CMJ Artists to watch in 2014

By Lisa Hresko, Eric Davidson, and Lizzie Plaugic

There are a lot of bands out there. A random sift through Bandcamp alone is enough to make you think they’re giving out guitars with high school diplomas. So how is a music lover supposed to navigate that ocean? Well, we here at CMJ swim through seas of sounds every day so you can finish your term papers, boil some ramen for lunch, and whatnot. Hence, before we even clue you to our favorites of 2013 (that’s next week), we’re already itching to tell you who we think are artists who might bob above the music waves in 2014 like so many buoys with beards and banjos. Well not too many banjos, that’s très 2011.
 


The #1s

 

This un-humbly named Dublin, Ireland, four-piece slash out a hook-heavy brand of fuzzy-fast power pop, not unlike the Thermals swiggin’ ale. And despite their cheeky videos (and some fine singles in prep for a late-2014 album), they’ve got just enough curmudgeon in ‘em to hate beer references for Irish bands. -ED
 


Elvis Depressedly

 

Matt Cothran is a shape-shifting sonic apparition in the body of a 20-something from South Carolina. He takes on the form of many musical beings, doing warmly lit folk as Coma Cinema and analog electronic creepiness as Gremlins. But it was this year’s Hobo Pleasures EP under the Elvis Depressedly moniker that made us stop and crack open an ear. Flowing through the album is a stream of woodsy crunching that kind of makes it sound like Cothran is whispering to you over a fire. -LP
 


Honduras

 

Brooklyn boys making the most intriguing indie coy/punky push co-mingling going that seems to be leaning towards the coy with each new demo. Their Morality Cuts EP is out on cassette somewhere, but it’ll be available through more practical platforms in February. -ED
 


Hop Along

 

I saw Hop Along frontwoman Frances Quinian at a Slutever show in Philly last New Year’s Eve. I didn’t talk to her, but I probably spent a good 10 minutes just drunkenly staring. That’s because this time last year, Hop Along’s LP, Get Disowned, was pretty much the only thing I was listening to. It’s simultaneously fun and crushing, surreal and story-like, not to mention Quinian has this insane voice that can jump from breathy musings to timbre-y yalps in syllables. Syllables. If the gods answer my superstitious rituals, 2014 is gonna be a big year for these east coast kids. -LP
 


Jean Deaux

 

Jean Deaux’s music is infused with a kind of post-thunderstorm clean slate-ness. Each track hits hard, but with a watery expansiveness that makes playing any of them on a loop hypnotically satisfying. Though her strength is in her icy croon, when she raps she has a certain Lauryn Hill-esque dead-pan flow. Her debut mixtape, Soular System, drops in 2014, so make sure you have a Google Alert on that. -LP
 


Noname Gypsy

 

You might recognize her voice from a verse on Chance The Rapper’s nerd seduction track, “Lost,” but it’s in her solo stuff that Noname Gypsy really finds her sweet spot. By pairing an effortlessly casual flow with tongue-twisting lyrics, often with a socially conscious bent, Noname Gypsy is poised to be the next big thing you can’t stop bragging about listening to. Just look at what she did with that Ghost Town DJs sample. Is there anyone here who’s not trying to listen to that forever? Her debut mixtape, Telefone, is scheduled to drop in 2014, so get ahead of the game and get into this now. -LP
 


Songhoy Blues

 

A young group of Malians artists left their violent home in Timbuktu, where being a rock musician could endanger lives, and relocated to Bamako to establish their band, Songhoy Blues. Damon Albarn and his Africa Express coalition took note, and, with the help of Nick Zinner, recorded and released their first track, which was released as part of the compilation Africa Express Presents: Maison Des Jeunes. With a first track that strong, we’re hoping to see more of Songhoy Blues’ reverberating desert rock on this side of the sea. -LH
 


SZA

 

I went to go see Flubber in theaters when it came out in 1997, but I had to leave before the previews even started because I ate too many Swedish Fish and I thought I was gonna puke. Upon first listen, SZA’s recent EP, S, might have you thinking it too will be a sugar overload, what with the twinkling butterfly kisses in the album’s opening track. But it holds up after repeated listens thanks to the 23-year-old’s taught, flawlessly ethereal vox. Plus, as the most recent signee to Kendrick Lamar’s label home, Top Dawg Entertainment, SZA’s 2014 is already looking pretty sunglasses-worthy. -LP
 


Tenement

 

This Appleton, Wisconsin trio of punk dudes is only so far down on this list because it’s in alphabetical order. They’ve released a smattering of seven-inches, most recently a split with the Screaming Females, and have been a staple on the DIY circuit. As refined punk ascetics, these guys are loud, noisy, professional as all hell and easily one of the best live bands I saw in 2013. And they’ll be playing this Don Giovanni showcase at 285 Kent and probably a ton of other shows, so don’t be such a fool as to continue to miss them in 2014. -LH
 


TWEENS

 

This Queen City trio gained gawkers at CMJ Music Marathon in October for their punchy ’90s garage/grrrl punk. After a few recent opening gigs with the Black Lips and before their opening slot tour with Murder City Devils in Jan./Feb., they’re taking time to wrap up their “probably self-titled” debut album, out on Frenchkiss in March. -ED
 


Vic Mensa

 

2013 saw Chicago’s rap game churning out potential stars with the ease of a toddler flicking Skittles at a dog. Whether it’s Lil Durk and the dark trap beats of his drill cohorts or Vic Mensa and SaveMoney’s wordy puns, cool crews abound and everyone with ears is winning. This year, Mensa combined his melatonin flow with moments of on-the-fly voice-cracking and some dark self-reflection, and turned it into his Innanetape mixtape. If lines like “Where do babies come from? Porkin’ the stork/Poorly parked pullin’ into your Porsche with a Ford” don’t convert you into a Vic fan, this slack-jawed freestyle on BET’s “Backrooom” will. -LP