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The 20 Best New Artists of 2018

These new faces blew us away in 2018. Here's hoping they stick around.

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Sometimes you relate to a debut album so intensely you wonder if the band or artist robbed your heart and mind before heading into the studio. Last year, artists like SZA, Sampha and Phoebe Bridgers were the noteworthy thieves—they released slam-dunk albums that engaged with our pathos and our minds alike, leaving us wondering how it was possible that we’d never heard them before. In 2018, the cycle continued. New faces—some of whom had never even dropped a single prior to January—made some of the best records of the year. Some veteran artists, like those in boygenius and Phantastic Ferniture’s Julia Jacklin, assembled new bands and fronted exciting side hustles. Others, like Tierra Whack, seemingly fell out the sky and created art so profound and different and important, we’ll be ruminating on their genius for years to come. Talent is endless. Each year brings a new onslaught of luminaries and thinkers, and 2018—hectic as it was—was no different. These people come from all backgrounds and make music of all styles—from rap to power-pop, folk to art-rock—but they all had something to say in 2018, and they said it well. Here are the freshest, most exciting new artists from the year, as voted on by the Paste music staff:

20. Black Belt Eagle Scout

The story of music in 2018 was actually made up of a bunch of different stories. As subgenres bloomed and bloomed, it seemed a greater number of more diverse identities were spotlighted than ever before. One of those storytellers is Portland-based Katherine Paul, who released her debut album, Mother of My Children, as Black Belt Eagle Scout in August. Paul has a knack for making very specific, personal anecdotes feel universal. She grew up on a tiny Indian reservation in Washington, and her indigenous identity is perhaps what informs her musings on nature and our relationship to it. Paul says something of the sort herself in a press note: “My music and my identity come from the same foundation of being a Native woman.” On album standout “Indians Never Die,” Paul begs us to look up and pay attention. “Do you ever notice what surrounds you?” she asks. And on lead-off track “Soft Stud,” a marvelously fuzzed-out rock lean-in, Paul goes for the personal, singing “Need you, want you” over and over, perfectly summing up the desperate feelings surrounding new, perhaps forbidden, love. If the onslaught of new subgenres means we get to hear more voices like Paul’s, bring. them. on. —Ellen Johnson

19. Masego

In a world where everyone wants to deem themselves a “genre-bender,” not many can claim to have defined exactly where they lie in that supposed label-less spectrum. But the Jamaican-born, Virginia-raised Masego and his “trap house jazz” do this well. On his debut album, Lady, Lady, Masego flexes his skills as a vocalist, sax player, drummer and keyboardist, bucking the notion that taking on too many disciplines would be a detriment to the other. On the R&B cloaked trap-rap “Lavish Lullaby,” he raps in auto-tune at one point, before playing sax and crooning silky stacked vocal loops at the other. On tracks like “Prone” and “Queen Tings” he proves a singular force behind elegant contemporary productions. The multi-talented flair has been bubbling since his viral hit “Tadow,” with FKJ, and it’s Masego’s ability to craft jazz-tinged tunes that fit into multiple prevailing “moments” in music happening around us that make the 25-year-old’s presence distinguished, exciting and intriguing. —Adrian Spinelli

18. Renata Zeiguer

Renata Zeiguer spent a few years quietly contributing her talents as a musician and vocalist to other people’s records before stepping out earlier this year with her own. Old Ghost features a bounty of taut, deceptively robust arrangements that mix airy synths with bursts of guitar and Zeiguer’s voice, which is a perfect balance between sweetness and sinew. The daughter of an Argentine father and Filipina mother, Zeiguer has described Old Ghost as an album of self-discovery, and the idea of music-as-catharsis has worked out well for her. It’s even better for her listeners: She’s such a smart writer with a finely honed sense of melody that her music amounts to a joyful discovery for the rest of us, too. —Eric R. Danton

Read Paste’s 2018 interview with Renata Zeiguer

17. Illuminati Hotties

Veteran producer and engineer Sarah Tudzin has worked on albums for major players like Slowdive, Amen Dunes and Macklemore (oh, and the Hamilton soundtrack, nbd). This year, however, she made an excellent album of her own, with some help from “a rotating selection of her bffs,” per the Illuminati Hotties Facebook page. The band’s debut, Kiss Yr Frenemies, is a really fun and smart indie-rock album—one of the year’s best, for that matter. Tudzin is bone dry in delivering her lyrics, which pair the everyday with the profound in a startling, hilarious fashion. On “(You’re Better) Than Ever,” something as mundane as a pair of socks triggers a nugget of wisdom: “All my favorite socks are getting holes in them / All my favorite people got a load on them.” In other words, handle the things (and people) you love with care. The world is rough on them. —Ellen Johnson

Watch Illuminati Hotties’ 2018 Daytrotter session

16. Neighbor Lady

Atlanta-based Neighbor Lady quietly released one of the most charming, earnestly good indie-rock debuts of the year. Their very first LP, Maybe Later, could pass as an EP at only seven songs, but it’s nonetheless an impressive musical flex. Neighbor Lady bring a fresh take to country-inspired-rock, delivering each note with as much twang as fuzz. Frontwoman Emily Braden’s lyrics, too, represent both genres: Sometimes she’s a fierce southern woman with a sharp tongue: “Oh honey, what’s all the fuss about?” she sings on “Oh Honey,” a song about sharing a crush with her friend. Other times, she’s more observant and concerned. “There’s so much pressure building up inside my chest / Tense and nervous but you know I’m trying my best,” she sings on “Let It Bleed,” during which she also proclaims, “I’m getting sick and tired of this shit.” All the time, though, Braden is honest, singing with the confidence of a much more experienced vocalist. Neighbor Lady, also consisting of Jack Blauvelt, Merideth Hanscom and Andrew McFarland, have the power to bring honor to both the steel guitar and the reverb pedal. If they decide to return with more of that noble country-rock, you’ll find me cheering them all the way to album release day. —Ellen Johnson

15. Miya Folick

It’s not often that a singer has such a powerful voice that they transcend whatever genre they’re unwillingly lumped into. Los Angeles pop singer/songwriter Miya Folick is a rare, welcome example. She has the kind of voice that would make you huff and puff, sprinting down the street en route to the venue if you were late to one of her shows. “Growing up I studied classical voice, so I was always concerned with singing correctly,” says Folick. “I don’t think it was until I started singing as more of a form of expression that I realized the capabilities of my voice.” While her debut album, Premonitions, came out Oct. 26, she’s already released two EP’s—2015’s Strange Darling and 2017’s Give It To Me. Raised in Southern California by a Japanese mother and a Russian-Italian father, she eventually shifted her career trajectory in college from acting to singing. Her parents are two of her biggest cheerleaders, and fittingly, their faces are squished against opposite sides of Folick on the cover of the new album, whose subject matters like female friendship, growing old with a lover and the joyful triumph over abusive men are also timely and worth cherishing in these tumultuous times. —Lizzie Manno

Read Paste’s 2018 interview with Miya Folick

14. Matt Maltese

Matt Maltese wrote some of the funniest and most clever lyrics of 2018. Here are the best from his debut record, Bad Contestant: “I wish that I could fill his shoes / But I’m only a 7,” “Who said the Internet was good for getting on with your life?,” “I pass you a drink while the creeps circle around you / Tryin’ to figure out if I’m just one of them too,” “I tried horse tranquilizer just to impress her” and “You said you use chocolate when you and him take off all your clothes / Why the fuck you tell me that? Can’t drink that image out of my head.” Maltese, forever the horny smartass, more than delivered on the hype from all of those British publications saying he’s “The UK’s answer to Father John Misty,” one schmaltzy lounge-rock Morrissey-influenced song at a time. Simultaneously self-deprecating and profound, Maltese wrote a record detailing life as a 21-year-old girl-obsessed Brit attempting to find love as the world collapses via Trump and Brexit—and it’s one of the most enjoyable debut releases of the year. —Steven Edelstone

13. Parcels

Yet another Australian band made one of the year’s finest records. Though Parcels have since relocated to Germany, they got their start in the same continent that’s supplied us with some of 2018’s best music. But while fellow Aussies like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Hatchie lean more indie rock, Parcels are an entirely different animal: Parcels is the long-awaited dance party from the funk-friendly quintet of Daft Punk protégés, proof that disco isn’t dead and never was. Their debut is tremendous fun, and it truly doesn’t sound like anything else happening in music today. That’s a huge accomplishment in itself, considering the broken dam of music constantly rushing our way through channels both digital and natural. Parcels feels miraculously out-of-place, conjuring ghosts of music movements past. But, with its perpetuation of millennial angst and ability to offer release through dance, it does so in a way that feels both necessary and relevant to our present day. Parcels aren’t the only Aussies making musical waves right now, but who else is bringing this much funk to the table? No one. “And that brings to the end of what we hope has been a beautiful trip for you and yours,” Dean Dawson sings in the album’s flight-inspired credits. Indeed, it has. —Ellen Johnson

Read Paste’s 2018 interview with Parcels

12. Haley Heynderickx

Portland, Ore., singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx, already oft-compared to the likes of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, offers an imaginative, mystical sort of folk music—“doom folk,” she calls it—concerned with both the heavens above our heads and the dirt beneath our feet, from which her garden grows. Her songs, namely her debut album I Need to Start a Garden (one of Paste’s 2018 favorites), search for answers in a way that suggests she’s already found plenty, from the fierce kindness of “The Bug Collector” to the moving self-examination of “Worth It” and the lighthearted spontaneity of her breakout single, “Oom Sha La La.” Drawing from her religious upbringing and Filipino heritage, Heynderickx brings both a searching spirituality and an endearing sense of humor to her music, as when she envisions God as a woman with a knock-off Coach bag, “thick hips and big lips” on “Untitled God Song.” It’s the perfect encapsulation of her work: a search for meaning that finds humanity wherever it blooms. —Scott Russell

Watch Haley Heynderickx’s 2018 Paste Studio session

11. Bodega

Brooklyn art-rock five-piece Bodega are well aware of their city’s storied underground rock traditions, but rather than pilfering that sound, they decided to add something fresh to the city’s lineage. Their debut album Endless Scroll was produced by Parquet Courts’ Austin Brown, and it features an experimental, fluid sound that decries technology addiction, gentrification and the mind-boggling “pizzacore” scene while mythologizing Titanic’s Jack Dawson and celebrating female masturbation. Taking cues from Gang of Four and the B-52’s, co-lead vocalists Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio possess an infectious art-punk spirit and spit out droll lines left and right while guitarist Madison Velding-VanDam plays like a chugging, post-punk version of Wilko Johnson. Throughout the album’s 14 tracks, you’re met with blaring and sharp instrumentals paired with laugh-out-loud observational quips (“Your playlist knows you better than a closest lover”) that fit the common gripes of 2018 like a glove. —Lizzie Manno

Read Paste’s list of the 15 Young NYC Bands You Need to Know in 2018

10. Tierra Whack

If you haven’t seen it yet, Tierra Whack’s Whack World video/album will instantly blow you away. The Wonka-esque visual release from the Philadelphia rapper sees 15 tracks spread across 15 minutes, each with a unique theme, and there’s a distinct sense of evolving maturity from Whack as the tracks unfold. The beats are off-kilter, and her vocals are both delicately and aggressively manipulated in a range of ways to fit the scene. But it’s the confidence with which the 22-year-old delivers an unprecedented creative leap across these songs that shows what a rare breed she is. Whack World is a shapeshifter. It’s clever. It’s zany. It’s mundane. It’s surreal. It’s grotesque. It’s rugged. It’s escapist. It’s introspective. It’s lavish. It’s trendy. It’s worldly. It’s millennial. It’s playful. It’s vibrant. It’s radiant. It’s stunning. It takes art to another level, and in a lot of ways, it was the most unpredictable and incredible 15 minutes of the year. More please. —Adrian Spinelli

9. Hatchie

Australian singer-songwriter Hatchie released her debut EP, Sugar & Spice, in May, and she’s been kicking up quite the shimmery storm ever since. In September, she played two festivals back-to-back, and she also recently played a sold-out string of tour dates with Alvvays and Snail Mail (what you might call an indie fan’s dream lineup). Hatchie’s irresistible dream-pop is sugar to the ear, but it’s not always lyrically sweet. On her EP’s title track, Hatchie is regretful, singing, “Sugar and spice / I should’ve taken your advice.” She’s not only thoughtful, but also clever in her compositions: Hatchie strikes the perfect combination between acoustic and synth, her pop occasionally moonlighting as something folksier. “Sure,” the first song on Sugar & Spice, uses looping drum machines and consistent synth, but it’s softened by soft acoustic guitar as Hatchie fires off question after question. “Why did you do it? / You couldn’t just laugh and walk away?” —Ellen Johnson

Watch Hatchie’s 2018 session in the Paste Studio

8. Tomberlin

Sarah Beth Tomberlin’s debut album, At Weddings, is an ode to the uncertainty and overall dishevelment of your late teens and early twenties: bogged down by self-doubt, seeking validation from others, rebelling against unsolicited religious beliefs that were pressed upon you as a child (the 23-year-old singer/songwriter was born to strict Baptist parents) and longing for someone even though you know they’re a bad influence. Featuring only an acoustic guitar and various keyboards and effects, the record centers on Tomberlin’s Joni Mitchell-esque pipes, loud in their softness and tenderness and unsuspectedly moving you to your absolute core. The naked instrumentation mirrors the transparency of her lyrics and while the songs consist of just a few elements, her overflowing emotions make the tracks feel full and warm. Many of the songs lack choruses, but the verses are delivered with flowing beauty and genuine conviction. At Weddings is filled with such a powerful, saintly aura that even the most ugly subject matters can spur flawless, beautiful results. —Lizzie Manno

Watch Tomberlin’s 2018 session in the Paste Studio

7. Superorganism

Nothing about Superorganism makes sense. When their first single, “Something For Your M.I.N.D.” hit Soundcloud last year, Japanese-born lead singer Orono was a senior at a boarding school in Maine, while her bandmates—who had never all been in the same room before—were scattered between London and Australia. After more than a year of musical experimentation via Skype, they signed with Domino last September, eventually resulting in one of 2018’s most bizarre and fun records. From the random video game sounds on the bridge of “Nai’s March” to the apple bite on “Something For Your M.I.N.D.,” the eight-piece group provided some of the most memorable and out-there moments in music this year, using their eccentricities to forever keep fans on the edge of their seat. The group combined esoteric sound design, peculiar lyrics, and incredibly catchy melodies to create 2018’s most unique release, one that will fascinate producers for years to come. —Steven Edelstone

Watch Superorganism’s 2017 session in the Paste Studio

6. Flasher

Flasher are a trio who play an amalgamation of joyful, frenetic pop, punk, post-punk and shoegaze. The band released their debut album, Constant Image, this year via Domino Records, and it landed on our list of the 50 best albums of the year. What sets them apart from many of their peers is their knack for writing such immediate pop melodies and their slick production value, which maintains their chugging rock energy and allows their impressively consistent tracklist to shine. Each member contributes vocals—guitarist Taylor Mulitz (formerly of Priests) is playful and self-assured, bassist Danny Saperstein’s vocals are snotty and eccentric and drummer Emma Baker lends gorgeous vocal harmonies. —Lizzie Manno

Read Paste’s list of 15 Washington D.C. Bands You Need To Know in 2018

5. Shame

British post-punk quintet Shame have become one of the most buzzed-about young bands of this year. Words like “angry,” “energetic” and “explosive” have been thrown around in discussions of their debut album Songs of Praise, but the adjectives don’t really do them justice. A contagious energy courses through album tracks like “Concrete” and “Gold Hole,” but Shame really have to be experienced live—at full volume, and with ringleader Charlie Steen lurking around the stage, smiling, shirtless and dripping with sweat, often balancing the mic stand on his shoulders or crowd surfing while bellowing to devout fans. The way I can best summarize the aftermath of going to see Shame is that you’ll suddenly feel like you’ve been christened with the ability to perform some act of superhuman physical strength. Though the melodic, fervent post-punk of Songs of Praise needs no polite introduction, it’s not an angry “in your face”—it’s more like an “in your face” that’s beaming with happiness and with an overflowing passion that can’t be depleted. As long as this band’s trusty motor is running, expect much more from Shame in the years to come. —Lizzie Manno

Read Paste’s review of Shame’s Songs of Praise

4. Phantastic Ferniture

Everything about Phantastic Ferniture sounds like it’s meant to be temporary, and it’s hard not to find that concerning. Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin is in the midst of releasing new songs and prepping for the release of her second full-length album Crushing, out in February 2019, and the words “Phantastic Ferniture” appear only once on her Wikipedia entry as an “associated act.” The band’s official description, meanwhile, pegs it as a side project for all three people involved: “Phantastic Ferniture is the project of old friends Julia Jacklin, Elizabeth Hughes, and Ryan K. Brennan, who wanted to shake the shackles of their meticulously crafted solo work to experience a second, giddy adolescence.” That rather makes the band sound like a calculated escape from the individual careers they’ve been pouring their hearts and souls into for years, but not one with a lot of stakes or future—if their solo work is meant to be taken as “meticulously crafted,” Phantastic Ferniture’s songs are implied to be raw or spontaneous by comparison. But might we suggest that’s a good thing? The self-titled debut from the group is chock full of compelling songs, from the rhythmically intoxicating “Uncomfortable Teenager” to the soaring “Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin,” to the simplistic but devastatingly catchy “Dark Corner Dance Floor.” Jacklin’s silky voice is wonderfully applied to this particular brand of propulsive indie rock, while Hughes is the perfect complement in small flourishes that take each song to the next level. This may be a band that was assembled without concrete plans for the future, but we’re hoping the reaction Phantastic Ferniture has received thus far convinces them to re-invest in what could become rock’s next great three-piece. —Jim Vorel

Read Paste’s list of 15 Bands That Kickass Despite Awful Band Names

3. Snail Mail

Lindsey Jordan’s first EP as Snail Mail in 2016 won over critics and fans with its subdued power and studied melancholy, revealing a songwriter well beyond her 16 years. Since then, she’s graduated high school, toured with the likes of Waxahatchee and Girlpool, and was featured in a roundtable of female rock musicians for the New York Times. Her debut LP, Lush, is a collection of 10 lucid guitar-pop songs that show off her classically trained guitar skills, structural know-how and an ability to express the inquisitiveness and confident insecurity of youth with a surprising sophistication. “They don’t love you, do they?” she asks during the magic-hour-esque “Intro,” her clear and comfortingly relatable voice singing the first of many questions she poses throughout the album. Her music is laid-back, gently hooky, and complements the poetic vagueness of her lyrics. There isn’t enough detail for you to know exactly what she’s talking about, but you understand the mood. Though the highs and lows of the album are subtle, Lush confirms what the Habit EP first introduced. Jordan is a definite talent. The songs illustrate a wise-beyond-years songwriting style, with none of the self-importance and indulgence that can come with more experience. Nothing feels trite or contrived. She’s a natural, with an impressive sense of restraint, placing points of tension and release right where they need to be. —Madison Desler

Read Paste’s 2018 interview with Snail Mail

2. boygenius

The debut from rock supergroup boygenius has only one real flaw: it’s much too short. Its length (still on the longer side for an EP, at six songs) is forgivable, though: The women behind boygenius—Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus—are busy. They’ve each released a critically-adored solo LP in the last year or so and have thusly been swamped with promotional duties and live performances. So although these ladies aren’t technically “new artists,” their supergroup is new, and music in 2018 is better for it. On boygenius, the three become one, miraculously and pristinely so. Bridgers, Baker and Dacus pack a novel’s worth of narrative and as many masterful melodies (not to mention harmonies) into just 21 minutes that will leave you feeling as if you’ve had the wind knocked right out of you. The album ends on an especially magical note. On “Ketchum, ID,” Bridgers, Dacus and Baker assume soprano, alto and tenor and churn up a harmony so handsomely melancholic you’ll find yourself snatching tissues without even knowing why. It’s a fitting epilogue, too, that chronicles the band’s shared experience as touring musicians, and the emotional heaviness following those long nights in unfamiliar places. “I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go,” they sing in unison. “When I’m home I’m never there / Long enough to know.” Those are devastating words, but, at the same time, you get the feeling Bridgers, Baker and Dacus have found some sense of home in one another. Their mutual experiences are what unite them, and that bond bleeds through this music in every buzzing, beautiful bar.

Read Paste’s review of boygenius

Listen to boygenius on Spotify

1. The Beths

Elizabeth Stokes named her band after herself, or, rather, her nickname. So it should come as no surprise, then, that the debut album from New Zealand-based rockers The Beths, Future Me Hates Me, is sharply self-aware. Stokes, a music teacher who quit her day job to tour the world with The Beths, pairs clever, refreshingly straightforward lyrics with uber-catchy guitar pop, and she never stutters in delivering even the most blunt assessments of her doubts, fears and anxieties. “Sometimes I think I’m doing fine / I think I’m pretty smart,” she sings on the album’s title track before, later, completing the thought: “Oh then the walls become thin / And somebody gets in / I’m defenseless.” On dizzying love song “Little Death,” she captures and tames all the butterflies swarming around in her stomach: “And the red spreads to my cheeks / You make me feel three glasses in.” The Beths sound as if they’re already three albums in, playing with the musical and lyrical finesse of a much older and more experienced band. Every single song on this record arrives with as many contagious hooks and honest confessions as on the sparkly, frank “Little Death” and the toe-tap-inducing examination of overthinking “Future Me Hates Me.” Indie rock is alive and well in Oceania—The Beths, like their Australian neighbors Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, hit it out of the park in crafting one of the sturdiest rock debuts of the year. —Ellen Johnson

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