Their raw, explosive, and super-charged performances this year further helped separate them from the pack, and we guess their live gigs were a significant role in their invitation to play at SXSW 2019. So whether you live in Europe or North America, start preparing for the audio onslaught that is Rascalton, who are Jack Wyles (vocals), Steve Long (guitar), Mark Buchanan (bass), and Greig Taylor (drums).
The Slumdogs (Blackpool, England)
OK, we first heard about The Slumdogs back in 2016, but the Blackpool quartet took their gritty alternative-rock to another level in 2018. They unleashed windmill-worthy, fist-pump-inducing, witty tracks in the form of “Monsters” and “Cut the Conversation Short”, and both were like a mix of Queens of the Stone Age and mid-career Arctic Monkeys. Then with “The Legitimate Way”, they channel their inner Weezer. Where will Bobby Glaister (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Elliot Gasper (backing vocals/drums), Cam Redfern (lead guitar) and Will Easton (bass guitar) go next in 2019? Hopefully to the top of the charts or at least repeated play on BBC Radio as well as across college radio stations overseas.
To hear more from the band, check out their new EP, Where’s Your Sanity?, which is out on 25 Hour Convenience Store.
Tanners (Brooklyn, USA)
“Come with me and swim into my daydream. I can be your Jesus if you let me”, Tanner Peterson – or simply Tanners – lushly sings on “Holy Water”, which is the opening track to her sublime eponymous EP. With those words, she immediately cast a spell on all those who heard her ’80s-inspired, sultry, synth-pop, sultry way. She is, in other words, a mix of Debbie Gibson, Berlin, and Sheena Easton, where her melodies are dreamy and tantalizing and her saccharine voice is intoxicating. There is more, however, to the Tennessee-born artist than fantastic music. She’s quietly emerging as a voice for people who have struggled with their identity, as she exhibited on “This Crazy” and “Venus” and, in turn, as an indie music force.
Taylor Janzen (Winnipeg, Canada)
When a young artist can make your knees buckle like Julien Baker and Stella Donnely or get you rollicking with an old-school alt-country tune à la Kathleen Edwards, her future is undoubtedly limitless. Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter Taylor Janzen made us weep and excited with songs like “Stations”, “Waiting Room”, and “New Mercies”. Her excellent debut EP, Interpersonal, caused us to imagine her gracing the stages of not just the acclaimed Winnipeg Folk Festival. We can see her leaving the audiences at Newport Folk Festival and Pickathon completely silent and in awe of her brittle folk-rock.
We, meanwhile, are already in awe.
Yaeger (Stockholm, Sweden)
Hanna Jäger defines the term DIY. After graduating at one of Sweden’s leading music high schools, she unveiled her project Yaeger when she self-released “Now You Know” a year ago. While her catchy blend of pop, R&B, synth-pop, and electronica caught the ears of record labels, she has remained autonomous and independent. The decision has not hurt at all, as her second single, “Ocean”, became a viral hit.
This year, the 20-year old singer-songwriter, composer, and producer released two more addictive singles in “Dopamine High” and “I Need A:”. On the latter, she added videographer and director to her ever growing list of talents, as she and her cousin recorded, edited, and wrote the video for the song. So now the question is – what what else can Jäger do? We guess all that is left for this future Grammis Award winner is to get the rest of the world to notice her impeccable abilities. We’ll say it now – she’s the heir apparent to Robyn. Her talent and music are of that extraordinary quality.
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