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The 20 Best New Bands of 2013

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The 20 Best New Bands of 2013

If our year-end lists of songs and albums were any indication, it was a great year for emerging artists. From the un-fightable, infectious pop of Haim, the ragged garage rock of Mikal Cronin, the punishing punch of a Savages track to Majical Cloudz’s reflective slow-churners, we were in for a treat in 2013 with breakout acts.

Along the way, we made plenty of discoveries in our weekly Best of What’s Next profiles, which are featured first at PASTE.COM. We’ve included our 20 favorite finds and their complete profiles (or reviews in a few cases) below for you to discover yourself. And if you’re taking a peek at this during the work day and just want to see the darn list already, we’ve got you covered—head on over to page 12 in the gallery below.

20. Shakey Graves
By Hilary Saunders
I first met Alejandro Rose-Garcia in a forest. The Lone Bellow had just played a killer set at The Woods Stage on the last day of Pickathon Indie Roots Music Festival, a relatively small gathering outside Portland, Ore. By that point, late afternoon on the third and final day of the festival, everyone knew the name Shakey Graves.

Even though he wasn’t playing until that night, the man-known-as-Shakey-Graves was already dressed in his now-recognized stage garb: slim-fitting slacks rolled at the ankles and a tight white tank. He spent a good half an hour chatting backstage about Bruce Springsteen, his hometown of Austin and how to keep track of all the people he meets. Engaging and friendly, his sharp sense of humor brightened conversations, even as he happily responded to catcalls (of which there were plenty at Pickathon) and shouts like “Yo, Shakey!”

“I think it’s rad,” he declares during a phone call a few weeks after the festival. “It makes me more comfortable than people calling me my own name if they don’t know me. It sounds intuitive, because you do know me as Shakey. Not like, ‘Hey, Alejandro!’ Then I’m like, ‘Oh shit, is my mom here? What, am I in trouble?’”

Personal experiences aside, Rose-Garcia tells me during our interview that he’s starting to look at his burgeoning career, “like B.C. and A.D.” Before the festival, he admits, “I was sort of feeling lost, like ‘where do I go from here? How do I move forward? What’s the next step for me? What kind of music am I going to play? Where do I even want to be?’”

“After Pickathon,” he begins, throwing in an “A.P.” to keep up the metaphor, he realized, “I can’t really be afraid. And if I’m not bringing it, then that’s about the only thing. There’s ways to make people pay attention to you, and not manipulative ways. Don’t cheat it and don’t be scared.”

As Shakey Graves, Rose-Garcia plays a gnarly composite of blues and folk as a one-man-band of epic sonic proportions. The sound emitted from his hollow body guitar, mildly distorted amp and suitcase drum belie the young singer’s lean frame. He fingerpicks while keeping time with a double-pedal kick drum, hitting a snare fitted into his suitcase drum and a tambourine fashioned to its side. And when he sings, Rose-Garcia unleashes an unearthly howl. Gritty groans and sexy moans carry his stories of both accepting and trying to overcome personal challenges masked with old-timey Western imagery.

However, this sound is a huge evolution from his first full-length album, Roll the Bones, which was self-released in 2011 and landed him a spot as the official busker of the Railroad Revival Tour with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Mumford & Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show. Much more mellow than his current live performances, Roll the Bones highlights Rose-Garcia more as a lo-fi singer-songwriter, playing acoustic guitars and occasionally taming his growl to a whisper.

When I call him post-fest, Rose-Garcia is taking a break from recording his next album. He has a house to himself in Austin and has converted it into a personal studio with a 1979 Tascam 8-track reel-to-reel recorder. He’s been inviting friends over to jam and excitedly tells me, “I’ve been sitting on the floor for the past three days drinking wine and playing music.”

There’s a Hammond pipe organ from the ‘80s and a lap steel, some violins and of course, the now-famous suitcase drum. “This is music house!” he exclaims. “Music house is going down!”

Although still early in the process, Rose-Garcia divulges, “The next album will be bigger,” emphasizing the latter half of the word, “than my live show. He continues, “I’m trying to do that to encourage myself to come up with new ways to play music live. Hopefully these songs will either have to make me go to looping more or have minimal accompaniment or something like that.”

The still untitled LP will be released at some point in 2014, with an EP or live compilation possibly dropping before that. In between bouts of recording, though, Rose-Garcia has upcoming gigs at Austin City Limits and tours scheduled with Shovels & Rope and fellow Pickathon performers like JD McPherson and The Devil Makes Three.

“See that’s a great thing that happened at Pickathon. They approached me backstage and introduced themselves. They were like, ‘Hey what’s up? We’re Devil Makes Three!’ And I was like, ‘Excuse me?! You’re what?’”

This is what Rose-Garcia means when he explains his excitement to get back to being a fan of music. He geeks out over opening for Robert Plant earlier this year and raves about sharing a stage with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré (exuding, “He’s like the Hendrix of the Sahara!”) during a jam at the Edmonton Folk Festival. Rediscovering the pure enjoyment of music has helped focus his own aspirations and plot his next goals.

“It’s this coming back to my roots thing, which was been awesome. After Pickathon and everything, I’m like, there is no time. You might fall off the mountain or a bear might eat you. All of the songs I’m intending to make aren’t going to get made if I don’t start making them.”

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19. Bars of Gold
By Jeff Milo
Meet your new favorite blue-collar rockers: Bars of Gold—a sweat-and-blood people’s band from the Detroit area that includes five dudes at (or just past) 30, who’ve got wives and day jobs and kids and maybe a couple other side bands. Their demeanor embodies the definition of down-to-earth, but on stage, they’re a beastly blur. And with their new album Wheels, they’re rolling up a freighter of fuzzed-up noise-rock with amp-frying guitars and mutations of jazzy, Bossa nova rhythms.

Drummer Brandon Moss puts it mildly: “There’s always a million things going on.” His seven-year-old son, Olly, joins the band in a restaurant booth. We’re on the second story of Ferndale, Mich.’s Woodward Avenue Brewery, looking down on a large stage of a local street fair where an old-timey jazz band blasts from massive PA speakers.

We’re here to talk about the band’s sophomore long-player, which is out next week on Bellyache Records. Unsurprisingly, the members reflect their easy-going resolve as they consider the future.

“I have a lot of confidence, [because] I really just trust these guys and myself,” says Moss, who, with singer Marc Paffi, trampled the post-hardcore circuits of the early ‘00s in Bear Vs. Shark. “If we just dropped everything, all the responsibilities that we have and singularly just went for it, ya’ know, that typical paradigm of a band-just-going-for-it…we’d succeed. But there’s a lot to give up …and, here—” he scruffs the small cranium of Olly, sparking static electricity on his frayed blonde hair. “Here’s one reason.”

“I mean,” Paffi leans in, stroking his grizzly beard, “if you’re looking for the next freakin’ Mumford & Sons then you’re definitely gonna have to look past our band. We’re not on that route. We are not going to go towards things the easiest way. We’re gonna do what we wanna do, when we wanna do it and that’s how we’re always gonna be until we’re done.”

Not to play them up as badasses who are all too sure of themselves. Not this band. These guys are all wearing faded thrift attire, some flannel collars under half-kempt facial fuzz, sleepily eying the coffee cups before them inside this bar where they could have easily ordered beer. They are also, mind you, holding off on any four-letter words in front of Olly (“Freakin’” is as crass as they get.)

“Blue Lightning” may be their best yet for evocatively capturing the stresses of the post-millennial everyman: a jittery groove busily clatters under detached guitars swooping low then soaring high over honeyed harmonies—all of this while Paffi reels his somewhat abstract, somewhat visionary, altogether poignant lyrics: “If there’s color on your collar, gotta be demons in your basement…”

“You can’t write a song about having to get up and go to work unless…you have to get up and go to work,” says Paffi. “Otherwise,” Iulianelli adds, “What’s is your life if it’s just being out on the road? You just wind up writing about ‘the road,’” like one of their admitted influences, Bob Seger (in “Turn The Page.”)

But a normal person, (whoever that may be, says Paffi,) doesn’t relate to the road song anymore. Normal people relate to their kids or to their newspaper subscriptions or to their own “demons.” And this is a band that’s going to explore those ideas while still living life on the way there. That brings “a lot of yins and yangs” says Paffi. They’re trying to be both “a successful band” and “successful people.” Read: not Fortune 500-successful, but successful at being people.

“I don’t like this band,” Paffi says, eyeballing each member surrounding him at the table, with bassist Nick Jones shouldered cozily at his side, “I love this band. I’ve been growing together with these fellas and we’re taking a different route.”

They have “grown” together on this different route because BoG actually started without Paffi, back in 2006, as a strictly instrumental band called Wildcatting. Paffi was a big fan, but Moss yielded him from an attempt to “sing over Wildcatting songs.” “[With Bars of Gold,] we only figure out about 75 percent of what’s gonna happen on stage,” says guitarist Scotty Iulianelli. “That other 25 percent of chaos, that’s what I love about this band.” With Wildcatting, those songs were actually 75 percent chaos/25 percent planned, to contrast.

Wildcatting, Moss says, was “just us wanting to be in a band and be as pragmatic as possible but also have fun.” That part hasn’t changed.

But how do you make a record when you’re so busy being people? Bars of Gold decided to treat it like many folks looking for an escape, and the guys sort-of went camping. They escaped their jobs and the city (for four inspiring days) and hunkered down with renowned engineer Chris Koltay of Detroit’s High Bias Studios. They biked out for groceries and cooked their own meals. (Actually, Koltay, who has worked with Deerhunter and Akron/Family, often cooked for them, providing cuisines equally as enriching as his sonic suggestions. He even solidified the “camping” aesthetic by having them sleep in bunk beds).

But back to those lyrics. Audette actually beats Paste to the punch and asks Paffi a question we’d intended to pose later: Do you worry the meaning of your lyrics might get lost when it has to sail over loud, aggressive music?

Paffi says he does his best to enunciate, but Moss soon jumps in: “Funny you say ‘aggressive,’ I say: ‘excited!’ I feel like I’m stoked, excited, exuberant.” Heavy music can be celebratory. Rock music that’s “25 percent chaos” can also be 100 percent “exuberant.”

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18. Rhye
By H. Drew Blackburn
Rhye’s debut, Woman, isn’t overt by any means, yet it knows exactly what it’s doing. It’s the coy glances, bold smirks and grazing of fingertips along tender flesh. The album from Rhye, a collaboration between Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, is a masterful illustration of sensuality and intimacy. Milosh’s Sade-saluting ambrosial vocals and sincere lyrics make these easy tasks to accomplish.

But, as Hannibal’s production permutates from song to song, from soft ostinato piano licks and crescendoing violins (“The Fall”) into hyper funky horn blasting (“Last Dance”) into bare bones minimalism (“Verse”) we’re drawn into Rhye’s world of a carnal appetite for love and lust. At times Rhye lucidly swaps a red light for a disco ball or a potential shouting match and the eventual make-up. Rhye strays far away from the conventions of contemporary R&B and in doing so, with earnestness, make an album that’s as sexy as it is romantic.

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17. Savages
By Tom Lanham

Savages—London’s great new all-girl alterna-Goth quartet—may seem like they simply sprang up overnight with their Siouxsie-and-the-Banshees-exotic debut disc Silence Yourself. But bandleader Jehnny Beth has some history. Lots of curious history. The kind that makes her group even more of a unique, commanding presence on the staid British rock scene.

Born Camille Berthomier in France, the singer never planned on music as a career. “I was supposed to be an actress, really, because my parents were both really into theater, and my dad is a drama teacher and he’s a director,” she explains. “So when I grew up, they were both very active in that. And we were touring, and I was playing in my dad’s plays, and there were always a lot of actors in our house, and theater people and writers. So naturally, I went to drama school.”

Jehnny Beth chuckles at all the tween and teen parts she played under the guise of familial obligation. She can’t even remember them all, but she recalls being the daughter of Louis XVI in one production, a child in Peer Gynt, and a misanthropic youngster in, of course, Moliere’s brilliant The Misanthrope. She even went on to star in feature films, like Sodium Babies and A Travers La Foret, or Through the Forest. “And I had an agent in Paris, but she died of cancer, so that kind of stopped all of the acting for me,” she sighs. “So everything changed when I turned 19, because that’s when I met Johnny, Johnny Hostile, who’s been with me since. And I just decided with him to take a different turn, make music with him, and go to London. So I just dropped everything else for that, really.”

Hostile, nee Nicolas Conge, even produced Silence Yourself, for the couple’s own indie imprint Pop Noire. And it was Hostile who first spotted guitarist Gemma Thompson, who would become crucial to the sepulchral Savages sound. (“He had a guitar crush on her. He really loved the way she was self-trained, was mainly a noise guitarist, and how she was so quiet and charismatic,” Jehnny Beth testifies; Thompson would name the group, as well, and recruit bassist Ayse Hassan.) But in between lay an entirely different project: the Hostile/Beth duo of John & Jehn.

Influenced by smoky French crooners like Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg—plus darker outfits like Joy Division, Gang of Four and The Velvet Underground, John & Jehn issued two albums—2008’s “John & Jehn” and “Time for the Devil” in 2010—and have a third one in the can. “It’s just that we don’t think it’s the right time to release it now,” says Jehnny Beth, who can see nothing but Savages on the horizon for the next year or so. Thompson, in fact, started as the combo’s backup strummer. “But then Gemma came to my house one day, said she had been working on a different project with Ayse, said she wanted the project to be called Savages, and she was very enthusiastic about it all,” she adds. “And I thought that was funny, because I was writing a lot of things that kind of related to that name, in the way she was speaking about it. So I said ‘Well, do you wanna try it with me?’ And she said ‘Yes!’ And then we met the drummer, Fay (Milton) by chance, and it was all set.”

By June of 2012, Savages had released its first single, “Flying to Berlin” b/w “Husbands,” the latter making it onto “Silence,” as well. The album just streeted, and it opens on a chugging “Shut Up,” tumbles into a roiling cauldron of noise called “I Am Here,” then stomps into the decidedly Banshee-ish “City’s Fall” and an otherworldly “Strife.” But Savages isn’t all about bludgeoning. The chiming axework on “She Will” echoes classic Chameleons, even Will Sergeant’s “Porcupine”-era work with Echo and the Bunnymen, and “Marshal Dear” and “Waiting for a Sign” both stand as echoey ballads only occasionally punctuated by muted guitar squeals. All told, the disc is as dark as a raven-haunted grave, yet flickering with ornate shafts of rose-windowed light almost simultaneously. Like all the best Gothic cathedrals.

Unlike John & Jehn, however, Savages don’t claim any musical influences. Inspirations, says Jehnny Beth, were culled from war poems and literature, authors like Robert Graves, the cutting-edge U.K. playwright Edward Bond, and—you guessed it—cinema. “Shut Up” was based on dialogue she loved from director John Cassavetes’ 1977 drama “Opening Night,” which grew into a bigger Savages metaphor. “All of Cassavetes’ films star his wife Gena Rowlands, and always the same team of actors,” she says. “So it was his idea of a family, a group of people doing films on and on, and he would carry on with them even though there was no box office success. And that always impressed the people around him—the fact that he was so driven by what he was doing.

“So there’s a connection with what you do in your life and what you put into your art,” she continues. “In fact, there are really no boundaries between the two, because what you are onstage is what you are in life, as well. And obviously, you choose what you want to show. But you’re still saying something about the world we all live in. So I think there’s also a real power in music to reconnect people to that concept, a power to show new directions, new ways of doing things.”

For example, says the dusky diva, a few weeks ago Savages made its Los Angeles debut, and afterward she received an email from an exhilarated fan. “He’d walked out of the show, but he’d spent all his money on a T-shirt, so he didn’t have any money left to get home,” she relates. “So he walked home. In L.A. Which was quite a long walk. But he said that he suddenly saw L.A. with different eyes, and he’d never seen the city from that perspective before.” So the group had an effect. Much larger than the girls had ever anticipated. And one that was both sonic and visual.

Which brings up one final question. As cliché as it may sound, does Jehnny Beth secretly want to direct her own movies one day? She laughs. “Oh, you read me really well!” she replies. “I would really love to do that. And I’ve already done that, really. But only in my head!”

If our year-end lists of songs and albums were any indication, it was a great year for emerging artists. From the un-fightable, infectious pop of Haim, the ragged garage rock of Mikal Cronin, the punishing punch of a Savages track to Majical Cloudz’s reflective slow-churners, we were in for a treat in 2013 with breakout acts.

Along the way, we made plenty of discoveries in our weekly Best of What’s Next profiles, which are featured first at PASTE.COM. We’ve included our 20 favorite finds and their complete profiles (or reviews in a few cases) below for you to discover yourself. And if you’re taking a peek at this during the work day and just want to see the darn list already, we’ve got you covered—head on over to page 12 in the gallery below.

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16. Houndmouth
By Claire Ruhlin
Less than two years ago, the members of the Indiana-based folk-rock quartet Houndmouth—comprised of keyboardist Katie Toupin, guitarist Matt Myers, bassist Zak Appleby and drummer Shane Cody—were recording their minimalist, self-titled EP using a few mics set up in Cody’s Indiana home, fondly nicknamed the “Green House.” If this year’s been any indication, things have changed in a big way for the members of Houndmouth. They’ve landed a record deal with Rough Trade Records, toured with the likes of Alabama Shakes and Drive-By Truckers, performed on Conan and Letterman, headlined their own tour and released their debut LP, From the Hills Below the City.

“None of us expected anything when we started this band,” says Myers. “We got together and we were just making stuff, and we kind of knew that it was nice—we really liked it—but we had no idea how it was gonna translate.”

Though the band was formed in 2011, the members of Houndmouth have known each other for years. Toupin and Cody went to high school together, Myers and Appleby played in blues and classic rock cover bands in high school and Myers and Toupin worked as an acoustic duo for three years.

“That was really hard,” Toupin recalls. “It was like four-hour gigs of acoustic guitar and my fingers would bleed. We wouldn’t get paid and nobody would pay attention.”

Their hard work, late night-practices and unfulfilling gigs leading up to Houndmouth’s genesis paid off when the band performed at the South by Southwest Festival in 2012. Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records came down to watch them perform and, after meeting with the band, offered them a record deal.

Houndmouth’s EP was released in August of 2012 and they followed it with a gritty, folksy full-length From the Hills Below the City in June 2013. The LP was largely tracked live and was recorded with the help of producer Kevin Ratterman.

Thanks to their shared roots and familiarity, the four-piece share an intuitive, almost visceral connection, which is evident in the fact that Houndmouth has no lead singer; instead, all four members switch off on vocals.

Songs like “Hey Rose” feature Appleby’s twangy baritone, while Toupin’s powerhouse vocals lead the more bluesy ‘Casino.’ “It was never a question whether who was gonna sing what song,” says Myers. “If you wrote the song and brought it to the table, that’s who was gonna sing it.”

And while they write many of their songs separately, most of the tracks on From the Hills Below the City remain thematically and lyrically cohesive, spinning often-romanticized stories of down-on-their-luck wanderers, lawless vagrants or fictional towns reminiscent of bygone eras.

“That kind of took us by surprise: that we were writing about similar things and had all the same interests,” says Myers. “I think it’s kind of an unconscious kind of thing.  We were communicating through our brainwaves.”

As Toupin affirms, Houndmouth’s image was not premeditated, and their identity evolved naturally as they worked together. “We’d just have these practices, and someone would say, ‘Oh, I wrote this, let’s try this.’ Or ‘I wrote this, let’s work on this,’ and we’d work it out, and then that just became our set, that became our album and that became who we are.”

They do occasionally write together and swap lines, melodies and song ideas. “We all just kind of take from each other,” says Myers. “It’s just lines that resonate with our souls are what we’re after.”

Following their gut has certainly worked well for them. While on tour, they’ve taken the festival circuit by storm, performing at events such as Newport Folk Festival and Forecastle Festival in Louisville, with crowds nearing 1,000 gathering to sing along with their warm, rootsy twang.

With their close quarters on tour, songwriting—along with everything else— is becoming increasingly collaborative. “Instead of being like, ‘Hey, I wrote this song, let’s work it out,’ it’s more like, ‘Hey, I got this idea, let’s see what we can do with it together,’” Toupin says. “So I think that for the next album it’s gonna be a bit more collaborative on the songwriting aspect of it.”

Which is no surprise, considering that, as the band evolves, Houndmouth is becoming more in-sync than ever. “We aren’t even separate people at this point because of touring. We’ve been together so much this year,” says Myers.

Since touring, they’ve also had the chance to meet and learn from bands they’ve admired, including Alabama Shakes, Dry the River and Dawes. “You learn just by watching other musicians, you know, that have done this for a long time,” Toupin says. “Some of that bands that I’ve always listened to, I can call them my friends. That’s weird. Like, wait, I don’t belong here,” she adds, laughing.

Judging by the buzz and glowing reviews since the band’s EP debut, Houndmouth should fit in just fine. Besides befriending some of their favorite bands, one of the most rewarding aspects of the breakout success has been the overwhelmingly positive response from live audiences, especially those in hometown performances. Many fans even join them in singing the lyrics.

“That’s like one of those childhood things that you never think…“ Myers breaks off. “That’s what you always try and strive for. It’s just unreal. It’s so cool. We just—we really didn’t see that coming.”

Their catapulting careers don’t look to be losing momentum anytime soon, and the members of Houndmouth are handling their success like pros: sticking to their roots and staying humble.

“We’re getting pretty lucky. We kind of live it a day at a time,” says Myers. “We’re still just kind of learning and getting along, y’know. Riding it out.”

But they’re also excited for the future. “I’m looking forward to making a new record and doing it all again,” Toupin says. “Looking back now, it’s like, ‘Oh, well that was pretty fucking cool. It’s just part of our life now I guess.”

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