1) Shakey Graves
The Story: Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka Shakey Graves, is today the most exciting thing in music. His rocky blues debut album, Roll the Bones, took the Texas music scene by storm, and he went on to win the Best Emerging Artist award at the 2015 Americana Music Awards. A worthy opener to your American Express Essentials selection.
The Sound: The lighter parts look to a more testosterone fuelled Jack Johnson or a heavier Mikhael Paskalev.
The Influences: Country, Rock ‘n’ Roll, hot Texicana and snug jeans of Austin.
The Song: Roll the Bones – signature song from the debut album; submit yourself to that intoxicating twang
Discover more here: shakeygraves.com
The Story: Zach Condon recorded his debut album at age 18 after dropping out of college and running away to Paris. Now, having been through a divorce and battled writer’s block, Condon’s found love and a new direction that’s resulted in his fourth album, No No No, the most upbeat – and dare we say, poppiest – yet.
The Sound: Lashings of Balkan-influenced brass, though in this latest instalment there is more piano and slightly less carolling.
The Influences: Hungarian Folk to American pop of the ‘70s.
The Song: Start at the end with the latest single No No No.
Discover more here: beirutband.com
3) Alabama Shakes
The Story: Athens, Georgia, might have spawned bands like R.E.M. and the B-52s, but Athens, Alabama is home to the mighty roots rock superstars Alabama Shakes.
The Sound: The tight five-strong band is adorned by the remarkable voice of Brittany Howard. Imagine the lovechild of Janis Joplin and Ella Fitzgerald and you’re getting close to Howard’s extraordinary, albeit improbable, voice.
The Influences: classic Rolling Stones, The Meters, Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone, AC/DC (yes, they’re nothing if not eclectic!).
The Song: Listen to the impassioned and soulful Hold On from their debut album Boys & Girls and we swear you’ll love them forever.
Discover more here: alabamashakes.com
The Story: Alvvays (pronounced “Always”) hail from Toronto. Friends since childhood, Alvvays vocalist Molly Rankin and keyboardist Kerri MacLellan began playing music with Alec O’Hanley while in high school. The group recorded their first full-length album, Alvvays, in July 2014.
The Sound: Their music feels like it plays perfectly in a long van ride or cross-country road trip. Don’t be surprised when you listen closer and discover that the indie-pop melodies are set upon plaintive foundations and undercut by Rankin’s subversive lyrics.
The Influences: The Smiths, The Cranberries, Oasis
The Song: Archie, Marry Me – sugar and spice and all things nice?
Discover more here: alvvays.com
5) Little Comets
The Story: Little Comets come from the bleaker districts of the North of England, Jarrow and Washington. They are made up of two brothers, a friend, and a much-need fourth they met in the rehearsal room. On 9 February 2009, the band released their debut single One Night in October through Lucky Number Records on vinyl and via digital download.
The Sound: Poppy kitchen sink-indie, minus any synth and excessive Bastille-esque harmonies.
The Influences: A spoonful of Talking Heads and a pinch of Vampire Weekend.
The Song: One Night in October – Jump right into the infectious rhythm and slightly confused fun of the Comets.
Discover more here: littlecomets.com
6) Benjamin Booker
The Story: As a teenager growing up in north central Florida, Booker was attracted to the anxiety and bloody-minded attitude of 1970s punk. Moving to New Orleans after college, he absorbed the history there that is as thick as the humidity. He went on to create his own blend of rock and soul, leading to his storming debut album in 2014.
The Sound: A combination of gospel, blues, punk and soul; fresh, immediate, and raw.
The Influences: The idea of Otis Redding playing punk
The Song: Violent Shiver – prepare for hot and cold flashes.
Discover more here: benjaminbookermusic.com
The Story: Karen Marie Ørsted is a Danish singer and songwriter. In addition to being an acronym for her middle and surname, ‘mø’ also means, ‘maiden’ or ‘virgin’ in Danish. The pure heat that radiates from her music and videos, however, make for an alluring contrast. She released her debut album No Mythologies to Follow in March 2014.
The Sound: Charlie XX meets Grimes.
The Influences: Believe it or not, Mø cites the Spice Girls as her biggest influence.
The Song: One More (feat. Elliphant) – there is a kinetic urgency to this song that righty promised great things to follow.
Discover more here: momomoyouth.com
8) Youth Lagoon
The Story: Youth Lagoon is the stage name of Trevor Powers from Boise, Idaho. Youth Lagoon released his minimalist debut album The Year of Hibernation in 2011. The album took on thorny subject matters such as psychological dysphoria and mental disorientation. His latest album, Savage Hills Ballroom, continues in a similarly heavy yet enchanting vein.
The Sound: anxious, americana, alternative
The Influences: In his own words, Youth Lagoon’s songs come from “a sort of subconscious place” from which “ideas just come out all messy.” Long may the mess continue.
The Song: Highway Patrol Stun Gun – for the haunting music video if nothing else.
Discover more here: savagehillsballroom.com
9) Courtney Barnett
The Story: Courtney Melba Barnett is an Australian singer-songwriter from Melbourne. Her witty and rambling lyrics attracted the attention of music hawks in the US and UK in late 2013. She was tauted by Rolling Stone and The New York Times as an artist to watch, and her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit met international acclaim when released in March 2015.
The Sound: Described as “wry and dry” by Jack White, she is a rockier version of Regina Spektor, with the husky tones of Taylor Momsen.
The Influences: Classic rock ‘n’ roll
The Song: Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party – thanks to the sentiment, the humour and the hook, this song has it all.
Discover more here: courtneybarnett.com.au
The Story: Hinds was born as Deers by Carlotta Cosials and Ana García Perrote from Madrid in 2011. Due to the problematic presence of another band called Deers, the duo changed to Hinds and were later joined by guitar player and singer Ade Martín on bass and the Netherlands-born Amber Grimbergen on drums. Hinds has released a handful of lackadaisical and infectious singles, and their debut album, Leave Me Alone, is expected in 2016.
The Sound: Garage rock with husky Spanish giggles; melodies reminiscent of Suede and The Vaccines
The Influences: The Strokes
The Song: Bamboo – charming and provocative.
Discover more here: soundcloud.com/hindsband
The Story: Jillian Rose Banks, or BANKS, from O.C, California was recognised as The Sound of 2014 by BBC Radio 1. Her debut album Goddess was released at the end of that year, and since then Banks has kept herself in the gossip columns by such unconventional behaviour as posting her phone number on Facebook and acting as agony aunt to her angsty fans.
The Sound: Scratched vocals, digitally enhanced instrumentation; Banks describes her music as ‘blue’ and ‘midnight.’
The Influences: Lauryn Hill and Fiona Apple
The Song: Beggin for Thread, a thumping and foreboding dance floor filler.
Discover more here: hernameisbanks.com
12) Rizzle Kicks
The Story: When Jordan Stephens invited his friend Harley Alexander-Sule over to sing on his covers of Lily Allen while they were both studying at the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology, they stumbled upon chemistry and a unique sound. They were scouted after their YouTube videos began attracting mass attention and went on to release their debut album at the end of 2011.
The Sound: Cheeky and diverse; this is not Hip-Hop for the down trodden but Hip-Pop for the foot snappers
The Influences: Beastie Boys, The Cool Kids, Gorillaz
The Song: Down with the Trumpets – jump right into the fun of their debut single.
Discover more here: rizzlekicks.com
13) Kamasi Washington
The Story: Kamasi Washington is someone you have probably heard, if not heard of. You have most likely listened to his saxophone, which was featured on the recent albums of Kendrick Lamar and Lying Lotus. He recorded his debut solo album with his childhood friends, the drummer Ronald Bruner Jr and his brother the bassist Stephen Bruner aka Thundercats.
The Sound: His album The Epic has it all with currents of strings and vocals undercut with groove and the odd horn solo.
The Influences: John Coltrane, Albert Ayler
The Song: Re Run Home – in the case of this song, for once ‘epic’ is not hyperbole.
Discover more here: kamasiwashington.com
14) George Ezra
The Story: Listening to his gravely tones you might well imagine that George Ezra is a distinguished man of the old school, having smoked a good load of Lamberts a day and played his fair share of grimy open mic joints. Quite the surprise to see this baby faced chappy with strawberry blonde hair and full pink lips. Ezra is only 22, and rose to fame in 2014 with the release of his hit single Budapest which reached the Top 10 in numerous countries around the world.
The Sound: A bluesy belter of a voice. Like fellow Old Soul Brit Jake Bugg, Ezra’s sound responds to another generation of music.
The Influences: Bob Dylan, Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie
The Song: Listen to the Man is not Ezra’s biggest song, but his most warming. Ian McKellen’s cameo in the video is purely a delectable bonus.
Discover more here: georgeezra.com
15) Douglas Dare
The Story: Dare was encouraged from a young age by his piano teacher mother to take up composing, but only knuckled down in earnest when at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA). He released his first EP when in London in 2013. His debut album, Whelm, was released in May 2014; a concise pack of dark and intimate tracks.
The Sound: sombre neo-classical piano; what you might expect to hear if Woodkid played the piano.
The Influences: PJ Harvey, Radiohead
The Song: Swim – doze off to this song, and then let it jolt you awake again.
Discover more here: douglasdare.com
16) The Dø
The Story: The Dø is a French/Finnish indie pop duo made up of Olivia Merilahti and Dan Levy. The two met when recording music for the French film Empire of the Wolves in the mid 90s. They released their fourth studio album, Shake Shook Shaken, late last year, rising to #7 in the French Albums Chart.
The Sound: Invigorating electronic-pop
The Influences: A mixed bag; Merilahti’s vocals will likely bring to mind Björk or Duffy.
The Song: Despair, Hangover & Ecstacy. It is not that the drop never comes in this song – it’s more that the build up reaches its peak as the track begins.
Discover more here: thedomusic.com
17) James Bay
The Story: James Michael Bay appears like the dawky emo kid who made it big. He was signed to Republic Records in 2013 after a video of him playing in a North London club was posted online. A year or so later he was hauled into BBC Radio 1 when Lana Del Ray pulled out last minute from a live music clot. Fast forward to 2015, Bay’s debut album Chaos and the Calm went to Number 1 in the UK and he received the Critics’ Choice Award at that year’s Brit Awards.
The Sound: Acoustic with more than a little of Bryan Adams and a country twang. His whispery vocals are reminiscent of fellow Brits Sam Smith and Tom Odell.
The Influences: Reportedly it was Eric Clapton’s Layla that first inspired Bay to dust down the family guitar and strum his first chord.
The Song: Hold Back the River is what the kids are singing and the song that took the UK by storm.
Discover more here: jamesbay.com
18) Leon Bridges
The Story: Leon Bridges is a gospel and soul singer from Forth Worth, Texas. Two years ago he was washing dishes at a restaurant; less than a year ago, over 40 record companies were vying for his business. Originally a 90s R&B nut, Sam Cooke’s song A Change is Gonna Come in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X biopic led Bridges to begin songwriting in a different vein. His debut album Coming Home was released on June 23, 2015.
The Sound: From the whimsical, ephemeral pre-Beatles period. Croons of Bill Withers with the scintillating snap of the snare.
The Influences: From Ginuwine and Usher to Otis Redding and Sam Cooke
The Song: Coming Home – as sweet and thick as molasses, Bridge’s voice at its best.
Discover more here: leonbridges.com
19) Gregory Alan Isakov
The Story: Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Isakov began touring Philadelphia at 16 where he had emigrated to as a child. He released his first album way back in 2003, and in 2007 he was named Best Singer / Songwriter by the alternative weekly newspaper Westword. He recorded his latest album, The Weatherman, over the course of year when in the seclusion of a tranquil mountain town in Colorado.
The Sound: A more expansive Fleet Foxes.
The Influences: Leonard Cohen, Kelly Joe Phelps and Bruce Springsteen
The Song: Big Black Car – simultaneously haunting and cosy.
Discover more here: gregoryalanisakov.com
20) The Districts
The Story: This garage rock quartet formed in 2009 when still at high school in Lititz, a small town in Pennsylvania. After a spike of viral success, they were scouted and signed with Eat Possum Records in 2013. Their first studio album was released in February 2015 and peaked at 37 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
The Sound: Stateside Mumford & Sons?
The Influences: Specifically, Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child and Purple Haze and Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times.
The Song: 4th & Roebling. The drawings, distorted vocals mixed with the twangs make an interesting transatlantic menagerie of a record.
Discover more here: thedistrictsband.com
21) London Grammar
The Story: The band met while at Nottingham University in the UK and after just a handful of shows, they were signed to Ministry. The label’s focus on dance music allowed this theee-piece fledgling band the scope to spread their wings. In September 2013 they released their debut album If You Wait which peaked at #2 in the UK Albums chart and went platinum across Europe and Australia.
The Sound: Lead singer Hannah Reid described the band’s latest output as a mix between “Pocohontas and Fleetwood Mac”. We would describe the earlier product as Joni Mitchell meets The Little Mermaid.
The Influences: From MJ to Whitney to later-day blues.
The Song: Wasting my Young Years. This song looks at the despondency of youth and offers a window out.
Discover more here: londongrammar.com
22) Songhoy Blues
The Story: This band comes from the Songhoy, formerly one of Mali’s most prominent and powerful ethnic groups. The country’s internal strife brought Oumar and Aliou Toure from Gao together with other band members in the southern city of Bamako. Refusing to “stay shipwrecked by a crisis”, they formed a band to celebrate their displaced people and culture.
The Sound: Desert Blues; an attempt to recreate the ‘lost ambience of the north’ of their country.
The Influences: Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, BB King, John Lee Hooker and Songhoy traditional sounds
The Song: Soubour – what begins something like a Black Keys knock off became something entirely idiosyncratic.
Discover more here: songhoy-blues.com
23) Eternal Summers
The Story: Nicole Yun and Daniel Cundiff started Eternal Summers in 2009 as a duo after being introduced by their eventual bassist, Jonathan Woods. The name comes from Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 18. Yun thought the idea of the enduring beauty of the soul a “really cool idea”. They released the EP Silver in 2010 and then went on to create three more albums. The latest, Gold and Stone, was released this year.
The Sound: Dreamy punk.
The Influences: Supergrass, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth
The Song: Gold and Stone – pensive and at moments ecclesiastical.
Discover more here: eternalsummersband.com
The Story: Jamar Rolando McNaughton Jr, popularly known as Chronixx, is a Jamaican reggae artist. As the son of the singer Chronicle, he was formally known as Little Chronicle. With a series of engaging singles, Chronixx has now resoundingly broken out of his fathers shadow and has established himself as the most exciting artist in reggae today.
The Sound: Reggae Revival revived once more.
The Influences: One can find traces of his father but he packs a much weightier punch.
The Song: Here Comes Trouble was Chronixx’s invigorating entrance onto the global scene.
Discover more here: chronixxmusic.com
Story: Though this Pacific Northwest riot grrrl band has been rocking since 1994, they hadn’t released a new album in ten years when the highly anticipated No Cities To Love came out this past January. Now the legendary trio is back – and better than ever.
Sound: The piercing, take-no-prisoners power of Corin Tucker’s vocals bring the riot grrrl energy to Carrie Brownstein’s punkish guitar style and Janet Weiss’s thunderous drumming. It’s punk/indie rock with a punch of feminism.
Influences: Courtney Love, Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett, Nirvana, Bikini Kill
The Song: No Cities To Love, the title song from their new album. It’s an anthem that you’ll want to sing from the rooftops – or bang your head to at your favourite dive bar.
Discover more here: sleater-kinney.com
26) Bo Ningen
The Story: This band were conceived when Taigen Kawabe and Kohhei Matsuda met at a concert in 2006. Since then they have been joined by Yuki Tsujii and Monchan Man (all from Japan) and have gone on to build up a reputation for themselves as one of the oddest bands playing in London.
The Sound: ‘Psychodelic Krautrock’ and a ‘charnel house of charged riffs’ are both phrases deployed in the attempt to label this sound. Rest assured, there is plenty of screeching chords and improbable rhythm.
The Influences: No one is quite sure. This is a paradigm shift: Bo Ningen will either become great influences themselves, or be consigned to the scrapheap of artists adrift in an unappreciative world.
The Song: Henkan – full throttle acid punk.
Discover more here: boningen.info
Article by Bertie Alexander
Is music better live?