While 2016 may have been a total shit show with regard to music icons and legends lost, it doesn’t change the fact that a great deal of fantastic acts shimmied into the scene spotlight. In no particular order, here’s a roundup of our top 10 best discoveries of the last year…
10 | Prince Rama
For fans of: Gang Gang Dance, Animal Collective, YACHT
I’m not sure you can get much more over-the-top than Brooklyn trio Prince Rama: blown-out 80s perms and neon spandex to match their retro drum machine beats and exaggerated synth sequences. Throw in a few Enya-style call-response sections, bombastic sing-along choruses with the vocal intensity of Bonnie Tyler, and pummeling guitar riffs, and what you get is a slightly confusing but altogether awesome hodgepodge of infectious dance pop. Somehow it’s no shocker that the members of this self-proclaimed “now age” outfit have roots in a Hare Krishna commune in Florida, as their music has a ritualistic, almost transcendental quality to it. True to its name, Prince Rama‘s latest album, Xtreme Now, is a blast of pure energy from start to finish, land is pretty indicative of how insane their live show is.
9 | Mitski
For fans of: Frankie Cosmos, Courtney Barnett, St. Vincent
Mitski Miyawaki—simply known as Mitski—writes songs that play out like diary confessionals: frank tales of disaffected romantic encounters are told with that familiar underlying feeling of not knowing how you really fit into the world around you. These sentiments are brought to the forefront on the NY-based musician’s latest release, Puberty 2, and serve as a springboard for the LP’s overall raw energy. In line with the album’s title, her songwriting has matured to the extent that the polarity present in her work isn’t at all jarring, but rather invigorating. She couples the chaos of punk with calculated pop hooks, and her saccharine lyrics are counteracted by dissonance and noise. As a result, Mitski has captured the beauty in imbalance and imperfection, then spun it into some of the most refreshing indie rock on the scene right now.
8 | SULK
For fans of: The Stone Roses, Ride, Oasis
90s nostalgics take heed: London-based Britrockers SULK are here to soothe all of your pining for the good ole days. With their 2013 debut, Graceless, the five-piece outfit both cemented their place at the head of a wonderful revival and carved out a sound all their own, fusing elements of Britpop and shoegaze, all with a psychedelic flair. In mid-April—three years to the day of their first album release—they did it again, putting out a fantastic sophomore LP (or as a friend so aptly said it, releasing “the 10 best Stone Roses songs of 2016”). The songwriting and production on No Illusions truly showcase the group’s ability to allow every band member to shine: the fuzzy, distorted guitar riffs awash in reverb and hazy, swirling vocals are perfectly complemented by prominently grooving bass lines and driving percussion. Not only that, each song is as hella-catchy as the last, with addictive melodic hooks that implant themselves in your head. Soaring and anthemic in its scope, SULK‘s music ultimately possesses the kind of bright energy that could fuel endless summer roadtrip adventures, sparking that youthful sense of blissful invincibility that we all harbor somewhere.
7 | Nadia Reid
For fans of: Laura Marling, Sharon van Etten, Gillian Welch
I guess you could think of Nadia Reid as New Zealand’s answer to Laura Marling, but maybe minus the cynical brooding of the latter. The Kiwi singer/songwriter and guitarist’s music is folk at its core, but classifying it as purely that would do it a grave disservice, as it would be ignoring all of the hard-edged electric guitar passages and sporadic 70s soul vibes of the upright bass. Many of the tracks on Reid‘s 2015 debut, Listen to Formation, Look for Signs, play around with aural space: the sounds echo as if in an empty, abandoned ballroom, conveying a palpable solitude. Her husky, smoky timbre serves to express the deeply emotional nature of her songs beautifully. She effortlessly switches between starkly contrasting sonic ideas, even overtly pitting them against each other, as with ‘Holy Low’ and ‘Holy Loud’, which are essentially the same song with vastly different outlooks. Given that Reid has been playing music for ages, it’s a wonder she only just released her debut last year. But the wait was certainly worthwhile: this album is a powerful rumination on love and loss, by a woman who wouldn’t think to let the heartache drag her down.
6 | Ulrika Spacek
For fans of: Sonic Youth, Happyness, Deerhunter
While alt-rock quintet Ulrika Spacek may be as British as they come, their hearts are right here in Berlin. In 2014, the Reading rockers joined forces in the German capital to begin working on what would eventually become their debut LP, The Album Paranoia. Released in February of this year, this album pieces together elements of shoegaze, kraut and psych-rock, with a fuzzy, distorted sound that emanates an intoxicatingly gritty energy. On the flip side, it’s also not without its softer, dreamier moments, featuring songs steeped in an otherworldly, echoey reverb. Ulrika Spacek‘s music hits that indie rock sweet spot; I think it’s safe to say that they’ve had a pretty solid start.
For fans of: Frankie Cosmos, Free Cake For Every Creature
While taking a solo detour from her band Little Big League, Philadelphia-based songstress Michele Zauner pulled an all-out “Jens Lekman” (i.e writing one song a day, just to get the hang of it) some years ago. This helped her to get her songwriting sorted, afterwards releasing her first solo music on cassette back in 2013. But it wasn’t until 2016 that she released her proper debut album in March (at least what would’ve been a proper debut before the internet), the brilliantly titled Psychopomp. With amazing sing-a-long songs like ‘Everybody Wants To Love You’ and ‘In Heaven’, she’s proven to be the best twee-but-still-not-twee artist of the year.
4 | Niki & The Dove
For fans of: Chairlift, The Sound of Arrows
This Swedish duo fronted by Stevie Nicks/Madonna/Nicki Minaj-inspired singer Malin Dahlström released their debut album Instinct way back in 2012. On their sophomore album, Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Nowadays, they’ve finally managed to sound like they promised to some years ago. That Fleetwood Mac-meets-indietronica-meets-Swedish singer/songwriter indie sound eventually fell into place with this album.
3 | Teen Suicide
For fans of: Fox Academy, Adult Mom
With their new album clocking in at 68 minutes and 21 seconds long, on paper this probably could have been the work of Pink Floyd or some other drug-infused band getting lost in the 70’s. But this is now, and very indie, lo-fi with a twist. Every song sounds different from the song before. American dream-psyschpop doesn’t get better than this.
For fans of: The Cribs, Kid Wave
Probably the worst album title of the year but Wirral (that’s close to Liverpool, I googled)-based band Hooton Tennis Club managed to write great pop songs far superior to those on their debut album. I would argue that the song ‘Katy-Anne Bellis’ has the best guitar-based chorus of 2016.
1 | Mannequin Pussy
For fans of: Radiator Hospital, LVL Up
Despite (or because of) being a total mishmash of genres (stretching from pop via shoegaze, grunge, some black metal to punk) this is one of the best albums of 2016. 11 songs in 17 minutes–now that’s pop dedication. The stars finally aligned for the Philadelphia band this year. While listening to the songs on their second album Romantic you never get bored or inattentive, the intensity and brevity of the songs combined with the brilliant lyrics (“You’re my favourite, but favourites always fail”) makes this one of the most interesting releases of the year.