The 10 Breakout Artists of 2014

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It’s that time to take a look at one of my favorite lists we do every year, the best new artists of the year. It’s really just like looking at children: young and full of so much potential, before they flame out, drop out of college, and live in their parent’s basement. But for now we can just enjoy the wonderful potential of these new artists.

One adjustment to this year’s list: we decided to go with the title of best breakout artists instead of new artists. In the past, we have stuck to only letting people on if they were releasing their debut, but we thought it was better to include all that really broke onto the scene, even if they had released an album before. So on with the show.

10.   Ex Hex

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Female power trio Ex Hex is led by the seasoned Mary Timony, and their debut Rips is punchy punk rock songs that absolutely soar. No song has any excess fat on it, distilled down to its purest pop form.

9. Lydia Loveless

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Another young Midwestern songwriter, Lydia Loveless releases alt-country as brilliant and seasoned as someone twice her age. While this may be her third album, I do feel like this is the year she finally broke out to a wider audience on the strength of her songwriting on Somewhere Else.

8. Strand of Oaks

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Timothy Showalter aka Strand of Oaks quietly released one of the best rock records of the year in HEAL, one that channels Springsteen, Neil Young, and Magnolia Electric Co in thrilling new ways.  I wrote about how his song “JM” really makes the perfect tribute song.

7. FKA Twigs

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With the help of producer experimental producer Arca, Tahliah Debrett Barnett aka FKA Twigs has helped reimagine R&B music starting with her debut LP1. Her hypnotic, distorted take on R&B is sure to shake up the genre going forward.

6. Perfect Pussy

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Perfect Pussy (named for the animal not anatomy) really experiment with punk music in new and exciting ways, and also thrash as quickly and hard as anyone these days live, as we witnessed at Pitchfork this year.

5. The Orwells

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Elmhurst, IL’s own the Orwells are by far the youngest on this list, as they just graduated high school and catapulted to stardom with the most memorable live TV performance all year (see below). They known for their wild stage antics and who-cares attitude, well-tread territory in rock music for certain, but it’s still thrilling after all these years.

4. Benjamin Booker

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Benjamin Booker combines blues and punk into a potent, raw mix. The 25-year-old New Orleans rocker got a huge spotlight this year opening up or Jack White, and his self-titled debut showed he was worthy of such a stage.

3. Sturgill Simpson

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Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore breakout, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, was Simpson’s coming out party as a new breed of country singer: the postmodern country outlaw. Simpson wields an old school country sound with a 21st century rock ‘n’ roll mindset, a refreshing new voice.

2. Sylvan Esso

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No debut album was as instantly lovable as Sylvan Esso’s eponymous debut. It’s like musical Pop Rocks – it’s sweet and full of crackling surprises. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are both from other indie projects previously (Mountain Man and Megafaun respectively), but I have the feeling they will stick together after having struck gold with their debut.

1. Courtney Barnett

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No young songwriter is as promising as Aussie Courtney Barnett, who released The Double EP: Sea of Split Peas, a re-release of her two EPs from last year as an LP. Barnett has wit, heart, and personality in spades, and at just age 26, we can’t wait to see what she does next.

Austin – Sam Smith

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Brit soul singer Sam Smith sprung up last year on Disclosure’s dance hit “Latch”, but really exploded this year with his debut, In the Lonely Hour. Austin just can’t get enough of that sweet, soulful voice.

Todd – Arca

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The FKA Twigs producer Arca, Alejandro Ghersi’s moniker, released an album of his own in Xen, which pushes the electronic genre along with scratchy, spooky electronic music.

Wes – Protomartyr

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Detroit post-punk band Protomartyr put out one of my favorite rock albums of the year, Under Color of Official Right, highlighted by the raw vocal performance of everyman Joe Casey.

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Weak List Wednesday: Best Song of 2014 (So Far)

best songs of 2014 so far

We are now past that halfway point of 2014, and thus, it is time to look back at some of of favorite songs of the year so far. Please let us know your qualms, queries, and substitutions:

5. “Your Love Is Killing Me” – Sharon Van Etten

Sharon finds a perfect blend of raw, aggression, and passion in this fine track from her wonderful new album.
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Sylvan Esso Review: Sylvan Esso

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Sylvan Esso’s debut to the world may not be a revolutionary new sound, but it took elements of sounds that already existed, and bested the competition in my book. It was a cold, rainy day on a long drive back to Chicago as I was sipping on my own cup of joe when I first heard the song “Coffee”. Suffice it to say, it stuck out to me quite a bit. I distinctly remember the first time I heard the track because I remember thinking that it was the first new song from a new artists that I have really loved in a while. And by that I essentially mean that it was the best song I have heard yet this year. Little did I know that this new collaborative duo was about to rule my playlist with a few more songs than just “Coffee”, and become my favorite new artist of the year (so far).
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LxListening: Spring Sing-Alongs

LxL_LxListening_900x300Spring Sing-AlongsSpring is always an excellent time of year for new releases, and this spring is no different. Right now, there isn’t enough time in the day to listen to all the albums that were just released. And as a three-man crew, we often can’t give everything the full album review treatment. So I figured I would cover five of my favorite songs from the spring, with emphasis on songs deserving to sing along with.
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Album Previews: Black Keys and Sylvan Esso

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Two of my most anticipated albums of the year were both released for streaming this week on various sources of the inter-webs. First being The Black Keys’ follow up to the 2011 El Camino, the very psychedelic looking Turn Blue.
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