20 Best New(ish) Artists of 2017
As we discussed when we made a similar list last year, it's harder and harder to figure out what really qualifies as a "new" artist. We were talking about some of the artists on this list on BrooklynVegan in 2016 and some even in 2015 or 2014. Most of them released a debut album this year, but some landed on this list off the strength of a sophomore album and a couple others haven't even released a proper album yet. So what exactly is a "new" artist? We can't say we're entirely sure, but 2017 was a year where all 20 artists on this list made a noticeable impact on us, and they all seem like they have promising futures. A bunch of them landed on our Top 50 Albums of 2017 list and others didn't. (Also, four artists from our Best New Bands of 2016 list landed on our Top 50 of 2017.) Either way, we love all 20 and we want to celebrate them with this list.
Read on for our picks, in alphabetical order...
After a 2014 debut album on classic indie label Flying Nun, New Zealand's Aldous Harding moved to the bigger classic indie label 4AD for her sophomore album Party (#16 on BV's Top 50), and she brought in impressive collaborators like PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish and Perfume Genius. It's easy to see why she's welcome in such good company when you listen to how impressive Party is. A major step up from her debut, it shows Aldous navigating through folk and indie rock with a voice that can go from classic 4AD-style baritone to Joanna Newsom-esque quirk. When you see Aldous live, she brings things to an even higher level. She is clearly as concerned with performance as she is with making a great album, from her formal attire to her exaggerated, theatrical facial expressions. Hopefully she'll be back in the US for more shows in 2018, and if you get a chance to see her, do it. [Andrew Sacher]
Azniv Korkejian followed an unusual path to her first album as Bedouine. Born in Syria, she has lived in Saudi Arabia and all over the U.S. She works as a music and dialogue editor in Hollywood (her credits include The Big Sick, among many other things you may have seen) in addition to writing and performing songs. A chance work encounter with producer Gus Seyffert (Beck, Norah Jones) led to an impromptu recording session. Together they brought the songs to Matthew E. White and the Spacebomb folks, and in June of this year a self-titled album was released. Recalling early ‘70s folk and country, Korkejian’s mellow but soulful voice fits perfectly with the ultra-smooth strings and production. There are socially conscious lyrics wrapped in that velvet sound too. She may have just released her debut LP but Bedouine sounds like she’s been around for decades. [Bill Pearis]
Dominance is mostly a subjective term, but the self-described "boy band" Brockhampton surely dominated the rap game in 2017. The internet-formed collective put out three excellent albums this year (all of which made BV's year-end list), and they plan to release their fourth album (supposedly titled Team Effort) in early 2018. If their prolific release rate is an indicator of the group's strong enthusiasm, it's even more clear within their music. The group's energetic style never truly adheres to a single style or genre, with each of their releases pulling from the worlds of trap, noise, R&B, funk, and indie rock. In addition, leader Kevin Abstract remains a champion for LGBT representation in the rap community as of late, writing bars dealing with issues of gay identity not typically found in your average rap record. The group teased a possible breakup coming sometime this year, which turned out to be false. Thankfully, this leaves more room for the "boy band" to keep surprising us at every turn in the future. [Jeremy Nifras]
Cardi B was already something of a celebrity before her rap career took off, and she had already collaborated with Offset of the ever-popular Migos (who she is now engaged to) before "Bodak Yellow" came out. But, as surely anyone reading this knows, "Bodak Yellow" is what truly started it all. Her first single for a major label is what dethroned Taylor Swift's scientifically-engineered-to-be-a-hit "Look What You Made Me Do" from No. 1 on the charts, and it stayed there for three consecutive weeks. It made her the first female rapper to top the charts in nearly two decades (the last was Lauryn Hill in 1998 with "Doo Wop [That Thing]"). Whether or not you like the song, you kinda have to appreciate this historic moment. And "Bodak Yellow" is proving to not be a fluke. She joins Migos and Nicki Minaj on the instantly awesome Culture 2 single "MotorSport," teams back up with Offest for "Um Yea," and just last week released her new single as a lead artist, "Bartier Cardi" (ft. 21 Savage). On all three of those songs, Cardi has BARS. Her debut album is hopefully coming in 2018 (her latest update is that she's "taking her time" with it), and all signs point to it being a killer LP. (PS: If you're in NYC, catch Cardi at Knockdown Center on New Year's Eve.) [A.S.]
People who say guitar rock is dead probably need to listen to more metal, because there are so many modern metal bands keeping guitar rock in the most classic sense alive. Modern metal bands like Kvelertak, Tribulation, Martyrdod, Pallbearer, Elder, Crypt Sermon, SubRosa, and Dreadnought -- in one way or another -- kind of just sound like '70s rock bands with some harsher vocals thrown in. One of the latest bands to blend '70s guitar heroics with modern-day extreme metal is Atlanta's Cloak, whose 2017 debut album To Venomous Depths (Season of Mist) achieves things that some of those aforementioned bands didn't achieve until their third albums. Metalheads in the know are probably already up on Cloak, but I can't urge rock fans enough to check these guys out. Cloak pack more air-guitar-worthy riffs into their debut than some bands write in a whole career. [A.S.]
Montreal’s Brigitte Naggar self-released her debut album as Common Holly last year, and Solitaire Recordings re-released it this past October. Playing House is dark, a little folky, and a little jazzy, which has gained her a few comparisons to fellow Canadian Feist (including from us). Setting her apart from Feist (and anyone else), though, is Brigitte’s delicate voice that has a power that's all her own. Her album features the Polaris Prize-nominated Jean-Michel Blais on piano, and recent tourmates include Julien Baker and The Hotelier, putting her in good (and diverse) company. She's a little less popular than some of the other likeminded acts on this list, but hopefully that changes soon; she's too good to be ignored. [Amanda Hatfield]
Like The World (found elsewhere on this list), Montreal’s Corridor have built an entirely new car out of old parts. Guitars jangle like early R.E.M. or The Feelies, and parry and dodge like XTC, with lush harmonies and the occasional time signature. Not exactly new kids on the block (they formed in 2013 or so), their sound came into full bloom on this year’s joyfully electric Supermercado. They’re even better live, as I learned at M For Montreal this year. One spanner in the works: they sing in French. Don’t let that stop you. You couldn’t understand half of what Michael Stipe sang on Murmur, either. [B.P.]
We’ve been following UK band Girl Ray for a couple years now, having first caught our attention opening for Chastity Belt in London in 2015. We almost put them on our list last year, but with only a couple singles out, we wanted to hear more. Their debut album, Earl Grey, didn’t disappoint. There’s no stumbling about, trying to figure out their sound, it’s all right here: tales of teenage romance and heartbreak set to verdant indie-pop that recalls Cate Le Bon and Gorkys Zygotic Mynci by way of Brill Building era Carole King. Early Grey’s 13-minute title track gets deeply psychedelic and shows these three -- all still in their teens -- are only just getting started. [B.P.]
Meg Duffy had already established herself as a guitarist, having played in live lineups of Mega Bog and Kevin Morby’s band, but proved to be a great songwriter too with her debut album as Hand Habits. Home-recorded in a living room in Upstate NY and finished in her home of Los Angeles, Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) has a delicate, laid back style that’s lonesome, beautifully mopey, and resplendent in Meg’s textural guitar playing. She followed that with a single for Saddle Creek that shows there is more where that came from. Her recordings’ charms are a bit understated, but there’s no missing her serious chops when Meg plays live. [B.P.]
For such a young artist, Melina Duterte has a pretty loaded bag of tricks. On this year's excellent Everybody Works, she broke out emo-ish, Death Cab-style indie rock ("The Bus Song"), fuzzy, early Yo La Tengo punk ("1 Billion Dogs"), '80s pop ("One More Time, Please"), stuttering, blissfully jumpy shoegaze ("Baybee"), and a whole lot else besides. It somehow all works as something beyond pastiche, mainly because Duterte's songwriting is so distinct and nuanced -- she can unify disparate styles and somehow always get at a similar thing. It's a dazzling record, and one can only be excited about where Jay Som's musical excursions will head next. [Rob Sperry-Fromm]
Julie Byrne's delicate, minimal folk music caught our ears with her sophomore album, and first for Ba Da Bing, Not Even Happiness. She had a busy year touring behind it in 2017, playing shows with Whitney, Weyes Blood, Waxahatchee, and Kurt Vile, among others. She deservedly found her way onto many top albums of the year lists, including our own (and Kevin Morby’s). Julie's lovely, calming music makes a great balm to soothe many hurts, and we predict we'll want to keep playing it for a long while to come. [A.H.]
After a stint as the bass player for The History of Apple Pie, as well as jobs in record stores and working with cancer patients, Welsh-born Kelly Lee Owens combined her interests in music and healing with a newfound love of electronic music and producing and started releasing music on her own. Dance producer Daniel Avery, who she met while they both worked at record store Pure Grooves, helped inspire her and get her start after he invited her in to contribute to his records in 2012. She sings on three of the tracks on his 2013 album Drone Logic. James Greenwood (aka Ghost Culture) and Erol Alkan both worked on that album too and became collaborators and friends of Kelly as well. Inspired by Arthur Russell, one of Kelly’s first-released songs (which also showed up on this year’s self-titled full length) was a tribute called “Arthur.” That song caught the attention of designer Alexander McQueen (who put it in a fashion show and played it in his stores) and reportedly is part of the reason Joakim signed her to his label Smalltown Supersound (who went on to release an EP and her 2017 debut album). The album, which we voted one of the year’s best, showcases her masterful knowledge of electronic music that pulls from techno, house, trip hop, and more. Combined with her knack for using her voice as an instrument, Kelly came out with her own sophisticated pop style. One of the album’s best tracks is a collaboration with the great Jenny Hval who Kelly met after deciding she wanted to remix one of Jenny’s songs (Kelly has said a few times that more women need to be remixing other women). That remix did happen, and was yet another moment that started to make Kelly Lee Owens a household name to serious music fans. Capping off an already great year, Kelly got a nod from another one her heroes when Bjork included “Anxi ft. Jenny Hval” on a mix for MixMag. We can’t wait to see where Kelly heads next.
Cardi B may have been the Bronx's (and the world's) biggest rap breakout of 2017, but she wasn't the only new talent bubbling up in the birthplace of hip hop. Maliibu Miitch made waves with the "4 AM" and "Gwapamole" singles earlier this year, and she just polished off 2017 with "The Count," which might be her hardest song yet. "You're nobody 'til somebody kills you, and you ain't poppin' if nobody feels you," Miitch taunts on the hook, channeling Biggie and sounding something like G-Unit in their prime. Her booming, bassy delivery and ominous production is classic turn-of-the-millennium New York, but Miitch sounds ready to take over right now. [A.S.]
Nadia Reid writes songs that combine the intimacy of folk music with rock-sized ambition. A native New Zealander and former flatmate of another artist whose name you saw on this list, Aldous Harding, Nadia caught our attention with her sophomore album, Preservation. It wound up on a few year end best of lists, including Rough Trade, Q, MOJO (where she is ranked at #2), and our own, and it’s full of ear-worm melodies, alternately haunting and catchy, all under Nadia's gorgeous, expressive voice. We also caught Nadia as she made her recent NYC live debut, which came after some US shows with another newish folk singer with similar sensibilities, Julie Byrne (who is also on this list). If you like Aldous, Julie, or Angel Olsen, we think you'll find something to love in Nadia's music, as well. [A.H.]
Phoebe Bridgers' Stranger in the Alps is one of the highest ranking debut albums on BV's Top 50 Albums of 2017 for good reason. She had a three-song EP before this (including two songs that were revamped for Stranger in the Alps) and she's been a professional musician for a few years, but Stranger in the Alps really is the world's introduction to Phoebe Bridgers and it is a rare thing to come out of the gate with music as emotionally overwhelming as this. Over minimal singer/songwriter arrangements, Phoebe delivers some of the most powerful lyrics I've heard all year -- on a debut or otherwise -- with a voice that has no trouble conveying real emotion and gorgeous melody in equal measure. Her album has just ten proper songs, one of which is a Mark Kozelek cover, and I think all of them were my favorite at different points. If this is just Phoebe's start point, her future looks very bright. [A.S.]
Ratboys put their debut album AOID out in 2015 on the trusty Topshelf Records, but it's this year's GN that cements them as a band that you need to be paying attention to. Like past tourmates (and Best New Bands of 2016 alumni) Pinegrove, Ratboys find the middle ground between alt-country and DIY indie rock, and offer up an exciting twist on two familiar sounds. Singer Julia Steiner's voice should appeal to fans of stuff in the Waxahatchee/Speedy Ortiz realm, while the twangy slide guitar and real-deal folk music may attract fans of Dave Cobb-produced crossover country (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, etc). They're increasingly good in the live show department too, made even better by their tendency to bring guest horn players on tour. [A.S.]
Albums aren't always as aptly named as Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley's 2017 mixtape My Moment, which could really just be the name of his entire year. With basically no prior commercial music or notable fanbase, Grizzley wrote the entire mixtape while in jail for robbery, and he put out its first single soon after his release in late 2016. Buzz for the single quickly caught on, scoring him a major label deal, and My Moment came out, living up to any and all hype that was created for it, while he was on tour opening for 21 Savage and Young M.A. (I caught him at the NYC show -- good stuff.) He returned to NYC in the summer for a rite-of-passage headlining show at SOB's, and he kept quickly rising in popularity and returned here in the fall to headline an even bigger show at Gramercy Theatre. He kept the momentum of My Momentum going with a very solid collaborative mixtape with Lil Durk, Bloodas, and got asked to contribute to the new album by Atlanta great Jeezy (he's also opening Jeezy's 2018 tour). Tee Grizzley seemingly can't be stopped. [A.S.]
Scratchy, skronky, danceable post-punk has been pilfered to no end over the last 40 years but there are still acts who can make it sound like they invented it. Armed with a dual sax attack, Oakland, CA’s The World do just that, sounding as urgent as Liliput, Delta 5 or Gang of Four. They’re working with a similar lyrical MO too, throwing a party as things go up in flames, be it literally (“Some Like it Hot), or on a more micro level (“Ghost Town,” “I Fell in Love With a Slumlord). Plus, cheese omlettes. The World: hard to Google, easy to enjoy. [B.P.]
Cameroon-born New Yorker Lætitia Tamko cut her teeth playing DIY scene shows over the past few years, and in February she released her debut album, Infinite Worlds, on Father/Daughter Records. It's a strong offering, one where crunchy indie rock sits side by side with synth and electro beats. Lætitia has a powerful voice that's just as strong live, and people are listening - over the course of a year, she went from packing Baby's All Right for her album release show to headlining Bowery Ballroom. Lætitia studied to be an engineer before recording her album, and taught herself to play guitar as a teenger. Her determination seems to know no bounds, and we look forward to seeing what challenge she'll tackle next. [A.H.]
Kathy Yaeji Lee -- currently back in NYC where she was born after spending her childhood moving around to places including her parents’ native Korea -- recently gained enough popularity from her music to motivate her to quit her graphic design job and pursue her music full time. After making a name for herself in Brooklyn basements and illegal warehouses, Yaeji recently sold out a headlining show at new 700-capacity Bushwick venue Elsewhere. Signed to GODMODE whose label co-founder Nick Sylvester is also a key collaborator, she released two EPs this year and the progression from the first to the second is staggering. The first EP shows Yaeji as a talented beatmaker who also knows how to use her own voice as an instrument, but by the second EP she's writing full-blown songs. She sings in both Korean and English and exists somewhere between dance music, R&B, dream pop, and rap, and she bounces between those genres just as casually as many listeners in 2017 do. She sounds like the future, and her already-great music seems far from reaching its full potential. [A.S.]