List

Stereogum’s 40 Best New Bands Of 2018

This fall, an artist found her voice. In A Star Is Born, Ally Campana goes from unknown to sensation in under a year. The movie is unrealistic wish fulfillment, but her upward trajectory embodies our hope for all artists, at least on a smaller scale: to become popular enough to follow their muse without sacrificing their integrity, to provide us with music that has a lasting impact. The narrative of the film is, of course, messy and more tragic, but perhaps in some alternate timeline ALLY would have made our list of the Best New Bands Of 2018. (Or not, if her debut was more “Why Did You Do That?” and less “Always Remember Us This Way.”)

Stereogum has been putting this list together since 2010, and we pride ourselves on doing a pretty good job of sussing out talented artists as they reach their crest. Of course, there are a few caveats: “New” is a relative term — a lot of these acts have been cutting their teeth for years. The viral, immediate fame that ALLY comes by in A Star Is Born is a rarity; instead, it’s usually a slow and steady climb. And, stubbornly, we still call it Best New Bands, even though a lot of the inclusions on this list aren’t bands at all, because why change a good thing when it’s working?

This list, which we purposefully run a bit removed from the year-end list onslaught, is meant as recognition for artists that have had a great year and as an investment in them for the future. Many of these names will be familiar to regular Stereogum readers, present in our daily music posts and Band To Watch column. If you revisit our lists from 2017, 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010, you’ll find that we’ve been pretty on-point. So get familiar with Stereogum’s 40 Best New Bands Of 2018, presented in alphabetic order, below. You can also listen to a playlist of our picks on Spotify. Enjoy! –James Rettig

03 Greedo

CREDIT: Dewanne Buckmire

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA

An American original. His voice is an expressive wonder, a tangle of yips and cackles and sudden, overwhelming bursts of energy. Plenty of rappers have taken the weird early days of Young Thug as blueprints, but Greedo is the only one who has pushed Thug’s style further out into the ether. And yet he remains grounded to his own dark realities; he calls his music “emo for gangbangers.” Throughout the first half of 2018, Greedo pumped out an insane amount of music, and we’re going to need all of it. In July, Greedo turned himself in to start serving a 20-year prison sentence for drug and weapon possession. We won’t hear anyone like him anytime soon. –Tom Breihan

Anna Burch

CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz

LOCATION: Detroit, MI

Anna Burch isn’t exactly new. She’s been around for a while, singing in Frontier Ruckus and Failed Flowers and playing with people like Fred Thomas and Minihorse. But the Detroit rocker’s debut solo album Quit The Curse still feels like a real coming-out party. It’s easily the best thing she’s ever done, spinning wryly relatable tales of love and heartbreak over indie-rock that marries old school starry-eyed girl-group harmonies with scruffily melodic ’90s alt-pop. It sounds warm and comfortable, confident yet understated. In other words: It sounds like Anna Burch. –Peter Helman

Ashley McBryde

CREDIT: Alysse Gafkjen

LOCATION: Nashville, TN

An Arkansas native, Ashley McBryde had spent a full decade in Nashville, trying to get a country music career going, before her tough and elegant song “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” finally got the ball rolling. “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” is a hard-luck ballad about ending the worst day of your life amidst a bunch of other sad sacks in a place where the drinks are cheap. And that song, it turns out, wasn’t a fluke. Girl Going Nowhere, McBryde’s debut album, is a gorgeously lived-in, righteously sad, painstakingly crafted piece of work. McBryde namechecks Townes Van Zandt on the very first song and then spends the rest of the album living up to his example. It shouldn’t have taken this long for us to hear her. –Tom

Bat Fangs

CREDIT: Soleil Konkel

LOCATION: Carrboro, NC

Early this year, Ex Hex bassist Betsy Wright and Flesh Wounds drummer Laura King released their debut album as Bat Fangs. It fucking rocks, full stop. Their songs are simply constructed by design but pack a huge punch. They put a fresh spin on old rock ‘n’ roll clichés, turning them on their head and reminding you why those clichés endured in the first place. Bat Fangs relishes in excess, with slick riffs and a charismatically goofy sense of fun that still manages to get to the heart of some pretty deep issues. –James

Black Belt Eagle Scout

CREDIT: Jason Quigley

LOCATION: Portland, OR

Black Belt Eagle Scout is the moniker of Katherine Paul, a queer indigenous artist who grew up on a reservation near the Puget Sound. Her music is a direct reflection of her upbringing, and she describes the songwriting process as a kind of therapy. There’s a universality to Paul’s soul-searching, a yearning that transcends the boundaries between people and speaks to the human condition in general. Single “Just Lie Down” starts with distorted feedback that could soundtrack a migraine or the worst day of your life. It eventually quells as Paul beckons in a revelation. “It’s all in your head/ It’s all in your head,” she sings. –Gabriela Tully Claymore

Black Dresses

LOCATION: Toronto, ON

Black Dresses is the collaborative effort of the artists known as Dei Genetrix (formerly Girls Rituals) and Rook, and we named their debut album WASTEISOLATION one of the best albums of 2018 so far. Not long after that, Black Dresses put out the HELL IS REAL EP. The duo’s noisy dark-pop is as ferocious as it is fun, even when they’re singing about traumatic experiences. Catharsis is this band’s driving force; if you don’t have anything to scream about, they’ll give you something to scream about. –Gabriela

BlocBoy JB

CREDIT: Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images

LOCATION: Memphis, TN

2018 has been a big year for viral dance crazes, and leading the charge was BlocBoy JB. With a practiced kick-and-pump motion, the Memphis rapper set off a chain reaction that would eventually lead to children and video game characters performing his signature move. BlocBoy debuted the “Shoot” dance last year, but the move, and the man behind it, gained wider recognition when they came attached to a Drake feature. “Look Alive” underscored and amplified BlocBoy’s effortless flow, his words hitting with the same ease and intensity as his jerky gyrations. That unique charisma runs through his Simi mixtape. Energetic production mimics his lighthearted wit, each punchline matched with its sonic equivalent. In the same way that Drake labors to keep up with BlocBoy’s moves in the “Look Alive” video, the rest of Simi’s featured artists can’t help but adhere to BlocBoy’s style and pace. –Julia Gray

Booji Boys

CREDIT: Dylan Chew

LOCATION: Halifax, NS

Think of how hard it must be to work up a sweat in a place as cold and remote as Halifax, Nova Scotia. And then listen to the way the music of Halifax punks Booji Boys positively drips with sweat. Booji Boys are named for a Devo reference, but they offer messy catharsis instead of twitchy and precise theory. The band has been releasing music since 2016, but they really picked up steam with Weekend Rocker, a beery rush of an album full of muddy guitar tones and adrenalized hooks. In a place like Halifax, you have to make your own fun. Booji Boys have clearly made plenty of it. –Tom

Bristletongue

CREDIT: Jillian Powers

LOCATION: Lake County, IL

It takes a lot to make a big impression with just four tracks, but Bristletongue do just that on their debut EP. Femme Florale is a towering quartet, each song epic in its own right. The band locks into a painterly blend of post-rock and emo that’s elevated by L Morgan’s capacious voice. Their narratives deal with a lack of self-worth, told through repeated imagery of flowers dying and blooming once again. “Must I be wanted to be worth anything?” they ask on standout “Daisy Chain.” Bristletongue’s music sounds like the cycle of life playing out in your ears, capturing the intense sadness and unimaginable beauty contained within. –James

Camila Cabello

CREDIT: Dennis Leupold

LOCATION: Miami, FL

Camila Cabello put out one of the catchiest and most memorable Top 40 pop songs in recent memory. All you have to do is sing, “Havana, ooh na-na,” and whoever’s in your vicinity will respond, “Half of my heart is is Havana ooh na-na.” That song is inescapable, the single that made Cabello’s departure from Fifth Harmony suddenly seem like an excellent career move, and her debut solo album Camila is chock-full of hooks. Opener “Never Be The Same,” with its chorus delivered like a bird song, rolls out the red carpet for Cabello to sashay her way down. –Gabriela

Caroline Says

CREDIT: Daniel Yates

LOCATION: Austin, TX

Caroline Sallee’s whisper takes many forms across No Fool Like An Old Fool, her sophomore album as Caroline Says. Layered atop a smoky bossa nova beat, it conjures the alluring hum of a lounge singer. It sways with a jangly guitar, breathing new perspective into familiar indie rock. Submerged in padded synth, it sounds weathered and knowing. The LP finds Sallee reflecting on her Alabama hometown, where she recorded her first album. Her whisper, now deliberate and adventurous, is guided by an acknowledgment of decay. She likens the arid setting to her aging body: “I used to love this town…I was born and will be buried.” Time passes and she remains an “Old Fool,” but wise in understanding her naiveté. –Julia

Closer

CREDIT: Sam Treber

LOCATION: New York, NY

Two-thirds of Closer play in the indie-rock supergroup Real Life Buildings. Now forget that. Closer don’t sound anything like Real Life Buildings, and they don’t sound like indie-rockers dabblers trying their hand at post-hardcore either. They sound like the genuine article — raw, passionate, and urgent, building from twinklingly pretty atmospheric post-rock valleys to headrush screamo-assault peaks. And at the center of all of it is singer-artist-poet Ryann Slauson and their drum kit and throat-shredding roar, bashing feelings straight into your skull. –Peter

Control Top

CREDIT: Vince Guglielmo

LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA

Philly punks Control Top released an EP of purposeful, tough garage-pop in 2016. But it wasn’t until the 2018 single “Type A” that they really found their voice. The Control Top of “Type A” have a new lineup and a new sound, and the result is two and a half minutes of the most feverish and cathartic music we’ve heard all year. It’s a motorik grind, the bass and drums locking into a fast and tense lockstep while jittery and molten riffage erupts from the guitar and frontwoman Ali Carter talks her shit: “Your false authority is dreadfully boring to me.” The band’s debut album can’t come soon enough. –Tom

Ella Mai

CREDIT: MEENO

LOCATION: London, England

“Boo’d Up” was everything you could want in a hit single, a plush, sleek ’90s throwback swooning with the intoxicating power of new love. Thanks to “Boo’d Up,” Ella Mai became a star almost overnight, and with her self-titled debut album, she’s surrounded it with a whole constellation of sexy, retro R&B executive produced with a steady hand by Mustard. If nothing quite matches the sheer wattage of “Boo’d Up” or its winning follow-up single “Trip,” it’s still a pleasure to sink into the sumptuous atmosphere and the fluid power of her voice. –Peter

Empath

CREDIT: Matt Allen

LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA

The very foundation of Empath is enough to guarantee some buzz. Formed by members of All Dogs and Perfect Pussy, the band of schooled DIY punks quietly released their two-song debut CRYSTAL REALITY way back in 2016, but it wasn’t until this year that they were able to commit to the project more seriously. Their breakthrough tape, Liberating Guilt And Fear, channels the pop punk and hardcore that fueled their previous projects, but there’s a candy-colored sheen to these songs that glimmers beneath scuzzy production. It’s a promising start for a band predestined to turn heads. –Gabriela

Gia Margaret

CREDIT: Rachel Winslow

LOCATION: Chicago, IL

Gia Margaret’s debut album is called There’s Always Glimmer, and that’s as apt a description of her music as any. Her whispered lullabies waft in like a cool mist through an open window, swirls of synth, piano, and guitar twinkling as they catch the moonlight and receding back into the night. Even when she sings of aching sadness, she does it with the kind of hushed, intimate beauty that sounds like a soft glow in the darkness. There’s always glimmer. –Peter

Haley Heynderickx

CREDIT: Alessandra Leimer

LOCATION: Portland, OR

An album is like a garden in a way: all these little creations grown from seed, carefully tended until they bloom together into a collective whole more beautiful than the sum of its parts. I Need To Start A Garden, Haley Heynderickx’s debut LP, is the sound of such cultivation paying off. Her folk-rock songs sneak up on you with sudden bursts of beauty or intensity, never more so than when she finds herself wailing the album title in a frantic fit of catharsis on “Oom Sha La La.” It’s a rare moment of lost composure from one of this year’s most assured new singer-songwriters. –Chris DeVille

Haru Nemuri

LOCATION: Tokyo, Japan

Haru Nemuri doesn’t make pop music, but she’s doesn’t not make pop music either. The Japanese artist mixes elements from J-pop, rap, post-hardcore, noise, and electronica and sets the genre concoction on fire. Its flames just happen to be extremely catchy. Her full-length debut, which came out earlier this year, is packed with sonic ideas that each evolve in three minutes or less. Maybe it’s this brevity — the immediate payoff — that makes her music so rewarding. Blazing guitars and crisp drums race to the finish line, tense arrangements linger just long enough. Nemuri is carving something completely new out of recycled pieces. She’s also making a very strong case for short songs. –Julia

Hatchie

CREDIT: Joe Aguis

LOCATION: Brisbane, Australia

Dream-pop can be such a slippery slope. Over the years, how many bands have come and gone who could create enveloping atmospheres but didn’t have the songwriting to guarantee the kind of dream you remember when you wake up? Sugar & Spice — Harriette Pillbeam’s debut EP as Hatchie — avoids that fate because it has songs. Occasionally leaning harder on the pop half of the dream-pop equation, Hatchie arrived armed with hook after hook. In “Sure,” the verse and chorus and refrain are in open war for which part can be the catchiest, while “Sleep” boasts a synth riff that is incredibly, giddily addictive. Sugar & Spice is essentially a perfect EP. It’s exhilarating to imagine what Pillbeam will be able to pull off next. –Ryan Leas

House Of Feelings

CREDIT: Dale Eisinger

LOCATION: New York, NY

Before House Of Feelings was the name of a musical project, it was the name of a party. It sounds like one, too. Matty Fasano would invite his friends to come DJ, dance, and escape their workaday lives for a few hours, and he, Joe Fassler, and Dale Eisinger apply the same liberating everyone-is-welcome ethos to their music, bringing in guests from the indie scene to bare their hearts over an infectious disco-house thump. But even as they tackle the anxieties and insecurities of modern life, they invite you to lose yourself to the beat — because in this house of feelings, the biggest room is euphoria. –Peter

Illuminati Hotties

CREDIT: Kristy Benjamin

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA

Sarah Tudzin is the full package: a gifted producer, songwriter, singer, lyricist, melodicist, and instrumentalist whose album Kiss Yr Frenemies is one of the best debuts in recent memory. Under the name Illuminati Hotties, the LA musician cranks out charming indie-rock tracks that represent the full scope of her personality. Some, like “For Cheez (My Friend, Not The Food),” are touching. Others, like “Pressed 2 Death” and “Shape Of My Hands,” are hilariously scathing. The lot of them are clever, winsome, and richly conceived. Tudzin’s fan base is small and fervent at the moment — a secret society, you might call it — but if there’s any justice in the music industry, she’ll be a star someday. –Chris

JPEGMAFIA

CREDIT: Rozette Rago

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA / Baltimore, MD

Veteran is hardly JPEGMAFIA’s first release, but it is his first one that sounds fully-formed. After a couple years kicking around the Baltimore rap scene, Barrington Hendricks moved out to Los Angeles around the time Veteran was released, but the project spends its whole runtime looking backward, synthesizing everything he’s worked on up ’til this point. It’s an intoxicating, glitchy, often abrasive mix of textural ingenuity. The album’s title has a double meaning, both in that Hendricks got his start in music while serving abroad in Japan and that, in 2018, he’s fucking tired and over all this shit. Veteran paints a portrait of someone that’s above it, told through hazy sporadic beats and samples and a scatter-brained energy that only adds to its appeal. –James

Lala Lala

CREDIT: Alexa Viscius

LOCATION: Chicago, IL

Lillie West picked the perfect band name. There’s a sing-song quality to the music she makes as Lala Lala, an intentional silliness that belies the distress beneath. On her new album, The Lamb, Lala Lala processes a fear of losing control, inspired in part by newfound sobriety and a home invasion that left her deeply paranoid. Some of West’s fears manifested in songs about the apocalypse (“When You Die”) while others nestled into lyrics about inner balances gone awry (“Destroyer”). Lala Lala’s strength lies in West’s voice and the glitchy melodies she writes make what could just be another indie rock project sound fresh and exciting. –Gabriela

Long Neck

LOCATION: Jersey City, NJ

When Lily Mastrodimos put out her first music as Long Neck back in 2014, she was coming from a place of interior solitude, a respite from the louder music she made with her then-band Jawbreaker Reunion. But on Will This Do?, the project’s full-length full-band debut, she’s looking outward for answers — from the cosmos, from her ancestry and hometown, from her friends and potential partners. On the explosive “Mine/Yours,” she explores the dichotomy of the title with her remarkable voice and a rollicking forward momentum. Will This Do? is an album about learning to make space for yourself, unmatchable in both its earnestness and ferocity. –James

Many Rooms

CREDIT: Jack Garland

LOCATION: Houston, TX

Many Rooms’ debut album is called There Is A Presence Here, and it sure sounds that way. It’s a spectral and skeletal singer-songwriter record, Julien Baker’s barebones post-rock balladry haunted by Grouper’s eerie ambience. Brianna Hunt’s songs seem to materialize out of nothing and hover gracefully over barren wastelands, like God leading the Israelites as a pillar of fire. Sometimes they sound like demos captured in a closet, weighed down by heavy burdens. But mostly they feel like supernatural events — mirages where spiritual turmoil plays out in the space between this world and one unseen. –Chris

Retirement Party

CREDIT: Sarah Beidatsch

LOCATION: Chicago, IL

Retirement Party are just getting started. The Chicago trio play bright, energetic, relentlessly hooky pop-punk, but their debut album Somewhat Literate is as much a product of frontwoman Avery Springer’s restless mind as anything. Her hyper-analytical gaze focuses inwards, on her own anxiety and depression and self-doubt, but even at its darkest, her navel-gazing never sounds anything but fun. “Sometimes I think that I can do anything,” Springer sings at one point. “But then I sit down and I qualitatively analyze my acute sense of awareness for my environmental surroundings.” And sometimes, she does it over some breathless shredding. –Peter

Rico Nasty

CREDIT: Mario Kristian

LOCATION: Prince George’s County, MD

When Rico Nasty is playing, there are no bystanders: You are her, you fear her, or you worship her. Depending on your mood and general disposition, you could very well be “the bitch with the long hair and her top off” like Rico. On a bad day, you might be the “bitch bleedin’ out” while Rico “still got the speakers loud.” The SoundCloud-bred rapper doesn’t deal in subtlety. Rico recently released her major-label debut, Nasty, after years of sharing mixtapes with her growing audience. The new one is one giant flex — a wicked storm of lo-fi beats, goth and emo flavor, and immutable personality. Whether Rico’s sing-rapping or snarling into the void, her power is awe-inspiring. –Julia

Shannen Moser

CREDIT: Bob Sweeney

LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA

If you’re from Pennsylvania, the state’s landscape can seem nondescript. While Shannen Moser might be based in Philadelphia now, she hails from nearby Berks County, more of a small-town rural area. And on her excellent sophomore effort I’ll Sing, she has fleshed out her folk-indebted songwriting in a way that perfectly conjures the feeling of long, rambling drives through her home state. I’ll Sing is plenty aware of the traditions from which it draws, and Moser’s songwriting is so sharp that all the dusty guitars and winsome melodies make a convincing argument that she should soon be inducted into a long lineage of American songwriters born from endless wandering through this nation’s highways and countrysides. –Ryan

Sidney Gish

CREDIT: Omari Spears

LOCATION: Boston, MA

Sidney Gish’s second proper album, No Dogs Allowed, is a collection of everyday objects, simple melodies, musings, and memories. The Boston singer-songwriter imbues items and ideas with confession and insight. She keeps a food diary to retain some modicum of control over her life, draws a line from sine triangles and biblical sin to “two-faced bitches,” mispronounces words as a power move, and tunes her guitar to echo each sentiment. The bittersweet confusion of early adulthood plays out in the harmonious tension between her sarcastic realism and tender twee. “Upon realizing I don’t know anything, there’s a lazy sense of glee,” Gish sighs, adopting the perspective of a city rat. Elsewhere, she sings alongside a campy keyboard, “We’re gonna go to a show and then come home and probably die.” Throughout the album, Gish acknowledges that lingering fear of death and foolishness with spirit and wit. –Julia

Sir Babygirl

CREDIT: Tonje Thilesen

LOCATION: Brooklyn, NY / Hanover, NH

A couple months ago, Sir Babygirl seemed to appear out of nowhere with the single “Heels.” As an introduction to Kelsie Hogue the songwriter, you couldn’t ask for a more effective or attention-grabbing track. “Heels” was a roiling, cathartic pop song that defied easy categorization, and much of her forthcoming debut Crush On Me follows suit. Sir Babygirl, as a project, is overflowing with ideas and influences, colliding into an idiosyncratic, colorful, and often overwhelming sound. You never quite know where Hogue is going to go next, and that’s part of what makes her great: This is the sound of someone emerging, shaking loose old hang-ups and anchors, to seize life and make art that reflects it in all its messiness. –Ryan

SOB x RBE

CREDIT: Shemp

LOCATION: Vallejo, CA

This time next year, Vallejo quartet SOB x RBE might not still be rapping together. Signs of internal turmoil are spilling over into the public, and solo careers beckon. If so, the dynamic runs directly contrary to the celebratory spirit that courses through their music. At a time when zonked-out, robotic trap music has gone from an innovation to a cliché, the group’s pair of Gangin albums represent some of the most vibrant and inviting hip-hop on the market. In the grand Bay Area tradition, they’ve got bounce, they’ve got swagger, and they’re a hell of a lot of fun. –Chris

Sorry

CREDIT: India Lee

LOCATION: London, England

The breadth of influences Sorry displays is impressive, especially for such a young group. Normally a band emerges with a signature sound and branches out from there, but the UK four-piece have made it a point not to be pigeonholed. So far, their discography consists of a string of increasingly sturdy singles and two rock mixtapes that are an intoxicating blend of breathy vocals and hazy thoughts, rendered in sharp pop hooks. The band’s two dynamic poles are childhood friends Asha Lorenz and Louis O’Bryen, and the project leaves enough space for them to shine as songwriters in their own right. Whenever the band manages to cook up a proper debut album, it’s sure to be a knockout, and until then they’ve left a beguiling collection of songs in the meantime. –James

The Beths

CREDIT: Will Agnew

LOCATION: Auckland, New Zealand

Wheels don’t always need to be reinvented. The Beths, from Auckland, aren’t doing anything new. Instead, they’re operating within grand continuums — of New Zealand indie romantics, of ‘90s-besotted power-poppers, of hook-happy slackers with fuzz pedals and big hearts. The members of the Beths all studied jazz in college, and yet they play with all the giddy gusto of a group of teenagers who just heard the Blue Album for the first time. The songs on Future Me Hates Me, their instantly lovable debut album, all shoot straight for the pleasure centers of anyone who has ever enjoyed, say, a Lemonheads record. It’s an old sound, and yet it’s a sound that never gets old. –Tom

Thyla

CREDIT: Jamie Macmillan

LOCATION: Brighton, England

There have been other bands like Thyla, groups looking to decades past and mining the impressionistic soundscapes of shoegaze. But it’s hard to remember another band that’s attained the peculiar, almost-paradoxical balance Thyla has: the anxious forward momentum of post-punk and the brooding and heaviness of grunge underpinning the melancholic-then-transcendent parabolas of prime dream-pop. And perhaps more importantly: Those other bands didn’t have Millie Duthie. As far back as Thyla’s early, powerhouse singles like “Pristine Dream” and “Tell Each Other Lies,” Duthie immediately proved herself a force to be reckoned with, a singer capable of sounding like a hurricane even amidst all the layers and intensity of Thyla’s music. With their debut EP on the way, Thyla are still changing and exploring. But with Duthie’s voice guiding the way, chances are whatever they discover will be fruitful. –Ryan

Tomberlin

CREDIT: Philip Cosores

LOCATION: Louisville, KY

Despite Sarah Beth Tomberlin’s devout Christian upbringing, the Louisville-based singer-songwriter never liked going to church. She no longer identifies as Christian, and instead practices a sort of self-communion, writing and recording music as Tomberlin. Her debut album, At Weddings, is made up of 10 personal ceremonies, quiet hymns of introspection. Gentle fingerpicking and reverb-laden electric keys conjure a holy presence as Tomberlin meditates on relationship patterns, self-worth, loneliness, faith, and growth. Each concern carries the same weight and godliness in her “church.” –Julia

Ultra Beauty

CREDIT: Sami Cola

LOCATION: Washington, DC

There’s not much good in the highest reaches of our nation’s capital these days, but it’s never faltered as a hotbed of great music. Ultra Beauty count themselves among the same scene that, in recent years, has birthed Priests and Flasher and many more acts that espouse radical politics in songs that go down smooth. The trio’s self-titled debut EP is an airtight collection of wiry and shimmering tracks that manages a string of delightful surprises, melodies and little touches that sneak up on you but make perfect sense once they’ve settled in. –James

Valee

LOCATION: Chicago, IL

GOOD Job, You Found Me, Valee’s debut EP for Kanye’s West’s record label, goes a long way toward explaining the Chicago rapper’s appeal: that delicate, meticulous “old-timey tiptoeing burglar” delivery that makes even boilerplate rhymes sound good and renders him a genius when setting an evocative scene like so: “Walked in Shell, flamed up a L/ Bumpy Margiels, feel like braille/ Dirty ass ginger ale, came through the mail/ I fucked your girl, in the hotel.” But summer smash “Womp Womp,” on which R&B stud Jeremih imitates Valee’s flow, most clearly encapsulated his glory. Lots of rappers claim to be God, but few approach the beat with such a still, small voice. –Chris

Vein

LOCATION: Boston, MA

There’s no easy way to say this: Vein are a nu-metal band. What’s more, they’re a supremely dope nu-metal band making the genre sound vital in the year of our lord 2018. There are traces of early Deftones and Incubus in the Boston band’s recent Errorzone, but also far less critically rehabilitated sludge monsters like Mudvayne and Static-X. It’s brutal, ballistic, hellishly discordant cyborg rock in which even the dreamy reprieves are rapidly swallowed up by nightmares. If every trend must recirculate two decades later, Vein represent close to a best-case scenario for reliving this much-maligned moment in rock history. They might remind you why some long-discarded version of yourself used to love this stuff. –Chris

Westerman

CREDIT: Jamie Sinclair

LOCATION: London, England

Westerman didn’t know if he was going to keep releasing music. After two EPs and a split with management, he was a bit defeated. Then “Confirmation” arrived, a revelation for him and us alike. Songs like “Confirmation” don’t come along too often — instantly alluring, infectious yet still enigmatic even after dozens of listens. It felt as if Westerman had suddenly located some kind of alchemy, fusing his plaintive folk roots with slick urbane textures and giving us a song that unveiled new subtleties listen after listen. That’s a hard thing to follow up, but recent singles like “Edison” and “Albatross” further fleshed out Westerman’s new world and, well, confirmed that we may be watching the birth of one of this generation’s most unique and captivating songwriters. –Ryan

YBN Crew

CREDIT: Cheryl Fox

LOCATION: Birmingham, AL / Galveston, TX / Suitland, MD

In the past, rap crews have all been geographically focused: All the best rappers within a certain neighborhood, or within a certain circle of friends, all getting together to do their own local sound better than anyone else can do it. But the three core rappers in the YBN Crew come from Alabama, Texas, and Maryland. They didn’t grow up together. Instead, they met up while playing Grand Theft Auto online and freestyling into their headsets. And yet they still give off that conquer-the-world vibe — young guys doing their best to impress each other and somehow catching a zeitgeist-wave. Their debut full-length YBN: The Mixtape is all unrealized potential, weighed down with repetitive beats and unfortunate guest spots. But all three rappers, especially YBN Cordae, are almost frighteningly talented. And when they truly find their voices, look out. –Tom