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

13. The Districts, age 19
Freshly graduated from high school, four friends decided to defer college for a year to see where their musical talent could take them. Two years later, the Lancaster, Pa., quartet appears to be doing more than okay: Their 2012 self-released album Telephone garnered attention from Mississippi-based label Fat Possum (The Black Keys, Temples, Modest Mouse), which released a titular five-track EP in 2014. The Districts offers a fulfilling display of the band’s range, from the deliciously dirty guitar riffs on “Long Distance” to the old-timey plucking of “Stay Open” and goosebump-inducing emotive vocals over marching drums that made “Funeral Beds” an instant hit. The band’s future is more than promising, with a headlining world tour and LP A Flourish and a Spoil due February 10.—Abby Gilman

14. First Aid Kit, ages 21 and 24
Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg have packed their Conor Oberst-inspired Americana and near melancholy longing for simpler times into Stay Gold. But the record is also a stamp of optimistic youth—an unjaded lens through which to face the future. Its title is a simultaneous call-out to Robert Frost’s famous line, “Nothing gold can stay,” and a rejection of it, a refusal to let the burdens that weigh on globally touring musicians tarnish their poise. And this, through a folky harmony that simultaneously embodies that subtle melancholy of their rootsy Americana inspiration and the liveliness that fuels their youthful, keep-it-real manifesto.
—Meagan Flynn

15. Petite Noir, age 24
Since 2012. That’s how long we’ve been waiting for a substantial release from genre-defying South African artist Petite Noir (aka, Yannick Ilunga). The 24-year-old teased us with singles “Till We Ghosts” and “Disappear” in 2012, then gave us false hope again in 2013 with “Noirse,” and, finally, late last year we were given “Chess” to tide us over. The January 19 release of Ilunga’s debut EP The King of Anxiety means the wait is almost over. “Chess” and “Till We Ghosts” will be included on the Domino Records’ release, as well as three new tracks, one of which is reportedly a collaboration with good friend Mos Def. Ilunga’s voice draws comparisons to Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio, imaginatively floating above soaring beats that emerge larger than life. It’s the kind of music that seems almost tangible, encompassing your entire being for the few minutes of sonic bliss.—Abby Gilman

16. The Orwells, ages 18-21
The year started with a shockingly weird performance of “Who Needs You” on The David Letterman Show (shocking to TV viewers; standard procedure for The Orwells) and ended with iPad Air featuring the song in its commercial. A pretty weird arc in itself, for a group of guys only recently adjusting to a breakaway from their childhood suburbia. And that’s sort of what Disgraceland is about: leaving their perceived lame and boring hometown of Elmhurst, Illinois, behind to segue into new lives. Particularly those of globe-trotting, seventies-inspired garage-rock punks. Through limited-range, intentionally careless vocals and deliberate, no-nonsense rhythm guitar, that style comes across strong—particularly on network television.—Meagan Flynn

17. King Krule, age 20
Seriously? This dude still isn’t 25? Not only does Archy Marshall’s brooding, pensive baritone sound like Tom Waits’ undocumented 40-year-old love child, but his emergence under the stage name King Krule at a music festival in France three years ago primed him for a wunderkind-like ascension still in the making. After wallowing through a tumultuous childhood—during which he was threatened with prison time by his parents after refusing to continue school, diagnosed with at least one mental illness, and channeled insomniac-fueled Pixies sessions into a burgeoning appreciation of soundscapes—Krule has used his past to inform his eclectic artistry. Simply put, his sound is confounding. Elements of jazz, trip-hop, soul, and post-punk arrive at an enigmatic confluence. And they work. The pasty, baby-faced redhead was featured on New York hip-hop collective RATKING’S 2014 “So Sick Stories.” He was nominated by BBC for Sound of 2013 (previous nominees include FKA Twigs, The Weeknd, and ASAP Rocky), and rode the success of his 2013 debut album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon to performances on Conan and The Late Show with David Letterman. Oh, and he just turned 20.—Cole Norum

18. Cadien Lake James of Twin Peaks, age 20
Twin Peaks  is a band that takes full advantage of the stage;—and more: Guitarist/vocalist Clay Frankel sometimes jumps off and spin-runs around, miraculously without tripping on his cord or whacking audience members with his guitar neck. But when guitarist/vocalist Cadien Lake James broke his foot, he couldn’t necessarily join the fun. He played Pitchfork Music Fest from a wheelchair and, in their Sandlot-reminiscent “I Found A New Way” music video, was pushed around haphazardly through gravel lots and weeds. The song might as well have been named for him. But despite the wheelchair confinement and weeks in a cast, no ounce of live energy was ever lacking.—Meagan Flynn

19. Lapsley, age 18
Lapsley, a.k.a 18-year-old English producer Holly Lapsley Fletcher, came across success in the most organic way possible: planting some seriously good music on the web and letting nature take its course. “Station,” perhaps her most celebrated release thus far, combines simple claps, reverberating keys, and soft-spoken lyrics that sooth almost to the state of paralysis. Her voice is ethereal and breathy, but that’s not to say it lacks power. Much like The xx or London Grammar, her music is richly layered yet incredibly, beautifully simple and easy to digest. She leaves you completely fulfilled yet yearning for more, and, lucky for us, her upcoming EP Understudy is due out Jan. 5.—Abby Gilman

20. Joey Bada$$, age 19
He may not be the most prolific artist on this list, but he sounds like he might as well be. At only 19, Brooklynite Joey Bada$$ is a rapper’s rapper: workmanlike, stylistically transient. His effusive flow is an Eastern bloc behemoth, absorbing icons and idols and upstarts Akira-like from everywhere local (Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, and DOOM), to Detroit (the Slum Village aesthetic and protégé Black Milk), to Chicago (Chance the Rapper), to anywhere else that’ll have him. Through a few mixtapes, some high-profile singles, and last year’s EP, Summer Knights, Joey seems to have found his own voice, which means that when his debut drops on his twentieth birthday, we’ll get the best of every artist with which he’s so obsessed.
—Dom Sinacola

21. Glass Animals, ages 23-24
It should come as no surprise that these guys retreat to the woods when it’s time to record, at a place they call “the Shed.” Between the xylophone dinging and the hand drum beating—all finessed on synth—Glass Animals sound like a band from the tropical wilderness accidentally born in the digital age. You get the sense when palm trees accompany them on stage, even in the Midwest. After the success of ZABA in the fall, the Oxfordites will spend much of the coming months finishing their world tour. And while vocalist and songwriting mastermind Dave Bayley has said he prefers to do his writing in one sitting, as opposed to scattered while on the road, we’re hoping his tropical-wilderness inventiveness will still be in full supply.
—Meagan Flynn

22. Frankie Cosmos, age 20
Frankie Cosmos’ lyrics are mostly silly and surface-level about everyday events. Which singer-songwriter Greta Kline croons over playful arrangements with simple guitars that sometimes gradually turn into dance-pop. The band’s first proper album Zentropy, released by Double Double Whammy, has an eclectic charm—on the opening track “School,” the 20-year-old scrutinizes the misery induced by the banality of high school, despite the fact that Kline was homeschooled. Kline explores topics ranging from a bus splashing her with water, the yearly tradition of growing older, and longing for her late dog, who is forever commemorated on the album’s cover. The songs are short and sweet—the longest clocking in at a mere 2:38—but well worth a listen.—Abby Gilman

23. Broods, ages 20 and 22
The electro-pop, New Zealand-based brother-sister duo is still getting used to the fact that they’re selling out shows across the ocean. Caleb and Georgia Nott, 22 and 20 respectively, had always grown up in a musically talented family; the only difference now is steadily spreading, global recognition. It started with the viral online release of the single “Bridges” in October 2013, which landed them on the indie radar, quite literally, overnight. It caught the attention of Capitol Records and also Joel Little, the producer behind Lorde’s Pure Heroine. And now here they are, performing their debut album, Evergreen—a combination of Georgia’s pure soprano over Caleb’s fluid synth and the subtle pop-popping of his drums—overseas at full capacity. But it wasn’t just the result of some viral good luck: Evergreen was well over a year in the making.—Meagan Flynn

24. Deers, ages 18-23
Hailing from Madrid, Ana Garica Perrote and Carlota Cosials met some years ago through ex-boyfriends. They planned a trip to the coast, brought guitars (one stolen from an uncle) with no knowledge of how to play, and formed the duo Deers. They added two new members in March, shortly after they eschewed a formal studio in recording their demo , a fast and furious pair of songs with an artfully disheveled glow. The blithe nonchalance of chord changes in “Bamboo” conjures the aura of a happy-go-lucky love for all things music. As a sunburst guitar plods along, one of them wonders, “Why you’re on my mind?” We’re pretty sure why they’re on ours.—Cole Norum

25. Joanna Gruesome, ages 20-22
With a name, and album artwork, reminiscent of a Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, Cardiff group Joanna Gruesome meshes fuzzy shoegaze with melodic, barely discernible vocals. Its 2013 debut LP weird sister is a churning 10-set left to brood in a cauldron of frenzied, unpredictable angst; the concoction won the Welsh Music Prize 2014. With tracks ranging from the palpably rebellious (“Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers”) to impatient-but-smug superiority (“Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr In Love With Me”), the five-piece thumb its collective noses at any and all wishing to type cast them as pop-punk, noise, or any of the sorts. And for God’s sake, do not call them twee. Perhaps the most daunting installment of the sublime weird sister is “Wussy Void,” a gallant navigation through growing up’s increasingly unrealistic balance between fantasy and reality. Alanna McCardle’s lilting, near-angelic voice asks (most likely, because no lyrics exist anywhere) over loping drums and a twanging guitar “Why can’t we live on a motorbike?” The song ends in a difficult, abrupt crash of noise, a cacophony. Befitting of a group formed at the behest of an anger management counselor.—Cole Norum

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