Whether it is a heart-shattering folk-jazz-classical album like Aroof Aftab’s Vulture Prince, a trippy, art-fun video like Magdelena’s “Hysterical Us,” or incendiary live shows by the likes of Brighton’s Squid, there was an energy and a beauty to this year’s new artist that belied a world barely crawling out of a pandemic. Artists like Genesis Owusu and Geese, appeared on the world and national scene like fully-formed revelations, creating a buzz that their intricate and inventive works only served to make louder and more appreciative.
It is the goal of lists like these to hopefully make life long fans of our readers, and we present bands that show impressive staying power, based on the little we may have seen from them so far. Bands like Wet Leg, who only released four songs this year, but who have already signed to Domino Recording Company, or London’s Dry Cleaning, the post-punk, guitar-prescient band, who signed to 4AD. Take a look through this list, or better yet, dive into their albums, watch all their music videos, and see them live at shows and see if you don’t find a new favorite that rivals some of your old ones.
Tacoma, Washington band, Enumclaw, which they say wouldn’t be in existence if it wasn’t for Drake, formed their scuzzy but earnest band during the down time of the pandemic and came out with one of this year’s freshest EPs, Jimbo Demo. Named after a small rival town whose wrestlers they admired in youth (“they had dudes that were filthy”), and who have described themselves as the “Best Band Since Oasis,” they are a group of self-taught musicians singing about survivors guilt for making it out of their hometown and how it’s “always too much, too much, too much / or it’s never enough.” Between their hooky indie sensibilities and their transparent and relatable verbiage, they won our hearts this year.
Perhaps it’s the 80’s post-punk nostalgia Florence Shaw’s deadpan sing-talk evokes, or perhaps it’s their super clever Dada-ish lyrics, or the shredding guitars and grungy bass lines, but London band Dry Cleaning have become a staple of modern rock, even though they’ve only been around for a couple of years. Like an “emo dead stuff collector,” Shaw fills the songs with seemingly unrelated imagery to create what is best described as Art Rock. With their latest record, New Long Leg, they found a deserved home on legendary new wave label 4AD and they have been making their way across the air waves on both sides of the Atlantic. With their cleverness and their talent at writing re-playable and inspection-rich songs, they are a force to be reckoned with.
Barely out of high school in New York City, the post-rock band Geese have found themselves a “buzz band” throughout the nation and fortuitously signed to Partisan Records, alongside other young artists like IDLES and Fontaines D.C. Some of them are sons of famed musicians and all of them have been playing their instruments since a young age, and you can tell in their mastery as players and composers. Their sound recalls other NYC band The Strokes and TV on the Radio, particular in their adventurous guitars.
Their debut release, Projector, shows their amazing range and they say we can’t even anticipate the direction they will take next. After their meteoric debut, we’re thrilled to hear it.
Genesis Owusu’s debut album, Smiling With No Teeth, is a whirlwind through R&B, rock n’ roll, hip hop and pop music you wouldn’t expect could come from one man and his crew, master musicians though they are. He has won national attention and high awards, including the ARIA Music Awards “Album of the Year” as the first hip hop album to win in the category and one of the Triple J’s best albums of 2021. The album deals with topics like depression and racism in deft strokes, while remaining mostly positive and triumphant. It is a hefty catalog of songs and he said in interviews that he still has hours and hours of unreleased material. You’ll definitely want to hear more, once you get a taste of his beautifully contagious genre-layered music.
INDIGO DE SOUZA
With a big-range voice to die for and indie music that knows its way around the guitar, while interlacing hip hop elements like the drumming on some tracks, Indigo De Souza’s album Any Shape You Take is a breath-taking debut album. Released on Saddle Creek Records and co-produced with Brad Cook who has also worked with Bon Iver and Waxahatchee, it is an album that is fresh but steeped in the indie-rock ethos of the last ten or twenty years. It is a break-up album and feels like it, but also something to help you reclaim your body and soul with full, invigorated feeling, after the life-suck of heartbreak.
Sugary and quirky, colorful and twisted, Magdalena Bay are music to soundtrack our virtual reality modern existence. Made up of singer-songwriter Mica Tenenbaum and producer Matthew Levin, they are a band that has fully embraced the possibilities that our internet existence has made available. Known for their kitschy DIY visuals and their pop-friendly/pop-subversive sound, they are a package that goes beyond just their addictive singles. Their album Mercurial World, along with their previous EPs, show them to be a creative movement more than just a duo of talented artists.
This Brighton quintet with their mathy, jazzy, post-rock debut album Bright Green Field about a fictional metropolis filled with weird and satisfying machinery, along with their legendary, incendiary live shows, make this one of the new bands to most celebrate in 2021. Between screaming and talking, tight arrangements and loose jams, drone and melody, Squid show a great deal of range as a group and satisfy the need for both meaning and catharsis. Between their signing to Warp Records and touring at home and abroad to great acclaim, they’ve seen quite a year.
POM POM SQUAD
“Something fierce and funny, dreamy, dark, queer…” Mia Berrin says of her art with Pom Pom Squad. Their latest album, Death of a Cheerleader, put out on City Slang Records, catapulted Pom Pom Squad onto the indie scene. It is an album made up of the dark and light of discovering yourself after proclaiming your own autonomy as a sexual and spiritual woman in a crassly male dominated world. They’ve put out some impressive videos this year, including a cover of Nada Surf’s “Popular,” something that casts the female as the lead and captures the ethos of the band: scary cheerleaders, heart-shaped lockets, and the mess that is coming of age.
Without even releasing an album this year, (just four stellar singles, including the smash hit “Chaise Longue” and follow up “Wet Dream”), the Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg have become something of an institution this year. With their reliance on double entendre and youthful sexual exploration, as well as clever pop references, they are resonating with young and old audiences alike. Signing with Domino Recording Company and playing shows across the sea, as well as making (and directing) some compelling official videos, they are owning their newfound place on the world scene. Their indie pop, inspired by the sounds of the Ronettes and Jane Birkin, as well as the likes of Bjork and Ty Segall, find them entrenched in the modern canon of music while making music completely their own.
RID OF ME
Philly punk, hardcore outfit Rid Of Me led by Itarya Rosenburg, have put out one of the most fiery and purgative albums of the year in Traveling. While they don’t sound so much like PJ Harvey, who their band name seems to take inspiration from, they do recall the punk alternative music that changed the world in the 90s, like Hole, Nirvana, and the Pixies. Itarya’s voice is grizzly and triumphant, but the post-rock influenced guitars often steal the show. This is their debut album, but members have been in many successful bands throughout the years. We hope this one sticks.
With two EPs under their belt, All Roads Lead to the Gun I and II, Militarie Gun out of Los Angeles have made quite the showing this year. Between their melodic guitars and screamed vocals, their piercing lyrics and their fetching music, Militarie Gun show a great deal of range. It is their unique combination of pretty, inventive music a la Pile with stark, gritty vocals and punk rock lyrics that is their biggest selling point. This quintet made up of Ian Shelton, Max Epstein, Nick Cogan, Vince Nguyen, and William Acuña, are a tight knit unit that play together like a well-oiled machine. They reinvent the punk aesthetic to mouth-gaping, heart-winning effect.
The Pakistan-born, Brooklyn-based singer and producer Arooj Aftab released one of the year’s most moving records in Vulture Prince. Released in response to the death of her brother and the turmoil of hate and conflict across the globe amid a world wide pandemic, it is a record that goes from grief to acceptance. It is influenced by Hindustani classical music, jazz, and folk music, and highlights Aftab’s angelic singing voice. It is music fit to make you cry and swell at every turn, and though this is not her first record, it is perhaps her most affecting, establishing her as one of the world’s most sought after composers.