One of the great joys of being a music fan is finding a voice I’ve never heard before and immediately thinking “what is this?” In the streaming era, it’s easy enough to stumble upon a catchy track, but much more rare to be blown away by an actual artist — someone who delivers song after song that suggests a whole new way of interpreting the world.
Here are 6 musicians that I enjoyed this year, each of whom hasn’t yet put out a full-length project but seems poised for greatness. I’ve linked to one representative song by each artist. All of them have pretty expansive sounds, so I recommend diving further into their (limited) discographies if you like what you hear. I’m definitely excited to keep listening as they continue to catch ears in 2019 and beyond.
Westerman is a craftsman from London who plays perfect pop melodies into empty rooms. I first discovered him through “Confirmation”, a slow surge of stacked hooks that somehow still leaves space for your mind to wander like you’re staring at a star projector. There’s plenty to love about this music: muted synths, loping guitar, tactile drum programming, and a tuneful voice that sounds like it’s being run through pure crystal. Every new Westerman song sounds like he’s continuing to unwrap his gifts. I get the sense that if he wants to, he’ll be able to do this for a very long time.
Sounds like: Paul McCartney got locked in a West London basement with a bedroom electronic producer
Emotional Oranges are an alt-pop duo from LA who have figured out how to distill smoothness. Though they only have two songs publicly released, “Personal” sounds like the work of a band at the peak of their powers. It’s all a late night #mood — slinky and funky and sexual and confident. Male and female vocals trade off like the musical personification of a dancefloor negotiation, each leaning into their own power. I’m excited to hear what new sounds they’ll master with a full project.
Sounds like: The xx shared a glass of wine with Anderson .Paak on a warm evening
pronoun is an emo-pop songstress from Brooklyn whose music races along with constant momentum. I’ve been dumbstruck all year by her magnificent song “run”, which soars with the defiant urgency of someone not just escaping a room but breaking through a wall and flying away into the sky. Much of Alyse Vellturo’s music is marked by ascending melodies and sliding guitar riffs, which drives home her emotionally open lyrics until they’re mantras you can imagine thousands singing. It’s the magic of a future festival headliner who’s already making anthems in her bedroom.
Sounds like: The angry sister of Now, Now soundtracking a hit Netflix teen drama
Amber Mark is a modern-day soul diviner and world traveller who channels that experience into her music. Brought up in places as far flung as Berlin, India, and Miami, her unique sound blends elements of samba, house, and classic soul into an intoxicating blend of R&B that’s entirely her own. Her latest song “Put You On” is the best offering yet, a 90s throwback jam that trades in marimbas for 808s and is tailored to soundtrack Brooklyn porches all summer. It could pass for a lost Brandy smash, with Amber’s confident vocals weaving in and out of the main hook. Don’t be surprised if Drake grabs her for his next interlude within a calendar year.
Sounds like: Sade grew up in India with only house music and DVDs from a night at the Tunnel
MorMor is a psych-pop auteur from Toronto who pulls celestial melodies out of the atmosphere. His debut single “Heaven’s Only Wishful” apparated into my life in February, with a four-on-the-floor stomp and shoegaze-y guitar lead that has perfectly complemented both hot and cold spells all year. Singer-producer Seth Nyquist makes music that drifts along hazily, a slow pan across an endless, sun-drenched highway. The lyrics are oblique but the melodies are extremely sticky, scouting a midpoint between tight songwriting and free-flowing experimentation. It honestly feels like he can go anywhere from here.
Sounds like: Blood Orange turning old Tame Impala instrumentals into disco music
Kim Petras is a rising pop princess from Germany who wields weapons-grade hooks like they’re a second language. In a just world, “Heart to Break” topped the Hot 100 for 11 weeks straight and made her a household name for teens across the US. Perhaps she’s a few decades too late; trap drums have replaced the classic Britney and Spice Girl hits that are her ur-text, though Petras’ music has a robotic sheen to it that could easily slot in alongside Charli XCX’s recent work. Her biggest strength is a killer high note, and by all rights she’ll get the chance to deploy it on your radio dial soon.
Sounds like: Paris Hilton’s cyborg child glitching from an endless sugar binge