There's always so much great music, and so much super-hyped music, that sometimes truly wonderful artists put out great albums and almost nobody notices.
It's an awful fate for a piece of art that has, ostensibly, been lovingly crafted and created by hard-working, talented folks who put a lot of time and money into making their dreams come true. But the great thing about taking stock of the year that was is that we can "rediscover" — or properly celebrate — musicians who never quite got their dues when they should have.
There are so many incredibly cool, unusual and inspiring artists you may have never heard of on the list below. Some of these artists have been covered by CBC Music in the last 12 months, but others are totally new to the site and we couldn't be more thrilled to help you discover these hidden gems of 2015.
Tweet us @CBCMusic or comment on this post and tell us how many names below are new to you. We'd also love your suggestions regarding other musicians we absolutely must check out before the new year.
From the First Play of La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful: You've never heard anything quite like Petite Noir's incredible debut album. It's futuristic, nostalgic, traditional and modern all at once, an impossible feat in anybody else's hands, yet this is the expansive, wide-open heart of Petite Noir's Yannick Ilunga. Every track could be equally at home on a runway or an afternoon on the beach, a house party or an after-hours club. It's music for everyone and everywhere precisely because of its sense of future: a future where influences coalesce and blend and morph seamlessly, naturally, unrestrained by genre. Ilunga is leading us toward something special, a promised land of some kind, where life really is beautiful. This is a remarkable debut from a thrilling new artist.
Drown inside the distortion of Sheer Mag’s gorgeous, abrasive, intricate brick wall of sound. The Philly punk outfit (who also can’t get enough of '70s rock) would be at home on a bill with Shannon and the Clams, Chastity Belt, La Luz and a number of fantastic, next generation DIY-ers who cram a ton of scratchy, melodic feelings inside seemingly simple, three-minute arrangements. Plus, lead singer Tina Halladay unleashes a tornado every time she opens her mouth on the band's latest release, II EP, and it’s absolutely mesmerizing.
From the First Play of Geist: It is weird and great, gloomy and glamorous, a hypnotic utopia of electronic ambiance, wild dark heart and cool, chilled-out spaciousness. Like the fractious chaos of a dance floor in a cave entirely rigged with black light, Geist is the kind of party where you never know quite what will happen next and the tension is both delicious and vaguely unnerving, though never off-putting.
From the First Play of EarthEE: THEESatisfaction’s EarthEE is a historical reckoning of racism and reconciliation, social responsibility and equality, justice and sexism. The album feels like it contains its own ecosystem. From the opening track, which begins with an erratic pulse-like drumbeat, it’s total immersion into Stas and Cat’s world. Every moment is rooted in spacious, natural, sometimes esoteric beats. It’s a sonically challenging, chilled out, blissful creation, where samples are stacked and staggered, breathing and bleeding into each other. At turns it’s angry, sexy, vulnerable, empowering and healing, every moment flowing like liquid gold into the next.
The title track off of Girlpool’s debut album is like riding swings with your BFF. You reach that moment when you get almost too high and yet you hold hands because the immense risk of that two seconds when you take your fingers off the chain is totally worth it as soon as your palms touch. You’re flying, together, holding on so tight you’re choking the sky. The duo’s voices climb up against each other and loop round and round: “I just miss how it felt standing next to you/ wearing matching dresses/ before the world was big.” Deceptively simple but deeply affecting.
Sullivan has always been amazing, but she doesn’t nearly get the recognition she deserves. Her newest album, Reality Show, was pure fireworks and should have pushed her into the spotlight. Instead, it got buried, but it’s never too late to appreciate excellence. Just make sure you tell all your friends after you fall in love. This is not a secret you should keep to yourself; her boundless talent and the joyful, bruising beauty of her voice deserve gushing adulation.
From the First Play of Teen Daze’s new album: Morning World is a beautiful bird’s nest of a record. The flawless production provides a lush, layered foundation to the 11 near-perfect tracks, some of which are fragile in their delicate beauty, while others stretch and soar from first flight. Here, the music is everything, so deliberate and evocative that it can crack you in half with a perfectly placed acoustic guitar interlude then sweep you into a blissed-out zone, conjuring happy memories that maybe once were too painful to recall.
From the First Play of All of This and Everything Else: For all that the record is awash in sounds and chamber pop waves, there are so many tiny moments that stand out: the rolling guitar line of "Mountains;" the scurry of strings crashing into drums while the piano fights for space on "Spiral;" the collision of voices catapulting across the final moments of the thunderous final track, "Shipping Lanes." All of This and Everything Else is the kind of record that will remake its shape with every listen. It can be as big or as small as you need it to be. It belongs to you.
Equal parts pained and pure, Philadelphia’s Hop Along isn’t quite like anything you’ve ever heard. Frances Quinlan’s voice is at turns rough and ragged, then suddenly sweet and sharp, like sugared glass shattering into a million pieces. Her shouts become screams, as if she’s a metal singer who woke up in an indie folk band, and yet Hop Along’s music never feels disjointed or unsatisfactory. Rather, their sound is defined by the precision of their imperfections, which is just one of the reasons to love their newest album, Painted Shut.
The Toronto R&B artist should be a household name. Honestly, we should all be mad and questioning what is wrong with us as a country that she’s not revered as a national treasure. On her newest release, Awake, Fiona’s not afraid to take risks in her song selection and there’s a wild and willful centre at the heart of every word she sings.
Dreamy and devastating, the Vancouver-based band’s sound is slinky and psychedelic, spooky and sophisticated, gentle but insistent. It’s hard to know where to fit them in or what to do with them — can you throw a party where you exclusively play end-of-party slow jams throughout the whole night? A cycle of never-ending endings is its own magical spell. Dive into Dralms' newest release, Shook, and lose yourself.
Samantha Savage Smith
From the First Play of Fine Lines: This collection is a buoyant bunch of pop balloons and sugary melodies, but this isn't a quick-dissolve, cotton-candy job. The songs are teaming with intelligence and clever insights about love in all its blissful and screwed-up permutations. The groove of the opening track, "It's a Burn," is warm and inviting, and there's something really interesting about the way everybody plays fast and loose with the tempo. This sets the tone for the record: there are lots of quirks, tiny moments and deliberate little tweaks that reward a closer listen.
Sometimes an artist’s name is just a shade too clever. Seriously, try Googling "the Internet." But once you finally get there, it’s so worthwhile. The new album, Ego Death, is sexy, expansive and so very soulful. There’s so much heart and vulnerability here and it does something similar to the Weeknd and a few other neo-soul/R&B groups right now, which is to plant one foot firmly in the past while placing the other far into the future, crafting a sound that’s both familiar and fresh. Plus, Syd tha Kyd is one of the coolest producers and vocalists working today.
From the First Play of Nervous: Siskiyou’s Nervous is needles, bees, blood, voices in your head, a spider crawling up your neck — and then just as quickly, the album's awash in a sunny glow, becomes a slow-burning kiss, a walk in the woods, a heated blanket on a winter’s night. Whatever you’re most afraid of and whatever brings you tiny respites of joy, Nervous is a conjuror one minute, a soothsayer the next.
The Canadian hip-hop artist dropped a new track earlier this year, which is hopefully a hint of more to come in 2016. She’s worked with everybody from Pharrell to Talib Kweli but she’s not a household name yet. “88 Vibes” should continue to gain momentum and build hype for whatever’s next.
This heartbreaking stunner was never going to be all fireworks and chart toppers, but it deserved to be a kind of slow-burn, word-of-mouth grower, a shimmer in the corner of the sky that slowly takes over your field of vision and swallows you whole. From the First Play of his new album, Seraph: "Garden" opens with Thomas Arsenault singing, "I guess this garden's good/ the snake won't bite you but its master could." Every line unfolds like a flower slowly revealing itself petal by petal as the day takes its shape. His voice never grows beyond its tone of hushed reverence, but there's something so magical about the way he straddles quiet confidence and whispered fear.
The Halifax-based singer-songwriter paints vivid, human scenes of love, loss and endurance throughout her stunning new album, The Tempest of Old. The journey she takes us on throughout these songs is an all-encompassing spiral, a tempest in many ways, but a quietly pervasive and controlled chaos that unsettles your insides with its beauty without mussing a hair on your head.
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