YEAR IN REVIEW: 2013’s Best New Artists

(from left to right: Lorde, Darkside, AlunaGeorge)
(from left to right: Lorde, Darkside, AlunaGeorge)

We’ve reached the last month of 2013, as hard as that may be to believe. As the release schedule shrinks during December, now’s as good time as any to begin reflecting on the highlights of the past 11 months.

Today, I bring you my favorite new artists of 2013. Some of these artists had previously released singles, yet none had unleashed a full length LP to the masses until this year.

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AlunaGeorge

Aluna Francis and George Reid first made a name for themselves in 2012 with the release of infectious singles “You Know You Like It” and “Just a Touch,” as well as the fantastic “Your Drums, Your Love.” In 2013, the duo made good on their initial buzz, with Body Music being one of the year’s finest pop records. The album plays to the strengths of the two leads, as Francis’ warm, delicate delivery is matched perfectly to Reid’s cool, assured productions.

Must hear: the great, biting kiss-off “Attracting Flies” and the slow jam title-track.

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Charli XCX

After Icona Pop rode Charli XCX’s songwriting contributions to “I Love It” to mainstream success, it seemed like a no brainer that True Romance would become the latest underground pop album to crossover to mainstream success. Such a destiny did not wait for Romance, but that is by no fault of the artist born Charlotte Aitchison. From the opening “Nuclear Seasons,” it is apparent that while she may be swimming in the deep waters of pop music, she only borrows from the best while adding enough of her own personal spin to not be a faceless casualty of pop music’s tendencies to treat assimilation as an admirable goal.

Must hear: the Gold Panda-sampling “You (Ha Ha Ha),” as well as the immensely pleasurable “What I Like.”

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Chvrches

When “The Mother We Share” exploded on the scene in late 2012, there was very little to know about the outfit that delivered the synth-pop gem (and 31st best track of that year). Luckily, Chvrches took that initial promise of their exquisite debut single and extrapolated it to fit the context of a full length near masterpiece. The Bones Of What You Believe bounces with the type of jubilant electronica unrivaled by anyone not named Passion Pit. Lauren Mayberry’s vocals are equally sweet and bitter, and you’re never sure if you should console her, or run far, far away.

Must here: the life-affirming, soul-cleansing “Tether,” as well as the predatorial “Gun.”

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Darkside

The Darkside project, involving minimalist electronica artist Nico Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington has been kicking around for a couple years now, but 2013 was the year where the duo officially put their name on the map. It all started with their exquisite reworking of Daft Punk’s epic Random Access Memories, and concluded with them releasing the phenomenal Psychic, an LP of all original material that makes their moniker, which alludes to the Pink Floyd classic, more than deserved.

Must hear: Dave Harrington’s masterful blues guitar work on “Paper Trails,” as well as the sprawling, hypnotic opening “Golden Arrow.”

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Disclosure

As a debut, Settle is rather risky. Instead of focusing solely on their talents, the brothers Lawrence crafted one of the year’s towering masterpieces with the help of a bevy of their closest friends, a heavy dose of 90s inspired house from guys that probably don’t even remember the Spice Girls as a legitimate thing.

Must hear: Aluna Francis’ undeniable chemistry with the guys on “White Noise,” as well as that track’s flawless remix from Hudson Mohawke.

Jagwar Ma

Jagwar Ma

For more than a year, there was seldom known about Jagwar Ma other than their Beach Boys’ inspired summer anthem “Come Save Me,” which was released in the dead of winter in early 2012. The duo really hit their stride with 2013’s “The Throw,” and the ensuing full-length Howlin, which signaled Jagwar Ma as much more than a Stone Roses’ cover act.

Must hearthe deceptively confrontational “Man I Need,” and the bouncy, spirited “Uncertainty.”

Haim

Haim

SoCal sisters’ Danielle, Este, and Alana Haim (rhymes with ‘rhyme’) kicked the year off the best way possible, with BBC announcing them to be winners of their annual Sound of… award for the 2013 calendar year. While not necessarily a confirmation of upcoming global success (after all, The Bravery, Mika, and Little Boots have all won the top prize as well) there are certainly far worse harbingers for your upcoming musical career. And luckily for Haim, their win translated more to the likes of the successes of previous winners 50 Cent, Adele, and Ellie Goulding. It’s not easy delivering when the bar is set so high, but Haim made it all look so very effortless, and pretty damn fun.

Must hear: the sprightly, Omar Little-endorsed “The Wire,” as well as the buoyant title-track.

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Lorde

I was first introduced to Lorde’s music in early 2013, right after the 16-year old New Zealand superstar in-the-making discreetly released her The Love Club EP onto the interwebs in late 2012. While I personally found the title track to be the most promising from the collection, it was the pop culture critique of “Royals” that resonated with a much larger audience. In an age where it’s not unusual for a band to score a hit with a single released a year or two in the past, Lorde’s ascension occurred at a breakneck speed no one, not even her most ardent supporters, could have reasonably expected.

Must hear: the aforementioned “The Love Club,” which thematically touches on themes similar to equally stunning “White Teeth Teens.”

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Postiljonen

Perhaps the most slept-on album of 2013 was Postiljonen’s gem Skyer. Released in the middle of summer, the album was eclipsed in the media by the likes of Kanye West, Disclosure, and AlunaGeorge. But what the album lacked in critical recognition, it made up for in pure musical content. Taking a few cues from the increasingly in-demand M83, Postiljonen crafted an album that beautifully captures the band at their most economic.

Must hear: the prerelease single “Supreme,” as well as the somber “All That We Had Is Lost.”

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Savages

The past couple of years have been strange in terms of the out-of-nowhere attacks on Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive issues, as if people on the right decided they didn’t have enough pent-up anger already. It was strange indeed to see a country on the verge of allowing marriage equality to all take such monumental steps in the wrong direction in the discussion of women’s rights. These issues extended to Russia, where punk rock provocateurs Pussy Riot were sentenced to jail time for speaking out against the country’s oppressive regime. So while it may seem like 2013 would be a strange (and unfortunate) time for the world to need a band like Savages, we certainly did. The band’s fearless energy and natural musical abilities combine in powerful ways to make the band’s debut album not only of the year’s best recordings, but perhaps 2013’s  most important.

Must hearthe empowering, frenetic “She Will” and the molten energy of “Strife.”

Artists are in alphabetical order.

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