Just like breaking news and Instagram-fueled food trends, these days new music comes out at an almost alarming rate. It’s hard to keep up, and it can also be tough—despite what Spotify may want you to think with its endless new music recommendations—to find out about what good bands you should be listening to right now, before they get big (if you care about that). So we’re rounding up our best bets: the artists we think are doing something no one else is doing right now. Check them out—you can thank us when your friends start raving about them in six months, too.
Listen if: You want music that makes you feel less alone
Start with: “Oats”
Loneliness is embarrassing. Or so it is when expressed: The act of being alone is unavoidable, but the act of feeling bad about it is a cultural taboo to be hidden, a kind of personal vulnerability that has yet to be subverted into language of empowerment. That doesn’t weigh heavily on the songwriting heart of Charlie Pfaff, frontperson of Philadelphia’s Tall Friend. In fact, the act of being alone has always gone hand-in-hand with their creative process. (They prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns.) “I’m always having abandonment issues. I’m always feeling this phantom grief that all my friends are going to leave me or that no one really likes me. With songs, making it tangible—it’s cool to be making this record now because it’s a physical thing, proof that I survived this weird time in my life,” Pfaff tells me over the phone.
The band just put out their first full-length, Safely Nobody’s, last week via Exploding in Sound Records. Much like on their praised 2016 EP, Tawl Friend, Pfaff’s intoxicating sincerity drives the material on the new record—partnered with intricate songs of plucky observation. (“I was playing baritone guitar so it was a little quirkier,” they reveal of the EP.) This time, its minimal construction holds a new weight. Their first single, “Oats,” follows the form with a few surprising gestures—math-y riffs make for atypical listening—still stripped down, but no longer simple.
“I wrote the songs for me to make myself feel better but I want them to go out into the world and help people who feel like they’re alone. That’s what music did for me while I was growing up, especially in circumstances of child abuse and mental health,” Pfaff, who grew up in a household they describe as very intense and always fluctuating between emotional extremes, explain. “That’s not something that’s touched on very much and that’s something a lot of people are going through. I would like for someone to hear it and feel like they can live.” —Maria Sherman
Listen if: You want pop songs as mad about the news as you are
Start with: “Dance While You Shoot”
If you heard one of Noga Erez’s entrancing pop songs in the background of a bar, you might mistake it for fluff. Juxtaposing ringing sirens with crashing drums, Erez’s debut album Off the Radar—released in May—is filled with furious dance hits like “Dance While You Shoot” and dark catchy mantras like “Pity.” But behind all of these songs, which could easily fit on any good summer dance mix, is a heart of darkness, of commentary on the world around us. “Dance While You Shoot” is about the destructive nature of people in power, “Pity” about a woman’s rape broadcast on social media.
Erez is one of Israel’s few breakthrough stars, and it’s obvious why. Her jerky rhythms are reminiscent of FKA Twigs, her spoken monologues like M.I.A.’s, her subtle strangeness recalling Bjork. “You always come from a personal point of view when you comment on something,” Erez tells me over email. “But, what really makes it truly personal is the fact that the music always documents an emotional process, an interaction between the chaos of the world outside and the chaos from within.” And her work certainly embodies that chaos and tries to control it. Erez’s work swirls around her, a tornado built of hypnotic beats, vocal manipulations, an atmosphere created by her dizzying, gutting vocal performance. There are typewriter taps on “Off the Radar,” a marching snare on “Hit You,” gunshots on “Toys.”
Inside Erez’s work there is darkness, the reality of a world that she sees as broken, as lately revealing itself to be moving backward instead of forward. But behind those lyrics of despair, are beats you can’t help but move to, a sneaking optimism Erez herself shares. “I tend to think that the majority of people in the western world and beyond, are still people who believe in [open, tolerant and liberal] values,” she says. “I don’t think music on its own has the ability to turn the world around, but it can be part of a bigger process.” And in this year where the political atmosphere at home and abroad are volatile to say the least, it’s nice to have some pop music that gets that. —Kelsey McKinney
Listen if: You’re looking for synth-heavy, futuristic R&B you can dance to
Start with: “Finish Line”
Daye Jack used to think that pop music was boring. Or as the extremely polite 21-year-old sitting in front of me puts it, he once thought that pop music was “you know, not the coolest thing” and couldn’t be the best way for an up-and-coming artist like himself to be taken seriously. That all changed with The Weeknd. At a coffee shop in the East Village, Daye talks about 2015’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” which he calls “a song about coke that I can listen to, my little sister can listen to, my mom can listen to.” (It dawns on me that I was the only person in 2017 who didn’t know that.) “Can’t Feel My Face,” a case study in making music that’s ready for both the club and the family minivan, changed things for Daye; it made him want to write songs like that, songs that are both revealing and gutsy and still a bop. Which is good for him, because he already does.
One of the reasons Daye is here today—signed to Warner Bros., writing songs with Max Martin, able to convince his parents that he should drop out of New York University—is his talent to make songs that defy genre. His latest album, No Data (released in March), mixes rap, R&B, and electronic influences—but what ties it all together is his ear for groovy synths and strong hooks. He may have trouble (or more choices) when deciding what genre his music should fall under, but who cares?
As a student at NYU (where Daye received a scholarship to study computer science), Daye started making mixtapes on the side, reaching out to producers for beats and rapping over them. (How’d he know what to ask for? “For my EP Soul Glitch that I put out a couple of years ago, I wanted something glitchy… but soulful.“) Even though he says he didn’t think it would go anywhere, Daye got noticed by producer Mike Elizondo, who got him his first record deal. Later, Daye would fly out to L.A. to meet and play some stuff for Martin, who recognized his ear for songwriting.
“That’s when I told my parents,” Daye says. “I’m leaving NYU. Come out to L.A., meet these guys and you’ll understand that this is a serious career, they treat it like a real job.” His folks did go out to L.A., met everyone, and realized their son was right. The rest is history.
I ask Daye if he’s ever worried about coming off as inexperienced. Today, college students can teach themselves how to make songs via YouTube tutorials, aspiring rappers can track down beats by emailing a few keywords, mixtapes can flout genre—and no one cares as long as the final product sounds good. Daye knows that—he owes the start of his career to that. But he doesn’t seem afraid at all. His next project, the one he hopes will have a more “pop” sound, will surely be as eclectic and soulful as his last three. This is music to let your freak flag fly to, and based on the response he’s had so far, it’s something people have been waiting for. —Frida Garza
Listen if: You need a few really good breakup songs
Start with: “Love Scars/You Hurt Me”
In 2017, it’s increasingly hard to find self-identified rappers. The self-proclaimed King of Teens Lil Yachty barely considers himself one, Lil Uzi Vert’s breakout single “XO Tour Lif3” is essentially a pop-punk ballad, and the Ohio rapper Trippie Redd follows this exact trend. It can be seen in the titles of his songs, like “Love Scars/You Hurt Me,” “Deeply Scared,” and “It Takes Time.” “Your love is my medicine / When you’re up, you bring me down,” he sings on the hook of “Romeo And Juliet.” The rest of the verses have the rapper opening up to the love his life. He sings with a nasally whine that grows more endearing with each listen.
Trippie Redd is coming in on a wave that’s been dubbed “SoundCloud Rap,” but unlike his peers like XXXTentacion and Lil Pump, there isn’t an extremist edge to his music. Where those artists appear to be constantly breaking down the form of rap, Trippie Redd’s songcraft hues closer toward being the lead singer of a band than a rapper. Their deconstructionist streak isn’t found in his music. He writes fully formed hooks, his verses construct narratives, and endearingly his best work sounds like his heart is being repeatedly broken.
Earlier this month, he released a video for his song “Owee,” in which he and his friends cause a ruckus across Manhattan, with the video weaving in footage from the PlayStation franchise Twisted Metal. The rainbow-haired clown masks, torches, chains, and knives are perfectly connected to Trippie Redd’s musical aesthetic, which he’s established in the still-early stages of his career. Even if he doesn’t perform with all the aggression of a late-‘90s nu-metal band, that is the goth aesthetic he has molded himself after. (“I choose to call my anger issues the devil ‘cause it is,” Trippie Redd told Genius in June.) These are perhaps slightly surprising influences for a rapper in 2017, but maybe it makes sense: Rap is moving closer towards to rock some 20 years after bands like Korn and Slipknot moved closer to rap in the late ‘90s. If you want to catch up on Trippie Redd’s assorted tales of heartbreak (or relive your own), check out his perfectly titled mixtape: A Love Letter To You. —David Turner
Listen If: You like music that’s easygoing, overwhelming, and beautiful all at once
Start With: “Why Bother”
Steven Hamilton understands how his band could be misleading. The cover of Thunder Dreamer’s second album, Capture, casts a bleak image—of trees stripped bare under gloomy overcast skies. It looks like a place where things go to die, and it might lead you to believe Thunder Dreamer makes a certain type of music. Over the phone, the band’s lead singer joked, “Even when people hear the name Thunder Dreamer, they’re like ‘Is this heavy metal or hardcore?’”
The artwork isn’t a total red herring, though. Hamilton writes about different types of decay—of human morality, the planet we call home, and the values we hold dearest. But the music itself can be as shimmering and gorgeous as when sunlight peeks through for the first time after months of frigid despair. Thunder Dreamer songs can alternate between the leisurely pace of Real Estate and grand, sweeping post-rock in a matter of five minutes. The burly guitar and piano lines often crash together into a vast, beautiful landscape that sounds distinctly Midwestern. Hamilton calls it a “homegrown” project with evident roots in Evansville, Indiana, where he lives and the band grew up.
Usually a band like Thunder Dreamer—one geographically removed from major indie rock hubs—would need to tour relentlessly, opening for more established acts in order to get noticed. But Hamilton tells me that their longest tour ran for just 10 days, right before Capture came out this year. Instead, they got noticed by sending demos around to record labels, until they were picked up by Winspear for their debut, Lonesome Morning, and eventually the California-based 6131 (Julien Baker, Joyce Manor) for Capture.
Still, Hamilton knows the idea of being a successful independent artist in 2017 seems damn near presumptuous—so he’s heading back to school in the fall to study computer science. You hear some of this frustration on “The Bridge,” when a character contemplates their purpose as time slips away. “Why am I here? / Days turn to weeks,” he sings. And Hamilton echoes these sentiments in conversation. “I think I get sort of upset over time, over my own age and what I’m doing. I question music a lot, I question like, ‘Should I be doing this?’” Taken on its own, Capture answers this with a resounding yes. —Shawn Cooke
Listen If: you like Beach House but wish it had even more ascendent vocals
Start With: “Tender”
Alex Napping’s sophomore album, Mise En Place, takes its name from a French culinary phrase that means “everything in its place.” It’s a phrase that invokes the idea of lining things up, getting everything in just the right order, before you dive into a big project and bring it all together to create something greater. But really, as frontwoman Alex Cohen tells me over the phone, Mise En Place (released in May on Father/Daughter Records) is about just the opposite: the dissolution of a failed relationship.
Take “Fault,” the track about suspicions and doubts that rides high on Cohen’s breathy delivery and an insistent bassline. Or “Wife and Kidz,” a condemnation directed at a lover who’s guilty of adultery. The album’s lead single, “Living Room,” however, might distill this idea the best. It tells the story of a couple who’ve moved in together and realize that the space they’ve created for each other isn’t enough. “There’s a living room / Filled with all of our stuff / I can’t get it to move / Without unsettling dust,” Cohen sings, tying both literal and figurative spaces together in a clever metaphor.
Cohen says the band is already at work on their next album, which will be more “pop-centric.” “It’s going to be more intentional in terms of arrangement and melody,” she tells me. She’s also letting her new surroundings seep into the music; although the majority of the band is based in Austin, Cohen recently moved to Brooklyn, and still manages the band from afar. “I’ve been inspired by living in New York City,” says Cohen. “The livelihood and the energy. This will be, in some aspects, an album that is very New York-centric. I also just think that part of what I enjoy about living in New York and Brooklyn—I love this sense of anonymity while living around so many people.” Until we finally get our hands on it, we suggest repeated listens of Mise En Place. —Jessie Peterson
Listen If: You need a misandrist anthem for a lonely summer night
Start With: “Someone Tell the Boys”
Samia Finnerty knows all about teen angst. Two years out of high school, and five years into her music career, she’s finally settling on a sound she thinks she can stick with. Samia grew up in a performance household: Her father is in a comedy rock band and her mother is an actress. So on some level, Samia was born for the stage, and she wants to stay there.
At 16, she moved from New York City to Los Angeles, finding shows around the city, gigging her way through the city, and trying to build her career around herself. Samia’s work is personal. She writes everything, produces everything, and fills her backing band with her friends. This year, she debuted her first real single “Someone Tell the Boys,” and it’s more popular than anything else she’s ever written with good reason.
Laid over a simple guitar riff and chorus vocals, “Someone Tell the Boys” is a misandrist anthem of frustration and exhaustion. “It’s about how it’s kind of difficult to work with my male colleagues sometimes.” Samia tells me over the phone. “I am the leader of this band, and they come in and they just, they speak over me. I think their confidence is as much society’s fault as women’s inferiority complexes are, but it made me feel uncomfortable.” She explains a phenomenon familiar to any woman in any career: Even the most unqualified dude can try to explain your own job and passion to you. As Samia sings, “I have anecdotes to offer / They won’t do much for this gentleman / ‘Cause his every thought’s a sacrament.” With its sweeping chorus and catchy refrain (of “Someone tell the boys they’re not important anymore”), it’s a song built for screaming off a rooftop on a lonely summer night.
“I am currently in the process of finding my sound. Up until this point, I’ve been doing everything myself: writing, producing, performing.” Samia says. “The next step is settling on a tone. I’m really excited to do that.” For now, Samia and her new all-girl band are still playing gigs, and hoping to put out an EP soon. —Kelsey McKinney
Listen if: You wish “Despacito” could have been just a little cooler
Start with: “Tártaro”
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time—before Justin Bieber met in the studio with Puerto Rican pop-star Luis Fonsi and reggeaton ambassador Daddy Yankee, before the impossibly catchy refrain of “‘pacito, ‘pacito, suave-suavecito” made its way into the hearts and minds of every man, woman, and child in America—that making music in Spanish wasn’t considered very cool. In fact, making music in Spanish used to be a kind of terrible career move for Latin artists—if you wanted to break into the U.S. market, anyway. Post-“Despacito,” the music industry seems to have thrown that rule out the window—but Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo Del Valle never much paid attention to it anyway. When the Puerto Rican duo first met and started collaborating on music together in New York, they looked around and saw everyone else also trying to be a musician. They thought: Everyone is singing in English. Why not try something different? Why not do it Spanish?
It was a risk—the couple, who makes music under the moniker Buscabulla (Spanish slang for “troublemaker”) already have enough trouble explaining what kind of Latin music they make. Listen to their latest EP, the aptly titled and self-released EP II, and you’ll see what they mean. It’s not rock en español, Berrios tells me over the phone, and I can practically hear her rolling her eyes. It’s not Latin alternative, a category that only seems to be defined by being in-between things. It’s definitely not salsa or bachata or reggaeton—although all of those influences pop in their music, if you listen closely. Instead, Berrios and Del Valle craft soft, shimmering landscapes, inspired equally by Top 40 music in Spanish and from the U.S. Berrios grew up listening to Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Sade, but the duo also love Drake, Justin Bieber, and Ariana Grande, and whatever else plays out of the cars that go by in Brooklyn. (There was more of that in Bed-Stuy, Del Valle says, where they used to live; but now the couple lives in Ridgewood with their baby daughter Charlie.)
Still, even if the band’s mission statement seems hazy, it’s really not. “I think what we really wanted to do is make cool music in Spanish,” Berrios says. “Because sometimes we felt that there wasn’t enough of it.” It’s simple, really—and they’re good at it. This is what Latin music sounds like when you don’t restrict yourself to one genre, when you grew up listening to the radio in both Spanish and English. It’s a globe-trotting, transcendent sound for the 21st century, and the rest of the country is finally catching on. —Frida Garza
Listen if: You want surf rock that will make you wish that summer lasts forever
Start With: “Youth”
According to Jon Bap and Quinton Brock, the two brothers behind the indie rock band The Get Money Squad, the group’s name began as a joke (search their SoundCloud and you’ll discover a cover of Usher’s “Confessions Pt. II,” pre-herpes controversy). But as the two made music together, pulling from influences spanning from the Beatles to Mac DeMarco, their sound slowly came into fruition. Formed in Buffalo, New York, The Get Money Squad serves as the more carefree antithesis to Bap and Brock’s respective solo endeavors as Jon Bap (a free-form mix of funk, jazz, and soul) and Network (experimental rap). “We don’t stress anything about it,” Brock says. “We make all the songs in under an hour. That’s just the way that we work.”
That nonchalant attitude translates into their music: the lackadaisical strut of “June 666”; the upbeat groove of “Back Again”; and the late night kickback-turns-party anthem of new single “Youth.” However, where Bap and Brock have described “June 666” and “Back Again” as surf rock songs, there’s something different about “Youth.” It feels and sounds larger.
Of course, that’s partly due to how the songs were recorded. Nothing’s Wrong, a four-song EP the band released last year, was made with the bare minimum: a kick, snare, hi-hat, hit with one drumstick and a spoon (along with a Fender starter bass and electric guitar). But the group’s forthcoming album, Ruff Buff, sports higher production quality. “We added musicians, we worked with nicer equipment, and we mic’d everything properly,” Brock says. “So the sound is much bigger.”
The dynamic sound of “Youth” comes to life in its recently-released music video. It captures the party of the summer, as we see the story unfold in reverse. Brock is the star of the show as he’s doused in champagne and silly string, and eventually hit in the face with a cake—with so many background details that you’ll need repeat viewings to catch. Like The Get Money Squad’s music, the video was made quickly. “The video was done in one take,” Brock says. “After we shot it, we drove straight to [director] Andy DeLuca’s house. I was still drenched in champagne and he gave me a towel so I could sit on his couch, and we edited the video until 3 a.m.”
They still haven’t announced a release date for Ruff Buff, but the group hopes to be able to contribute to the rise of black artists like Tyler, the Creator and the Internet. “They’re suburban black kids just like us,” Bap says. “Somebody needs to make that type of music.” —Elijah Watson
Listen If: You liked Death Cab but wished they were a little more cynical
Start With: “Great Apes”
Even if you don’t know John Ross, there’s a decent chance you’ve heard his music before. The 31-year-old songwriter behind Wild Pink and Eerie Gaits, two excellent projects that debuted on indie record label Tiny Engines this year, scores TV commercials—including spots for The Office, 30 Rock, HBO, and Lowe’s—and does music archival work by day. But once you hear the lyrics to a Wild Pink song, that just becomes an interesting footnote.
Ross is a New York-based writer who doesn’t want to expand much beyond what’s on the lyric sheet in conversation—he’d prefer to let the songs speak for themselves. Luckily, he’s given us a collection of highly observational, of-the-moment narrations to do the heavy lifting. Wild Pink’s self-titled debut, which came out this February, doesn’t sound much like a New York record—it’s an airy, dreamy collection of indie rock that resists any sort of claustrophobia. But he conveys a world-weariness that feels of a piece with some of The National’s earliest anxieties about the city. It’s a great post-post-9/11 album.
Characters in a Wild Pink song still exist in the shadow of the World Trade Center, feel malaise about their daily routine, fret about the melting ice caps, and wonder when the next mass shooting will take over the news. On “I Used to Be Small,” he targets the generation gap that we’ve all been trying to make sense of lately: “You’re cultured and cursed / With dated ideas about what it means to have American Dreams.” These are distinctly modern concerns—but Ross undercuts any potential heavy-handedness of, say, writing a song about smart phones by naming it after a damn Nathan for You throwaway line. “I don’t want it to ever come off as topical, political music,” he says. “But it seems like it’s hard to not talk about some of these things—it just kind of found its way in.”
But even when he took the words away, for instrumental project Eerie Gaits, the results were just as evocative. Bridge Music is an acoustic-ambient collection that plays like a road map through heartland Appalachia, with pedal steel and accordion to augment the warmth. Ross wrote these songs for places he’s driven through over the years, and you can hear the tranquility of discovering beauty in the open spaces. These are intimate compositions, but Bridge Music feels like it could only exist after marveling at how big the world can seem.
Ross writes sweeping, perceptive songs, but no matter the project, he seems to understate the minor miracle of when everything comes together. “I’m always writing words down in my phone,” he says. “I’ll have a guitar in my hands with my phone open. Most of the time nothing happens, but every now and then it kind of clicks.” —Shawn Cooke
Listen If: You love your family, obscure historical facts, and country-tinged indie rock
Start With: “Control”
Ratboys are a family band—but not like Haim or Hanson. There are no siblings, parents, or relatives playing with singer Julia Steiner, but family is certainly on her mind while writing most of the band’s songs.
The first song on the Chicago band’s second album, GN, is written for Steiner’s sister, who also designed the album artwork. Three tracks later comes a chilling song about Steiner’s brother, who nearly walked in front of an oncoming train when he was four. And when we’re talking before an intimate Pittsburgh house show earlier this summer, she credits her mother with exposing her to formative female musicians from an early age. “My mom would always listen to Sheryl Crow or Joan Baez in the car—interesting, compelling female songwriters,” she says. “That was normal for me to hear strong women singing and writing music.”
Her rootsy, post-country songs have a loose, collaborative warmth to them, as if she trusts her bandmates like family to help bring these stories to life. “It’s special to me to remember where I was at a place in time and try to make sure I don’t forget how I felt in those moments. It kind of solidifies memories for me,” she says. But Steiner doesn’t just limit herself to writing about the people closest to her. Two songs on GN get caught in the headspace of two obscure figures in history. “Peter the Wild Boy” tells the story of a feral child living in 18th-century Germany who was taken in by the King of England. And “Crying About the Planets” assumes the harrowing perspective of Douglas Mawson, a man who faced probable death while exploring Antarctica.
How does Steiner arrive on these mostly forgotten stories in history? She routinely falls down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, researching just about every city the band passes through—and she has the receipts to prove it. At one point, Steiner opens her phone and scrolls through what has to be more than 30 different open tabs. “There’s just so much to learn, and it keeps me occupied and gives me stuff to write about,” she says. “Because honestly sometimes I get bored writing about myself.” —Shawn Cooke