The stalled momentum of 2013’s alt-radio breakouts Imagine Dragons has left the door open for another genre-neutral act to invade the airwaves, further redefining what a rock band in 2015 can be. Enter X Ambassadors, who share the Dragons’ same producer (Alex Da Kid) and label, not to mention the built-in commercial appeal: Singles “Jungle” and Alternative No. 1 “Renegades” have multimillion-dollar ad campaigns for Beats and Jeep behind them, respectively.
But unlike the Dragons’ belabored sophomore album, Smoke + Mirrors, there’s something easy and effortless to the stuttering electro-gospel stomp of X Ambassadors on debut VHS. The band makes Yeezus-filtered guitars, Southern Gothic howls and, of course, hand claps aplenty sound authentically swampy, belying the quartet’s Ithaca, N.Y., roots. Even more effective: frontman Sam Harris’ supple, soulful baritone, which convincingly switches from New Orleans bluesman (“Superpower,” “Loveless”) to glam-boyant disco (“Gorgeous,” “Nervous”) in seconds.
This story originally appeared in the July 4 issue of Billboard.