2013 was a great year for music. We had some excellent releases from established acts like Cage the Elephant and Pearl Jam as well as some breakout tracks from bands we’d never heard of before. It’s the latter I’d like to talk about here. Let’s take a look at 10 artists who broke out this year. Oh, and I threw in 5 more who are ready to take center stage next year, just for good measure. Enjoy!
The ripples are just starting to spread from the splash Lorde made when she entered the music world. Her hit single, ‘Royals’, is the first from New Zealand to top the US Billboard charts. She’s also the youngest artist to do so in 25 years. Lorde, whose real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, started writing when she was 13 years old. She was discovered after recording two songs, Duffy’s ‘Warwick Avenue’, and Pixie Lott’s ‘Mama Do’, with a school friend and posting them to the internet. Not long after, she signed with Universal and started writing songs with the help of other songwriters (give her a break, she was 14).
In March of 2013, Lorde released her debut EP, The Love Club. It started at #2 on the New Zealand charts and jumped to the US charts in June. Her rise to fame in the US was faster than anyone could have imagined (anyone but her, of course). The single version of ‘Royals’ sold 85,000 in a single week in July of 2013, helping send it to #1 on the US charts.
She hasn’t slowed down at all. Her first full album, Pure Heroine, was released on September 30th of 2013, peaking at #3 on the US Billboard 200. She only has a few tour dates scheduled in the coming months, presumably because her parents still won’t let her borrow the car.
Hailing from the tiny island nation of England, Bastille has broken out in a big way with their hit single, ‘Pompeii’. At first, I was uncertain how optimistic to be about the band’s future, but when they released their full album, Bad Blood, on October 9th, it definitely looked good for Dan Smith and the boys. The album peaked at #11 in the US (#1 in the UK) and remained around the top 50 through October.
Bastille got their start back in 2010 with a limited edition single featuring the songs ‘Flaws’ and ‘Icarus’. They released their first EP, Laura Palmer, in 2011 and began to receive a huge upswing in media attention. Their songs have been featured in the soap opera Hollyoaks and they performed at several British music festivals, including the Glastonbury Festival. They have a few tour dates in the US coming up in December. They’re pretty much all west of the Mississippi, so we East Coasters aren’t so lucky. Maybe next time…
Ok, so FGL really started to gain traction in the country music world in 2012, but in the past year, they’ve broken out harder than an 8th grade boy after a three day pizza binge. Their first big single, ‘Cruise’, went 6x platinum and continues to sell. That’s bolstered by the release of their major label debut, Here’s to the Good Times, which peaked at #4 on the US Billboard 200 and topped the US country charts.
Florida Georgia Line isn’t just selling, they’re receiving some strong honors from the Country community. They just won CMAs for best vocal duo and best single for ‘Cruise’. And just try to listen to a pop station for two hours without hearing them, because they’ve crossed the country-pop line as well, becoming a huge crossover hit, especially with the ‘Cruise’ remix featuring Nelly. Does it make sense logically? Maybe not. But it sure makes a lot of sense financially…
Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow graduated from Vasser in 2010 and leapt right into making music together. They have a sound that’s been compared to Florence and the Machine and Lana Del Ray. They started to gain traction in 2012 when they released their debut single ‘Hurricane’ off the Candy Bar Creep Show EP. Since then, they’ve released a number of songs and records, culminating in their debut album, Secondhand Rapture. The album hit #2 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and has remained on the list for 22 weeks.
Their songs have been featured in shows like Pretty Little Liars, Game of Thrones, and Grey’s Anatomy. In 2013, MS MR has been hard at work, travelling just about everywhere, playing Lollapalooza, the Austin City Limits Festival, and, of course, SXSW. They’re touring in Europe right now, but they’ll be back in the States in December.
How can someone who has been in the business for 16 years be considered a breakout now? True, Sia Furler has been making music for a long time, but it’s her recent work that has really catapulted her into the limelight, kicking and screaming the whole way. See, she has no interest in fame, but sometimes things just don’t work out how you want them to.
Sia was considered a rising lyricist as long ago as 2002, but stayed relatively under the radar for most of her career. She’s known in the business, of course, because in recent years she decided to put her full focus on writing lyrics for others rather than performing on her own. It’s all part of her attempt to remain a normal, everyday person. As she told Billboard magazine, “If anyone besides famous people knew what it was like to be a famous person, they would never want to be famous.”
Well, for now, she’s just going to have to deal with it, because her song ‘Elastic Heart’ is huge right now. Released as part of the Hunger Games: Catching Fire Soundtrack, which promises to be an enormous hit in itself, ‘Elastic Heart’ sold 29,000 digital copies in under two weeks. Still, overall that’s small potatoes for this megastar you’ve probably never heard of. Sia has written for more celebrities than Richard Curtis. Christina Aguilera, Ne-Yo, and Katy Perry are just a few of the many singers she has written lyrics for, and her list of collaborations is even longer. With so much experience, she won’t be going anywhere, but don’t expect to see her around much, either.
Passenger started as a 5-person band formed by Michael Rosenberg and Andrew Phillips all the way back in 2003. As a group they did not have much success, only releasing one album that did not manage to chart at all. When the group split up in 2009, Rosenberg kept Passenger as his stage name and continued to work on solo material. He put out two albums on his own before finally striking it big with his third release, All the Little Lights.
Released in early 2012, All the Little Lights steadily gained traction overseas before hitting it big in the US that summer. 2013 saw a slew of concerts and touring for Rosenberg, including sold out dates in Ireland and around the world. His album has been on Billboard’s Heatseekers list for 45 weeks, sitting at #1 for 8 weeks so far.
To get a feel for his sound, check out ‘Let Her Go’.
Relative newbies to the scene, The Neighbourhood (THE NBHD) formed in 2012, putting together an EP entitled I’m Sorry… that they self-released for free. They spent the rest of the year writing songs for a full-length album that would be released the following year. The album, I Love You, made it onto the Billboard Heatseekers list, helping to catapult the band to fame. The lead single, ‘Sweater Weather’, topped the alternative charts in June of 2013, despite the fact that it was decidedly not.
THE NBHD’s sound is atmospheric and laid back, making I Love You an easy album to enjoy anywhere other than maybe the club. In 2013, they have performed at both Coachella and SXSW. Now, they’re on tour in the US and headed overseas in February of 2014. Take a look at their website. Maybe soon they’ll be coming to your, what’s the word? Oh yeah, home district…
Pope got a bit of a head start at the end of last year. The singer songwriter has been at it since 2008, making music in her own bands and working with others as well. She became known nationally when she wowed all four judges on season 3 of The Voice. Choosing Blake Shelton as her coach, she rocketed to the finals, winning the competition in the finale last December. ‘Over You’, a song co-written by Shelton and performed in round 3 of the competition, hit the top of the iTunes download chart, displacing Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’.
From there, her career skyrocketed. Pope signed with Republic Nashville in January of 2013 and began work on her debut single, which would be called ‘Wasting All These Tears’. The single debuted at #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold 125,000 copies in the first week. Pope spent the rest of the year making appearances across the country and working on her debut album. Frame by Frame was released on October 8th and debuted at #9 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the Country charts. She’s more pop than country, but crossovers in that area have become more commonplace in recent years. The combination promises to keep her in the limelight, though. She just may be the next Carrie Underwood.
Kacey Musgraves has been in the business for a few years now, and she’s quite the inspiring story of hard work and persistence. She started out writing her own music and self released her first album when she was only 14. Musgraves continued to work solo through her third album, self titled, which she released in 2007. That same year, she placed 7th in USA Network’s Nashville Star competition.
While the competition did not launch her to national stardom, it did get the attention of other artists and producers in the country scene. She built her reputation slowly, writing with other artists and appearing with acts like Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert. Her star finally started to shine for everyone to see with the release of the lead single from her upcoming album, ‘Merry Go ‘Round’. The single went gold ahead of the 2013 release of Same Trailer Different Park, which reached #2 on the Billboard 200 and topped the country charts.
Musgraves released two more singles from the album, which sold over 200,000 copies as of the start of October. Topping off Kacey’s breakout year, the Academy of Country Music awarded her New Artist of the Year for 2013. She was also nominated for (and honestly, should have won) Best Female Vocalist. You’ve got a lot of success ahead of you, though, Kacey. Keep up the good work!
The Irish band Kodaline is sort of a stretch for having broken out in 2013. They might fit better in the next category, but they’re really gaining traction this year and promise to become even more popular as the year runs out. Kodaline’s sound is somewhat reminiscent of the ‘Celtic Soul’ played by their countrymen, The Script. They’ve been popular in Ireland since 2007 when, at that time called 21 Demands, their single ‘Give Me a Minute’ became the first independently produced song to top the Irish charts.
They changed their name to Kodaline in 2011 and began work on a self titled EP that was released in September of 2012. The track that gained them national attention was a beautiful piece called ‘All I Want’. ‘All I Want’ was featured on their first full length album, In a Perfect World, which reached #7 on the Billboard Heatseekers list. The band is also known for its brilliantly crafted music videos. Check out ‘All I Want’ parts 1 and 2, and definitely don’t miss ‘High Hopes’, featuring Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones.
My vote for biggest breakout in 2014 is the family band HAIM (pronounced ‘HAI-um’, no matter what Wikipedia says). The three piece set is made up of sisters Este (bass), Danielle (lead guitar and vocals), and Alana (rhythm guitar, keyboard, and percussion). Also some guy named Dash on the drums. He’s not related, but that’s a killer name.
2012 was a big year for HAIM, opening for Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, The Henry Clay People, and Ke$ha, as well as playing at SXSW in March of 2012. They also released their first EP, Forever. A tour of the UK and Ireland followed, including concerts with Mumford and Sons and Florence and the Machine, resulting in a surge of popularity and an appearance at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival. In January of 2013, they topped the polls of the BBC’s Sound of 2013 list.
Their long awaited first full album, Days Are Gone, debuted September 30th, jumping to #1 on the UK charts and reaching #6 in the US. If you want to know more about HAIM, check out their episode of Sound and Vision.
The sisters are both a compelling story and a kickass band. Just listen to Danielle tear it up starting at 11:10. Hopefully, they’ll keep making music together for a long time. That’s the plan, anyway. According to Alana, “We are like a machine. If one part is missing, it doesn’t work.”
Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Chvches first signed with the independent label Glassnote Records in January of 2013. The next three months saw a flurry of recording, a performance at SXSW where they won the inaugural Grulke Prize, and the release of their EP, Recover. The rest of the year brought continued recording and a number of high profile appearances, including Jimmy Kimmel Live and four shows with Depeche Mode.
Chvrches released their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, on September 20th to modest sales but excellent critical reception. Situated firmly in the electro-pop camp, Chvrches combines the high-energy guitar and synth work of Iain Cook and Martin Doherty with the steady, nimble and, at times, haunting vocals of lead singer Lauren Mayberry. Chvches are synth at its finest. Their songs are expertly composed (‘The Mother We Share’ is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard) and the lyrics are poignant, not to mention expertly sung.
Give The Bones of What You Believe a listen and you’ll agree that Chvches are the next big thing in synth-pop and definitely poised to have a huge 2014.
Don’t check your calendar. The sound you’re hearing is from this decade, though it sounds closer to circa 1980. That’s Bleached for you, though. Jessie and Jennifer Clavin live in retroland and they’re broadcasting their Rock ‘n Roll/Post Punk sound all the way to 2013. Formed in 2010, they’re slowly gaining traction both in the States and overseas. Their first album, Ride Your Heart Out is available now, and I would highly suggest it.
Bleached are a sure win for anyone who loves punk-era female rock bands, which really ought to be everyone. Influenced by bands like the Ramones, the Kinks, Gun Club, and Blondie, Jessie and Jennifer don’t just have the sound, they’ve got the look.
Want to get a taste of what they’re about? Check out the video for ‘Dead in Your Head’ on their tumblr.
Tim Wilson and Ryan Carbary aren’t really new to the music scene. They played in other bands before and their collaborative effort, Ivan & Alyosha, has been around since 2007. Formed in Seattle, their rise has been slow, but steady. They’ve toured across the country, played SXSW and 35 Conferette in Denton, and a host of other places. In 2010, NPR named Ivan & Alyosha one of their top 100 of SXSW on their ‘All Songs Considered’ segment.
Despite that, widespread success has been slow to come to Ivan & Alyosha. The pair is very meticulous about their work, taking their time to perfect each song they put out. They did not release their first album, All the Times We Had, until February of 2013. Their sound is very stripped down and brings to mind The Lumineers, to put it in terms of a more recent breakout band. With well crafted melodies and smooth vocals, Ivan & Alyosha bring a very accessible sound without sacrificing lyrical quality or emotional impact. A great sampling of their work would be the songs ‘Be Your Man’, ‘I Was Born to Love Her’, and ‘Easy to Love.’ Enjoy!
Speaking of that stripped down, Lumineers-esque sound,Tthe Lone Bellow is starting to make some headway in the indie music world. They began as a solo project by Zach Williams, but soon expanded to include mandolin player Kanene Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist. The Lone Bellow is a country rock group from Brooklyn, NY. Their sound is soulful, with heavy emotion brought out by the excellent harmonizing and beautiful melodies.
The vocals on songs like ‘Two Sides of Lonely’ and ‘You Never Need Nobody’ are at once rich and carrying a far-off sound, something akin to the old-school country recordings of Hank Williams and the other legends who make up the roots of country music. The Lone Bellow’s first album, which is self-titled, was released in January of 2013. Since, they have been touring and will continue to do shows into February. Make sure you catch a concert before they blow up so you can lord it over your friends forever.