It seems like I say this every year, but there’s absolutely no way that the Class of 2015 will be able to top the Class of 2014 in terms of overall success. If you’re looking at statistics and equations, it’s pretty much a mathematical impossibility. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to select artists for this year’s class who will probably not catapult to the top of the charts and get nominated for copious amounts of Grammys. It’s never been a popularity contest, even if some of the artists have become massively popular anyways. The goal of the “Class of…” project is to shine a light onto bands and musicians who are deserving and likely to receive strong raises in their profiles over the course of any given calendar year. The expectation is that they have the talent and promise to do great things, of course whether or not they actually accomplish them is another matter entirely, as a few have turned out to be duds or late bloomers. Either way, all of the 10 artists named are kept under careful watch by yours truly, and you’ll be able to find out about their latest and greatest happenings for the next 12 months right here on the site with periodic updates as to their progress.
I’m tremendously excited to reveal the Class of 2015 below. While the goal is to offer up a diverse array of talents across many different genres, I couldn’t help but notice a small theme with a majority of this year’s class. Should projections prove true, 2015 will be a big year for 70’s style folk singer-songwriters. If David Bowie’s glam rock era helped define 2014’s main sound, the intimate and personal songs of Nick Drake and Harry Nilsson may be where we’re headed next. I mean, if Sufjan Stevens can pop his head up from wherever he’s been hiding to announce a new album that’s a “return to his folk roots,” then like the groundhog it must be a signal of things to come. Rest assured though that everything below is not exclusively for bedroom headphone listening. So without further ado, let’s jump right in and meet the Class of 2015!
Breakdown: Prior to 2015, Madrid-based four piece Hinds were known as Deers. A few days into this new year however, they received a cease and desist letter from a Canadian band (most likely The Dears) who requested they change their name to avoid any confusion. While it would have been fascinating had they decided to call themselves FKA Deers (a la FKA twigs) instead, Hinds is as good of a new name as any. The band first began to attract attention late last summer, when they were just a duo of Ana Garcia Perrote and Carlotta Cosials and released a 7″ demo on Mom + Pop/Lucky Number. The lo-fi, seemingly effortless quality to those songs was equal parts charming and catchy, as the two seemed to compliment one another perfectly. A second 7″ released this past November incorporated the full band, and essentially proved that the first pair of great songs weren’t a fluke. The sound was a bit more filled out, but the gritty 60’s garage rock style remained the same. To my ears they sound like The Velvet Underground crossed with Vivian Girls, which honestly is a pretty great sweet spot to hit. It’s going to be interesting to see what they’re going to put together in 2015, because even though it’s starting to seem like they’ll spend the year touring, they can really make a record just about anywhere in their spare time. Hopefully we’ll get a full length, or at the very least an EP, sometime in the near future, even if it’s recorded on an iPhone in various hotel rooms aorund the world. Speaking of which, you should check out their 25 minute documentary (link below) showcasing their first summer (and first shows) as a band. Really fun stuff, as one might expect.
Trippy Gum [Video]
Castigadas en el granero [Video]
Between Cans – [Soundcloud]
Watch a documentary of Hinds’ (fka Deers) summer
Breakdown: Jessica Pratt already has one record under her belt, a self-titled affair that was released back in 2012. It was a very lovely and intimate folk album that felt like an instant classic, mostly because of how easily it recalled early 70’s efforts from people like Karen Dalton, Vashti Bunyan, Nick Drake and Linda Perhacs. Pair an incredible voice with a gently strummed acoustic guitar and you’re about 75% of the way there. The other key element is great songwriting, which Pratt manages to conjure up beautifully vivid imagery and smart wordplay that you won’t need a dictionary to understand. Somehow she’s able to transform what might otherwise be heard as rote or mundane and give it a fresh coat of paint through what she sings and even more importantly HOW she sings it. On her sophomore effort On Your Own Love Again, which is out on January 27th, she gives us more of the same, though with little flourishes from additional instruments, along with some incredible harmonies that only contribute to the immense beauty of each song. Her version of folk has a light experimental edge to it, which makes sense given that she’s signed to Drag City Records. Some might say she’s similar in sound to labelmate Joanna Newsom, though with a harp instead of a guitar and fewer vocal tics. I’d argue she’s more on modern-day par with someone like Phil Elverum (The Microphones, Mount Eerie). Pratt’s music might not be particularly lively and exciting, but if you’re curled up on the couch sipping from a warm mug on a Sunday afternoon, the songs will quietly draw you in and leave you speechless.
Breakdown: There’s a few teenaged artists in this year’s class, but Barcelona’s Mourn kind of win the imaginary contest for youngest band. Three of their four members are 18, and their bassist is only 15. Their ages are somewhat important, if only because of how it affects the music they make. For example, the first track on their self-titled debut album is called “Your Brain is Made of Candy,” and it’s about zombies, which is a very hot topic in the here and now. But then there’s also “Marshall” and “Jack”, both of which are centered around guys that principle songwriters Jazz Rodriguez Bueno and Carla Perez Vas really don’t like. They’re understandably angry and vindictive songs that also happen to be based largely around real people. And to be clear, just because they’ve got a song called “Boys Are Cunts” does not mean they truly believe it and are some man-hating group. Rather, they’re purposely petulant, and it serves them surprisingly well. Their songs are modeled after some of PJ Harvey’s classic records from the 90’s, all full of jagged riffs and world-ending wails. Listen closely enough and you’ll also hear more modern-day influences like Screaming Females and The White Stripes in there too. Their record was originally released only in Spain last fall, but the folks at Captured Tracks heard it and requested to distribute it worldwide starting on February 17th. Just about all the songs were recorded directly to tape live in the studio to try and capture the band’s live wire energy. The great news is it appeared to have worked.
Breakdown: Dusty Springfield. Nina Simone. Dionne Warwick. Those are just three of about a dozen names you might recall when listening to Natalie Prass’s music. They’re classic artists who really made their names in the late 60’s and early 70’s with dynamically composed orchestral pop that had a light bounce and flecks of Motown soul. Following the reveal of her first single “Bird of Prey” last summer, it was clear that though Prass may be borrowing liberally from a classic yet timeless era of music, she is a truly original voice in a world that could really use one. Her silky vocals are perfectly suited to the sweeping sounds of the strings and horns that populate her self-titled debut album, which is out on January 27th. Gifted as she is with a melody, she’s also an incredible lyricist, almost always approaching the drama of everyday life with earnestness and love – sometimes to a fault. But her passion shines through and it’s extremely difficult to not be swept up in all of its bliss and majesty. This year is set to be a true star-making turn for Prass, who spent a good chunk of the last year as a member of Jenny Lewis’s touring band. She’s currently set to open for Ryan Adams on his winter/spring tour across Europe, which at this point might as well be icing on the cake.
Why Don’t You Believe in Me
My Baby Don’t Understand Me
Bird of Prey [Video]
Breakdown: While many of the artists in the Class of 2015 are pulling their sound from the past, Atlanta’s Raury feels very firmly rooted in the present. The teenage prodigy makes music that’s best described as genre-less, precisely because it represents so many different ones. He skips from rap to folk to EDM to pop like it’s no big deal, and seems to excel at just about every one. He not only sings and raps, but also plays guitar and produces as well, which ultimately makes sense if you know that he’s pretty much been doing all of this since he was three years old. Last fall Raury released Indigo Child, a free mixtape that effectively functioned as his big time debut. It can probably be assumed that he didn’t put it out through traditional channels because of all the (likely uncleared) samples, but it was a great start that caught the attention of such luminaries like fellow Atlantans Outkast, as well as Lorde, who invited him to contribute a track to the soundtrack of the latest Hunger Games film. So yeah, you could say that Raury is going places. It’s not entirely clear at this point what this year will have in store for him, though he’s signed to Columbia Records and is expected to release an official full length in the relatively near future. A few days back he also released a brand new song called “Fly” (see below) which was written and inspired by the news that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing Michael Brown. It’s a heartbroken yet hopeful acoustic ballad that features some remarkably mature thoughts on senseless tragedy and how we can move forward from that. It’s also quintessentially Raury, continuing to grow and excel towards the inevitable proclamation that he’s a superstar.
Fly (ft. Malik Shakur)
Breakdown: Ryn Weaver first showed up on everybody’s radar last summer when she unleashed her first single “OctaHate” on Soundcloud. It’s a great pop song that caught a lot of quick notice because of the many people associated with it. The track was produced by Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, Cashmere Cat and Benny Blanco, and Weaver co-wrote it with Charli XCX. Beyond their support, many others including Tom Krell of How to Dress Well, Hayley Williams of Paramore and even Jessie Ware went out of their way to help turn the song into something of an internet sensation, racking up more than a million streams in just under two weeks. That was how she got started with just one single. The Promises EP was released in August and helped to prove that Weaver’s early success wasn’t just a fluke, and that we may have a future pop star on our hands. Her debut full length seems like an inevitability for 2015, though if it’s not done yet she’ll be hard pressed to find the time in between all of the festivals she’s already lined up for this spring and summer.
Breakdown: SOAK is Bridie Monds-Watson, an 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Derry, Northern Ireland. She’s been making music and performing for a few years now and has released a couple of EPs in that time, all of which have been critically acclaimed. As part of her developing success, Monds-Watson has also played massive UK music festivals like Glastonbury, toured with Tegan and Sara, and even released some tracks on CHVRCHES’ startup label Goodbye Records. So what’s on tap for SOAK in 2015? Well she’s signed to Rough Trade and just recently finished recording her debut full length, which will be out later this year. Judging by the strength and emotional kick of recent singles “Blud” and “B a noBody,” there’s definitely plenty of reasons to get excited. Her voice has the ability to turn a synth-pop hit like CHVRCHES’ “The Mother We Share” into something completely different but all the more powerful. She plays just about every instrument on every song she records, and writes with wisdom of somebody more than twice her age. Her sound has been compared to Joni Mitchell and Cat Power, which while technically accurate, is not a catch-all for somebody so intent on defying easy description. It’s what helps make her so special, and why by the end of this year she’ll likely be the exact opposite of a nobody.
B a noBody [Video]
The Mother We Share (CHVRCHES cover)
Breakdown: Proud to give some local love this year to 19-year-old Chicago rapper Tink. She’s been around and making music for a short while, but it’s looking like 2015 is finally going to be the year when she truly takes off. Up until this point, you’ve probably heard Tink through one of her many guest appearances on tracks from a wide variety of artists. She first came to my attention last April when she collaborated with Class of 2014 artist Kelela on a song. Since then, she’s gone on to work with everyone from Sleigh Bells to Future Brown to Jay-Z to Rick Ross to Andre 3000 and beyond. That’s a crazy impressive list, and to think it’s all taken place over the last nine months or so! One of Tink’s biggest supporters has been Timbaland, who signed her to his Mosley Music Group label. She’s currently hard at work on her debut album, but did release the impressive track “Around the Clock” back in December as a little bit of a teaser/preview of what’s to come. My ears heard it as a cross between Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliott, which is overall not a bad sweet spot to hit. It’s safe to say her future is looking very bright, and hopefully a big headlining hometown showcase at Chicago’s own Metro on February 21st will only solidify that further.
Around the Clock
Tell the Children
Tobias Jesso Jr.
Breakdown: Never underestimate the power of a musician with absolutely nothing to lose. Back in 2012, Tobias Jesso Jr. was having a shitty year. After a series of failed bands and attempts to write for other musicians out in Los Angeles, he was considering giving up that path when he was injured in a hit-and-run accident that also resulted in his bike being stolen. The next day, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. So he moved back home to Vancouver, dreams dashed and a parent to take care of. It was there he discovered his sister’s old piano, an instrument he had never really played before. After feeling it out and writing some songs on it, he posted a couple of demos to YouTube and sent them to musician and producer Chet “JR” White from the band Girls. The two wound up working together on some additional songs, which in turn led to Jesso’s signing with True Panther Records. His debut album Goon will be released on March 17th, and features a superstar team of producers that includes White, The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney as well as Ariel Rechtshaid. Early songs like “True Love” and “Hollywood” have really started to earn Jesso a whole lot of attention, thanks in large part to his incredibly forthright and deceptively simple songs about heartbreak and other highly emotional topics. Many have compared him to 70’s singer-songwriters like Harry Nilsson and Nick Drake, and thanks to his often intimate, minimalist piano melodies it’s hard not to see (and hear) why.
How Could You Babe
Breakdown: Are you familiar with the Calgary band Women? They made some waves in the late 00’s with two great records (a self-titled one in 2008 and Public Strain in 2010) before unceremoniously going on an extended break following an inter-band fist fight on stage. The break became permanent with the sudden and tragic passing of guitarist Christopher Reimer back in 2012. These days, two of the remaining three members of Women have returned to making music, teaming up with Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen as the band Viet Cong. While their name might not have any real positive connotations associated with it, their music certainly does. Last summer they put out an EP called “Cassette” which originally started life as a tour-only release before being picked up and cleaned up a bit by Mexican Summer. That early collection of songs seemed to showcase a band that was still trying to figure itself and its sound out, but managed to put forth a whole lot of promising ideas at the same time. one of the keys to making it all work was a consistent effort to make every song twist and turn in unexpected directions. You could never guess where they were headed next, and there was some real excitement in that. This week the band releases their official self-titled debut album, and it’s the sort of incredible thing that will hopefully keep you talking about Viet Cong all year long. There will be a full review of it on the site soon, but the great news is they seem to have settled on a sound. If you like bands like Wolf Parade, Wire, Joy Division and (obviously) Women, this is something you need to have on your radar. Be sure to check out the songs below for a better taste.
Continental Shelf [Video]