The 20 Best New Artists of 2017

From garage rock to silky soul to jazz-metal to progressive hip-hop, our favorite new artists remind us that inspiration is inexhaustible and talent is everywhere.

Music Lists
The 20 Best New Artists of 2017

Choosing the best new artists in any given year is never as simple as it sounds. Maybe the musicians in question have been sneaking around under our noses for a couple years, gaining traction in their local scenes before landing on the main stage. Maybe a few artists we already know and love convened to produce something entirely new. Or maybe, as the title suggests, they really were brand new, emerging to recalibrate our musical compass with good old youthful innovation. The 20 most exciting artists we discovered in 2017 fit all of these criteria in one way or another, but the one thing they had in common was their abrupt impact on our music consciousness. From garage rock to silky soul to jazz-metal to progressive hip-hop, they reminded us that we never reach the horizon, that no matter how much we think we’ve seen and heard, there’s always something new out there to find. Inspiration, whether for the artists or the fans who love what they create, is truly inexhaustible. Here are the 20 best new artists of 2017.

20. Ex Eye
Ex Eye is one of the year’s best examples of well-known musicians assembling to make something completey new. It’s the latest endeavor from Colin Stetson, the prodigiously talented saxophonist who has also dabbled in French horn, flute and clarinets. Having already proven himself capable of creating epic whirlwinds of sound on his solo recordings, here his boundless energy is focused on an even fuller post-metal sound with the help of drummer Greg Fox (Zs, Liturgy), synth player Shahzad Ismaily (Secret Chiefs 3) and guitarist Toby Summerfield. To make up for an absence of vocal narrative, Ex Eye relies on progressive jazz tones over a tight grid of tribal death beats and hazy, nondescript noise to tell their stories. The longform songs on this debut are vast soliloquies torched with heavy vitriol and few breaks of silence. The songs are set up like all-consuming chapters in a horror book, each blasting its own experimental black-metal wasteland, full of dense valleys and contemplative peaks. —Emily Reily

Read Paste’s review of Ex Eye’s self-titled debut album

19. Florist
Among sparsely arranged, deeply personal albums that revolve around the death of a loved one, Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me got a lot of attention this year, and deservedly so. But do not miss out on If Blue Could Be Happiness, the 2017 LP by Florist, a New York-based “friendship project” (not band) fronted by Emily Sprague, who lost her mother recently and suddenly. It’s not just a mournful collection of gentle indie-pop songs, it is a tiny, welcoming sound world where anyone can enter and feel loved and supported and understood. It is sonic salve for a heart roughened up by life’s challenges. It is beautiful and calming and necessary. Thank you, Emily Sprague. Thank you, Florist. —Ben Salmon

18. Weaves
Technically speaking, this Toronto quartet has been releasing music for a couple years now. But there’s no denying that 2017 was their breakout year, when they popped onto the radars of music fans and culture websites like this one. There was no use denying what Weaves brought to the table on their sophomore album, Wide Open, a brash rock sound that exploded when a pathway needed clearing and exuded tenderness when the musical ground around them needed careful cultivation. It’s a huge step forward for Weaves and particularly for frontwoman Jasmyn Burke, whose savvy, unclassifiable voice should be on everyone’s radar in 2018. —Robert Ham

17. Alex Lahey
For years, we’ve heard that rock ‘n’ roll is dying. Fun fact: It’s not true. Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well in people like Melbourne, Australia newcomer Alex Lahey, whose debut full-length I Love You Like a Brother is a bracing blast of big hooks, bigger guitars and biggest fun. Lahey has a tremendous talent for spotting the meaningful moments of day-to-day life, especially relationships, and then cleverly turning them into irresistible anthems. Did we mention her album is fun? In a year that sometimes felt like drowning in bad news, I Love You Like a Brother is a rock ‘n’ roll lifeline. —Ben Salmon

16. Hoops
Describing a band as “Other Band A meets Other Band B” isn’t ideal; it’s usually more effective to just describe how the music sounds. But in the case of Hoops, “Real Estate meets DIIV” is pretty instructive. This Bloomington, Ind., trio writes beautifully laid-back pop songs that echo the gently rolling melodies of Real Estate, and they decorate them with the kind of hazy, downcast jangle that makes DIIV a joy. Hoops’ 2017 album Routines sounds like perfectly winsome indie-pop submerged in a dreamstate of digital doodads and lo-fi aesthetic—a formula that produces a bucket full of amiable earworms. —Ben Salmon

On “JUNKY,” Brockhampton de facto leader Kevin Abstract spits: “Why don’t you take that mask off? That’s the thought I had last night / Why you always rap about bein’ gay? / ‘Cause not enough niggas rap and be gay.” The magnitude of a 21-year old African-American rapper from Texas delivering these words to a fast-building mainstream following can’t be overstated. When America’s prevailing conservative-minded assholes have realized that they’re backasswards rhetoric is exactly that, it’s a 15-person rap group/creative collective from a red state dubbing themselves a “boy band” that’ll go down as the voice of the millennial generation. BROCKHAMPTON might be the most refreshing group to rise to prominence this year, and it’s because of much more than just the sticky hooks (“SWEET,” “GUMMY”) scattered through the group’s three self-released albums this year (Saturation I, II & III); it’s how BROCKHAMPTON’s diverse make-up reflects the diversity in America today and how the group unapologetically represents that with pointed audacity. —Adrian Spinelli

14. Moses Sumney
Moses Sumney’s stock immediately went up after his timelessly soulful, heartbreakingly intimate song “Plastic” was featured in a pivotal scene of the unassailably hip HBO show Insecure. With debut LP Aromanticism, the 26-year-old UCLA grad with the gift for vocal improvisation and layered, looped sounds not only lived up to the hype, but rocketed from indie darling to full-blown star—his art-school take on soul music the perfect sonic foil to lyrics that explore isolation and casual love in the modern era. Equipped with an introvert’s soul, an artist’s heart, and a honey falsetto that could make even the most cynical swoon, Sumney is just getting started. —Madison Desler

Read: Moses Sumney—The Best of What’s Next

13. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Is Melbourne, Australia home to Earth’s greatest music scene? The latest evidence is Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, a band of cousins and brothers who established their krautrock-meets-jangle-pop sound a couple years ago with the overlooked Talk Tight EP. Rather than mess with the formula, they returned this year with The French Press, and this time the music world, from Australia to America, sat up and took notice. It spills over with urgent efficiency, motorik grooves, snappy bass lines and electric guitars that sparkle and slice through the rhythmic tension. Melodically, Rolling Blackouts offset their tightly wound sound with a sort of speak-singing looseness that recalls fellow Aussie Courtney Barnett, another Melbourne gem and a member of this list’s Class of 2014. —Ben Salmon

Read: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: The Best of What’s Next

12. Nick Hakim
Nick Hakim is a dreamer. On his ATO Records-released debut LP, Green Twins, the Queens-based singer takes us along for the ride as he waxes philosophical on the muses who reside within his psyche. (“It’s been years since you came around these parts of my mind,” he sings on “Cuffed.”) Throughout the album, Hakim attempts to processes the memories that are beginning to come back to him and the new ones he’s attempting to create, all with an endearing meekness. Laden with tape machine-filtered psychedelic jazz, mellowed hip-hop drum beats and soul-driven vocals, Hakim’s music is meant to make you lose yourself and embark on the same blissfully existential train of thought as its auteur. —Adrian Spinelli

Read: Nick Hakim: The Best of What’s Next

11. Diet Cig
On their debut LP Swear I’m Good at This, this New Paltz, N.Y., duo strike a winsome balance between sugary, sometimes plaintive vocals and serrated guitar riffage over galloping drums on catchy songs that sift through the tumult and confusion of young adulthood. Onstage, Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman add explosive energy: Luciano scarcely stands still, bouncing around the stage like she’s spring-loaded and pausing occasionally for leg kicks worthy of the Rockettes. The result is a communal catharsis that is upbeat, life-affirming and a hell of a lot of fun. —Eric R. Danton

Read: Diet Cig: The Best of What’s Next

10. Lo Tom
The term “super group” is thrown around pretty liberally these days, but in the case of Lo Tom, it’s unquestionably in order. The band comprises scene veterans David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones) on vocals and bass, Jason Martin (Starflyer 59, Bon Voyage) on guitar, TW Walsh (The Soft Drugs, Pedro the Lion) on guitar and background vocals and Trey Many (Velour 100, Starflyer 59) on drums. With a melodic pedigree that’s rooted in the guitar-heavy, alt-rock-fueled ‘90s and also shaped by the glossed-up, genre-shifting ‘00s, Lo Tom encompasses a surprisingly modern sound that simultaneously flirts with and fights against its own nostalgia. Overflowing with a confidently relaxed cool and an absolute lack of pretense or veneer, Lo Tom’s debut somehow feels both enthusiastically self-assured and deceptively effortless. —Will Hodge

Read Paste’s review of Lo Tom’s debut album

9. Colter Wall
Colter Wall is a 22-year-old kid from the pitiless plains of Saskatchewan, where the cruel winters and endless horizon can drive the even warmest souls to the bottle and age a man five years for every one. Maybe that’s why his deep, dark voice and tales of lonesome cowboys, jealous lovers and violent vagabonds cut so deep. On his self-titled debut full-length, Wall clambers through his country blues with an acoustic guitar and little more, every spare string echoing with the old soul of a human glacier in perpetual search of another train to hop—a jug of wine in one hand, a buck knife in the other. On slow-freeze songs like “Thirteen Silver Dollars,” “Codeine Dream” and “Transcendent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues,” his burnt rawhide voice reveals a frontier poet of the first order, and one the most exciting young talents in country music. —Matthew Oshinsky

Read: Colter Wall Resurrects the Murder Ballad

8. Molly Burch
Los Angeles-born, Austin-based Molly Burch is a force to be reckoned with, albeit a subtle one. Her debut LP, Please Be Mine, was released in February and was not just one of the year’s best albums by a newcomer, but one of the best period. (It ranked No. 42 on our 50 Best Albums of 2017.) The record is heartfelt, intricate and unconditionally romantic. As a trained jazz singer, Burch’s vintage vocal anchor the 10 songs, particularly on the standout “Fool” and the title track, “Please Be Mine.” With dual talents for Laurel Canyon folk and Hit Parade pop of the ‘60s, she’s a breath of fresh air in comparison to much of today’s overly processed singer-songwriters. This year she opened for everyone from Lucy Dacus to Grizzly Bear, so keep her name (and her album) in your brain. —Annie Black

7. Sheer Mag
Philly garage-soul thrashers Sheer Mag actually released two full-length records in 2017. The first was a compilation of their previous three EPs, helpfully titled Compilation LP. It’s riffs were so jagged and glammy, its grooves so pungent, that it was hard to imagine Sheer Mag coming back with anything nearly so comprehensively great for their proper debut full-length. And yet, with Need to Feel Your Love, frontwoman Tina Halladay and Co. managed to preserve every last distorted shriek, every bouncy spine-tingler. It’s fitting that Sheer Mag hail from Philly, one of America’s unofficial capitals of R&B and punk (think Hall & Oates, The Delfonics, The Dead Milkmen). Album opener “Meet Me in the Street” is a mean thumper that AC/DC or Thin Lizzy would have been proud to call their own. It’s followed by the title track, a hip-shaker with funk chords and a romantic lead from Halladay that puts this band’s versatility on blast. “Nuthin’ to do but keep on battling on and on and on!” she declares. —Matthew Oshinsky

Read Paste’s review of Sheer Mag’s ‘Need to Feel Your Love’

6. Phoebe Bridgers
“Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time,” Phoebe Bridgers sings in “Funeral,” one of the best songs on her incredible debut album, Stranger in the Alps. “And that’s just how I feel. Always have, and I always will.” No doubt about it: Alps is, at its core, a collection of sad folk songs, presented with nifty sonic accoutrements (mournful fiddle here, electro-noise there) and clever references (David Bowie, Jeffrey Dahmer) that give them added dimension. But its Bridgers’s plainspoken lyrics and airy, inescapable melodies that make Alps not just one the year’s best debuts, but also one of 2017’s best albums by anyone at any stage of their career. At 23 years old, she already has a masterpiece under her belt. —Ben Salmon

5. Bedouine
Subtlety often seems like a lost art these days, but it’s the beating heart at the center of Bedouine’s music. With a languorous voice that calls to mind classic Dusty Springfield and a lyrical sensibility reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s, mastermind Azniv Korkejian found the perfect creative foils in the Spacebomb Records crew, who augmented her acoustic guitar frameworks with understated strings and horns. The result is one of the most elegant and beguiling albums of the past few years. Even better: it’s merely the first effort from a singer and songwriter who clearly bears watching. —Eric R. Danton

Read: Bedouine: The Best of What’s Next

4. Priests
Katie Alice Greer is the loudspeaker we’ve been begging for. The Priests frontwoman delivers every note throughout DC-based punk band’s excellent debut Nothing Feels Natural, with power, bravado and most importantly, authority. At one turn, Greer calls out an alpha-male lacking in self-awareness on “JJ”; on another, she delivers a feminist manifesto disguised as the quasi-Chomskian “Pink White House.” Operating on their own Sister Polygon Records label, Greer and Priests (also one of this year’s best live bands) are the next important female-fronted punk band in line (think Savages) to shatter the complacent patriarchy. —Adrian Spinelli

Read: Priests Are Political, But Don’t Call Them ‘Riot Grrrl’

3. Ron Gallo
Ron Gallo’s LP Heavy Meta was released toward the very beginning of this year, making it easy to forget that its opening cut, “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me” was one of the most electrifying songs of the year. Gallo combines balls-to-the-wall garage psych with the kind of social anger and biting snark that keeps getting him compared to a young Bob Dylan (the voluminous ‘fro helps too.) The bitter humor of “Why Do You Have Kids?” and “All the Punks Are Domesticated” show there’re some real brains behind all the fuzzed-out brawn, while the stellar stand-alone singles he released last month (“Temporary Slave” “Sorry Not Everybody Is You”), have us hopeful he’s not slowing down anytime soon. —Madison Desler

2. Sampha
Better known until 2017 as the chosen side piece for a bevy of otherwise committed R&B and hip-hop stars (Solange, Drake and Jessie Ware, among them), Sampha Sisay stood firm on his own in 2017 with the release of his debut album Process. The record is almost startling in its inventiveness, with the English singer/songwriter and his co-producer trying to bend these slippery, undulating beats to their will. Sampha doesn’t miss a stroke, coming alive through these heartbroken, striving songs and his star-power moments on late-night TV. All it got him was a Mercury Prize and the adoration of a new generation of beat-makers and crate-diggers. —Robert Ham

1. SZA
SZA’s protestations that her music doesn’t fit into any single category ring truer than most: There are elements of jazz, soul, R&B, hip-hop and pop on the Jersey singer’s debut LP CTRL, and she is equally adept at all of them. Plus, besides showing reflective and vulnerable sides, the singer born Solána Rowe has a sense of humor, and she’s not afraid to deploy it on takedowns of dumbass men that carry through entire songs, or through sharp turns of phrase that flicker past in an instant. Hers is a fresh voice with plenty to say, so it’s no wonder that Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj have turned to her for songs. Let’s hope SZA is saving the best stuff for herself. —Eric R. Danton

Read Paste’s review of SZA’s ‘CTRL’

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