A new year calls for new discoveries, and 2019 is no different. As part of NPR Slingshot, member stations have chosen a select group of artists who are making this a promising year in music.
Packed with discoveries, our 2019 Artists To Watch list is more than just an unpredictable mix of jazz montages, complex grunge solos and unifying anthems. It’s a diverse celebration of artists who’ve been here all along, but are only now getting to be heard.
Anjimile’s spiritual and melodic indie-pop sound is characterized by a smooth, highly expressive croon backed by guitar and synthesizer. When it comes to songwriting, the Boston-based queer and trans artist draws on their experiences with racism and homophobia while growing up in a suburb outside Dallas. But they’re also drawing on mental-health battles to focus on the grace of life. “I sing about my love for living and my appreciation for the beauty of existing,” they have told WGBH about their music. “I sing about the pain of being a person, and the pain of personal growth and emotional development.”
With an abundance of raw talent and years of performing under their belt, Anjimile is about to make a serious ascent. —Stacy Buchanan, WGBH
Anna St. Louis
Anna St. Louis began her life as an artist with punk music and painting. Leaving her native Kansas City for a stint at art school in Philadelphia, St. Louis eventually settled in Los Angeles. The new songs that emerged from her home recordings were more reflective of folk and country music. Encouraged by singer-songwriter Kevin Morby — a friend of hers from back home — she released an EP on cassette, titled First Songs.
Honest writing and spare production gave the music a haunting and otherworldly quality that feels wholly original. A full-length album, If Only There Was a River, followed. Recorded in L.A. with producers Kevin Thomas (King Tuff) and Morby, it stylistically straddles Laurel Canyon pop and dirt-floor country. Anna St. Louis is touring Europe this spring in support of her album and a much-deserved vinyl reissue of First Songs, slated for release later this year. —Jon Hart, KTBG
Trumpeter Arnetta Johnson was the quintessential “band geek” at the Creative and Performing Arts High School in Camden, N.J., where she was steeped (but not trapped) in the jazz tradition. The Berklee College of Music grad exhibits enormous promise with music that already defies categorization.
Johnson has been mentored by Jill Scott and saxophonist Tia Fuller; toured with Terri Lyne Carrington, Solange, Beyoncé and Jay-Z; and packed several creative lifetimes into her first 25 years on earth. Her singles “Meet Me There,” “Who Are You” and “I’m Just Sayin’” have only heightened excitement about her forthcoming album, If You Hear a Trumpet, It’s Me. —J. Michael Harrison, WRTI
Benji.’s debut album, last year’s Smile, You’re Alive!, almost didn’t happen after his studio equipment and laptop (containing all of his recordings, including his completed album) were stolen from a local studio. A few weeks later, he found a flash drive in a backpack with his finished album on it, and it turned his 2018 around. It was a busy year for Benji., as he played shows around the city and released a new track each week in October. One of those, “Tamale,” mixes a tropical vibe with soulful hip-hop beats, and has been on all my new-music playlists ever since.
In November, I caught Benji. at a packed local showcase called Glow Up. As the audience danced and sang along, it was clear that big things were in store for Benji., whose new album is scheduled for a May release. —Kyle Smith, WYEP
Taylor Meier and Evan Westfall met as high-school freshmen and formed a band with a couple of classmates for a project. After that group came to an end, the duo stayed together as CAAMP and moved to Athens, Ohio, to attend school. The charm of CAAMP’s acoustic songs can be heard in the heartfelt simplicity of the music, the sentiments in its lyrics about family and relationships, and the unfeigned ease and intensity of the band’s live performances.
With a new album on the horizon, CAAMP will hit the festival circuit throughout the spring and summer. The band’s songs might be ideally suited for moments of solitude and late nights, but their dreamy mix of gentle guitars, banjos and bass also reflects a warm and welcome embrace of community and hope. —Bruce Warren, WXPN
With its pristine studio recordings and wholesome live performances, Duncan Fellows is an Austin indie-rock band that’s sweet in a sincere way but by no means “cute.”
Duncan Fellows refined its chops with two EPs and a national tour before diving into a full-length 2017 album, Both Sides of the Ceiling. The record navigates a broad spectrum of shoegaze and rock sounds, complete with laconic vocals, witty lyrics and intricate arrangements across 10 diverse songs that don’t sprawl so much as savor the groove. Duncan Fellows promises new material and tour dates in 2019, so be on the lookout for more from this grin-inducing powerhouse. —Jack Anderson, KUTX
“Chequeless Reckless,” Fontaines D.C.’s 2018 debut single, announced the band as a perfect cocktail of Joyce and Jameson — the musical equivalent of a Sally Rooney novel and a shot glass. The group’s loose-yet-kinetic fury is capped by singer Grian Chatten’s verbose, charismatic croon, which forms a mix of punk and poetry that’s equal parts loquacious swing and romantic swoon.
Along with frequent tourmates Shame and IDLES, the Dublin quintet is leading a new wave of rock bands who dispense introspective prose with slash-and-burn guitars. “Too Real,” the lead single from their forthcoming debut album, finds the band in sterling form across four shouted, chaotic minutes. It’s a song just as likely to grab you by the collar as it is to offer you a seat at the bar, ready to tell you a story so gripping that its truthfulness is irrelevant. —Jacob Webb, KEXP
Hurry Up plays exceedingly loud, fast and brash rock music. The appropriately named band started out as a side project almost a decade ago in Portland, Ore. There, Westin Glass and Kathy Foster, then members of The Thermals, joined up with former Bangs bassist Maggie Vail in an effort to scratch their weirdest lo-fi punk itches. That early collaboration culminated in a criminally underheard self-titled album rooted in the DIY sounds of the D.C. hardcore and riot grrrl scenes of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
With the recent breakup of The Thermals, Hurry Up is now the trio’s primary focus and seems poised to reach a wider audience. And, while the band has embraced a far more modern sound on the new Dismal Nitch (out later in 2019), their songs still brim with a nasty swagger that lends a sense of importance to every note, word and growl. —Jerad Walker, opbmusic.org
The marriage of depth and humor via song can be tricky, but when the chemistry and songcraft are genuine and the elements fall into place, art happens. Together, Londoners Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville comprise the singular voice of IDER, whose first full-length album arrives this year.
With transcendent harmonies and laid-bare lyricism offering a look at the world of twentysomething angst and uncertainty, IDER’s U.S. breakout track “Mirror” brings to life the sunken-hearted, second-guessing phase in the aftermath of a breakup. Eventually, the song sings the praises of settling comfortably back into oneself — and ultimately, finding empowerment through solitude. —Gini Mascorro, KXT
At 23, Jean Deaux is a Chicago renaissance woman. She sings, she writes, she raps, she [fill in the blank with pretty much anything], and she does it all while keenly in tune with her vision and craft. She carries her infinite energy into her latest EP, Krash, a journey of beats and rhythms that carry her voice and lyricism like perfect waves.
One of its best bops is “Energy,” which features another Chicago favorite, Ravyn Lenae, and is produced by Phoelix, Smino and ROMderful. The track is a call to action, reminding those who might want to get in her way that they’ll have to keep her pace. — Fyodor Sakhnovski, Vocalo
Growing up on one of Iceland’s remote Westman Islands, Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson spent his youth as a restless (old) soul who passed his time by skateboarding and painting. It wasn’t until he stumbled on a beat-up guitar in his early 20s that he started channeling that restlessness into music, which he eventually released under the name of his alter ego, Júníus Meyvant.
His deceptively subtle debut single, “Color Decay,” was my favorite song of 2014 — an out-of-nowhere knockout punch that channeled Bon Iver through a Lee Hazlewood haze with a twist of Van Morrison. He followed that up with his 2016 debut, the wonderful soul-folk album Floating Harmonies. On his latest release, Across the Borders, Júníus Meyvant takes the title to heart, evolving as an artist and a person while working musically and emotionally to transcend the barriers that hold us back.
He makes it all seem so effortless, but his laid-back vibe and low-key demeanor conceal that this is a grand endeavor. There’s such sophistication to the arrangements: the stirring strings, the orchestration, the beautifully placed guitar flourishes, the Hammond B-3 textures. Listening to Júníus Meyvant, no matter what issues you’ve got going on in your life, is enough to make you feel like everything’s gonna be all right — at least for the length of an album. —Kevin Cole, KEXP
Nashville has long held a mythic place in musicians’ minds as a community in which to ply one’s craft and maybe fulfill lifelong dreams. It’s amazing that it still occupies that space.
Like generations of artistic pilgrims before her, Katie Pruitt is a recent transplant from outside Athens, Georgia. Taking the leap from the solitary space of writing in her bedroom to jumping in with Music City creatives always takes grit, which Pruitt has in spades. She also possesses a soaring, nuanced and expressive voice, and writes with devastating honesty. We met Pruitt when we were about to launch the Americana format at WMOT, and she’s been our station voice since we signed on in September 2016. It’s been great watching her trajectory over the last few years, and we can’t wait to see where her talent takes her. —Jessie Scott, WMOT
Classically trained multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Kelsey Lu defies genres and boundaries with a mashup of soul, hip-hop and classical music. She’s come a long way since creating music in North Carolina on her iPhone while squatting in an abandoned factory, where her music was therapeutic as she worked through depression during a dark time in her life. Fast forward to working with Solange, Sampha, Blood Orange and more — and recording in her own studio in NYC.
In “Due West,” Lu crafts an ethereal chronicle of her move to L.A. With looping pedals, she’s created layers of cello, adding a sense of spirituality and soulfulness to her sound. Lu writes that the song is “a continuation of the evolution of self. A continuous questioning of the romanticism of ‘home’ and what we leave behind in order to gain hope in what’s ahead.” —Willobee Carlan, NV89
For an unassuming teenager from Jamaica with just three songs available on Spotify, Koffee — the stage name of Mikayla Simpson — has made a huge splash in the reggae world. She calls herself a “sing-jay-guitarist,” blending her talents of singing, DJing and playing guitar to create music with a timeless and arresting message and vibe.
Koffee has found a way to capture the depth and feeling of her reggae idols — Cocoa Tea and Protoje, among others — while her youthful enthusiasm, catchy riddims and uplifting lyrics place her squarely in the contemporary world. She already has plans to incorporate other influences, including hip-hop, as she sees no limits to her artistic inspirations. —Todd Hulslander, Houston Public Media
When Mvstermind released his debut album Cusp in 2016, he was named an artist to watch by Complex and Hype Magazine. Now, as that record’s title suggests, the St. Louis native is on the verge of breaking into the mainstream consciousness.
Mvstermind makes what he calls “retro futurism hip-hop,” a distinctive blend of socially conscious rap, vintage jazz samples and spacey, skittering beats. While he often employs a smooth, buttery flow, he also draws on his experiences as a black Muslim in the American heartland to deliver incisive lyrics on the state of the culture.
The artist uses his videos to represent his city with the same subtlety and complexity. Rocking long dreadlocks and mala beads, he takes viewers on a tour of the highs and lows — the abandoned buildings, shopping centers and art installations — of his world. The vision is beautiful, even amid desolation and decay, and vital for the country to witness. —KE Luther, KDHX
The bright melodies, classic beats and life-affirming lyrics that Philadelphia’s Tiffany Majette crafts under the name Orion Sun are hard not to love. A singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, Majette honed her craft through home recording, and her creative vision is fueled by well-chosen touchpoints: Stevie Wonder’s classic soul, Lauryn Hill‘s self-assured rap and R&B fusion, Frank Ocean‘s genre-defying fearlessness.
Orion Sun first emerged with the mixtape A Collection of Fleeting Moments and Daydreams and spent 2018 releasing loosie singles like the wondrous dreamscape “Stretch.” Originally a solo-with-laptop pursuit, Majette built up Orion Sun when it landed on the lineup of Jay-Z‘s Made In America Festival, turning the project into an expansive, seven-piece live band with keys, drums, several guitars and backing vocals. Her Instagram has shown her popping up in fancy locales from Brooklyn to Paris of late, and a 2019 release is on the horizon. —John Vettese, WXPN
Like most new American fans of Radiant Children, I first heard the transcontinental trio on Issa Rae’s HBO show Insecure. I’d certainly clocked rumblings about the U.K. trio around DJ campfires months prior, but my interest was stoked upon hearing the provocative, politically charged “Go Left.”
Since then, Radiant Children has been in heavy rotation, inspiring the kind of deep-seated hope that keeps us public radio jocks going. The trio takes risks, creating its music organically and allowing hearts to lead the way. There’s a primal passion and attention to emotion felt on the group’s Tryin’ EP that emits palpable, groovy warmth. —Garth Trinidad, KCRW
Tayla Parx introduces herself as a “typical girl” in “Slow Dancing,” her latest single. Considering her past year — in which she’s contributed to so much of the best music coming out right now — the statement itself is a bit stunning. Here’s a quick rundown: Parx co-wrote “thank u, next” with Ariana Grande. Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar weren’t the only ones responsible for Song of the Year contender “Tints.” Check the credits: Tayla Parx was riding shotgun. Maybe your No. 1 album of 2018 was Janelle Monaé‘s Dirty Computer. Parx co-wrote four of the songs. She’s not limited to pop and hip-hop, either: Panic! At the Disco‘s “High Hopes” hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 last year. Who co-wrote it? Tayla Parx. Now that she’s stepping into her own spotlight in 2019 with her second album We Need to Talk, she’s golden. — Justin Barney, Radio Milwaukee
The first thing that stands out about Westerman is his voice: It has a celestial quality that sounds otherworldly, while at the same time emitting an aura of intimacy that gives the listener the impression of a shared sonic space. To the uninitiated, the London-based cosmic-folk troubadour could be best described as a sonic descendant of Arthur Russell and Nick Drake, with a twist of Robert Smith.
After a brilliant run of singles in 2018, Westerman capped off the year with his Ark EP, a release headlined by the sublime downcast synth-pop of “Albatross.” Rumors of possible full-length this year give me all the reason I need to feel hopeful about the state of music in 2019. —Travis Holcombe, KCRW
London, Tennessee? Memphis, England? If such a place existed, Yola would call it home — a place where country and soul music are such close neighbors, you can’t find the fences. With a voice that can belt, swoon and sing the blues, she quickly makes clear that you’re in rare company.
Yola’s songs are the kind that can only come from a remarkable life: Her youth took her from living homeless in London to joining Massive Attack to opening for James Brown. She not only grew up in poverty, but was also banned from making music as a kid, and overcame experiences ranging from stress-induced voice loss to her home burning down.
This all brought her to Walk Through Fire, her collaboration with Dan Auerbach. He brought in his crew of top Nashville session players, who know all about timeless, genre-free sounds: Fiddles and timpani come together in ways that recall Dusty Springfield, Tammy Wynette and Al Green. For a girl raised on the coast of Southwest England, where she didn’t fit in and life was hard, finding herself in the easy camaraderie of Auerbach’s studio was the realization of a childhood dream. It all comes through in these songs. —Rita Houston, WFUV