H.E.R.’s identity is unknown to the public. The artist says that the mysterious persona she’s developed represents the closed-off state she was in when recording her debut album. And while “H.E.R.” doesn’t lack emotion, it does inspire in the listener a desire to shut out the rest of the world for a bit. H.E.R.’s music is so intimate that it feels almost sacrilegious to share it with anyone else. Relationships are the primary subject matter for the album, and H.E.R. mines her own experience masterfully, her slow-burning R&B ballads gliding through periods of bliss, despondent reflections, and aching wistfulness with equal ease. H.E.R.’s music is always understated, and elegantly so. Sumptuous production and leisurely rhythms back the artist’s soft croons, which are capable of conveying hope, indignation, or dejection with scarcely a change in tone. “H.E.R.” is best enjoyed alone, without any distractions, so that the intimate nature of the album can be fully appreciated and admired.
Favorites: “Avenue,” “2,” “Focus”
Similar to: dvsn, Kelela, Frank Ocean
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Bad Suns are masters at synthesizing 80s post-punk and modern indie rock. Their off-kilter synth-pop recalls 80s greats like The Cure, and Bad Suns’ lyrics evidently take cues from that brand of sentimental, introspective writing. The band’s spacious new wave is tempered with more substantial indie rock hooks, bestowing a subtle urgency on the meandering tracks and helping to make them even more anthemic. With their most recent album “Disappear Here,” Bad Suns are catchier than ever before, without drifting away from their signature ambient post-punk and indie rock sound. Bouts of frantic guitars segue into floating, untethered sections of desperate contemplation in a satisfying balancing act. The album feels its way through, each track posing questions and working through ideas, the build-up to urgent percussion or sudden cut-back to isolated vocals appearing as just another part of the thought process. Everything about Bad Suns’ music feels natural, even the catchiest bits ringing with honesty and the softer moments daringly soul-baring.
Favorites: “Daft Pretty Boys,” “Heartbreaker,” “Cardiac Arrest”
Similar to: COIN, Grizfolk, Pale Waves
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Formed in 2010, the original members of Night Riots met in middle school and began playing as a band in high school. After high school the band split up, but quickly reformed with a new drummer. The band self-released their debut album “Into the Roaring” in 2010, under the moniker PK, and have since released another two albums, with their most recent effort, “Love Gloom,” hitting shelves late last year. Though Night Riots’ discography is composed mostly of synths, it’s no surprise that the band count punk rock as a major influence. Their towering new wave sound is dark and extravagant, all plaintive vocals and shadowy ambience. On tracks like “Nothing Personal,” thick shoegaze, raw vocals, and ominous melodies give off a distinctive AFI feel. But unlike most punk rock, Night Riots’ sound blends together, the vocals melting into the brooding ambience, giving the whole affair a sense of mystery that is only compounded by the arcane lyrics. Listening to “Love Gloom” feels like wandering around a city at night, packed full of bright lights and emotion, with a healthy dose of mystery and uncertainty to keep things exciting.
Favorites: “Don’t Kill The Messenger,” “Nothing Personal,” “Oh My Heart”
Similar to: DREAMCAR, COIN, Midnight Divide
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Jacob Banks’ voice is seemingly designed to convey emotion as eloquently as possible. The power of his voice propels the songs forwards without hesitation, imbuing them with depth and passion. The sparseness of the songs reads as a strategic decision, Banks acknowledging that with a voice like his, instrumentals and ambience serve as emphasis rather than focus. Banks credits growing up in Nigeria (he moved to England as a teenager) with his use of heavy, foot-thumping beats, which only accentuate the singer’s tumultuous delivery and intimate lyrics. These forceful rhythms, fused with smooth R&B and electronic elements, result in a sound that just might be the future of soul. From the vulnerable, electro-pop lament of “Chainsmoking” to the defiant entreaty of “Unknown (To You),” each of Banks’ tracks is chock-full of grit and spirit, each new single more anguished and anthemic than the last.
Favorites: “Unknown (To You),” “Monster 2.0,” “Worthy”
Similar to: Kwabs, Rationale, RKCB
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Born Alexandra Ashley Hughes, Allie X began her career in Toronto, and later moved to LA to work fulltime as a songwriter. Soon after, she began releasing songs under the moniker Allie X, and gained traction with her sharp-edged electro-pop sound. And it’s no wonder why. Her tracks are fresh and buoyant, blowing through like a quick gust of fresh, sun-drenched air, but with added bite. The effortlessly catchy “Paper Love,” with its nonchalant whistling and gently-delivered lyrics like “oh, I cry until I just dissolve” establishes an alluring tension, giving the impression that Allie X is balancing on a knife-edge in order to maintain her outward composure. This dark-edged breezy pop has been Allie X’s style from the start. Her debut single “Catch” is a sparkling alt-pop gem with a satisfyingly accusatory undertone. From the beginning, the Canadian singer/songwriter knew what she wanted to convey: real emotion atop fairytale ambience, allowing the listener to indulge in the songs’ dark emotions with anthemic delight.
Favorites: “Paper Love,” “Casanova,” “Old Habits Die Hard”
Similar to: Ellie Goulding, Lights, EXGF
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The Wrecks’ debut EP was recorded over the course of three days, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to it. Their music tends toward the dancey and upbeat, but with a daring, tongue-in-cheek edge. The Wrecks infuse mellow indie rock with plenty of the rock ‘n’ roll spirit that’s making contemporaries like Greta Van Fleet and Goodbye June so exciting. The opening bars of “Favorite Liar” may be standard fare for indie, but things ramp up from there, and it quickly becomes apparent that The Wrecks have enough pace and youthful exuberance to fill a stadium. Frontman Nick Anderson has no trouble shouting “I don’t like you” repeatedly with a “Gives You Hell”-type self-assured vindictiveness. His lively delivery gives the listener the impression that every lyric comes along with a cocked eyebrow, daring you to disagree. Think the danceability of New Politics, the spirit of Greta Van Fleet, and the indie rock chops of Vampire Weekend, all rolled up into one audacious band.
Listen to: “Favorite Liar,” “I Don’t Like You,” “Turn It Up”
Similar to: 888, Half The Animal, New Politics
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LPX is the new solo project of Lizzy Plapinger, who is currently on hiatus from her role as frontwoman of the electro-pop duo MS MR. This is nothing like the gentle synth-pop of MS MR. Dropping the first single “Tightrope” this January, Plapinger established her new project as vivid, bold pop. The debut single showcased frantic, forceful vocals and boatloads of sheer emotion, and introduced her incredibly compelling, muscular pop sound with a bang. Since then, Plapinger has released more singles, each better than the last. On “Tremble,” throbbing instrumentals swirl and pulse, mirroring and magnifying the vulnerable sentiment behind Plapinger’s brutal, aching vocals. On “Slide,” the singer’s steely-yet-vulnerable vocals boom, anthemic, over fuzzed-out powerhouse-pop, just the right amount of vicious. LPX’s debut EP “Bolt In Blue” is set for release in January 2018, and is sure to bring even more of Plapinger’s fantastic self-proclaimed “pantone punk.”
Favorites: “Slide,” “Tremble,” “Tightrope,”
Similar to: SNOW CULTURE, MS MR, Donna Missal
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