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News & Music Contributors
Best Of 2013
Thu December 26, 2013
10 Artists You Should Have Known In 2013
It's usually easy to keep up with your favorite artists. You can follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook and check them out when they come to your town.
Falling in love with unfamiliar bands? That's not quite as simple. There are so many aspiring musicians out there, you can't possibly listen to all of them.
But a few lucky people get to listen to random new artists for a living, including public radio hosts. So we asked NPR stations around the country to highlight their favorite musical discoveries of the year. The results ranged from a Pulitzer Prize winner to stars of the Kansas City BBQ circuit.
Read on for more about the 10 artists you should have known in 2013.
Partita: III. Courante
North Carolina-bred, New York-based violinist, singer and composer Caroline Shaw thought she was "having a psychotic break" when, at 30, she was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in music for her Partita for 8 Solo Voices — a startling original work that draws on Baroque dance forms, experimental vocal music and the drawings of artist Sol LeWitt.
Shaw sees composition as a logical extension of her musicianship — and, in fact, prefers to be known as a musician rather than a capital-C Composer. Her versatile music-making is most often on display with the vocal octet Roomful of Teeth and as violinist with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. But her compositions themselves are dramatic, lush, poetic and innovative.
Though emblematic of an increasing percentage of musicians comfortable with various styles and performance practices, her voice is powerfully forward-looking, exciting and entirely her own. --Alex Ambrose, Q2 Music
Trampled Under Foot
Bad Bad Feeling
Trampled Under Foot is one of a few modern blues bands that honor tradition while still sounding fresh and original.
The group is a family affair: Kansas City siblings Danielle (bass), Nick (guitar) and Kris (drums) were each on different musical paths before they joined together in 2000.
Winning the International Blues Challenge in 2008 put them on the radar, and this release proves that the family-band concept is no gimmick. Its R&B/blues originals (often performed at Kansas City's best BBQ establishments) are distinguished by uncommon soul and atmosphere.
Danielle's voice may remind you of a husky Bonnie Raitt, but she can also dig into James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World." The band's best songs, including "Bad Bad Feeling" and "Pain in My Mind," showcase laid-back grooves that ooze with emotion. --John Kessler, KPLU
Cecile McLorin Salvant
A woman-child singing jazz ain't that peculiar, but youth so blessed with pitch, poise and personality (that elusive harbinger of authenticity) is rarer.
Cecile McLorin Salvant works from the star chart: Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter exhaled their own timeless pronunciations, and those wispy notes of historical record dare some peripatetic soul to inherit them. Inhabit them. Deliver them. Deliver us. Salvant genuflects to the syncretism of those great divas, but these are her songs now.
Tomorrow's temples are built for old prayers. --Josh Jackson, WBGO
Last year, Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett was a 24-year-old waitress self-releasing a couple of EPs out of her bedroom on her own Milk! Records.
In 2013, those recordings were combined for her international debut The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, which launched her to packed CMJ shows, Pitchfork praise and Rolling Stone likening her to "early Bob Dylan."
Barnett is just as likely to remind you of the languid stoner sounds of Kurt Vile, the coolly detached vocals of Victoria Bergsman and the stream-of-consciousness lyrical craft of Stephen Malkmus — which is to say, it's hard to pinpoint her, and the enigma will keep us all intrigued for years to come. --Janice Headley, KEXP
Birds and Stars
What happens when everyone in the band plays multiple instruments?
They could either produce cacophony or a lush, layered, wondrous atmosphere. Luckily, Elephant Revival ably pulls off the latter.
The Colorado folk group pulls together so many elements of American music that summing up its sound in just a few words is bound to prove inadequate. Listen closely to the band's 2013 breakthrough These Changing Skies and you'll hear intuitive rhythms augmented with unexpected hand claps; expansive acoustic instruments with tight, haunting vocals; gut-level intuition; Celtic dancing grooves; and plenty of progressive roots music. --Kim Ruehl, Folk Alley
How is it that my No. 1 album of 2013 is also the most criminally overlooked album of 2013?
Since this discovery, I'm making it my personal mission to ensure that you listen to Jagwar Ma's Howlin' now and love it in 2014. The first song I heard from the record was "Come Save Me"; all I knew was that it was a 7" single from Sydney that made me want to dance in a '60s-soul-meets-Miami Beach kind of way.
Jagwar Ma is two guys — Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield — who combine psychedelic dance grooves and full-on pop songcraft. Add to that the warmth of the sun, classic analog recording gear and a trippy sense of humor, and I don't see how you can't fall madly in love. --Anne Litt, KCRW
Lake Street Drive
You Go Down Smooth
Lake Street Dive's unique version of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" picked up more than one million YouTube views — an odd start for a band with serious songwriting and performance chops.
The group wins fans fast with its charming and intelligent pop songs, and it's set to release an album of original (and I mean that in every sense of the word) tunes in February.
This will be a year for many to discover Lake Street Dive. --Rita Houston, WFUV
Batches & Cookies
Rapper and singer Lizzo has emerged as an exhilarating new talent in the Twin Cities, first as a member of the hip-hop trio The Chalice and now as a powerhouse solo act and co-founder of the spunky GRRRL PRTY.
That she's appeared as a guest on nearly every major Minneapolis hip-hop release to come out this year (and several indie-rock ones, too) further cements her status as an artist you should know. An indefatigable and chameleonic performer, Lizzo injects attitude into everything she touches, but it's her raw talent that's made her the linchpin of a scene overflowing with talented MCs. --Andrea Swensson, The Current
Nice And Slow
Texas native Max Frost was already playing shows by the age of 12, and in 2012, he dropped out of college to pursue a solo career. Less than a year later, music blogs took notice of his song "White Lies."
The 21-year-old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist signed to Atlantic this year on the strength of just two singles. His debut EP (Low High Low) was released in October following appearances on KUTX, music festivals UtopiaFest and ACL, and a tour with fellow Austinite Gary Clark Jr.
The EP mixes radio-friendly pop, blues and vintage tones; Frost says it's "influenced by everything [he's] ever heard." --Tyler Pratt, KUTX
Will Rudimental's huge success in the U.K. translate to the States?
All signs point to: "It should." The London electronic outfit gained popularity with the soaring "Feel the Love"; that song's video documents the horse-riding lifestyle of North Philadelphia's Fletcher Street. The track topped the U.K. music charts, as did "Waiting All Night," featuring singer Ella Eyre.
The band released its debut full-length album Home in the States in August; it mixes R&B, drum-and-bass, dubstep and soulful house music. With additional vocal support from Angel Haze, John Newman and Emeli Sande', Home makes perfect sense on today's pop landscape. --Bruce Warren, WXPN
Jazz and Blues