The year 2017 hasn’t even started yet. Yet, over the past few months, a clutch of fledgling stars have released singles and EPs that promise great things for their full debuts, coming in the new year. Here are Yahoo Music’s recommendations.
Singers needn’t shout to show their skills. Fresh proof arrived on Cloves’s understated EP, XII, which teases her forthcoming full release. The 19-year-old, born Kaity Dunstan, never raises her voice above a conversational level when she sings. Yet the agility of her phrasing, and her command of multiple octaves, will make your head spin. Cloves took her name after making a trip to Bali, where that herb serves as the national symbol. For her initial recordings, Cloves worked with producers Justin Parker (Lana Del Rey, Sia) and Rich Cooper (Mumford & Sons). But she’s a more subtle singer than any of those stars. Employing just a light piano, a flicker of acoustic guitar, and the occasional drum beat, Cloves spirals around her melodies with a graceful ache. Her song “Don’t Forget About Me” highlighted the soundtrack for Me Before You, setting the bar high for that debut.
Who doesn’t welcome a well-turned underdog story? In “The Embers,” the opening track off Vagabon’s mesmerizing debut, she sings with equal parts delicacy and determination about feeling “so small/my feet can barely touch the floor/on the bus where everybody is tall.” In “Fear and Force,” she expresses her alienation with a pained authority. Her outsider perspective reflects something tangible. The woman who performs under the name Vagabon was born Letitia Tamko in Cameroon, Africa. As a teen, she came to her current home in New York, creating the kind of culture shock that’s manna for any artist seeking a fresh eye on the world. The music Vagabon makes, which mixes synths, guitars, and drums, draws on scores of indie-rock influences. There’s a hint of the Velvet Underground in “Fear and Force,” and suggestions of the Replacements in “Minneapolis.” You’ll find both cuts on her debut, which arrives Feb. 24 on Father/Daughter Records. Given Tamko’s discomfort with life’s limitations, it’s telling the title she chose: Infinite Worlds.
Whistling may be a common motif in pop hits — from the old chestnuts of Perry Como to Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” to Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience.” But rarely has that puckered sound eaten up as much of a single as it does in Rob $tone’s breakout song “Chill Bill.” (He sampled the whistling from the Kill Bill Vol. 1 soundtrack.) Allegedly written by $tone in the back of a police car during an aborted arrest, “Chill” laces its central hook around a deep bass intonation, punctuating the star’s lolling raps. To mirror its weed-friendly lyrics, $tone’s flow has a blissed-out ease. The 21-year-old, who was born Jaylen Robinson, grew up in the less-moneyed part of San Diego. There he bonded with a local group of rappers known as the 1207 Collective. Together they’ve been opening shows for A$AP Ferg of late. Meanwhile, “Chill” has earned more than 150 million streams on Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud, helping shoot it to No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. All this has built major buzz for $tone’s major-label debut, arriving this spring. With so much juice behind a novelty single, $tone could well become the Fetty Wap of 2017.
Time’s passage plays a key role in the songs of Maggie Rogers. The theme informs both of her tantalizing singles, “Alaska” and “Dog Years.” In each, Rogers harmonizes with herself, creating dense solo chorales. The result has gained significant traction. Rogers’s first single, “Alaska,” has been streamed more than 21 million times. She road-tested the song in front of no less impressive a mentor than Pharrell Williams, when he was teaching a master class at the Clive Davis Institute at NYU, which Rogers attended. The strength of the song bagged the singer a deal with Capitol Records, which issued a beguiling follow-up, “Dog Years.” Both songs will be featured on a hotly anticipated release, arriving in February.
Their unusual name comes from a Latin American term for “panic attack.” But the music of SUSTO tempers the roiling emotions in their lyrics with a mellifluous twist on alterna-country. In songs like “Hard Drugs” and “Gay in the South,” SUSTO tell the tales of souls in conflict, both with themselves and their surroundings. Leader Justin Osborne formed the five-person band in his native Charleston, S.C. After releasing music independently, they crafted a haunting album called I’m Fine Today, set to debut on Caroline Records Jan. 13. It’s highlighted by Osborne’s vulnerable vocals and hummable melodies. By February, more listeners will discover SUSTO when they open shows for the Lumineers.
The guitar tickles, the beat strokes, and the voice warms the song to its core. Every sound in “Location,” the first single by Khalid, burns with romantic need. The lyrics — which are well-tuned to the logistics of the digital age — surely didn’t hurt in gaining attention. So far, “Location” has earned nearly 1 million views on YouTube, not bad for a debut song by someone just 18 years old. Born in El Paso, Texas, Khalid cut his first single while still in high school. But his voice has a gentlemanly maturity, inspiring RCA to sign him in 2016. Another song Khalid recorded, “Hopeless,” floats on one of the most insouciant R&B/pop melodies in memory. There’s a formality to his tunes that contrasts the arty style of Frank Ocean or the droning one of Drake. When Khalid’s first full album appears, it could prove both a critical and commercial smash.
Love needs assurance, a desire the singer Frances taps into on her arresting first single, “Say It Again.” In this ravishing ballad, the U.K. singer begs a lover to restate his feelings for a sad reason. Since she had never known love before, she can’t believe it’s real. However needy that may sound, Frances makes her pining irresistible. The clear-voiced 26-year-old singer (born Sophie Frances Cooke, in Oxford, England) received her musical training at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. In 2014, she signed with the prestigious Communion Records, which released two EPs, leading to her nomination for the BBC “Sound of 2016” prize. Frances’s first full American release, Things I’ve Never Said, will arrive on Capitol Records this March. It contains “Say,” along with songs that combine classic pop and R&B, delivered by a voice shivering with sincerity.
Meet Americana’s next big thing. The Accidentals, led by Savannah Buist and Katie Larson, hail from Michigan, a state that inspired in them an ode catchy enough to serve as its own tourist draw, “Michigan and Again.” Like all the group’s songs, it boasts a finely observed lyric and a brightly catchy tune. Musically, their songs sift together folk, bluegrass, alt-rock, and even classical music, via the somber tones of Larson’s cello. The Accidentals match their instruments to girlishly high voices that can sound both winsome and wise. The core duo began performing four years ago while still in high school. They’ve been prolific since, recording loads of indie releases, filming well-shot videos, while earning Billboard’s nod as one of the breakout groups at 2015’s South by Southwest. They’ve opened national tours for the likes of Andrew Bird, Brandi Carlile, and Dar Williams. This coming spring, they’ll finally issue their major-label debut for Sony.
GONE IS GONE
Fans of avant-metal have a lot to look forward to. A new supergroup, comprising members of Mastodon, At the Drive-In, and Queens of the Stone Age, will release their first full album in 2017. The quartet formed early this year, instigated by Drive-In’s Tony Hajjar, who’d been matching his punishing beats to the sounds of guitarist-keyboardist Mike Zarin on video game scores. Looking to flesh their sound out, they partnered with bassist Troy Sanders (who doubles as Mastodon’s howler) and super-heavy QOTSA guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen. In June, the newly minted foursome issued an EP whose concussive riffs, thunderous beats, and vengeful vocals inspired enough material for the full album coming in January.
In the bold new single by the women of MUNA, they amplify every feeling they’ve been told to repress. “Every time I don’t shut up/it’s a revolution,” declares singer Katie Gavin as the rousing melody cheers her on. Small wonder they titled the song “Loudspeaker,” boldfacing the theme of self-assertion that highlights the trio’s debut album, which arrives Feb. 3. MUNA comprises three L.A.-based musicians, including keyboardist-guitarist Naomi McPherson and lead guitarist Josette Maskin, along with frontwoman Gavin. The group specializes in synth-driven indie rock, rooted in the Los Angeles sound of the ’80s. Like HAIM, MUNA must have spent a lot of time listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage. The four-song EP they issued in the fall features a lush take on prime MTV-era synth-pop. Given that era, the theme of their single and their flair for hooks, “Loudspeaker” could become the “Voices Carry” of this generation.