Everyone wants to be ahead of the curve when it comes to music, if only so that you can smugly be the one that was ‘into their early stuff’ when they get big and you stop liking them.
However, being ‘big’ isn’t everything these days, so take a journey with us into a selection of artists, some of whom may find commercial success in 2019, some of whom won’t, but all of whom are very much worth investing your listening time in over the coming twelve months.
1. James Gillespie
English-born, Scottish raised James Gillespie has already achieved unlikely pop star backing in the form of Pink, who heard his cover of ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me’ and promptly invited him on stage with her at V festival and on a subsequent tour. However, sonically, he’s very much in the camp of Ben Howard, Hozier and Damien Rice, with a nicely weathered vocal and atmospheric, sparse backings. Expect big things next year.
We’ve got no idea why ‘Body’ didn’t immediately go viral across the globe when it was released in November: it was one of those songs - and videos - which just came seemingly out of nowhere and was instantly memorable. Glowie, aka 21-year-old Icelander Sara Pétursdóttir is newly signed to Columbia/RCA and if she’s got more tunes like this in the locker then she could be the next Sigrid on the block.
3. Sam Fender
24-year-old Geordie Sam Fender was longlisted for the BBC Sound of 2018 and has had a quietly effective year, gradually building up streams and radio plays while hitting the road. Signed to Polydor, he writes indie anthems that grapple with ‘social consciousness and political awareness’ and deservedly won the Brits Critics Choice award in December, so will presumably receive support from all over the shop in 2019. There’s shades of The National, the Twilight Sad and even early U2 and late Kings of Leon in there, which is all very pleasing, while ‘Dead Boys’ is a truly impactful, brilliant song.
4. We Are The Way For The Cosmos To Know Itself
Danish trio WATWFTCTKI have not put a foot wrong yet, with all eight of their songs currently on Spotify being completely stunning examples of otherwordly dreampop. ‘Don’t Bother’ is probably their best track yet - and took the number 4 spot in our rundown of the 50 best songs of the year - but you feel like there could be even better to come in 2019 with the band currently working on their debut album. Get ready to truly bliss out.
5. Club Paradise
It’s a strong time for music in the North East, with young Newcastle four piece Club Paradise joining Sam Fender on this list. They came out of the traps with the muscular statement-of-intent ‘Brother’ in June before unleashing the Foals-meets-Two-Door hyper-energetic dancefloor gem ‘Sugar’ in November. With a host of irresistible material ready and waiting, 2019 could see them become the hottest new indie pop band around.
6. Aaron Aye
Finally, in a world of mumble rap and soulless electronic production, here’s some good old-school hip hop. The 22-year-old Minneapolis R&B singer released EP Orphan in August with the standout track ‘Since ‘96’ showing off an effortlessly infectious flow, cheeky lyrics and a joyous feel. Look out for him in 2019.
7. Kill J
The third Nordic recommendation so far (there’s clearly something in the water over there - fish probably), Julie Aagaard, aka Kill J, is a Danish singer, songwriter and producer explores the darker, glitchy and more minimal side of R&B electro, best exemplified on the 2016 track ‘You’re Good But I’m Better’. Fingerclicks aplenty soundtrack 2017’s brilliant ‘Gravity’, while 2018 saw her release the freaky-as-f**k ‘Strange Fruits of the Sea’ and ‘Dead Weight Soldier’. Much more in 2o19 please.
8. Nathan Ball
The two lines of his bio read: “Everything about singer-songwriter Nathan Ball feels unforced. A natural, easy calming presence, his music flows through you in much the same manner.” And, for once, with these things, that is absolutely 100% spot on. Two songs in particular show you the scope of his effortlessly intimate, yet widescreen sound: the beautiful Bon Iver and Ben Howard-esque ‘Drifting’, and then the night-time-car-journey-ready ‘All or Nothing’, which is a perfect little brother of Paper Kites’ classic ‘Revelator Eyes’.
She’s only released two songs, but there’s no mistaking the effortless jazz-tinged voice of Eloise, who could easily translate to mainstream success in 2019. There’ll be inevitable comparisons to the silken voices of Liane La Havas and Jorja Smith, but she’s got her own distinctive sound, as best shown on the delicious ‘You, Dear’.
10. Aeris Roves
Recently signed to RCA, Aeris Roves might just be the British soul version of Frank Ocean. Initially growing up in Worksop, South Yorkshire, he then moved in with his Dad in Charlton, before self-producing his debut mixtape Moon by Island Gardens, which came out in November. A distinctive voice, coupled with an intimate, lo-fi and jazz-tinged backing; expect to see him on Jools Holland sooner rather than later.
11. Easy Life
Easy Life are a band that you will not make any sense of at first glance. They’re from Leicester, they look like a boy band, their frontman Murray is a former potato farmer, and they sound like the Arctic Monkeys if they’d made an interesting jazz/hip hop/pop album with actual songs instead of the borefest that was Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. They’re working with Fraser T Smith, who has never knowingly made a song that wasn’t a massive tune, so keep an eye out - and an open mind - for Easy Life.
12. The Manor
We’ve written at length about South London trio The Manor over the past year and with good reason: the UK needs a fresh injection of ‘avin’ it dance-infused tunes to soundtrack your big nights out. They’re supporting The Streets next year, and it’s a perfect choice given that they make the sort of music that Mike Skinner would have done if he’d stayed out in Ibiza instead of coming home from his holiday after having chips and drinks.
13. King Princess
Described, accurately, as a queer pop queen-in-waiting, Mikaela Straus, aka King Princess is the first signing to Mark Ronson’s label Zelig - and he’s a man who knows a thing or two about picking a winner when it comes to tunes. Hailing from Brooklyn, her sound is hard to pin down, taking in aspects of pop, indie and R&B, while her voice is strangely evocative of Rihanna singing Lana Del Rey songs. Whatever it is, it works, nowhere better than on her the excellent ‘Upper West Side’.
14. Freya Ridings
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter sprang to fame over the summer when her song ‘Lost Without You’ soundtracked a particularly emotional moment in Love Island (there were so many that we can’t remember which one), leading to a spike in Shazams and streams, a subsequent jump into the charts and then onto the radio, propelling it to a chart peak of number 9. It’s clearly not a one-off though, with the quietly steely MJ Cole-assisted ‘Waking Up’ suggesting plenty more excellence to come in 2019.
15. Novo Amor
If Nathan Ball wasn’t enough for you Bon Iver lovers, then look no further than Welsh multi-instrumentalist Ali Lacey, aka Novo Amor (there’s been so many akas on this list we’re starting to think no one uses their real name any more), who had a huge 2018, releasing his debut album Birthplace, full of beautiful, evocative songs. With a series of new videos planned for next year, if there’s any justice his audience will continue to grow as it deserves to in the new year.
16. Sad Boys Club
London five-piece Sad Boys Club released a string of great tracks across the whole of 2018, beginning in February with the fantastic ‘15/01’ and ending in November with the 1975-esque-named Yeah People Talk But You’ve Forgotten How To Live EP. There’s a hint of the ‘75 in their sound too, alongside The Cure and The Strokes; not exactly bad reference points to have. Frontman Jacob Wheldon knows how to insert large-scale drama into everything he sings: 2019 could well provide the big stages that he, and the band’s songs deserve.
17. Parekh & Singh
A duo from Kolkata, India, comprised of Nischay and Kivraj, Parekh & Singh make wonderfully dreamy, off-kilter pop, straight out of a Wes Anderson soundtrack. Debut album Ocean was released in 2016, but they unveiled the stunning ‘Summer Skin’ in November, suggesting that a new record is imminent - and if their music doesn’t feature on at least one low budget indie film before 2019 is out, then something will have gone very badly wrong indeed.
Leicester born, Birmingham-based 19-year-old singer/songwriter Mahalia Burkmar has been signed to Asylum - home of Ed Sheeran and Rudimental - since the age of 13. She’s actually toured and collaborated with Sheeran, but her sound is much more towards classic R&B - she’s cited Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu as influences and if she turns out half as good as either of them then we’re in for a treat.
Within ten seconds of Glaswegian indie rock band Lucia’s latest track ‘Cheap Talk’, the clouds part and glorious sunny harmonies emerge, bringing to mind the likes of Britpop legends Sleeper and Echobelly. Touring relentlessly through 2018, and with the rest of their recent EP showing a flair for melody and indiepop songwriting, they could be perfectly poised to break through next year.
A rapper from Northampton who sounds like he could be straight outta Bow, Slowthai is an intriguing prospect who’s already picked up plaudits from the likes of Annie Mac, Gilles Peterson and Zane Lowe and was on a good few tip lists this time last year. A host of great releases this year, gently swaying between grime, rap and garage, shows that he maintains a prolific output - 2019 could see him nudge his way further into the public’s consciousness.