NPR member stations are uniquely tapped into local music scenes around the country and some of their favorite new artists are featured here on Heavy Rotation. But we have another discovery initiative called Slingshot: a collective effort among taste-making music stations to introduce exceptional up-and-coming artists.
The 2017 inaugural class included Big Thief, Jamila Woods and Lo Moon. In January 2018, music member stations and NPR Music staff selected 20 new Slingshot artists and we’ve been adding artists every month. Here are 10 of our favorite songs by this year’s crop of musicians.
Connie Constance, “Yesterday”
There is something really special about the music coming out of the U.K. — transcending and commingling genres seems part of the country’s musical DNA. With that in mind, meet Connie Constance.
Born Constance Power, the twenty-something London artist’s ability to blend modern U.K. sounds — trip-hop, guitar-based artists like The Smiths and The Stone Roses — and match them to her voice, smooth and billowing and intent on using every last store of oxygen by the end of every line. —Tarik Jelani Moody, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee
Dermot Kennedy, “Young & Free”
If you really want to be thorough, prepping for SXSW means sampling hundreds upon hundreds of songs you’ve never heard before — blind taste tests in which even strong material can drift into background noise if you let your concentration lapse. But it took less than a minute for Dermot Kennedy to pull me all the way in.
By the end of SXSW, I’d seen Kennedy perform three times, including a riveting set at a packed church. There, I marveled at the singer’s ability to thoroughly captivate a tired, seated audience, while pausing to remind myself that we might never again get to see him in a venue so intimate. Since then, he’s released Mike Dean Presents: Dermot Kennedy, a five-song EP and “Young & Free,” offering curious fans the work of a future star. —Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
Haley Heynderickx, “No Face”
While Haley Heynderickx is one of Portland, Oregon’s most intriguing new songwriters, she’s been attracting notice for her live shows for several years. Her songs often combine small observational details, delivered in a guileless voice.
Heynderickx jokingly calls her music “doom folk.” Her breakthough song “Oom Sha La La,” written for a songwriting challenge, is an earworm with a singalong doo-wop chorus, silly lyrics and a surprising freakout in the middle about her horticultural obligations. It appears on (and gives a title to) her debut album I Need To Start A Garden, which also features her latest single, “No Face.” —David Christensen, opbmusic
Hatchie, “Sugar & Spice”
At a time where 1990s throwbacks are becoming more prominent, the shimmering sounds of Brisbane, Australia’s Hatchie really stand ahead of the pack. While the aptly titled Sugar & Spice EP could have rested comfortably on indie rock playlists from 20 years ago, Harriette Pilbeam’s band is anything but a nostalgia act. The songs overflow with brightness, like a sun-facing window with the curtains pulled back. When I first saw the band in Austin at SXSW, I was immediately struck by just how good EVERY song was. As the band performed live for WFUV, with the morning sun hovering above like a heavenly spotlight, I was sold. It’s clear that Pilbeam has chosen a number of influences, absorbed them and crafted a sound for her band that I, for one, can’t wait to hear more of. —Russ Borris, WFUV
Jade Bird, “Uh Huh”
The year 2017 was a giddy ride for Jade Bird, the 20-year-old U.K. singer-songwriter well-deserving of the buzz generated in the wake of her debut EP Something American. From SXSW to the hallowed studios of Woodstock and Nashville, she’s already been tagged as one of Rolling Stone‘s 10 New Country Artists You Need To Know, and was long-listed for the BBC’s Sound of 2018 prize, whose previous honorees include Adele, Michael Kiwanuka and Haim.
Having honed her craft from an early age — schooling herself in traditional American blues and cry-in-your-whiskey honky-tonk — she won herself a whole new legion of stateside fans on her recent tour, thanks to lyrical musings beyond her years and a knack for charming audiences into putting away their phones. —Gini Mascorro, KXT
Knox Fortune, “Lil Thing”
Known mostly for his production skills, most of us first noticed Knox Fortune when he came out from behind the boards on the chorus of fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper’s mega-hit “All Night.” Thankfully, we got more from Knox Fortune (real name Kevin Rhomberg) in front of the mic on his latest album, Paradise. These breezy tunes, paired with his inventive production style, make for catchy earworms that might catapult (dare I say slingshot) him to ubiquity.
It’s not always easy for a production-centered musician to make music that sounds organic, but Rhomberg pulls it off. His are songs that make you feel youth. Maybe it’s your own in the rearview mirror, or a reminder that there are a whole bunch of people younger than you with dreams, aspirations and disposable time. —Matt Reilly, KUTX
Mt. Joy, “Sheep”
The founding members of Philly-raised, L.A.-based Mt. Joy — Matt Quinn (vocals/guitar) and Sam Cooper (guitar) — have been making music since the early 2000s. But it wasn’t until 2016 when the two came together and began to write songs that would become the foundation of their early singles. Something clearly clicked: “Astrovan” and “Sheep” have each surpassed 12 million streams on Spotify.
Hearing Mt. Joy for the first time reminded me of the first time I heard August And Everything After by Counting Crows. Like the Crows’ debut, Mt. Joy brings together elements of old-school classic rock and Americana with well-crafted songs that drip with nostalgia, and lots of well-placed singalong moments. Quinn is an emotionally powerful singer whose phrasing is filled with yearning and longing yet offers plenty of redemption. —Bruce Warren, WXPN
Nilüfer Yanya, “Thanks 4 Nothing”
Smoky, subtly emotive, and underpinned by a gorgeous falsetto that cracks on command, Nilüfer Yanya’s voice is a stunning instrument. And it pairs incredibly well with the English singer’s minimalist pop music, which revolves mostly around jazz and r&b-influenced guitar arrangements that allow her vocals to stretch out and fill the voids. Although she’s only released a couple of EPs and a handful of singles to this point in her career, the 22-year-old singer has already turned heads in her native country.
On her single, “Thanks 4 Nothing,” Yanya continues to impress. A cult-themed video for the track, complete with poisoned Kool-Aid and matching red outfits, morbidly plays with her introspective lyrics about a long-failing relationship that’s finally hitting the rocks. “This is this end,” she states before adding “don’t think we can be friends / Just being honest” in a wistful but calming tone that tries hard to hide the feeling of defeat. According to Yanya, it “shows you can be bitter and grateful about it at the same time.” That’s the sort of maturity you’d expect from a much older songwriter, but this is very clearly just the beginning for Nilüfer Yanya. —Jerad Walker, opbmusic
Octavian, an electric 22-year-old rapper from South East London, is committed to broadening the idea of U.K. hip-hop, a sound he says often gets oversimplified as grime and or overlooked completely.
Much like his sporadic, half-sung delivery on his breakthrough “Party Here,” the rhymer’s musical destiny was anything but expected. By the time he knew he wanted to take music seriously, Octavian Godji was at odds with his family and juggling his ambitions with keeping a roof over his head, couch-surfing in London while attending a community arts course at The BRIT School (the same free, rigorous performing arts college known for famous alumni like Adele and Amy Winehouse).
“I feel like we in London have a smaller voice than in America,” Octavian explained, “so I just want to be able to break that barrier into making it acceptable for Americans to listen to London music.” —Sidney Madden, NPR Music
Ruston Kelly, “Black Magic”
Damn, is he good. And easy to listen to, and not hard to look at, either. Ruston Kelly’s forthcoming album, Dying Star, due out Sept. 7, is a victory lap of sorts for a man who has been kicking around Nashville for a while now. One can always find trouble, but finding joy and deciding to walk its path instead requires gumption. Kelly has experienced it all, including overdosing, going to rehab and then finding the will to start anew.
Kelly digs down deep on Dying Star to fearlessly put forth a set of songs steeped in emotional twists, turns and complications. His voice has a rough-hewn barnwood quality. His lyrics have been compared to those of Townes Van Zandt. And wait until you see the videos. They bring a tenderness that drives the feeling home. This here is powerful stuff. —Jessie Scott, WMOT