Each year brings a deluge of new artists vying for your attention and music-buying dollar—so many artists that it becomes hard to figure out what to listen to next. Below are seven acts handpicked by A.V. Club music writers for our annual New What's Next Music Issue. They all have our money-back guarantee. (Editor's note: The A.V. Club money-back guarantee in no way guarantees that any money will be given back.)
Key release: 2005's Bang Bang Rock & Roll, due for American CD release in May, but available through online vendors now
A serious blast of unselfconscious air in an indie world filled with poses and clothing, Art Brut got together and—according to their own legend—wrote the single "Formed A Band" in five minutes. The brilliantly silly song also serves as Art Brut's cheeky statement of purpose: "Look at us, we formed a band," sing-shouts Eddie Argos, before explaining how Art Brut plans to write a song "as universal as 'Happy Birthday'" and sing it on the British chart show Top Of The Pops "eight weeks in a row!"
The full-length debut Bang Bang Rock & Roll is packed front-to-back with songs like "Emily Kane" (about Argos' long-lost girlfriend) and "Rusted Guns Of Milan" (about his, umm, erectile dysfunction), each more endearing than the last. In a spirit of inclusiveness, Art Brut also encouraged its fans to form franchises, and there are dozens around the world, playing Art Brut songs in various styles. Though Bang Bang isn't out in America yet, the band has already played sold-out coast-to-coast tours, and it'll end up at the Coachella Festival in April, a month before the album officially hits American stores.
On "Emily Kane," now updated with new lyrics:
"The second or third time we played it properly was a session on Radio 1. A friend of a friend that still knows her gave me her phone number, and I sent her a text saying, "Heads up! We've written a song about you." And then—she's so funny—she gave me a text back saying, "Is it a nice song?" I was like, "Quite a nice song." We eventually managed to meet up, but she's got a boyfriend, and I realized then that maybe I was a little bit mad for thinking I was in love with her. I'm in love with being 15. But it was nice; not many people get to meet their first love again. I felt very lucky. We went out drinking and dancing."
On being popular in Germany, not the first place one associates with humor:
"People think songs like 'Emily Kane' are hysterical, but in Germany, they kind of understood them, like 'Oh wow, you still love that girl. You're a bit funny, aren't you?' I'm not joking with 'Emily Kane' and 'Rusted Guns.' I'm singing about things that are true, really, and you have to look at them with humor, or you're gonna go mad. I think German people are a lot like English people. It's all beer and football. I like it."
On being considered a joke band:
"I don't mind. Most of the bands I like get the same criticism. I like Jonathan Richman and Jad Fair and stuff, and I think people think they're joking quite a lot when they're not. It's kind of flattering to have the same misconception about me. That sounds very… like I'm a twat. But I don't mind, really. I'm just trying to have a conversation, because I'm a bit funny anyway. We were trying to work out on 'Emily Kane' what the joke was, then we worked out that the joke probably was me."
On the Art Brut franchises:
"I felt a bit selfish taking this name, so we thought maybe we should have a franchise system. It's gotten really out of control—there's an Israeli Art Brut, and there's an Art Brut in West Virginia that plays our songs in a country-western style. There's like three in Canada. I meet kids that are in Art Brut franchises, and they give me demos of their songs and stuff. It's like having loads of friends! I didn't really think anything was gonna happen with it; I was joking, really. It's completely out of control. There's more than 50. It might be near 100 now. It would be amazing to watch Art Brut 72 play the Wembley Arena. [Laughs.] It'd be flattering."
On who's the New What's Next:
"I like Hot Pockets. I think they're the new Croissan'wich. [Laughs.] I [just] discovered Croissan'wiches; they don't have them in England. Burger King makes these croissants with beef burgers in them and calls them 'continental breakfast.' [Laughs.] I'd say Hot Pockets are the new Croissan'wich. I never had them before. They're amazing, like a meal in a bun. I've got very bad taste in food, but you probably can't put all that down, because of advertising." —Josh Modell
Key release: 2005's Bio: Chemistry II: Esters And Essays; a forthcoming Rhymesayers debut
Psalm One's story is the familiar tale of a hungry young hip-hopper torn between the excitement of performing and recording and the irresistible lure of a life in chemistry. Okay, so her story's a little atypical… like most everything else about her. After graduating from college, Psalm One worked in a lab, but she quit to pursue a career in hip-hop, both as a solo artist and as part of the defunct crew Nacrobats.
After garnering substantial buzz with independent releases, ingratiating live shows, an appealingly down-to-earth B-girl-next-door persona, and opening slots for labelmates MF Doom and Brother Ali, Psalm One hooked up with indie-rap powerhouse Rhymesayers, which is set to release an as-yet-untitled album later this year, with production from Atmosphere producer Ant and up-and-coming Chicagoans Thaione Davis and Overflo.
On two of her favorite tracks from her new album:
"'Rap Star' is the single. It's extremely tongue-in-cheek, a "Look at me, I'm going to be a big star" sort of thing. It underlines the message that you can be a backpacker and still appreciate mainstream music, and vice versa. In terms of hip-hop, you don't have to be one or the other. Then with "Macaroni & Cheese"—you'll have to excuse my French, but a lot of it is shit-talking. I do make really good macaroni and cheese, so I've got a girl singing about that. It's funny. It makes me giggle, anyway."
On her unusual career path:
"I was a chemist for two years. That was academically a dream of mine. It was fun for a while, but eventually, the rap thing was calling me more."
On who's the New What's Next:
"I like P.O.S. from my camp, if I can give a cheap plug. I like Longshot from Chicago. I think Ghostface might blow up even more this year." —Nathan Rabin
Key release: Future Women (2006)
It seems like every major city has a handful of bands whose expansive sound extends beyond their status; they sound like accomplished, popular groups trapped in the bodies of unknowns. The M's are one such band. Their 2004 self-titled debut for local indie Brilliante quickly created a buzz that earned them accolades and a tour with Wilco. Unsurprisingly, The M's outgrew Brilliante, and recently moved to up-and-coming indie label Polyvinyl, which released their latest, Future Women, in February. Full of lush pop-rock tinged by psychedelia, indie rock, and Brian Wilson-like ambition, Future Women should help The M's catch up to their sound.
Singer-guitarist Josh Chicoine on word getting out about The M's:
"People are coming to see us [on tour]. It's sort of new and pretty exciting. I have friends that I haven't talked to for years who are getting in touch with me, and they're hearing about us, or hearing us on the radio, or reading articles and stuff. All the publicity and attention, I think, is helping… But we'll see if anybody buys the record. I mean, you can get good reviews—and we've gotten great reviews for this record across the board—but it's still yet to be seen if that will sell any records, and that's what we need. We need to sell records and get people out to shows."
On famous people watching them at South By Southwest:
"Neil Young came to our showcase. He came for our set—he started to get attacked, so he left. I didn't even see him."
On reviews of their records that say things like "This isn't innovative, but it's good":
"It's just a place to start, and I don't mind that so much. Very few bands are able to take all these old things, which ultimately everybody does, and put them in a way that's so totally new and fresh that you feel like you've never heard it before."
On who's the New What's Next:
"I've been just geeking over Of Montreal—they're not necessarily a new band. They're a Polyvinyl band too… There's so many bands, and a lot of really good stuff is coming out right now. It's a really interesting time." —Kyle Ryan
Key release: The Back Room (released in the UK in fall 2005, just out in the U.S.)
Hometown: Birmingham, England
Following in the footsteps of Interpol, English quartet Editors has been compared to such a wide array of post-punk acts (Joy Division, Echo And The Bunnymen, Bauhaus, The Cure, U2, etc.) that it seems destined to transcend all the tags and become its own popular reference point any day now. It also doesn't hurt that this group of mid-twentysomethings knows its way around dramatic, hook-filled rock: The band's debut, The Back Room, is already a hit back home, and it has enough pop appeal to attract the same American ears that put Coldplay in arenas.
Singer-guitarist Tom Smith on being called Britain's gloomiest band:
"I think people see we take our music seriously, and get that confused with us being moody. The people who get our music—the people who our music means something to—see not only just the songs about insecurity or the darker side of life, but also the kind of optimism on the record as well. I think the NME called me 'the gangly gloomhound,' so I think we just laugh it off now. We're all kind of normal, pretty well-adjusted people, so people are always kind of shocked when they meet us, that we're not scared of the sunlight and stuff like that."
On the appeal of late-'70s/early-'80s post-punk:
"It's not something that we've ever thought about—we've never made any songs with any kind of period of time in mind. We have our own styles. Some of the music is very sparse, and Chris [Urbanowicz], our guitarist, doesn't really like the sound of guitar—he tries to make it sound more like a synthesizer or something like that. But because of our age, it's not something that we've ever grown up with or been influenced by."
On the rejuvenation of British music:
"There was kind of like a slump after the mid-'90s Britpop era, and I moved away from bands like that and discovered things like Spiritualized, and Radiohead got me through that period as well. When The Strokes came out, I think they kind of kicked things in the ass a bit—they were a massive influence on us at the time, because we felt that kind of boredom after things turned sour with British music. It is an exciting time—it's undeniable. But of all the bands coming out, I don't think we sound particularly like any of them. We've always kind of been slightly in the shadows—when we first came out, bands like Bloc Party and the Kaiser Chiefs were getting more press than we were getting, and then all throughout the year, a band called Hard-Fi have been charting a little higher than us. And now with Arctic Monkeys, we're still in the shadows. But that kind of suits us, to be honest. We like sneaking up on people."
On who's the New What's Next:
"They're called ¡Forward, Russia!, and they're from Leeds. We toured with them a long while ago, but I just saw a couple of shows at South By Southwest, and they've just become this incredible live band. A lot of energy, quite aggressive, also at times very melodic, and pretty kind of beautiful." —Marc Hawthorne
The Black Angels
Key release: Passover (2006)
Drone-rockers The Black Angels borrowed their name from a Velvet Underground song, and they back up the homage with a V.U.-indebted sound and presentation. The Texas quintet specializes in dirge-y rhythms and fuzzy guitars, topped with lyrics about desperation and violence; live, The Black Angels support their heavy, trippy music with a stage show that includes films and psychedelic light effects right out of Andy Warhol's "Exploding Plastic Inevitable." Even the cover of their electrifying debut Passover is a beautiful piece of retro design: a two-tone op-art wonder reminiscent of Lance Wyman's classic 1968 Mexico City Olympics poster. Clearly, this is a band more comfortable in a world that died before they were born.
Bassist Nathan Ryan on whether it's hard to make an impression in a crowded Austin music scene:
"No, because there's so many different types of music going on in Austin. There's really a bunch of different scenes, and they aren't necessarily associated with each other. There's not really anyone doing what we're doing, or pulling off the influences we're pulling off."
Guitarist Christian Bland on the tone the band's going for:
"Kind of serious. We sing about the truth of this world, and everything reflects that, from the imagery to the sound. Music is our outlet. We actually all have pretty good senses of humor. We're pretty entertaining people. But music lets us voice our opinions and create a dark landscape. Our subconscious is pretty evil, I guess." [Laughs.]
Singer Alex Maas on whether they ever worry about being considered pretentious:
"Some people are always going to not like what you do. Because we didn't fight in the Vietnamese War but we sing about it, they'll think we're poseurs or something. We don't really give a shit what they think. That's the truth. The people that don't get it probably aren't our types anyway."
Maas on how a young band markets itself:
"Everything starts with the music. That's where most of the energy goes." To which Bland adds, "We do concentrate on the music, but you know, I studied advertising in school, and I get to use my skills in advertising and graphic design to help out with the band, which I find to be pretty fun."
On who's the New What's Next:
Psychic Ills and The High Dials, both, according to Bland, making "stuff that has that '60s spirit from when the creative revolution was going on, but modernized and brought to the present day." —Noel Murray
Key release: Death Of The Party (2006)
Hometown: New York
A charged pop band into clacking rhythms and overdriven electronics, Kudu flirts with diverse styles that are often related but rarely integrated. Touchstones include house, hip-hop, and that amorphous phenomenon known as new wave, but Kudu's interpretations are more lateral than literal: They evoke specific sounds and eras that mean the most when smeared. Think of Kudu as a sort of lo-fi Basement Jaxx, or an electroclash act governed by more than the simple impulse to clown around. The group has grown through a rash of storied live shows, which set soulful singer Sylvia Gordon in front of Deantoni Parks, a frenetic drummer who plays atop programmed beats. The live sound finds good form on Death Of The Party, which lurches and broods without forgetting to fix its eye on the stars.
Sylvia Gordon on a sound that's hard to slot:
"It's just a natural progression that comes from going back to when you were young and reacted instinctually to things that you like, instead of things you think you should like. In fourth grade, I listened a lot to Missing Persons. Babysitters influenced me, and MTV. As a teenager, I went to punk clubs and got into all these obscure random bands. Then music school messed me up, because you're given a lot of music and told 'This is what's good' even though you don't relate to it all."
On the live show:
"Live, we're pretty regimented. We do most of our experimenting at home. But the vocals and drums—those change every time, according to how the crowd is feeling and who's around. We don't like to discount what's hot for other people, so we're just messing around with sounds, and some sounds stimulate parts of the brain."
On finding a niche:
"On tour, we haven't really found the right places to play. We keep getting put in these leftover neo-soul places because people say, 'They've got brown skin, so let's put them in a bourgie soul bar.' We really want to fight that. We're trying to bring it all together without getting boxed in." —Andy Battaglia
Key release: Audition (2006)
Rhymesayers isn't the only Twin Cities hip-hop collective worth hearing. There's also the up-and-coming Doomtree crew, the leading light of which is Stefon Alexander, a.k.a. P.O.S. He began raising eyebrows locally with his debut, Ipecac Neat, but the focused fire of the new Audition is a remarkable step forward. Executive-produced by Slug and Siddiq of Rhymesayers and released on that label, Audition bristles with aggressive energy, shot through with observant self-awareness and the rebelliousness of hardcore punk.
On embracing a deliberately abrasive sound:
"That's my way of weeding out who's actually into it, and who's there because they saw me on tour with Atmosphere and like Rhymesayers' stuff. There are people that buy every Rhymesayers release just because it's Rhymesayers, and that's very nice of them, but I'd much rather have somebody who's looking for something that's kind of difficult to listen to."
On bridging the punk and hip-hop worlds:
"One reason I rap is because bands can't break up if it's just you rapping. But I'm still in a hardcore band. It's not so much a progression, it's just something I'm doing also."
On why "sticking feathers in your ass does not make you a chicken," a line from "Half-Cocked Concepts":
"I think it's something that's entirely true, and it's also a reference to one of my favorite movies, Fight Club. It's one of those things that Brad Pitt's just spitting really fast, one of the lines that just pops in there when he's talking to Ed Norton. Like, have you hit bottom yet? No, you haven't hit bottom yet. You can act like you're upset, you can act like you're disappointed, you can fuck around and say shit like 'Oh man, I'm so depressed, life is so horrible,' or whatever. Sticking feathers in your ass doesn't make you a chicken—you haven't hit bottom until you've hit bottom. You can't fake it. Live, be happy, enjoy yourself." —Christopher Bahn