2018, you were BRILLIANT. An insanely great year for unearthing new talent, the array of new bands on the scene was beyond astonishing!
From bluesy post-grunge music to raw gritty punk, the underground rock’n’roll scene is thriving and alive, full to the brim with raw new talent. Some artists/bands I’ve been blown away by this year are brand new discoveries to us, such as aYia and Catbug; others are bands we fell in love with a while back who have reaffirmed their impeccable skill, Toydrum and Toby Driver being perfect examples of this.
So to make your life easier, we’ve scoured the musical landscape of our roster to introduce you to artists we believe are pushing the boundaries and those who are on the verge of finding a much larger audience in 2019.
Some have seemingly gone viral overnight, while others have taken a more traditional path toward the limelight – some bigger than others, and some you may already know, and a handful you’ve probably never heard of — but these are the artists we’re going to pay special attention to this year, and root for as they release albums, tour, and get signed to labels.
From neo-classical to trap, Echo Park to Reykjavik, these are our artists to keep an eye on this year.
Artists to Watch in 2019
Tómas Jónsson (Iceland) – ‘Einn’
In 2016, Tómas Jónsson, at just 23 years old, released his solo debut album simply ” Tómas Jónsson“. Though mostly instrumental, the sound of the album is quite oneiric, padded with subtle electronica and ambient textures, elements of synth-pop, neoclassical, retro jazz motifs and batches of fuzzy pastel guitars, wrapped in a sleepy dream pop glow.
National Service (UK) – ‘Foreign Love ft. Calluna‘
National Service is a four-piece alt-rock outfit from North London drawing influence from the likes of Interpol, The xx, Radiohead and Grizzly Bear.
The ‘Foreign Love’ EP features previous singles ‘Islander’ (lush, languid) and ‘Timid Kisses’ (lurid, lunging) and ‘Looking For Your Lover’ which encapsulates their sense of restrained intensity.
RIYL: Radiohead, Wild Beasts, The National
Harleighblu (UK) – ‘Follow U’
Hailed as the “New Queen of Hip-Hop Soul”, Nottingham native, Harleighblu combines a classic yet truly distinctive soul voice with a love of bass and eclectic future beats.
Her tracks are packed with jazzy grooves and slurred vocals, smokey sweet in their delivery which – if you close your eyes – could fool you into believing you’re listening to a contemporary Erykah Badu.
RIYL: Erykah Badu, AlunaGeorge
Will Samson (Belgium) – ‘Find A Little Light (Day Six)‘
If deconstructed torch songs are your thing, don’t let Luso-Indian troubadour Will Samson pass you by.
Shunning most of his studio gear, his fourth collection of winsome melodics, Welcome Oxygen, leans on guitar, voice and violin, with Will using a newfound vocal confidence to convey thoughts and feelings from a turbulent time with stunning results.
RIYL: Timber Timbre, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Labradford
The TRP (U.S/ Paris) – ‘Lavender’
We can’t give you much background on The Trp, the experimental soul group/person since they haven’t even shared their identity with us! Their debut project ‘soak’ hit the airwaves in mid-2018 and is as inviting as a warm tidal pool, dotted with eccentricities and mystical moments.
RIYL: Terrance McKenna, Frank Ocean
I Me Mine (France) – ‘Raise Them Up’
No, it’s not a Beatles song from the 1970s but a group from Toulouse, France! I Me Mine was consecrated with their first album in 2015 which earned them a long tour of more than 200 dates across France. Very pleased with this experience, the trio decided to grace us with their second opus entitled ‘Ellipsis.’
So, yes, you can read everything about I Me Mine or you can just close your eyes and shut up, let the imprint of a force of musical nature pass through your veins and neurons, just enjoy the ecstasy. “Ellipsis” is a masterpiece!
RIYL: The Foals, Supertramp, The Prodigy, Tame Impala
Hippies vs. Ghosts (Wales) – ‘No Left No Right‘
Originally a side project of Owain Ginsberg from WE//ARE//ANIMAL – Hippies vs Ghosts carry the signature ear for a serious groove with their fascinating off-kilter instrumental jams, augmented by alluring grooves and imaginative arrangements, taking in taking in parts ’50s surf rock, rockabilly, indie and mod, among others
Under the guise of Hippies Vs Ghosts, Owain Ginsberg, has routinely blown us away time after time with his kaleidoscopic, Morricone meets krautrock sound and latest single ‘No Left No Right’ is no different. Lifted from the stunning album of the same name, the new single is exhilarating, irresistible and manic.
There is nothing quite like Hippies Vs Ghosts, and the project shows no signs of slowing as they continue to develop, grow and deliver outrageously good tunes.
RIYL: The Transpersonals, Ennio Morricone x Krautrock
Calper x Ayelle (UK) – ‘Without Me’
French/British producer Calper released the lead track “Without Me” off his 4 track Feels EP, with Swedish/British vocalist Ayelle. The two have separately been making names for themselves online – yet as frequent collaborators, the duo have undeniable chemistry and are seemingly a sonic match made in heaven as their sounds play off each other to perfection over the chill, rhythmic vibes and Ayelle’s sultry vocals.
The two have covered Kanye West’s “Real Friends,” DJ Snake’s “Middle” and Skrillex and Diplo’s “Mind,” accumulating thousands of plays, and the co-sign from the Bipolar Sunshine.
RIYL: Sabrina Claudio, Lyves, Galimatias, Alina Baraz, Alex Lustig
Gentleman Losers (Finland) – ‘Always Crashing on the Same Wave‘
If you need something a little ambient post-rock but with some new year strangeness then may I suggest The Gentleman Losers?
The Gentleman Losers is a rather downbeat name but it is a pair of brothers (Samu and Ville Kuukka) from Finland. Not a country known for its happy go lucky character. And so it is on their new album Make We Here Our Camp of Winter. This is their fourth full-length album since forming in 2004.
“Make We Here Our Camp Of Winter” is a sublime album that intelligently mixes elements of ambient, lo-fi, electronica and post-rock. Recorded using both vintage analogue equipment and modern production techniques and with a sound palette that blends layers of haunting guitar melodies, slowly picked lap steel guitar, warm analogue synths, subtle bass lines, minimal beats and spoken word, it’s an emotive album that showcases the trademark sound of The Gentleman Losers at its best.
RIYL: early Boards of Canada, Nils Frahm, Bibio, Labradford
Port Cities (Nova Scotia) – ‘Back To The Bottom‘
As with any form of musical collaboration, the magic occurs in the blending of one element with another. The collaboration of acclaimed Nova Scotian singer/songwriters Carleton Stone, Dylan Guthro, and Breagh McKinnon, Port Cities lays out a stunning performance with unapologetically honest lyrics, smooth three-part harmonies, and slick production.
‘Port Cities’ the album is a perfect balance of Nashville (where much of it was recorded) and Nova Scotia (where the band reside); Port Cities’ sound is rustic and atmospheric – a melting pot, a brilliant blend of Roots Rock with pop influence, of indie intimacy and arena-pop anthems.
RIYL: K.T. Tunstall, Civil Wars, The Staves
aYia (Iceland) – ‘Ruins‘
If you’ve got an ear to the ground when it comes to the music of Iceland, then chances are you’re super excited about aYia. If not, you will be soon! The abstract electro-pop of the Icelandic trio aYia, is a thing of beauty…
The sudden appearance of aYia in October 2016 felt like the arrival of a new entity—or the discovery of a new place—more than the launch of a project by three individuals. They materialised quietly, as if out of nowhere, the faces of the people behind the music shrouded beneath hoods and hidden in shadows – the affecting dark wave cut winds a barely-there vocal across an ambient and pulsating backbeat with euphoric drops and rises. With one listen it will be immediately apparent that aYia is something with a personality all of its own.
RIYL: The Knits, Bjork x Massive Attack x Aphex Twin, GANGLY, Högni
Mark McGowan (Scotland) – ‘Speakeasy‘
The first thing you notice when listening to Mark McGowan is the power and timbre of his neo-Soul voice. A uniquely soulful voice to stamp out his own identity, his own way of approaching music. Already a cult figure in Glasgow’s singer-songwriter community, his releases to date – the ace Bonnie & Clyde and Fugazi EP, all hint at a burgeoning talent who deserves a moment in the spotlight.
McGowan’s intricate picking style — a unique infusion of folk and soul on acoustic guitar — and storytelling developed from an early age and became the tools for him to express himself.
For those seeking substance in popular music, here’s Mark McGowan.
RIYL: Damien Rice, Joshua Radin
Árni Vil (Iceland) – ‘The Hitchhiker’s Ride to the Pharmacy‘
Árni Vilhjálmsson was a member and frontman of the legendary madcap dance-punk band FM Belfast – the darlings of the Reykjavik music scene – before leaving to focus on his solo career.
Now supported by dreamlike vocals, impeccable but wild drumming, hypnotic jew harp and percussions, bass and soft guitars, Árni produces a relaxed and collected atmosphere, where—somewhat paradoxically—anything can happen.
He is now in the studio, feverishly preparing to release a new album under the moniker, Árni Vil, in early 2019.
RIYL: Neil Young x Stone Temple Pilots
James BKS (UK) – ‘Kwele’
The first artist to be signed to Idris Elba’s new record label 7Wallace was always bound to be something special. And French Cameroon artist James BKS presents to us an absolutely perfect little package with hip-shaking jam “Kwele”, accompanied by a verdant cinematic video.
Musically “Kwele” is a genre-bending piece of art built on Afro-influenced polyrhythmic sounds mixed with pop and hip-hop. On the flip side, Manu Dibango (who is James biological father ) brings his unique vibe with his complex afro instrumentation to the track while Allan Kingdom comes through with a melodic verse to match.
The result? A unique reverberating blend of rap, pop and rich African sound.
Blow (France) – ‘Power‘
With three EPs under their belt, BLOW are well and truly locking in their status as one of France’s finest. Seductive and lush in its style, their 2018 debut album, Vertigo flows with a dream-like lucidity. Erasing the lines between genres, the Parisian four-piece soar with this electro-pop spectacle.
Their sound is glued together with glossy vocal stylings, embellished choruses, and surrealist lyricism. Adding to its strength are the elaborate guitar riffs, groovy bass, and well-placed drums lines. Crafted with an expert level of skill, the group draw on their longstanding musical backgrounds to bring the record to life.
Inspired by everything from film to love, road trips to change, each track delivers consistently on the fun and flair.
RIYL: Kid Wise, Alt-J, Pink Floyd, Moderat, Darkside, Jungle
Easy Kill (UK) – ‘Phantom Pain‘
Put The National and The Twilight Sad in a blender and what do you get? A bit of a mess, probably, but it’ll sound just like Easy Kill’s ethereal, haunting melodies.
With its spectral, synthetic layers and perplexed vocals Melanscholar, the debut album by Manchester-natives, Easy Kill is an unfathomably lovely record; modern and maudlin, like a woeful Foals blended with sad-faced post-Alt-J japery. But this is an album which is also aware of the ghosts of the past, infused at is with the spirit of Talk Talk while at one point in The Lake they sound like an ethereal 10CC. They’re not in love. So don’t forget it.
RIYL: Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Foals, Wild Beasts, Alt-J
Illuminine (Belgium)- ‘Aura‘
It is impossible to give Illuminine’s hypnotic third album, simply titled #3, anything other than your full attention – instantly we are sent journeying deep into an ambient ocean of waking dreams and melancholia, softness and pain, a gentle, sweet, slow confusion that tangles and untangles like the weeds in the waves. There is no way back – only through.
Flemish composer Kevin Imbrechts, the artist at the helm of Illuminine, deftly blends neo-classical with post-rock influences – and, the album having been mixed at Sigur Ròs studio Sundlaugin, one can certainly detect connections between the two acts – but the music Imbrechts is making here is something precious and distinct of its own.
RIYL: Nils Frahm, Bon Iver and Ólafur Arnalds
Toydrum (UK) – ‘I’ve Got a Future’
Pablo Clements and James Griffith, formerly of UNKLE, have a project called Toydrum – a duo who sneak into the consciousness. Not the full frontal assault but, instead, a drip-feed of classy work that many may know without knowing.
Like with their 2018 release, Field Of Madness – a collection of previously unreleased music and songs ranging from ethereal beauty to the dark and disturbed with an organic mix of pianos, vintage synthesizers and vocal collaboration.
On their remix album My Eye On You (To Reinvision), they enlisted “friends, peers and people we love to work with” to reimagine songs from their albums Distant Focus Vol. 1 and Evangelist, the album that featured the late musical maverick Gavin Clark, most notably on the soundtrack for Shane Meadow’s ‘This Is England ’90’.
Toydrum’s “I’ve Got a Future,”, gently deconstructed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and Clark’s passing at the age of 46 was the catalyst for this collection of remixes and reworks. “These new versions will introduce Gavin to a whole different audience. His legacy needs to be strong and we feel these versions will help with that”, says Pablo.
RIYL: Cinematic Orchestra, Tangerine Dream
VedeTT (France) – ‘It Seems To Be Natural‘
French group VedeTT’s offering, ‘It Seems To Be Natural’, off their 2017 EP ‘Losing All’, is an introspective alternative-rock track that revels in darkness. While their sound follows in the angsty footsteps of The Cure, VedeTT also offers up something refreshingly modern. Like English rock band Blossoms, VedeTT translates the crucial musical traditions of the ’80s into a package that resonates powerfully with today’s audiences.
Fluid guitar trickery floods the track with only the most ear-pleasing, glassy, reverberated tones, and at 3 minutes 27 seconds, we’re lucky enough to experience masterful scale work complimenting the track superbly.
RIYL: Joy Division, Motorama, Shnoed, Cannibale
Sasha (UK) – ‘Gracious‘
“Gracious“, the song that introduced us to North London-based singer Sasha, has been on repeat since we first encountered it back in 2017.
The subsequent follow-ups, ‘Picking Flowers‘, ‘Watershed‘ and ‘I’m Not Your Problem‘, proved just as beguiling, and suggests there might be a lot more to come from this exciting young songwriter. As rich in imagery as it is in her favoured mixture of analogue and digital swathes of gently gorgeous sound, each track is a thing of rare loveliness and melancholy all at once.”
Sasha’s knack for combining peculiar arrangements with a soothing melody has us in mind of artists as dear to our heart as Julia Holter and Jenny Hval; the places where electronic otherworldliness and earthly humanity meet.
Sasha is only at the beginning, yet already her pathway seems clear.
RIYL: JFDR, Bon Iver, Regina Spektor
ORi (Israel/Germany) – ‘Black Book‘
The self-produced 1986 immerses itself in the eerie depths of ambient electronics and whispered wording, as ORI’s delicate and slow-paced way of singing is consistent and always in search of an unconventional approach, remaining nonetheless endearing.
Israel-born Ori Alboher quickly established himself in his hometown of Jerusalem as part of the local musical community. After his band Folo broke up, he decided it was time to fly solo. The result? His debut Unwind in 2012. Shortly after, ORi moved to Berlin in pursuit of a larger audience and broader horizons.
An in-studio coffee spill accident forced ORi to go back to the roots of his initial creative process. This allowed him to rediscover the wonders of using instruments, recording soundscapes and later blend them together through a loop station. ORI’s vocal sampling, manipulation and overlaying methods tied to very fluid and romanticized compositions are now his trademark.
RIYL: Burial, SOHN and touches of James Blake-ness
tomemitsu (U.S) – ‘In Dreams‘
Martin Roark, better known by his stage name Tomemitsu, a bedroom-pop project by the Californian musician, the combination of repetitive melody complete with layered vocals on top of a thick, warm guitar is intoxicating.
M_o_d_e_s is his debut album. Eight soft compositions that drag us into his acoustic world made of light guitar touches, an imperceptible electronics, a warm voice and mild sound experimentations. Everything is minimized under the banner of an intimate and fluent indie-pop.
Tomemitsu turns the unconventional “I Shatter” into a dreamy melancholy pop song, exchanging Merritt’s processed voice and cello for a bass/guitar/drums arrangement that’d fit nicely on the b-side of a Cure single. That “Shatter” transforms so elegantly offers further affirmation of Merritt’s songwriting prowess—proof that a good song is a good song, separate from genre or style—and showcases Tomemitsu’s imagination and capability, too. His “Shatter” respects the original but isn’t just a reproduction. It’s Merritt’s words, but Tomemitsu’s voice.
RIYL: Grizzly Bear, Happyness, Jessica Pratt, Fog Lake