76 independent artists to watch following SXSW 2015

While many people flocked south to Austin, Texas last week for this year’s South By Southwest festival, which showcases more than two thousand artist performances alongside label presentations, technology reveals, and discussion panels, some of us had to settle for attending Couch By Couchwest from home. I spent the past week digging through a spreadsheet of 2,121 artists who were slated to play during SXSW 2015, and after whittling down the list and listening to 622 of them, I have selected 76 independent acts that warrant further attention now that the festivities have ended. Read a short blurb on each artist below along with a prime track among their discography, or skip ahead to the full playlist on SoundCloud by clicking here.

2:54

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This sister duo from London has released two albums that have gotten some healthy press attention; tracks like “Blindfold” and “Orion” from sophomore album The Other I build upon dense compositions with snappy percussion.

8th Grader

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On my radar since last year’s SXSW, San Francisco-based 8th Grader continues to impress with the sunny, slinky funk of new single “Morro Bae.” He’s also been working recently with Carousel and Capital Cities’ Ryan Merchant.

AIR BAG ONE

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Hailing from Cameroon, indie-rock trio AIR BAG ONE shines on new single “1992,” which leads off their upcoming debut album, Rich Kids. Sunny and upbeat, they’d fit in easily among alternative’s current flavors, such as Walk The Moon and The Wombats.

Air Traffic Controller

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Boston band Air Traffic Controller has been playing shows and building a fanbase ahead of a new album, slated for release this spring. “The House” may be their biggest single yet, pushing forward with a pulse while recollecting on their childhoods and the home where those memories were built.

Amason

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This Swedish quintet floats with ease between genres: while one recent track has a folk lean and a flute solo, another twinkles along with snare and synths backing the light and tight voice of leader Amanda Bergman. (Fun fact: one of the band’s members, Pontus Winnberg, is better known as the latter half of production duo Bloodshy & Avant.)

American Aquarium

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Wolves is the eighth album from Raleigh-based Americana group American Aquarium, and their experience shows, with honest songwriting and earnest vocal delivery. The entire album is available to stream on their SoundCloud account, and the material recounts relatable experiences involved in growing up and growing older.

Amy Speace

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Amy Speace’s songwriting is deeply honest and personal, as evidenced on the title track of her new album That Kind Of Girl: as the first verse unfolds, she sings of self-doubt — “I don’t want to hear who I am / I don’t want to hear who I’m not” — but she lets her walls fall as she falls in love, the song standing as a poignant result.

Animal Years

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It’s hard to believe at first that Brooklyn band Animal Years isn’t a major-label artist and a radio mainstay — their debut album Sun Will Rise displays soft but searing guitar lines and a strong vocal from leader Mike McFadden that moves between evocations of indie-rock groups like The Wild Feathers and more mainstream groups like Daughtry.

Arum Rae

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I’ve had my eye on Brooklyn-via-Austin singer Arum Rae for the better part of a year, during which time she’s released two EPs, Warranted Queen and Waving Wild. Her compositions have a dusty folk heart with jagged pop, rock, and soul edges that put a twist into the formula.

AVAN LAVA

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The production backing AVAN LAVA billows and builds, a mixture of house and rave-ready pop. Their newest release is their EP Make It Real (out March 31), and the tracks previewed thus far put that production to good use, with moderate verses that grow both melodically and structurally into big choruses.

Avid Dancer

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Avid Dancer, fronted by Jacob Dillan Summers and based in LA, has already been on the radar of SiriusXM, who has been spinning their debut single “I Want To See You Dance” on Alt Nation. The track has a subtle groove, but it has a way of working into your head, as does Electric Guest-esque track “Stop Playing With My Heart.” Their debut album 1st Bath releases next month.

Bad Veins

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There’s no hint of menace in the repeated delivery of the line “I’m gonna kill you with kindness” in Bad Veins’s debut single “Kindness” — instead, it unfurls from moody synths and keyboards into a bright setting of guitar, flute, and even harp that’s perhaps more closely aligned with Alice In Wonderland‘s brand of flittering, maniacal whimsy.

The Ballroom Thieves

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Cut Delta Rae in half and ship them up to Boston and you’d get something like The Ballroom Thieves, who refer to themselves as “a rock band disguised as a folk band.” Their eponymous debut EP includes jangling percussion and dark, haunting harmonies.

BASECAMP

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Nashville trio BASECAMP has been churning out hits for a while, including a stellar self-titled EP last year. Their latest work has included a Sia remix and a couple interesting choices for covers in Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants” (retitled “ATSW”) and Genesis’s “In Too Deep” (“N2DEEP”), as well as a new original, “Shudder,” to tide fans over before whatever interesting turns may come next.

Beat Connection

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Beat Connection’s Twitter is verified and they’ve connected with The Windish Agency for booking, but appear to still be unsigned as far as a label goes — perhaps that’s only temporary, though, as tracks like “Illusion” bounce along with addictive rhythms whose sources shift from percussive bell sounds to a nearly tropical guitar riff.

Beaty Heart

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Beaty Heart’s standout track “Seafood” begins with a fun island lilt, complete with high, cheerful vocals. Then with a wild shriek at the end of the first refrain, the beat explodes even further, bringing in heavier percussion and even the scraping of a guiro. Talk about a tropical trip.

BEGINNERS

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Unsurprisingly, the name BEGINNERS is a misleading moniker for the pop group led by vocalist Samantha Barbera. “All we can do is figure it out as we go,” she sings — sounds like they’ve got things nicely figured out, with more than two million Spotify streams on “Who Knows” and recent tour dates with Walk The Moon.

The Black And The White

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“Torn Up” is the latest single from The Black And The White, in which driving indie rock riffs provide a base for breathy, tonic-avoiding melodies, a combination that works rather well. You’ll have to stick with the SoundCloud embed for now, since it isn’t on digital retailers yet, but it’s a good preview of what might be yet to come.

Black Books

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Black Books describes their track “Something To Remember” as “southern dream pop,” at least if SoundCloud tags are any indication — the southern rock vibes are most prominent, but imagine those as a barren field and the dream pop is a hazy breeze blowing through, causing the guitars to sear and the vocals with more drawn-out, atmospheric hooks. A neat change of pace from many of the Austin acts who played the festival.

Brandy Zdan

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Now a solo artist after previous collaborations, Nashville singer Brandy Zdan sits in the sweet spot that is sun-kissed folk-rock, the kind that evokes Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and C’mon C’mon-era Sheryl Crow. Latest single “More Of A Man” gives a bit of a sharp-toothed edge to Zdan’s sweet tone, backed by musicians from My Morning Jacket and The Alternate Routes.

The Bros. Landreth

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Country blog The Shotgun Seat first tipped me off to Canadian sibling duo The Bros. Landreth, and I regret not paying attention sooner. While country is indeed their home genre, there’s a lot to like for non-fans of the genre too, especially on “Made Up Mind,” which recalls the Continuum-era blues of John Mayer and great Americana lyrics and harmonies.

Chaos Chaos

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While Chaos Chaos is the working name of Seattle’s Saavedra sisters, Asya and Chloe, chaotic is (welcomingly) not a prime descriptor of their music. Instead, the duo makes light pop music that is sometimes heavily-produced and dreamy, but at other times stripped back with keyboards and simple harmonies; both settings provide great results.

Cheerleader

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I’m a huge sucker for leading tones (the note just below the tonic, or root, in a scale), so hearing them in the intro of Cheerleader’s “The Sunshine Of Your Youth” drew me in right away, as did the nostalgic quality of its message. As many great compositions do, the bright sound masks a more subdued message: “you know that it’s useless looking back; there’s no redemption there for you.”

Count This Penny

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Madison, Wisconsin duo (both in marriage and music) Count This Penny began as they traded cable TV cords for guitar strings in 2009, and the result is quiet, but immaculate folk music. Amanda Rigell, originally of Tennessee, takes the lead on most vocals, but it’s when her voice interweaves with husband Allen’s harmonies that, together, they reach their peak.

Daniel Wilson

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Sadly the only act here from my home state of Michigan, Ypsilanti-based Daniel Wilson has been building a healthy berth of buzz in the past few months thanks to his EP, Boy Who Cried Thunder. Whether paired with bouncing electronics or a simple piano accompaniment, Wilson’s soul barrels through with a wavy vibrato, a strong tone, and an even stronger falsetto.

Decorations

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Only one track is uploaded to Decorations’ SoundCloud account thus far, but it’s certainly a promising start. The LA group’s upbeat single “Girls” packs in a simple — and simply addicting — synth riff, electric guitar, and Neon Trees-like spunk.

DOROTHY

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With the grit and catchy vocalizations on standout track “Wicked Games,” it’s no wonder DOROTHY has amassed more than half a million plays on a mere three tracks uploaded to their SoundCloud account. They’ve been backed as an emerging artist by Skullcandy already, and I’d expect more such endorsements and commercial syncs to come. “This game ain’t for the faint of heart,” lead singer Dorothy Martin yowls with brash, youthful abandon, showing she’s anything but.

The Dove & The Wolf

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Parisian duo The Dove & The Wolf features soft, female harmonies, which takes care of the “dove” half of their artist name fairly easily. Perhaps the “wolf” moniker refers to the unexpected edge in the guitars and percussion that swell up ever so briefly beneath more rhythmically-complex melodies before fading back again, putting the spotlight back on the flittering doves at center stage.

DREAMERS

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DREAMERS have been building up for the past few months — I first found them from a recommendation on the podcast I co-host, Pop Unmuted, and their single “Wolves” went to rock radio in January. Its chorus is a particularly catchy element that makes it poised for breakout success — perhaps its opening line, “you got me brainwashed,” is a double-entendre in that sense.

Emilyn Brodsky

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Emilyn Brodsky has released two albums that pretty clearly show her penchant for honest, real songwriting: Emilyn Brodsky’s Greatest Tits and Emilyn Brodsky Eats Her Feelings. The only track to preview on her SoundCloud, “Someone Belongs Here,” is somewhat reminiscent of Lady Lamb The Beekeeper for its down-to-earth lyricism and jangly accompaniment of tambourine and guitar.

Emprss

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London artist Emprss wields the often-pleasing combination of singer-songwriter alt-pop laced with driving, humming production. His EP Blue is, as can be assumed by the title, not quite as pleasing in lyrical themes (tracks include “Blue,” “Down,” and “Fray”), but the music is moody and depressed in the best way.

The Family Crest

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I first stumbled upon rowdy folk group The Family Crest while digging through Rdio’s new releases page at some point last year. The orchestral ensemble with seven core “family” members but an often-growing live roster has a loud, ambitious sound that rises and pushes forward more like the crest of a wave.

Fickle Friends

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Within seconds, Fickle Friends’ songs take their hooks and dig in, combining bouncy production and catchy guitar and bass riffs. The friends’ vocals recall HAIM, but with a more retro tinge in their production (not to mention their art direction), clipping in with snappy rhythms and tight harmonies.

Foreign Fields

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I first got acquainted with the quiet, but gripping works of Foreign Fields a few years ago while in a typical collegiate alt/indie phase. With the recent release of a new EP, What I Kept In Hiding, they reveal even more potential with louder, more adventurous production and instrumentation. Nice to hear they had an even nicer hand hidden up their sleeve.

Fort Lean

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Brooklyn boys Fort Lean employ toe-tapping guitar riffs and pleasant, slightly sunny rock harmonies, both of which fit in well and would work well in a live setting. It’s not hard to imagine they’ll be making waves on alternative radio before too long.

The Franklin Electric

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According to their biography, The Franklin Electric first gained a following by winning a Nashville songwriting competition with the song “Old Piano.” One of their standouts this far, its bouncy, infectious qualities and storytelling songwriting make it a worthy candidate, especially when comfortable harmonies are added in. The dash of trumpet from the bridge on is a welcome addition as well.

Fyfe

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Several of London artist Fyfe’s tracks take a moment to get into their grooves, but it’s an effective technique, grabbing you by the collar just when you think you’re settled in. One such track is “Polythene Love” from new album Control, which blasts in with shimmering production, then replaces them with low piano keys.

Gemini Club

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Four-piece Chicago group Gemini Club has been turning heads for a while, particularly in a live setting, where a custom setup allows them to remix their own songs and make each show unique. They were also selected for curated content in Red Bull’s Sound Select program, who accurately describes their alt-meets-electric sound as “at once classic and driven towards the future.”

Grace Weber

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Fans of Trixie Whitley should be drawn to Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Grace Weber, who released her sophomore album The Refinery last fall. Her big, soulful voice propels her songs powerfully, as does a meaty orchestra of jazz horns on cuts like “Oil & Gold.”

Great Caesar

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Fun, vibrant melodies shine through in the recent singles from New York six-piece band Great Caesar (which includes an instrumentalist of the also melodically-inclined band San Fermin). I enjoyed previous single “Don’t Ask Me Why” upon its release last fall, and new single “Sharks” builds off of that with a big melodic hook and a horn-heavy instrumental break.

Hippo Campus

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Minneapolis-based indie-pop band Hippo Campus features infectious bass rhythms and catchy, energetic melodies. Like Avid Dancer, they belong to New York independent label Grand Jury Music, but none of their singles have been pushed to radio yet.

Honeyblood

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I found Honeyblood’s debut single “Bud” late last year, which chugs along with a driving bass line and couples well with the Glasgow girls’ harmonies. They’ve since released a full-length debut album, which continues the light but determined style of their debut single, reminiscent of acts like Best Coast, HAIM, or Lucius.

Howard

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The best songs entitled “Falling” are those whose melodies do just that. Brooklyn singer Howard’s “Falling” achieves this feat, the melody in the verses twisting down like an autumn leaf swirling toward the ground, meeting countermelodies and light but brooding percussion on the way down.

HUMANS

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Vancouver’s HUMANS create dense melodies that are driven forward by a hefty underbelly of discussion and dark synth tones. While many of the tracks on their recently-released album Noontide put the production in the spotlight with the vocal as an adornment, “Tell Me” gives the vocal more focus in the first half, with an indie-pop vibe similar to Fitz & The Tantrums, before diving into a pool of produced layers that gives the track more of a menacing end.

HUNTAR

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HUNTAR has rightfully received a good amount of blog buzz so far this year, as well as a song premiere by BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac, praising his brand of dark, buzzing R&B. Tracks like “Love I Know” and “Expectations” have a slow burn to them, growing more intricate and exciting with each new section.

Indevotion

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If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that Sweden is a good source for melodic, energetic pop music. Indevotion, from the coastal city of Oskarshamn, has been together since 2008, but their latest material shines with the added collaboration of producer Mats Valentin (Kelly Clarkson’s “Don’t Let Me Stop You”). Latest single “Pretty Little Liar” stacks several hooks into its chorus and big pop vocals.

James Hersey

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James Hersey, a singer-songwriter from Vienna, Austria, is already signed to independent German label Lichtdicht and has toured with labelmates Milky Chance, but isn’t associated with a major label yet. Clarity single “What I’ve Done” should appeal to fans of the breakout duo as well, with polished vocals atop a similar repeated guitar riff.

Johnny Stimson

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Johnny Stimson already has endorsements from artists like Betty Who and Brayton Bowman, which is a pretty promising sign if you ask me. Much like their tracks, Stimson’s Holding On EP features breezy, breathy vocals with interesting melodic choices, but also occasionally twists into moments of funky, soulful jams complete with falsetto and crisp rhythm. The EP’s title track was also featured in a UK ad campaign for healthcare group Bupa, propelling it to the top spot on their Shazam charts.

The Lonely Wild

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Though they’re originally from Los Angeles, The Lonely Wild’s sound tracks itself further southeast — their bio cites ’60s western cinema as an inspiration, and the Spaghetti Western sound is apparent. New track “Running” is the only preview thus far of upcoming album Chasing White Light, but it drives along, kicking up dust along the way with its building drum rhythms and string features.

Longfellow

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Longfellow, a modern rock group hailing from Brockley in South London, follows a welcome trend of British acts invading with earnest songwriting and anthemic instrumental lines that should give them a nice level of commercial appeal stateside. “Medic” hopes for a relationship to heal past its injured state, taking an interesting sonic turn by moving into half time for its coda.

The Magnettes

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Swedish duo The Magnettes released a new two-track single just in time for SXSW, “Sore Feet & Heartbeats.” The title track is a more subdued, buzzy pop track, but its B-side, an update of 2012 debut single “Paper Cut,” is an aggressive power pop kiss-off following a lover’s inability to see how he hurt her: “it’s aching while you say it’s just a paper cut.”

Max Jury

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Max Jury is another artist I first discovered last fall during my weekly dig through Rdio’s new releases, having enjoyed his piano-fueled folk-pop and solid vocal tone on his EP All I Want: The Sonic Factory Sessions. Selections like the title track and “Black Metal” showcase his stripped-back sound and the imagery in his songwriting. New single “Home” previews his upcoming full-length album.

Mideau

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Originally from Salt Lake City, Mideau crafts easygoing pop/rock with a noticeable electronic influence. BuzzFeed recently featured the slinky cut “Maude” in a song quiz, giving it a bit of extra buzz before the release of their second, self-titled EP in April.

Milk & Bone

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Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin form the duo Milk & Bone, whose music swirls with rich harmonies, subtle beds of sounds, and gently curling vocals. They’ll be opening for Christine and the Queens next month at Le Poisson Rouge in New York as part of a showcase by Neon Gold Records and promotional curator PopGun Presents.

Missio

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Matthew Brue, an Austin artist who records as Missio, only has one track available thus far, but “I Run To You” is promising, with its dark, echoing mix of vocals and production. I happened to download his self-titled EP last fall when it was briefly released, and can say that there are more good tracks still to come from him, complete with reverent, monk-like harmonies and snappier percussion.

Natasha Kmeto

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Portland singer Natasha Kmeto fits nicely among another current trend of female artists creating dark, rhythmic R&B/pop with waves of production surrounding their voices. Kmeto’s latest release, “Inevitable,” fits alongside hyped artists like BANKS, but Kmeto’s vocal is more pure and forceful, with a bit of soul and more aggressive percussion toward the song’s end.
https://soundcloud.com/natashakmeto/inevitable

Nihils

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Austrian band Nihils makes pleading alt-pop, with tracks such as “Help Our Souls” already having amassed half a million SoundCloud streams. It’s a slightly bouncy number, with twinkling and thumping production elements helping to propel them along.

Niia

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Niia first came to my attention last year for working with producer Robin Hannibal, who records as part of Rhye and Quadron and has done great work for artists including Jessie Ware, Yuna, and Laura Mvula. Niia’s work resembles Quadron in parts, with her silky, emotive vocal sliding atop thicker beats and the occasional whine of strings. Sultry non-EP release “David’s House” remains my favorite of her body of work thus far.

Northcote

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Northcote is a folksy group led by Victoria, Canada singer-songwriter Matt Goud. The material on their latest EP, Invisible Diamonds, is comfortably familiar and Goud’s voice has a nice, slight roughness in his tone. They’re currently touring with The Gaslight Anthem after a stint with Twin Forks last year.

of Verona

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Another group from Los Angeles, of Verona sits more in the shadow of the California palm trees than on its sunny shores. Their songs have a slightly dramatic quality, with choral echoes and medieval-sounding strings, and the production swirls around the husky voice of Mandi Perkins like a billowing fog. They’ve scored a number of television syncs thus far, including Grey’s Anatomy and The Vampire Diaries.

Orla Gartland

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Irish singer Orla Gartland has a pure, contemporary vocal, which goes nicely with the dreamy, bass-driven instrumental that accompanies her with the slightest retro feel. Her choruses on tracks like “Modern World” and “Lonely People” feel bouncy and anthemic, with layering from backing vocals and more driving bass riffs. She recently toured with Class Of 2015 artist Martin Luke Brown.

Paperwhite

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You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but sometimes music can be safely judged by the look of its cover artwork. Paperwhite’s art direction nicely portrays its dreamy, synth-heavy retro-pop sounds, with hazy landscapes and bright colors. Combining ’80s-inspired production, nice harmonic lines, and crisp rhythms both in the vocal and instrumental parts, they’re a pop tastemaker’s dream come true.

Prinze George

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Taking their name from Prince George’s County, Maryland, where two of the trio’s members grew up together, female-fronted Prinze George moves from moderately-produced indie-pop to more rave-ready dance to soft, acoustic folk. Catering to a wide number of sensibilities while doing them all well, the future looks bright: after a big sync in a German film last year, the band just released their debut self-titled EP earlier this month.

SALES

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From sunny Orlando, Florida, duo SALES incorporates light, breezy strings within drum machine beats and choppy vocal samples. Vocalist Lauren Morgan has a slight roughness in her voice, which fits in with the lo-fi feel crafted by guitarist and producer Jordan Shih.

Seoul

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Perhaps a little misleading in name, the group Seoul is actually from Montreal, Canada. The vocals are soft and sparse on tracks like “The Line” from upcoming album I Become A Shade, leaving plenty of room for several intertwining layers of countermelody in the production and instrumentation.

SPEAK

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“Gates,” a standout by Austin quartet SPEAK, explodes upon pressing play, with glassy layers of electro-rock leading into a smooth vocal from leader Troupe Gammage. Its bridge grows even more dense and complicated for a brief moment before drawing back to a sole guitar and the reintroduction of the chorus.

Sucré

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I found pop vocalist Sucré last fall and am surprised she hasn’t grown a lot more popular than she currently is. Last year’s Loner EP was a pop gem, with confident vocals above an intriguing soundscape of electronics, dense horns, strings, and twinkling keys.

Summer Heart

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We can never have too much breezy Swedish pop, right? Based in its third-largest city, Malmö, David Alexander builds rich, bouncing productions that surround his voice. “Thinkin Of U” has a simple lyric — “it’s been six years since I first saw you / it’s been six years; still, I want you” — that provides a nice friction to the song’s sun-kissed sound.

Tigertown

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Australian act Tigertown’s new single “Papernote” is a massive affair, starting with a great vocal rhythm in the verse that collides with a wall of production as it reaches the chorus. With the weather warming up as spring begins, advertisers would be smart to jump on this for syncs in summer ad campaigns.

Tropics

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Tropics, the act of London vocalist/writer/producer Chris Ward, produces smooth, minimal pop with R&B and electronic tendencies. “Rapture” slinks along with light keys that resemble Rhye’s sound, but add more percussion and darker undercurrents.

Walking Shapes

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Indie-alt group Walking Shapes put a pep in their step, with bouncing, at times adventurous instrumentation under lighter vocals that fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. would enjoy. There are even moments when they dive into dreamier moments and aggressive rock in others, giving them several interesting avenues to expand upon in future releases.

Wild Party

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San Antonio indie-rock band Wild Party keeps things interesting with arrangements and rhythms that are more creative than usual, including moments of syncopation and dynamic intervals. They’re signed to Old Friends Recordings, who also represent Hellogoodbye and one of my favorites from last year’s SXSW discoveries, Carousel.

Wilsen

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Folk-leaning group Wilsen’s tracks breeze along gently but with power, like a brief, concentrated burst of wind. With the soft, textured vocal of Tamsin Wilson leading the way and a nice backbone of tender strings whose echoes bounce and stack among one another, it’s a soft but completely pleasing sound.

Yellerkin

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Childhood friends Adrian Galvin and Luca Buccellati are the New York-based duo Yellerkin. Their long-standing friendship seems implied in the youthful yelps that burst out of recent single “Tools,” with slightly more adult, introspective lyricism. The production shifts wildly between later verses, suggesting the pair may have more tools in their belts than is first expected.

Young Ejecta

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Brooklyn duo Young Ejecta is a character invented in the combination of singer-songwriter Leanne Macomber and producer Joel Ford. The result is a spacey, ambient sound punctured by plucky strings and topped with Macomber’s soft, St. Vincent-reminiscent vocal.

Zeke Duhon

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Nashville-via-Tulsa artist Zeke Duhon creates easily digestible, easily enjoyable songs for fans of indie-leaning contemporary pop-rock acts like Matt Nathanson. “Gravity” is darker and has a more rock feel, while “Faith And Hope” is lighter and more optimistic, but both singles put Duhon’s relatable delivery in a good light and paint opportunities for broad appeal.

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