After listening to tens of thousands of songs and being introduced to countless number of new artists and bands, today we share with you our 20 Favorite Hidden Gems of 2020. Ask us tomorrow, and our list likely will change. Not only did these artists grab our attention for the first time this year, they are also ones we will be watching closely for years to come. Each of them has the talent to be indie stars sooner rather than later.
Still a teenager, Alex McArtor is a star in the making, but not in the typical pop sense. Whereas many young artists inspire to be like chart-toppers Taylor Swift and Charli XCX, the Texas-born singer-songwriter is following in the footsteps of Lana Del Rey. Her smoky yet honeyed voice is eye-opening and attention-grabbing. Her songwriting, however, is what made us go, “Wow!” With “Biggest Fan”, which she wrote at 15, she showcased a maturity well beyond her years in describing the predatory nature that is condoned in the music industry. Meanwhile, “House On The Bay” dripped with youthful innocence, but it also offered a glimmer of hope for those living in darkness.
Ameliarose just has two tracks to her name, but the talented young artist is on the verge of blowing up. With “Vessel”, she demonstrated an ability like icon Fiona Apple to merge multiple genres into a captivating number. Her vocals are impressive, and the songwriting is spellbinding as she lays herself completely out there. The resident of New York City reveals herself to the world, sharing the loneliness, uncertainty, and depression that consume her every day. “Mosquito” focuses her lyrics on another as the song recounts a past relationship. The element of slam poetry adds something different and, after listening to Ameliarose, it would be very hard to forget her talent.
Although Maya Bon has been releasing music for a few years through her project, Babehoven, she first grabbed our attention earlier this year when she released “Only So”. The song was brittlely beautiful, paralyzing our senses with its stripped-back intimacy and emotional vulnerability. Her two 2020 EPs, Demonstrating Visible Difference of Height and Yellow has a pretty good reputation, were similarly knee-buckling, akin to the raw power of Angel Olsen’s and Lady Lamb’s early releases. The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter may never be a superstar in a commercial sense, but Bon is an exceptional artist who in a short period of time has left a permanent mark on our souls. She will do likewise to all those who open their ears to her quietly powerful music.
Baby Bulldog is the project of drummer Steph Barker, who has worked with a handful of artists, including Miya Folick and Kate Nash. However, as Baby Bulldog, she creates her own quirky, fun brand of pop-infused punk rock that’s full of chaotic energy. Just looking at the cover of her EP, Rodney, adorned with a photo of her trusty PT Cruiser, it’s obvious Barker had fun with the record. The EP gets its name from the aforementioned car, as does the title track, which is about struggling through relationships and love. She finds, however, something meaningful in an economical, compact retro-styled wagon. The whole EP is full of that amusing quirkiness, but its musical quality can’t be denied either. “I Rly Rly Like U” rocks hard, the build on “Lonely” is fantastic, and its drumming is incredible. Baby Bulldog’s wit, powerful voice, skillful drumming, unrestrained creativity, and five-door hatchback will take Barker places. It’s only a matter of time.
One should never use social media followers to determine any artists’ abilities. Bailey Crone is a perfect example, as the young Atlanta-based multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter does it all as Bathe Alone. She literally does it all, as she’s a one-woman band making dazzling dream-pop and dreamgaze that require three to six members to reproduce. With songs like “Calm Down”, “Curbside”, and “Limbo”, she demonstrated she can mirror Lush’s and Cocteau Twins’ ability to leave audiences breathless and in a state of bliss. Now what could she do if she had the support of a full backing band? In all likelihood, she would be signed to a great indie label (we must ask again, “How is she unsigned?”) and a burgeoning talent that the likes of Pitchfork, Stereogum, and NME would be gushing over.
We have an enormous soft spot for shoegaze, which has been fittingly described as the genre that just won’t die. One reason is that plenty of today’s young bands, many of whose members were not even born when the first reverb-drenched, crystalline guitar notes were heard, are rekindling memories of Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Chapterhouse. Some, like Boy With Apple, are making shoegaze sound even dreamier and more intoxicating. Consisting of Saga Fransson, Zara Henriksson, Tim Hedlund, and Arvid Boström, the Gothenburg-based outfit awed with the soothing “Green Eyes” and then swept us away with the cosmic “Iceage”. Given Sweden’s rich history of supporting independent artists and the foursome signed to VÅRØ Records, Boy With Apple could graduate as one of Tre Konor’s must-see and must-know bands.
Another artist who for a couple of years released music before we learned of her existence is Bryony Williams. From the central English city of Wolverhamptom, Williams grabbed our attention with the emotive and poignant “Dive” and then had us top-tapping and head-noodling with the engrossing rocker “Knockin'”. Her third EP, State I’m In, was similarly diverse. Regardless if she was strumming a melancholic, intimate number or ramping up the intensity, the focus of all of Williams’ songs were her hard-hitting and honest, and often brutally so, lyricism. When she sings lines like, “Engulfed by depression / It knows me better than my friends and family / Oh it’s clever, it hits me whenever”, we cannot help but think a young Fiona Apple is before us.
Liverpool has no shortage of great bands. Heck, the city is home to the greatest band in modern music history. Maybe one day indie rockers Courting will be mentioned on the same page as The Beatles. The quartet of Sean Murphy-O’Neill (guitar/vocals/cowbell), Sean Thomas (drums/vocals), Michael Downes (guitar), and Sam Brennan (bass), however, are not trying to imitate the famed mop-haired legends. They instead are creating their own musical blend, which weaves the clever and entertaining lyricism of a Stephen Malkmus while merging post-punk, Brit-pop, new wave, and ’60s rock ‘n roll into one delirious concoction. If “David Byrne’s Badside” could be considered over-exuberant new wave, post-punk, “Popshop!” is a head-bopping slice of off-kilter Brit-pop. Should the four Liverpudlians continue to make the odd and quirky accessible, they’ll not only become BBC Radio stalwarts but one of the UK’s great music exports of the decade.
Despite the name of John Edgar’s project, The Dawdler‘s music is anything but lagging or droning. Instead, it is gorgeous cinema, as the Newcastle-based singer-songwriter is able to turn sound into vivid images. Edgar’s latest EP, Sign of Growth, was a sonic and illustrative spectacle that encapsulated his incredible talents. The record’s title track, for instance, was an extraordinary trip to the outer reaches of the galaxy. Meanwhile, “Crocodile” felt like the most surreal dream coming to life. It felt like our timing was coming to an end, but a new chapter, a new life was about to begin. So few artists can make us experience multiple emotions and re-live different life events in an album, but Edgar does this in every one of his songs. Now signed to Akira Records, Edgar should soon be recognized as one of the UK’s tours-de-force.
Dry Cleaning are the perfect example of how hard work, perseverance, and diligence will eventually bear fruit. After buzzing around the UK indie scene for years, Nick Buxton (drums), Tom Dowse (guitar), Lewis Maynard (bass), and Florence Shaw (vocals) got their big break this year when they signed with 4AD. This development lines the London-based quartet for a massive 2021, as their buzzing and bopping take of post-punk spreads worldwide. They did catch our attention with their extremely intelligent, edgy, and infectious “Scratchcard Lanyard”, which was like Blondie collaborating with OMNI for a single. After hearing the song, we were left wondering why we had not heard of them before. Thousands if not tens of thousands of people will be saying this next year, especially if they end up releasing an album for their new label. Here’s hoping.
Washington DC’s Flowerbomb will release their first record, Pretty Dark, tomorrow. In the build-up to its release, the four-piece, consisting of Rachel Kline, Nat Brown, Dan Abh, and Charles Scheider, have released a handful of singles this year. As each single was released, they seemed to just get bigger and better – from the complex ride that is “sorry” to the immense feeling of “ii” to the attention-stealing qualities of “glass”. Kline’s voice conveys the raw emotion of Flowerbomb’s lyrics and complements the wide range of styles from which the band draw influence. Add in the incredible drumming heard throughout and the enormous layers of guitar and bass, and you have all the ingredients for a stellar debut record. They’ve remained a hidden gem all year, but it feels like they’re right on the edge of shedding that status with Pretty Dark‘s imminent release.
Liverpool’s Hannah’s Little Sister have offered us up some crazy, quirky, and upbeat tracks that cover everything from talking to0 much with “Bin Mouth” to living the life of waiting for the next paycheck on “Payday Junkie”. Last month, Meg Grooters (vocals, guitar, keys), Nina Himmelreich (bass, vocals), Ashley Snook (guitar, vocals), and Will Brown (drums) released EP.mp3, which exuded coolness in each and every song. “Chew” really shows that they would probably just blow everyone’s mind live with that killer outro. They seem super fun and would be the band you want to hang with after a show (if we actually did have live shows this year). We are hoping to hear more in 2021 and not have them take another two-year hiatus in between releases.
HANYA totally impressed us as soon as we heard “Texas” earlier this year. We aren’t sure why an English band is singing about the great state of Texas, but it caught our attention as we have a writer based in the Lone Star State. It was breezy and beautiful, as the lyrics speak of packing up and running off to some place new. Heather Sheret (guitar, vocal), Benjamin Varnes (guitar), Jorge Bela Jimenez (bass), Jack Watkins (drums) followed that up with the equally impressive “Monochrome”, whose warm tones and Sheret’s smooth vocals left us intoxicated. What will 2021 hold for this band? Let’s hope thing will hold them back.
Sometimes it takes an artist to do his own thing in order to become noticed for his expansive talents. The list is quite lengthy, such as Adam Granduciel parting from Kurt Vile and The Violators to found The War On Drugs. Kevin Morby and Mikal Cronin have established successful solo careers after performing with Woods and Ty Segall, respectively. Now, Joe Falconer is making noise with his project, Harpo Milk. The longtime Circa Waves guitarist has carved out a niche as a sensational singer-songwriter in the Jason Molina mould. His debut EP, Always A Party, is an absolute gem, featuring the sweeping title track, the urgent rocker “Swim Again”, and the majestically stunning “Glue”. For now, Falconer will stay under the shadow of his more popular main band. In the not-so-distant future, however, we foresee a time that they will share the same, large font on the marquee.
In a year we would like to forget, 2020 did announce the arrival of another powerful voice. It introduced us to Phillip-Michael Scales, whose uncle is the late B.B. King. But instead of playing the blues, the Chicago-based artist is traveling the same roads as Michael Kiwanuka, Gary Clark, Jr., Leon Bridges, Yola, and Algiers. He is, in other words, an artist who is genre-less, weaving a brilliant tapestry of retro soul, old-school R&B, and blues rock. Through his music, he has shared provocative songs about resistance, inequality, and being a black man in a white world. His soulful rocker, “Find a Way”, was a moving and inspiring tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit. The slow-building “Tell Me How I Sound Again” was a social reckoning, waking us up to the ongoing challenges before us. His voice must be heard not just now but for years to come.
We’ve all heard the saying that a certain someone put X town on the map. This statement will likely apply to Priestgate and the English town of Driffield. Already on the radar of a few UK sites, Rob Schofield, Connor Bingham, Bridie Stagg, Cameron Sampson, and Isaac Ellis continue to hone their sound, which they may have discovered this year. Their humble beginnings were drenched in experimentation, but their sole 2020 single, “Now”, showcased a band that new how to make Gothic rock into a stadium-sized experience. The song was like hearing The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen fused together, causing all the Goth kids to exuberantly dance and the hipsters to energetically brood. If this is the direction that the quintet are heading, the UK just might have its next great music export.
The quintet from Cardiff (Faye Rogers (vocals/guitar), Will Dickins (drums), Tony Williams (guitar), Josh Dickins (bass), and Teddy Hunter (keys) ) are making waves with their laid-back brand of dreamy indie pop. Rosehip Teahouse has what it takes to jump into the mainstream. It’s also undeniable the beautiful and captivating vocals we hear from Rogers, which reminds of Harriet Wheeler or Dolores O’Riordan. We were blown away with the first track we heard, “A Million Times” . Rosehip Teahouse has definitely been busy this year, releasing their EP Fine as well as Chillin In The Void. Any one of their tracks can be added to your weekend playlist where you are just needing to relax and unwind.
Most “new-ish” bands introduce themselves with one, two, maybe three singles. In the case of Malmö-based Spunsugar, they wasted little time to release their debut album, Drive-Through Chapel. The LP is the brilliant convergence of My Bloody Valentine’s escalating and jarring shoegaze, the Goth-rock of The Cure, and the pulsating darkness of Joy Division. A foreboding urgency, as such, bleeds across its 11 tracks, leaving everyone in its wake with a trembling sensation. Such a reaction is usually reserved for well-established artists, yet Elin Ramstedt, Cordelia Moreau, and Felix Sjöström have done exactly this. Their efforts, as such, have yielded one of the year’s most underrated records. It also has made them one of Sweden’s most exciting bands, who we anticipate will be sharing new tunes fast and furiously.
Even though Thrillhouse’s debut track was released in December 2019, we shared “One Of These Days” in January. We kind of get a pass since we weren’t publishing anything in 2019. It was an instant “repeater”, as the track couldn’t be listened to just once. Since then, the elusive outfit have released a total of seven tracks. The range of this emerging band is impressive as they are mixing and melding so many different styles from new wave, disco, and funk to ’80s-inspired rock. It’s been hard to pinpoint them sounding like anyone specific, as they are blazing their own trail. Come 2021, hopefulymore people discover this emerging talent.
Last year, Fontaines D.C. were the Dublin band everyone had to know, and the post-punk band followed that up with a cracker of a sophomore album (more of them another day). So who’s next in line? A few bands deserve mention, but one near the top of the list are TV People. Their single, “Nothing More”, offered everything you want in an indie rock band: dynamic tones, substance, and swagger. The follow-up, “String”, meanwhile, revealed a young but mature band that not only knew how to steal away people’s attention but to hold on to it. Here was an outfit that understood that a song can only truly make listeners shiver if the lyrics matched its brooding, spellbinding approach. Paul Donohoe (lead vocals, guitar), Len Rochford (rhythm guitar), Rob Kavanagh (bass), and Brendan Clarke (drums) are not just hidden gems; they’re also a band to watch in 2021.
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