2. La Roux
La Roux’s Trouble In Paradise will make you dance, but this isn't your typical pop album. It took five years to make this album and during that time, Elly Jackson experienced panic attacks, split with her writing partner, and at one point she completely lost her ability to sing. Somehow, she came out of it all with one of the best albums of the year. She did it without sugar-coating things with the typical pop drivel and she did it while drawing from some interesting places—just check out her playlist of songs that inspired the album.
In the past decade, "pop" music has too often been synonymous with manufactured garbage that is commercially successful. Let's be real. We need more pop stars like La Roux. She doesn't care about being famous, she cares about making good music, and she does it very well.
New Zealand brother/sister duo Broods are carrying on what Lorde started. Sure, it's pop music, but this isn't the same pop we were hearing on the radio 10 years ago—although it's just as accessible. Working with Lorde producer Joel Little, the group manages to balance the catchiest of choruses with a more minimal approach. It's a little moody, without all the in-your-face hand claps and sing-along choruses that make you want to vomit after three listens. Like it or not, thanks to Lorde showing how a minimal hit like "Royals" can go No. 1 on the charts, even radio-dominant music is changing, and Broods is part of the process. They're far from their peak and their newest songs are sounding ready for the masses, so get ready for more Broods. And shoutout to New Zealand.
JJ are just different. That much was confirmed when we sent someone to Sweden to spend some time with them and the whole Sincerely Yours collective, but it was already clear from their music. JJ mix seemingly disparate elements of pop vocals, sparkling electronic production, and lush strings, tying that all together with a love of hip-hop that is referenced int heir lyrics. Where most pop music is simple and easily digestible JJ's is complex and multi-layered, with new touches and subtle nuances being revealed with each listen.
Never is this more evident than on their excellent new album, V, out August 19 via Secretly Canadian.
Before TĀLĀ even says a word, the first thing that will grab your attention on any of her songs is the beat. Her songs don’t have the typical repetitive hook of most of the Top 40 hits, instead what grabs you are all of the unique sounds layered on top of each other, creating something unique and different that you can’t quite wrap your brain around.
As soon as the beat begins to captivate you, in comes TĀLĀ’s voice to top it all off. The juxtaposition of such a sweet voice over electronic beats influenced by both UK dance music and her Iranian background make for intriguing results. TĀLĀ released her first EP titled The Duchess earlier this month, three tracks that were written, sung, played and produced by her.
6. The Derevolutions
We’ve already claimed that the song of summer is dead and maybe that’s because when there are bands like The Derevolutions around, it becomes difficult to choose just one singular sound to define that season. Even if it were the dead of winter, after listening to any song by The Derevolutions you would probably feel like you were at a pool party or an amusement park.
Each song is energetic and immediately infectious in its own way. The layering of various samples helps to create the experimental pop sound that founding member Brett Boucher is going for. As of now, all of the band’s songs can be found on their SoundCloud page for free download and that’s exactly how we hope they keep it.
7. Kwamie Liv
When Kwamie Liv put her spellbinding song “5 AM” on Soundcloud earlier this year, she was easily mistaken for Lana Del Rey. With whimsical lyrics about “hiding in the neon lights” sung in a sensual tone, the moody tune was undeniably enchanting and instantly had us hooked. Kwamie Liv has been sparking everyone’s sense of curiosity because she’s an unsolved mystery—all anyone knows is that she’s Danish, and that’s it.
If you’re more low-key and prefer to listen to dark music alone in your bedroom, Kwamie Liv is the ideal partner.
There’s something about Sia’s voice that is instantly fascinating. It’s not quite perfect, but that those raspy notes might actually be the most enjoyable part about her voice. At times she sings in just a whisper and then takes off into a powerful section that takes over the entire song.
Besides having a voice that will completely grab your attention in just a matter of seconds, Sia also writes some lyrics that are deeper and more personal than your average Top 40 hit—"Chandelier," for example, is about her struggles with alcohol. On top of that, she's been subverting the role of a female pop star with her performances of "Chandelier" by hiding herself in the corner and making someone or something else the focus of attention. She may not be new, but her profile is at an all time high.
BANKS has a way of starting off her songs with a dark, hollow sound and slowly building them up into something more inviting. Her voice adds a soulful touch to dark electronic beats packed with bass and moody synths. BANKS flirts with R&B in her delivery, but she has real pop potential that is evident on the hooks of songs like "This Is What It Feels Like."
The first time you hear Grimes, you might think she is an alien trying to communicate with humans. It's hard to understand a single word she sings, but at least you can get down to the beats. But look up the lyrics of “Oblivion,” and you might be surprised or impressed—she’s a feminist shedding light on male predators who creep on women at night... what?
It takes most people a bit of time to "get" her synth and falsetto-filled sound, but those melodies confirm that this is music with a pop edge. Oh, and anyone who questions her songwriting credentials, the rejected Rihanna song “Go” confirms that she can make big mainstream pop too. What she'll do next, nobody knows. Maybe she'll just make a weird album of Dolly Parton remixes. But seriously, she might do it.
When it comes to pop music means these days, the word electro is always popping up in the description. Electro-pop may be a sub-genre in some people's eyes, but for quite some time now the worlds of pop and electronic music are becoming ever more intertwined.
Danish singer MØ is one of the many artists flourishing in the electro-pop scene. Over something more downtempo, her voice would be fitting for ballads, but her beat selection gives her a powerful energy and vibrancy. Beats with heavy bass and synth elements help amplify her voice in a way that softer instrumentals probably couldn’t, and although not necessarily immediately obvious, the political side of her music is interesting too.
Before his first solo EP, Wrong or Right, Kwabs gained attention on YouTube by uploading covers of popular songs. Even when he does a cover of someone else’s song, it becomes his—at least for a moment. A YouTube commenter once said that Kwabs had, “a voice like a bath of melted dark chocolate.” That seems like an odd description until you finally listen to him and realize that it might be so crazy that it's true.
Kwabs’ voice is guttural, powerful, and utterly unique. Each note feels like it’s aiming directly for your soul, but when paired with SOHN’s production his gospel-inflected delivery can be turned towards pop ends, albeit in a package that contains more raw emotion and passion than a billion over-polished, over-produced chart hits.
13. RY X
If Bon Iver had been separated from a long lost twin somewhere Down Under, you would think it was Ry Cuming. The Australian-born, LA-based singer is a bit of a traveling nomad; last year’s Berlin EP is a testament to his experiences abroad. Blessed with the voice of an angel, RY X is a breath of fresh air as he softly hums and gently strums an acoustic guitar. From one track to the next, he builds layers of intensity, and when he hits those echoing high notes you can feel it deep in your heart.
Ry Cuming also channels his creative passions to another musical outlet known as The Acid if you’re more open to falling down the rabbit hole and getting mixed up an experimental world of sound.
Another duo from London, AlunaGeorge combines the talents of singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid into something catchy and accessible, but not formulaic. AlunaGeorge’s 2013 debut album Body Music was an R&B/pop/electronic crossover success, from the cat call of “You Know You Like It” through the slower drawl of “Your Drums, Your Love" to the sweatier version of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” for when you're trying to get your bump-n-grind on.
Although a lot of people are now making the same kind of music as AlunaGeorge, their first songs in 2012 were really exciting. Whatever AlunaGeorge does next, hopefully it will be just as ahead-of-the-times.
Girl groups are sweeping back on the scene in 2014, but JUCE isn’t like the rest of them. Straight outta London, this trio of women stands out not only because of their charming accents and diverse looks, but because of their unique sound. Everything you liked about those classics from the ‘90s can be heard on their first single “Call You Out,” a power pop anthem oozing with soul as their soothing voices are complemented by an unstoppable rhythm section.
Could these be the girls we’ve been desperately waiting to fill the gap that’s been open since the demise of the Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, TLC, 3LW and every other group that thrived before the new millenium?
This South London duo has been kickin’ it for quite some time now, but their latest album Oasis floats above the rest. On it, they honed their lush electronic pop sound, mixing elements of dance music with hushed vocals much as The xx did on Coexist, but with even more of a tropical tinge.
Their sound isn't totally unique, but for listeners in need of a mental getaway (who have also played their The xx albums too much) Alpines can be provide the perfect escape.
Fronted by Zoe Kravitz and friends from Reputante, this funky electro-pop band has been sizzling since their catchy debut “Drive (Los Angeles)” popped up in January. After releasing the Drive EP in the following months, the four-piece band got trippier on their next single, “Jimmy Franco,” and recruited A$AP Rocky as a co-star in the artsy music video. If you’re looking to have a good time and it’s been a while since you last danced alone in your bedroom, you need LOLAWOLF in your life.
18. Anna of the North
Channeling the dreaminess of Norway, Anna of the North has been sprinkling her whimsical electronic indie pop on the internet for the past month now. The singer has us swaying into summertime with one delectable track after another, and we can’t get enough of her. While so much pop is meant to lift you up and get you moving, there's something soothing about the sounds of Anna. Maybe that's because she's inspired by David Attenborough documentaries.
19. Hannah Diamond
Is PC Music the future of pop music? Most people would laugh at the idea, but really, much of their aesthetic—especially that of A.G. Cook and Hannah Diamond—seems concerned with pushing pop music to its logical extremes. It can be almost uncomfortable to listen to songs like "Attachment" or "Pink and Blue," but are they really that different to much of the pop music that populates the charts? The hyper bright gloss of the production and the infantilization of the female that is prevalent in so much of today's pop is forced on you by PC Music, and you can either dismiss it as stupid and go on your way, or you can take some time and think about what it is that makes some people so annoyed—angry even—about these futuristic sounds.
20. Joel Compass
It’s been proven over time that the ladies will always love a guy who can hit some high notes when he sings, which means Joel Compass is in luck. But Joel’s entire vocal range isn’t just falsetto, he’s able to build up his voice in a way that mimics the build up of the beat he’s singing on. This versatility gives him room to venture between pop and R&B. His latest mixtape Natural Habitat displays this versatility.
House, R&B, pop, upbeat, down tempo or anything in between, Joel Compass proves that he’s able to shine on just about any kind of production. The young UK singer is yet more proof that when it comes to pop, the UK is certainly taking over.
If Ellie Goulding worked with fewer mainstream producers on Halcyon, and went for a little more of a low-key sound, the result might be something like IYES. The Brighton-based duo cranks out winding electro-pop tunes that explore the dimensions. Not to mention that their version of "Crazy In Love" is one of the best out. While they only have a few songs on display, IYES' appreciation of the importance of space in their songs and the versatility they've shown so far suggest they have a bright future ahead of them.