4 New Artists You Need to Hear
By Lindsay Zoladz
Each year when I watch the Grammys, I am reminded of the absurdity of the best new artist category. New to whom, I always wonder. The qualifications are notoriously fuzzy and historically unstable — just ask the country musician Shelby Lynne, who released her debut record in 1989 and was amused to find herself winning best new artist in 2001. (“Thirteen years and six albums to get here,” she remarked wryly from the stage.) In 2007, Justin Vernon’s folk-pop project Bon Iver put out the lauded “For Emma, Forever Ago,” but it took five years and two more acclaimed releases to pull off one of the category’s most dramatic upsets, when he took home the 2012 trophy by beating the fan favorite, Nicki Minaj — who, as it happened, put out her first mixtape all the way back in 2007, too.
And yet I did feel sympathy for the Grammy nominating body while putting together today’s playlist, which is full of up-and-coming artists who have recently caught my ear. No, they’re not exactly “new” — all have previously released music, and in some cases a few albums. But they’re new to me, and I hope that means at least a few of them will be new to you, too. They’re an eclectic bunch, making confessional acoustic folk, brash electro-pop and off-kilter art-rock. All have fresh albums that have either just been released or will be very soon. I would happily break Milli Vanilli’s (rescinded) best new artist Grammy from 1990 into four pieces and redistribute it to the following acts.
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Jana Horn is a native Texan with a poised, glassy voice that reminds me a bit of the great ’60s folk singer Vashti Bunyan, except Bunyan’s voice evoked pastoral realism instead of Horn’s subtly mischievous mirror-world. The sparse, spine-tingling “After All This Time” — from a new album coming out next week, “The Window Is the Dream” — was what first caught my ear, but it’s since led me back to her great 2020 album, “Optimism,” and the absolutely haunting song “Jordan,” a poetic meditation on a Bible verse that Horn unfurls with the fixed gaze and confident pacing of an expert storyteller.
Water From Your Eyes
Sonic Youth never made a guest appearance on “Sesame Street,” but what the Brooklyn duo Water From Your Eyes presupposes with its latest single, “Barley,” is, well … what if the band did? “1, 2, 3, counter,” the vocalist Rachel Brown intones in a bone-dry deadpan. “You’re a cool thing, count mountains.” Nate Amos provides the perfect complement by kicking up dust storms of distorted, deconstructed guitar riffs. “Barley” stacks familiar words and musical elements in unpredictable shapes, creating an internal logic as alluring as it is mysterious. It all bodes very well for the group’s album “Everyone’s Crushed,” which comes out on May 26.
The Nigerian-born, Toronto-based singer and rapper Debby Friday’s ambitious, charismatic album “Good Luck” is one of my favorite debuts of the year so far. The strobe-lit club banger “I Got It,” which features Uñas, has been a mainstay of my running playlist for the past few months — it’s bona fide sprint fuel! But Friday shows off her range on the more introspective “So Hard to Tell,” which she frames as a tender but direct address to her younger self: “Lady Friday,” she sighs in a voice weighted down with the wisdom of hindsight, “all you do is rebel.” No matter her mood, though, Friday has what the kids call main character energy: She’s a shape-shifting, swashbuckling dynamo journeying through different tempos and genres, always on a heroine’s quest for self-discovery.
Anna B Savage
Where does love go — like, energetically speaking — after the relationship that contained it ends? That’s the question that the British singer-songwriter Anna B Savage stares down in “The Ghost,” a quivering, emotionally raw incantation that begins her gripping new album, “In/Flux.” “I thought you were gone, but six years on, you’re back again,” Savage sings through gritted teeth before unlatching her jaw to let out a keening plea: “Stop haunting me, please.” There’s a rattling immediacy to Savage’s music; she writes like someone with a direct, unimpeded channel to her innermost feelings. “The Orange,” the album’s cautiously optimistic closer, provides a satisfying counterpoint to “The Ghost” and, I’d venture, a pretty good ending to this little playlist. “My new love is wind in the poplar trees,” Savage sings, finally free of the ghost’s interruptions and able to take stock of the simple pleasures all around her: “Round pebbles, poetry/Orange peel hacked on my knee.”
If that’s not enough new music, Jon Pareles and I have 9 more song recommendations for you in this week’s Playlist.
Yours in imagining Kim Gordon meeting Cookie Monster,
The Amplifier Playlist
Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.
“Best New (to Me) Artists, 2023” track list
Track 1: Jana Horn, “After All This Time”
Track 2: Water From Your Eyes, “Barley”
Track 3: Debby Friday, “I Got It”
Track 4: Anna B Savage, “The Ghost”
Track 5: Jana Horn, “Jordan”
Track 6: Debby Friday, “So Hard to Tell”
Track 7: Anna B Savage, “The Orange”
I cannot mention Vashti Bunyan without stopping everything and listening to “I’d Like to Walk Around in Your Mind,” and if you have two minutes and 15 seconds to spare, I suggest you do the same.
Another absurd Grammy fact I learned this week and must share with you: Guess which song earned Bob Dylan his first ever solo Grammy? Actually, don’t guess, you’re never going to get it so I’m just going to tell you: “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which won best rock performance in 1980. Think about that: Bob Dylan didn’t win a single solo Grammy until 1980. (In 1973, when Ringo Starr accepted a podium full of album of the year awards for the many artists featured on “The Concert for Bangladesh,” Dylan got one of those. But still.) As it happens, I do love “Gotta Serve Somebody" — even more after seeing him play it at the Beacon Theater in November 2021 — so here’s to Bob Dylan’s first Grammy. Maybe that is what Soy Bomb was trying to protest.
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