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NPR Arts & Life

Musicians You'll Tell Your Friends About In 2015

Austin-based Charlie Belle, led by 16-year-old Jendayi Bonds (center) along with her brother Gyasi Bonds (left) and Zoe Czarnecki, will release a debut EP on Jan. 13.
Austin-based Charlie Belle, led by 16-year-old Jendayi Bonds (center) along with her brother Gyasi Bonds (left) and Zoe Czarnecki, will release a debut EP on Jan. 13.

If any message keeps asserting itself within the volatile atmosphere of popular music as we enter 2015, it's that anticipation is for suckers. Predictions, likewise. D'Angelo's late-game mic drop — the release of Black Messiah with only two weeks left to go in the year — redefined 2014 in retrospect, causing fans to reconsider the year's entire timeline in light of its radical spirit of protest and freedom. In the mainstream, some things (okay, everything Swift) happened as planned, but the lingering impact of seemingly novel fascinations — Iggy Azalea, Meghan Trainor — contrasted with the big thud of a few longtime central figures like U2 and Mariah Carey to signal ... what? A generational shift? A gender revolution? Pop getting more uniform or more diverse? The only certain thing was that the year didn't pan out quite the way anyone thought it would.

The same could be said of all the scenes beyond the Top 40. Who knew a 36-year-old former bluegrass punk who'd already ditched his music career once would set the Americana scene on its head? Or that hip-hop would get so fascinatingly weird, thanks to mixtapes like Black Portland and ascendant eccentrics all-star shouter OG Maco. Jazz was unpredictable; indie rock produced unlikely front-runners like the lost-stoner soundtracks of The War on Drugs. The feeling carrying music lovers into 2015 is not only that very little unites us, even within the small rooms where subgenres rule; it's that striving to agree on what's important or great isn't even an interesting practice right now. Instead, artists and fans alike are rearranging hierarchies, talking back to paradigms, focusing on what appeals personally, finding new centers within the margins. It's an exciting time, but one that's not easy to define.

In the spirit of surprise and open possibilities, here are 10 acts you might not find on everyone else's must-have list for the new year. Some of these musicians are several albums into their careers, with devoted followings. Others are fledglings. The buzz machine has attached itself to one or two; a few remain obscure. All plan to be promoting fresh recordings in the next twelve months, but several, adhering to the spontaneity of the sudden-release age, don't have firm date for their projects. If these musicians all played together on a bill, it would be more eclectic than anything the festival circuit offers. What's likely is that each will find an enthusiastic audience in 2015, and some may even grab what's left of pop's spotlight. Let's all meet back here in a year to celebrate their arrival during what will likely be another year full of fancies, flipped fingers and fun.

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