Four Emerging Artists on Music’s Cutting Edge


Helga Esteb /

If there’s one thing we should learn from the runaway success of Adele’s 21 this year, it’s that regardless of pop music trends, the most innovative, interesting music always finds its way to the top. This year may have seen its share of Katy Perrys and Lady Gagas who seem to leech every ounce of their fame from what moments they get in the media spotlight, but their albums live or die based on the next hot single. Adele’s music lives on its timeless nature; it could have been released any time in the last three decades and it would have found an audience, because the music stands head and shoulders above the mere hype.


And let me tell you, 2011 has been a year filled with amazing releases which prove that, while radio still tells us singles rule the world, audiences are telling radio they’ll gravitate to great albums if the music is there to support their demand. I submit for your approval these four artists who are currently making waves in the underground, all of whom deserve wider acclaim. They come from different musical corners, but all feature challenging elements which make them typical hard sells in the world of radio. Yet they’re producing music beyond the reach of their contemporaries, and those listeners among you who are willing to do some exploring will certainly find plenty to relish here.

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Gabriel Kahane
Orchestral Pop

Merging elements of Rufus Wainwright’s pop flair with Sufjan Stevens’ sense of cinematic orchestral arrangements, Gabriel Kahane seems poised to assert himself as this decade’s first truely avant-garde pop tunesmith worthy of note. He’s emerged as a leading voice among young composers, innovating both classical and pop norms to create a style which, as cliché as it may sound, seems uniquely his own.

On Where Are The Arms, his deft touch is evident on songs like the album’s opener, “Charming Disease,” which features an unnerving description of the effects of runaway alcoholism remarkably melded to a time-shifting melody of piano and strings which proves utterly intoxicating. Adventurous listeners on both the classical and pop sides of the coin are going to find themselves infatuated with Kahane’s vision for the future of the craft, if they take the time to give these songs a thorough listen.


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Joe Pug
Folk / Americana

Those in the know have already crowned Joe Pug as modern Americana’s lyrical answer to Bob Dylan, and though that comparison is certainly weighted with expectations, the Chicago songwriter seems up to the challenge. “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” from his 2009 Nation of Heat EP, particularly stands up to criticism, proving to be one of the strongest protest songs to come out of the last decade: “When every revolution is sponsored by the State, there’s no bravery in bayonets or tearing down the gates,” he sings, giving voice to a generation struggling to find a way to rebel against apathy while standing in the shadow of its parents’ storied rebellions.

Pug’s 2010 album Messenger is an exercise in controlled explosion, with bare acoustic arrangements giving his guitar and voice all the power. He may not yet be Dylan, but he’s certainly crafting music which dares to follow in such storied tradition. This alone should make Messenger destination music for anyone who takes on challenging music on its own merits.

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Alternative Folk Pop

When I reviewed Mumford & Sons’ debut Sigh No More in early 2010, I had no expectations that it would be such a strong slow-burner, tearing up the charts by year’s end to become the biggest pop debut of the year. Suddenly the blogosphere was beset by a need to crown the “next Mumford.” And while Stornoway, an alternative indie-folk band from the Cowley area of Oxford, seems to fit the bill from a cursory listen, it becomes clear on repeated examinations of their debut Beachcomber’s Windowsill that they deserve to be heard on their own merits.


“Zorbing” and “I Saw You Blink” showcase a band clearly infatuated with the textured pop of Brian Wilson, and the richly layered music they’ve produced on their debut certainly deserves to be mentioned in line with the legend. This is Pet Sounds for the Internet generation, with songs so deftly arranged that good headphones will reveal new levels of creativity on repeated listens. The album is still bubbling under the charts in their native country and has yet to be truly launched here in the States. Here’s hoping they can avoid the Mumford stereotype long enough to gain a foothold with American listeners. The quality of their music certainly justifies it.

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Girls, Guns and Glory
Alternative Country

For Ward Hayden of Girls, Guns and Glory, just getting a chance to perform his band’s blend of rock and roots country in Boston Clubs was an exercise in persistence when the group first formed. The band couldn’t get any clubs to allow an alt-country ensemble to take the stage, so they spent their own money to rent a club for the night. “We packed in 350 paying customers that first night,” Hayden says. “After that, people took us more seriously.”

Flash forward to 2011, and Girls, Guns and Glory is one of the best regarded members of the Boston independent scene. Their latest single, “The Universe Began,” has become a personal favorite of Chad Ochocinco, New England Patriots wide receiver, who has taken to Twitter to speak of playing the song “73 times already.” It seems only a matter of time before the band starts attracting mainstream listeners, and rightly so as their blend of Lyle Lovett and Roy Orbison vocals with the hard-fighting country sounds of a veteran bar band makes for an exceptionally infectious listen. Trust me, Hayden and Girls, Guns and Glory deserve to be on your musical radar. When their album Sweet Nothings breaks wide, you’ll want to say you were among those who heard them first.


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