1 | Honne
Who are they? A couple of music teachers from East London called Andy and James, who dispense with surnames (though given we’ve found out that they’re Clutterbuck and Hatcher respectively, who can blame them) and make futuristic funk that’s more convincingly cool than their profession suggests. The band name is Japanese and means “true feelings”, and their songs are suitably emotional and groovy — as a music teacher might say.
What they sound like: They’ve had comparisons to James Blake for their raw-yet-synthy sound, and there’s definitely something of the night – the late, late night we mean – about their mellow, sometimes mournful, output.
Why that’s good: With great strides being made in funk and r’n’b right now, it’s nice to see a British contingent in the mix.
How you can hear them: It’s early days for Honne, but their debut EP, Coastal Love, is out now and they’ll be at Latitude Festival in Suffolk, 16–19 July; hellohonne.com
2 | Frank Ocean
Who is he? Only the future of r’n’b, if response to his debut album, 2012’s Channel Orange, was anything to go by. The erstwhile songwriter for the likes of Justin Bieber and Beyoncé and member of the Odd Future collective from California via Louisiana couldn’t be more beloved by the critics: he basically eats Grammys for breakfast.
What he sounds like: A little Stevie Wonder, a little R Kelly, a lot Maxwell; his experimental, intellectual, delicate melodies and poetic lyrics have won him collaborations with Kanye West and Jay Z.
Why that’s good: Anyone who quietly reinvents one of the great genres of the 20th and 21st centuries deserves our – and your – utmost respect.
How you can hear him: His hotly anticipated second album, Boys Don’t Cry (and the accompanying magazine of the same name), is due in July. Stay tuned for tour dates or catch him in LA on 22 and 23 August; frankocean.com
3 | Angel Olsen
Who is she? A Missouri-born, North Carolina-residing singer-songwriter of the alt-folk, Americana vein who started her career as a backing singer for Bonnie “Prince” Billy and has been lauded by other rock royalty – including members of Wilco and Sleater-Kinney – ever since.
What she sounds like: Olsen’s remarkable voice is somewhere between the ethereal fragility of Feist and the heartbreaking soulfulness of Cat Power, which she puts to powerful use on quietly earth-shattering songs with a country twang.
Why that’s good: A set of pipes like that don’t come around too often, and you should make it your duty to hear them when they do.
How you can hear her: Her first full-band album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, was released last year and she’ll be playing European festivals starting with Kutxa Kultur in San Sebastian, Spain, on 4 September; angelolsen.com
4 | Public Service Broadcasting
Who are they? A London duo made up of multi-instrumentalist J Willgoose Esq, the pseudonym of former radio producer John Samuelson, and his Penfold-esque pianist/drummer Wrigglesworth. Their stage get-up often features spectacles and bow ties, inspired by Samuelson’s “soft spot for Seventies geography teachers’ attire”.
What they sound like: A disco at the Open University. Instead of singing, PSB use vocal samples from archive footage from places such as the British Film Institute, which they build into absorbing electronic masterpieces.
Why that’s good: There’s not much music out there that you can dance to while also absorbing some (admittedly slightly random) tidbits of information about everything from Mt Everest to the design of the Spitfire.
How you can hear them: Their second album, the Cold War era-inspired The Race for Space, was released in February. They’ll be playing UK summer festivals, starting later this month with Latitude; publicservicebroadcasting.net
5 | Arca
Who is he? Venezuelan producer Arca, real name Alejandro Ghersi, is the producer of the moment, having worked on Kanye West’s sixth album Yeezus and also on the most recent records of FKA Twigs and Bjork. But he’s also a solo artist, and a phenomenally good one at that.
What he sounds like: Church music of the very distant future. His vast, spacey soundscapes are as spiritually transporting as they are challenging. If you listen to his stuff, don’t expect the beat to kick in any time soon – if at all.
Why that’s good: Police sirens, baa-ing sheep or even Shakira’s 2005 hit “Hips Don’t Lie” – you never know what’s going to emerge in an Arca track, though he’ll have turned it into something rich and strange.
How you can hear him: His debut album, Xen, came out last year; arca1000000.com
6 | Lion Babe
Who are they? One of the newer acts on this list, Lion Babe (and yeah, we admit the name ain’t great) are a New York duo consisting of multi-instrumentalist Lucas Goodman and singer-songwriter Jillian Hervey who are making the kind of high-quality pop that should earn them both mass appeal and begrudging critical nods.
What they sound like: Erykah Badu is the obvious sound-a-like for Hervey’s vocals (though a bit of trivia: her mum is actually Vanessa “Save the Best for Last” Williams), delivered over deceptively complex, low-key beats from Goodman that are both summery and simmering.
How you can hear them: Their next single, “Impossible”, is out in August and their debut album follows later in the year. They’ll be performing live at Lovebox in London, 17–18 July; lionbabe.com
7 | Mac DeMarco
Who is he? Mac DeMarco, stupendous real name Vernor Winfield McBriare Smith IV, is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose previous employment includes participating in brain experiments and roadwork and who, with his gappy teeth and scrappy hair, looks like he should have been on the cover of Mad magazine.
What he sounds like: His laid-back guitar songs, with their appealingly relaxed attitude to tuning, have been described as “slacker rock”. At full throttle, DeMarco sings like Garth from Wayne’s World doing his best Marc Bolan. Way.
Why that’s good: In an age where artists are marketed and managed out of their tiny (or in some cases, perfectly adequately sized) minds, it’s nice to find one who convincingly, compellingly, sounds like he doesn’t give a shit.
How you can hear him: His third album, Salad Days, came out in 2014; he’s releasing a mini-album, Another One, on 7 August; and he’ll be playing at the End of the Road Festival in Dorset, 4–6 September; macdemarco.bandcamp.com
8 | Shamir
Who is he? “An 18-year-old black man with the voice of a 14-year-old white girl”, as Shamir Bailey described himself in his audition tape for a stand-up comic competition in his native Las Vegas. But what might not have sent him to the top of the comedy ranks is working very well for him in the world of avant-garde pop, where the now-20-year-old is one of the hottest tips of 2015.
What he sounds like: See above, though Bailey’s decidedly eclectic output includes the bouncy pop-rap of “On the Regular”, the jittery electro-funk of “Call It Off” and the David McAlmont-esque falsetto ballad “Darker”.
Why that’s good: Bailey’s sound is decidedly different and original, as noted by arbiters of taste XL Recordings, who promptly signed him.
How you can hear him: His debut album, Ratchet, was out in June and he’ll play Visions Festival in East London on 8 August; instagram.com/shamir326
9 | Kendrick Lamar
Who is he? Hopefully, you’re aware of Los Angeles musician Kendrick Lamar and his groundbreaking approach to rap music, but if not let’s start with how he’s the guy in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video and take it from there.
What he sounds like: Phew, where to start? Lamar’s strength is his relentless, unrepentant ingenuity, which he turns to blistering effect, freely blending hip-hop with everything from funk and jazz to the spoken word.
Why that’s good: Lamar has achieved mass appeal without compromising a jot of his eccentricity and invention. The youth of today are now unwittingly familiar with jazz clarinet.
How you can hear him: His third album, To Pimp a Butterfly, is a startling diatribe against racial division in contemporary America, and he’ll play at Leeds and Reading Festivals, 28-30 August; kenricklamar.com
10 | Matthew E White
Who is he? A long-haired lover from Richmond, Virginia, who sings, plays, produces and runs his own Stax-style label, Spacebomb Records, complete with its own house band.
What he sounds like: Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski at a Seventies pool party. He has a thing for loose piano, rich strings and the occasional casual handclap. The New York Times calls it “pop-gospel”, though his lyrics are edgier than his delivery suggests: “Rock & Roll is Cold” takes a tongue-in-cheek pop at the genre for being stagnant, while “Tranquility” reflects on the heroin overdose of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Why that’s good: White and his collaborators’ mellow, easy jams are the aural incarnation of seriously talented musicians having a seriously good time.
How you can hear him: Fresh Blood, his second album, came out earlier this year, and he’ll be playing at the Green Man Festival in North Wales, 20–23 August; matthewewhite.tumblr.com