25 Great Musicians Under 25

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The one thing every musician on this list has in common is proving that age is just a number. And while age may have been a prerequisite for this list, so was talent—more so. Almost all of the following musicians had impressive releases in 2014; a couple of them did something interesting on TV; many have something in the works for the coming year. Here are 25 musicians under 25 who have taken the fast track to finesse.

1. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt of iceage, age 22
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt doesn’t sound like he’s 22. And not because his voice is some deep unnatural baritone bellow. He sounds more like 44—jaded, or just tired. Sometimes he sounds as if he took the mic after finishing a 5K, but mostly it’s a rugged, worn kind of tired, like he’s exasperated by the world. And that’s what gives iceage its edge. You can hear that exasperation in lyrics like those on the title track of the band’s third full-length, Plowing Into The Field of Love: “All those brash young studs/They have no idea what it’s like up here.” It’s worth noting that Rønnenfelt has been doing this punk-rock thing as iceage’s frontman since 2008—barely half done with high school. Perhaps he’s earned that sound.—Meagan Flynn

2. Vince Staples, age 21
Vince Staples has a tight grasp on what it means to live, or rather how not to die. He’s dismissing of the cheery radio-ready rap hits that so many others are flocking to. His 2014 EP Hell Can Wait addresses a myriad of social issues, including a response to the events in Ferguson—scored by sometimes-screwed, sometimes-smooth, always listenable beats. At just 21, the Long Beach emcee’s resume is already robust, boasting collaborations with Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Mac Miller, to name a few; a spot on the U.S. leg of Schoolboy Q’s 2014 Oxymoron tour; and a freshly inked label deal with Def Jam Recordings. And that’s just the cream of it. Hell Can Wait’s debut earned praise across the interwebs and landed on most end-of-the-year lists, with whispers of a debut LP dropping the first half of this year.—Abby Gilman

3. Mac DeMarco, age 24
Despite getting attacked on The Eric Andre Show, getting arrested during his set in Santa Barbara, and doing generally fucked up things (like killing people and giving birth in a bathtub to a lettuce-head baby) in the “Passing Out Pieces” music video, 2014 was a good year for Mac DeMarco. The way his sloomy, whimsy album, Salad Days, could launch you into a state of prolonged languor belies the raucous flamboyance of live shows and videos. That, or complements it. And it’s this strange oxymoron-like dichotomy that makes his music so appealing.—Meagan Flynn

4. Kitten, age 20
At 20, Chloe Chaidez’s musical career already spans a decade. Chaidez formed her first band, appropriately called Wild Youth, at age 10—impressive, no? The group played all covers, mostly ’70s and ’80s songs, and recorded a few Bright Eyes and Midlake tracks, which were sent to the bands and landed Wild Youth opening slots for both. Ten years later, Chaidez has three original EPs and a full-length, label-released album under her belt. Still pulling inspiration from the ’80s, Kitten’s sound is heavily focused on pulsating synths and noise guitar that makes you want to toss on a sparkly jacket and dance your ass off (of which we’re pretty sure Chaidez would approve). Kitten released its long-awaited self-titled debut EP via Atlantic Records in June of 2014, which was met with much praise from both critics and fans.—Abby Gilman

5. Ought, ages 23-24
Feeling lost is the theme of your early twenties. Ought gets that. The band’s formative years took place during a time of screw-the-man protesting when they were students at McGill University in Quebec. And while its music is nothing political, there’s something to be said for its intensity. Ought’s 2014 debut, More Than Any Other Day, feels frenetic like biting nails too thin or bouncing knees beneath the table too often. Tim Beeler sings fast and sounds frazzled or somehow agitated. It all feels anxious, indecisive—and when Beeler sings about the choice between “two percent and whole milk” in “Today More Than Any Other Day,” it all, for a second, also feels almost ironic. But instead, it’s these little details that Ought is asking us to notice. The last track, “Gemini,” opens, “I retain the right to be disgusted by life/I retain the right to be in love with everything in sight.” Read: a call to twentysomethings to quit the nail-biting and look around.—Meagan Flynn

6. Raury, age 18
Eighteen-year-old Atlanta songwriter Raury played his music for Kanye West before setting foot in a college classroom. An 18-going-on-much-older vibe emanates from Raury, who self-released his 13-track project Indigo Child to acclaim from critics as well as fans of hip-hop—and Internet mini-games. Seriously, if you want to download his LP, you need to rack up more than 1,500 points on his website’s side-scrolling adventure. It’s a cosmic mess, immediately ambitious, and even personal—you’re given your own unique Indigo Child name before you embark. Providing the soundtrack for your journey is Raury’s “God’s Whisper,” a sprawling piece charged with clanging drums, over which an acoustic guitar strums and children cry out. It’s both a rallying cry and a dizzying opening salvo, an emphatic introduction of a young artist who assures any and all he will not back down— the track’s first discernible words are “I will not compromise.” The game is Raury manifested in the digital ether, a wiry figure navigating newfound possibilities. With his success in 2014, including recording multiple tracks with London’s SBTRKT, the animated universe’s infiniteness may be more accurate than hyperbole.—Cole Norum

7. Sarah Jarosz, age 23
At 23, Sarah Jarosz already has three full albums of increasingly experimental folk and bluegrass music under her belt. Displaying a virtuoso mastery of just about anything with strings from a young age, it was clear that she would be a prodigy, taken under the wing of bluegrass luminaries such as Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott as the herald of a new generation. However, like so many other prodigies, she seems unwilling to limit herself to an old-time genre or even the progressive realm of “newgrass.” Rather, in the mold of Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile, she continues to expand her boundaries on records like 2013’s Build Me Up From Bones, journeying toward some sort of platonic ideal that combines elements of old-time folk music, bluegrass, pop and art rock into a distinctly American whole. It’s hard to imagine what kind of music Jarosz might be producing in 10 years’ time, but we simply hope we’ll be intellectual enough to appreciate it.—Jim Vorel

8. Modern Baseball, ages 21-23
The propelling inspiration behind the band’s sophomore effort, You’re Gonna Miss It All, seems to occupy the center of a Venn diagram for post-grad blues and bad luck with girls. Frontman Brendan Lukens, who recently finished college, practically tells you his age by mentioning he’s still “replaying high school songs” in his head in “Two Good Things,” or through lyrics like, “To hell with class, I’m skipping/ Let’s order food and sleep in,” in “Rock Bottom.” The album is full of occasional “fuck yous” and frequent self-loathing. But despite the angst, and despite Lukens’ textbook nasally vocals, the album is far from whiny. It exudes the kind of confidence that makes it nearly impossible to resist joining Lukens in spewing “Your Graduation’s” fierce accusation: “Bullshit, you fucking miss me.” If it’s nostalgia that drives that intensity, we hope it doesn’t go away.—Meagan Flynn

9. Daye Jack, age 18
Atlanta reppin’ (by way of Nigeria), another 18-year-old hip-hop prodigy from what the New York Times once deemed “hip-hop’s center of gravity,” Daye Jack challenges the city’s sterling legacy of trap-rap and club hits proliferated by such genre stalwarts as Lil’ Jon, Ludacris and Usher, instead channeling precocious amounts of humor and intellect into a dazzling confluence of eclectic rap. A nasally snarl reminiscent of Chance the Rapper courses through his 14-track project Hello World, breathing a nuanced life into an emotionally charged, brilliant debut mixtape. Daye Jack displays a self-awareness foreign to most kids jumbling extracurriculars and college courses (he studies computer science at NYU). He raps over woozy synths on the titular track, “Could’ve balled with the ballers/Played soccer and got the honors,” a reference to his prodigious soccer talents that garnered him a scholarship offer to play in college, which he turned down to pursue music. With a headlining spot on music blog Pigeons and Planes’ maiden iteration of a monthly concert series, Daye Jack has said “Hello.” We hear him loud and clear.—Cole Norum

10. Dorian Sorriaux of Blues Pills, age 18
If The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Janis Joplin ever combined forces, Blues Pills would be the result—and Hendrix: that would be 18-year-old lead guitar, Dorian Sorriaux. The blues-infused quartet—a multinational mix of members from Sweden, France, and Iowa—picked up Sorriaux when he was just 16 and still doing algebra homework. Now, thanks in part to his precocious, high-octane guitar slinging, Blues Pills’ first full-length, self-titled album climbed to the No. 4 spot on Germany’s Billboard equivalent in August.—Meagan Flynn

11. SZA, age 24
Collaborate with Hit-Boy to pen a track on one of the most anticipated female releases of the year: check. Sign to major hip-hop label that hosts artists Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q (not to mention be the first female signee): check. Release EP on said label to much acclaim: check. Solana Rowe, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter behind SZA, has had her share of success over the past two years. Garnering inspiration from every corner of the industry—Billie Holiday, Bjork, Wu-Tang Clan, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name a few—the uniquely layered production of 2014’s EP Z command the listener’s attention. And girl has some incredibly appealing videos to boot. SZA released the hazy and heartbreakingly real single “Sobriety” late last month, and rumor has it a full-length label debut will be released in 2015 via Top Dawg Entertainment.—Abby Gilman

12. Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings, age 23
Dylan Baldi has never been one to tout about his success. He’s been rather transparent about his shy-dude style. Even while commanding a crowd of moshers, he stands cool and collected at the mic and steps back to rather calmly thrash away during lengthier instrumental portions. But whether he’s chill about it or not, his scratchy, throat-tearing scream commands attention. And whether touted or not, Baldi and Cloud Nothings’ performances at 2014 festivals ranging from Bonnaroo to Pitchfork to Culture Collide garnered Here and Nowhere Else the attention it deserved.—Meagan Flynn

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