As the year comes to a close, and the holiday stress puts your therapist on speed dial, why not take a moment from your debilitating rage against the department store cashier to reflect upon the last calendar year of music—we sure have. 2012 has brought us tripped out folk singers, potty-mouthed mermaids, indie super groups and jams hot enough to boil a waterbed, just to name a few.
While some of these artists have been around for longer than a hot second, we're selecting them based on their debut studio or major label albums dropping in 2012. After all, how can you choose a "Best New Artist" without hearing a completed effort? So let’s take a look at the artists we think gave this year a real good shakedown.
Kendrick Lamar: Certainly not a new face to the game, but this year marks the beginning of Kendrick Lamar’s journey into the hip-hop stratos as a full-fledged star. Following in the footsteps of other Dre protégés like Eminem and Snoop Dogg , the LA-based artist’s first major label album good kid m.A.A.d city peaked at #2 in the US after having already worked with the top names in the industry. Lamar doesn’t need million-dollar cars and a mouth full of diamonds to blow you away; just a mic, a stage, and a moment of your time. This one will be around for a long time, trust.
Alabama Shakes: As their name suggests, the Georgia born-and-bred rock band came out with a truly seismic debut album accompanied by rousing stage shows has music fans praising them to the high heavens. The band’s blend of Southern rock, blues, soul and flairs of classic rock paired with frontwoman Brittany Howard’s wailing vocals (as if possessed by the grittiest of bluesmen) makes one think they’ve sold their souls to the hungriest, most dapper demons of the deep South. But what landed the Alabama Shakes on our Best Of list this year is their ability to attract fans whom would normally be disinterested in roots rock.
Father John Misty: Former Fleet Foxes member Joshua Tillman fell off his rocker, off the porch and into a puddle of mind-altering, sadomasochistic inspiration with his newly formed persona Father John Misty. The musician had been releasing indie folk solo albums as J. Tillman for years that were, well, pretty all the same, but nothing compared to the charmingly wicked, utterly random, and sometimes confusing (but funny) body of work in his 2012 release Fear Fun. With lyrics like, “pour me another drink / And punch me in the face / You can call me Nancy” and singing about running down the road with his pants around his ankles, Tillman somehow made bad mushroom trips sound fun and beautiful.
The Lumineers: Most times it’s harder to tell a story in a sentence than in a novel—that’s the genius of the Lumineers. Their rootsy, stripped down folk is a refreshing antithesis to intricately produced popular music, but the band was still able to sell over a million records. With acts like Arcade Fire and Bon Iver winning top awards at the Grammys, the Lumineers may prove to be next year’s underdogs. Better register that parody Tumblr now.
Azealia Banks: Rihanna may have co-opted a piece the seapunk trend that worships late 90s 3D internet animation, rave, grunge and goth (do an image search if you don’t get it), but rapper Azealia Banks is queen mermaid. The 21-year-old Harlem native’s own mix of sweet, shamelessly vulgar hip-hop and electronic dance quickly surpassed peers like Iggy Azealia and Kreashawn to become a rap game Aaliyah for the twenty-tens. Banks has also drawn attention from the fashion community for her colorful hair and style, working with Lady Gaga’s superstar stylist Nicola Formichetti and famed photographer Rankin for her “Liquorice” video and even releasing a purple lipstick for MAC cosmetics.
Emeli Sandé: Already a veteran songwriter at 25, the Scottish songbird has put pen to paper for a range of acts from Susan Boyle to Rihanna to Tine Tempah. But this year was Sandé’s turn in the spotlight, with a chart-topping debut album and singles, performing at both the Opening and Closing Olympic Ceremonies, raking in the awards and of course singing a set for Y! Music! But our own preferences aside, the numbers and critics are behind the stunning singer, known for her raw, soulful vocals, earnest lyrics and musical arrangements that can envelop break beats just as easily as retro horn sections.
The Weeknd: Canadian R&B singer Abel Tesfaye is a one-man after after after hours. Smooth as milk laced with ecstacy, Tesfaye’s project The Weeknd is a velvety tongue in your ear with its powerfully hypnotic quality and incredibly sexy lyrics. But that mouth has teeth as well, mixing in subtle electronic elements and sudden breakdowns. It’s unimaginable that such disarming music could come from a 22-year-old, who came to prominence releasing mixtapes on YouTube. But finally, now you’ve got completely appropriate bedroom music that doesn’t make you roll your eyes.
Divine Fits: Formed by Spoon frontman Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs just early this year, somehow the band released an album by August and was booked on Letterman by November. They barely even had enough songs to play for their first gig, having to bolstering the set with covers. But the Divine Fits gathered tons of attention in that short time with their feel-good indie rock, the lovely likes of which we haven't heard since the 90s.
Imagine Dragons: While the music snobs in us cringe at the thought of a new superstar rock band, it’s undeniable that Imagine Dragons are burning it down this year. Their sweeping, cinematic songs put the band in a class with the likes of Coldplay and The Fray, as if they cut out all the steps in between forming a band and playing arenas. Their extremely well-produced first album Night Visions debuted at #2, with their first single “It’s Time” going platinum. There’s no use in imagining anymore—this band is the real deal.
Howler: The greenest of the list, the indie rock band was so impressive live that a freelance writer sent their EP to their future record label without them even knowing, getting signed when frontman Jordan Gatesmith was just 19. Claiming influence from the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, their garage-y, surf-y album America Give Up (barely making our cut with its January release date) is full of energetic rock ‘n’ roll with a smirk with song titles like “Beach Sluts” and “Too Much Blood”. The band can’t seem to get away from comparisons to the Strokes, but I for one don’t think that’s a bad thing.
What other artists do you think belong on our list? Leave your votes in the comment below!Follow Tiffany on Twitter: