Artists to Watch: 17 Alternative & Indie Breakouts For 2019
We just got done compiling what dominated last year commercially and critically; now it's time to look to the future. What new faces from the rock and alt worlds will populate 2019's year-end charts and best-of lists?
Last year, we tried our best and hit on a few emerging bands and artists that now appear to be sticking around for the long haul. Across alternative, punk, indie, folk, and beyond, here are 17 sure bets and deep cut candidates to level up significantly this year.
Baltimore's Angel Du$t features members of hardcore party-starters Turnstile and Trapped Under Ice and their last album, 2016's Rock the Fuck On Forever, was about as fun as its title suggests. For 2019, they signed up with Roadrunner Records -- and even better, enlisted producer Will Yip, who's introduced heavy bands like Turnstile, Code Orange, and Title Fight to dizzying new horizons. "The songs are very much Angel Du$t, while the production is some whole other shit," the band said in statement late last year. We tend to agree; see above. Expect a full-length release this year.
The Los Angeles garage rockers really should’ve gotten much bigger with 2016’s Welcome the Worms, a hook-filled sophomore effort bursting with the best parts of the Ramones, Blondie, and early Wipers without sounding hopelessly retro or pastiche-like -- largely thanks to the emotional urgency of vocalist-guitarist Jennifer Clavin. But despite that album being largely slept on, Bleached kept the momentum with 2017’s Can You Deal EP, which came accompanied by a zine featuring words and art from numerous forward-thinking female musicians. Then they toured Europe with freakin’ Paramore. The band is currently recording a new album to be released later this year, and we think third time’s the charm for a larger breakthrough.
The Florida-born Dominic Fike emerged out of nowhere last year, sparking an (alleged) major label bidding war behind his debut EP, Don't Forget About Me. He landed with Columbia, around the time his management at Tha Lights Global (who also rep Lil Pump) partnered with the label's parent company, Sony. Given the fuss around the Soundcloud crooner's guitar chops and Apple logo face tattoo, we'd expect a follow-up before long. And don't let the hypebeasty veneer fool you; Fike's Motown-tinged breakout track "3 Nights" is trend-proof and irresistible, swaying back and forth like a Hawaiian hula dash ornament into your subconscious.
Rage Against the Machine for 2019? It's been some time since the originals had a chance to defend that title, but their fellow rap-rocking Angelenos are coming on strong. With police brutality, white nationalism, and general inequality in their crosshairs (see above), FEVER 333 blew up last year: Single "Walking In My Shoes" went top 10 at Mainstream Rock Songs, and its follow-up "Made An America" followed as a staple on the chart, even earning a 2019 Grammy nod for best rock performance. That's a tough act to follow for a debut full length, but STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS (out Jan. 18 on Roadrunner) again features production from Blink-182's Travis Barker and John Feldmann (who's worked too many commercial punk hits to count at this point), so look for their ascent to continue.
What if the hooks of shoegaze gems weren't buried under reverb, but bursting loud and proud on the service? Australia's Harriette Pillbeam -- aka Hatchie -- mastered this experiment on last year's Sugar & Spice EP, which evoked turn-of-the-90s dream-pop, as well as the Cranberries at their brightest, and didn't feature a single track that would've sounded out of place on the Clueless soundtrack. Plenty of Hatchie's contemporaries are leaning into pop, but few are doing it this whole-heartedly, or this well. Her full-length debut awaits this summer via Double Double Whammy.
Singer-songwriter-producer Dexter Tortoriello has been releasing music as Houses since the start of the 2010s, alongside production and composition for a wide swath of artists including Lil Yachty, Kali Uchis, and Martin Garrix. On alternative radio, his solo work is starting to have a moment: "Fast Talk," the entrancing lead track from his drum-and-bass-influenced EP Drugstore Heaven, has held strong on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart for eight weeks. It's currently at its peak position of 17 and could become one of the chart's more unexpected top 10 entrants before long.
The Kenya-born, Minneapolis-based Ondara owns a striking singing voice, which ranges from a velvety croon to an immaculate upper-register. Really, you’ve just got to hear it yourself. Ondara is a longtime Dylan devotee whose modern take on Americana beckoned an all-star supporting cast: producer Mike Viola (Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis), Andrew Bird, and members of Dawes and Milk Carton Kids all contributed to his debut album, Tales of America (due Feb. 15 on Verve Forecast). Don’t be surprised to hear Ondara all over Triple A radio soon. Did we mention this guy can sing?
With two Adult Alternative Songs top five hits already to her name, Jade Bird is set to release her debut album April 19 on Glassnote Records. Something American indeed reflects U.S. country-folk tradition; on those two early hits -- “Lottery” and “Uh Huh” -- the 21-year old singer-songwriter belts like Dolly and tells it like it is à la Kacey Musgraves. (“Uh Huh” in particular just goes so hard.)
Tiny Engines is coming off a such great year that punk, emo, and post-hardcore fans would be smart to follow everything in the pipeline for the Carolina-based indie label. That means venturing into the desert for Phoenix's Nanami Ozone, a dual-vocalist-wielding rock band whose sophomore album is due in early 2019. They've teased it would a two-song taste of both: "Alone Too" (sung by guitarist Sophie Opich) is equal parts nimble and punchy while "3 Mile Drive" (sung by Opich and guitarist Colson Miller) is 100 percent designed for the open road.
We premiered the Florida band's very catchy debut track back in November, and fortunately, "Dead Inside" won't be the lone song sitting on their Spotify page for long. They've signed to the punk and post-hardcore mainstay Equal Vision Records (Saves the Day, Waterparks, formerly Circa Survive) and plan to release their debut EP in the early months of 2019. Produced by Matt Squire, the man behind many of your favorite MySpace era rock hits (and a few pop stars), Never Loved's pop-punk sound is in strong, time-tested hands.
We've been psyched about Pronoun for a couple years, and this spring, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter-producer-label founder Alyse Vellturo is set to release her debut album on Rhyme & Reason Records. As Pronoun, Vellturo has a knack for flipping heartbreak into sunbeam-lit, charismatic indie pop and the three-track teaser she released last October is really, really strong. Post-breakup anthems in the key of Metric and Tegan and Sara, Pronoun's songcraft would sound right at home on alternative radio or late night talk show stages.
Like Houses up above, SHAED is an electro-pop upstart gaining significant hype on alternative radio. Shortly after "Trampoline" appeared in a MacBook Air ad last fall, the chic single broke into our Alternative Songs chart, where it's since risen to 22. Out on tour promoting its debut EP MELT (released last year on the New York indie Photo Finish Records) the trio will try to stick on people's minds as much as "Trampoline" and its well-timed, whistled hook.
Stella Donnelly, a Fremantle, Western Australia-based singer-songwriter, made waves last year at SXSW alongside her debut EP, Thrush Metal. The 26-year old is a jarring storyteller with a beautiful voice and since that six-song collection was essentially just her and her guitar, those core elements were on full display. On her brand new track "Old Man," Donnelly introduces a jangly, full-band indie pop sound to go with her freshly-announced LP, Beware Of the Dogs (due March 8 on Secretly Canadian). Dig into her lyrics and you quickly uncover some compelling and urgent social messages.
Vagabon -- the project of Cameroon-born, New York City-based multi-instrumentalist Lætitia Tamko -- was one of 2017's biggest DIY success stories. It wasn't just that debut LP Infinite Worlds was great, it was how it was great in many different ways. It featured guitar-and-drums gut punches like "The Embers" and "Cold Apartment" -- written early in the process -- alongside the last track recorded, “Mal á L'aise,” a sun-kissed sound collage made entirely in Logic. There are numerous exciting directions Vagabon's second album could go in, and we're happy to report it's arriving later this year. Tamko mentioned Mitski as a particular inspiration in our 2017 interview; if you were one of the many who adored last year's Be the Cowboy, look out for Vagabon's latest as a kindred sonic spirit.
A couple months removed from playing his first U.S. shows, we're anxious to hear from London artist Will Westerman, particularly his angelic voice. Lofty Nick Drake and Arthur Russell comparisons are well-earned, and in a modern sense, his dreamy, deeply emotional soundscapes echo Bon Iver, early James Blake, and the subtler moments of last year's acclaimed album by The 1975. His 2018 EP Ark was produced by Bullion, an electronic producer and fellow Londoner whose shown a knack for helping Westerman shine amongst his airy synth beds and skeletal guitars. There's a lot of promise here. Likewise, Westerman is currently working on his debut LP and plans to release it this fall.
Wicca Phase Springs Eternal
Remember those SoundCloud vs. Bandcamp memes that were kind of funny in 2017? Adam McIlwee sits a the center of that Venn diagram, easing the two worlds into peaceful equilibrium. Way back in 2005, he co-founded the Scranton, Penn. band Tigers Jaw, and helped carry the torch for emotional punk music through his departure in 2013. In the years that followed, he morphed into Wicca Phase Springs Eternal and co-founded the emo rap collective GOTHBOICLIQUE. Last year's "Stress" found him rapping alongside, then duetting with, Camp Cope vocalist Georgia Maq, over a beat from Lil Peep collaborator Fish Narc. It's a big mood, as they say, and just in time to prelude Wicca's sophomore album. Suffer On is due Feb. 15 on Run For Cover Records, Tigers Jaw's old label.
We're ending with one more from Tiny Engines Records. New York City's Wild Pink make panoramic rock music that's like the War on Drugs, but with more emphasis on poetic, storytelling lyrics, and a little alt-country thrown in. Their 2018 sophomore effort Yolk In the Fur is a downright spellbinding listen. If it arrived on one of the bigger indie labels, like say Matador or Sub Pop, it would have been all over last year's year-end lists. Tiny Engines suggests they've got more in store for 2019, so here's to hoping for their third LP in as many years.