2012 was a relatively mellow year for music, with only a handful of records really managing to stir up a huge ruckus outside the niche zone. But that niche zone happened to produce a wealthy crop of fresh new faces to watch in the years to come. Out of all the eager young artists striving to hit the ground running this year, these 12 are getting us antsy for more.
12) The Cactus Channel – Apparently the kids can appreciate the classics after all. This hot-shit young Australian band of recent high school graduates channel all the funk of classic groups like the Meters into a crowd-friendly and shimmering sound that’s impossible not to grin at.
11) Matthew E. White – This Virginia-spawned weaver of tales has found the perfect formula for making lushly orchestrated tracks barely crawl above a whisper. Mixing a singer-songwriter approach with enough stoned swagger to sedate a barracuda, White’s debut, “Big Inner,” is the perfect kind of record for a late-night drive on the moon.
10) Slam Dunk – If the name wasn’t enough of a heads up, Slam Dunk is here to knock your socks off. Everything from the spacey dog adorning their album cover to its Gang of Four-like sound embodies the attitude of the West Coast perfectly, all ragtag and refusal to take oneself too seriously.
9) Kishi Bashi – The violin-looping wizard who first hit the scene as a backing band mate for of Montreal hit it big this year with his gushed over solo LP “151a.” Loaded with enough hand-clapping jubilance to wear out a two year old, Kishi Bashi has proven his chops in a surprisingly short amount of time. Things can only go up from here.
8) The Amazing – These Swedish ’70s worshippers made their splash in the U.S. this year with the appropriately titled “Gentle Stream.” Coming across as an album that legitimately sounds like it could’ve been dug up from a 1970s time capsule, the taste and restraint on this record are simply joyous to listen to and as satisfying as the sound of crunching leaves.
7) Toy – Dropping in from across the pond, these London youngsters have managed to make a 21st century psych-rock record that’s legitimately really psychedelic. Drawing from the washed out keyboards of John Paul Jones and the motorik beats of Neu! and a dash of Strokes-style guitar, Toy’s self-titled debut is a record that shines like a stained glass window while refusing to brush its hair out of its eyes.
6) Chris Cohen – A surprisingly remarkable release from a musician whose collaborations over the years have ranged from Ariel Pink to Deerhoof, “Overgrown Path” manages to be modest yet ear-grabbing all at once. Though the vocals always seem to be suggested rather than exclaimed, the quality of songwriting and diversity of sound from song to song make “Overgrown Path” a record quietly blooming with wonder.
5) Grimes – Alright alright, so “Visions” is actually Grimes’ third full-length release, but 2012 was undoubtedly the year that brought Claire Boucher’s whimsical beat workouts to a legion of frothing hype-seekers. It’s just as well, because the dark yet eerily inviting melodies laid out in “Visions” set a wonderful precedent for a career that feels like it’s just getting started.
4) Rhye – The as-yet-to-be-revealed identities of this Los Angeles duo have only helped to build the cloudlike aura this group projects. Delicate in execution yet highly emotional in scope, Rhye’s minimal take on R&B makes for an inspiring listen as another year slips from our grasp.
3) METZ – As these year-end lists seem to become increasingly stacked with artists who’ve traded in their electric guitars for Ableton sequencers, it’s refreshing to hear a group who’s only method of release is good ol’ instrument obliteration. METZ’s debut on Sub Pop is a thrashing and wild ride that serves as a friendly reminder that sometimes there are few substitutes for a finely honed power trio.
2) Mac DeMarco – Mac DeMarco’s first full-length seems bizarrely appropriate for 2012, with its AM-radio recalling production. Yet the style of the songs conjures up memories of old funk records stacked up against classic Beatles-style song structures. Alienating yet catchy, sloppy but groovy, Mac DeMarco’s debut is bursting with personality and never stops seeming like it wants to be your best friend.
1) Death Grips – After their debut mixtape stirred up baffled bloggers last year, Death Grips’ exhilarating two-album cyclone of not giving a f— has made them impossible to ignore. It’s been a busy year for the Grips so let’s recap how they got to December. Step 1: Get signed to a major label, Epic, astounding speculators everywhere. Step 2: Promise you’ll release two albums in 2012. Step 3: Plan and then immediately cancel your summer tour, infuriating fans. Step 4: Reveal that the label has pushed back your follow-up until 2013 and retaliate by posting it online with an erect penis for your album art before the label’s even heard it. Step 5: Get dropped from the label, yet still become more popular than ever. Ultimately all this mythology in motion is secondary to the records themselves. If Hip-hop were a wrestling arena, Death Grips would be the recently released inmate who might just whip out a shard of glass at any given moment: frightening to the core, but ultimately just too engrossing to look away.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.email@example.com.