4 New Artists You Need to Hear

Each year when I watch the Grammys, I am reminded of the absurdity of the best new artist category. New to whom, I always wonder. The qualifications are notoriously fuzzy and historically unstable — just ask the country musician Shelby Lynne, who released her debut record in 1989 and was amused to find herself winning best new artist in 2001. (“Thirteen years and six albums to get here,” she remarked wryly from the stage.) In 2007, Justin Vernon’s folk-pop project Bon Iver put out the lauded “For Emma, Forever Ago,” but it took five years and two more acclaimed releases to pull off one of the category’s most dramatic upsets, when he took home the 2012 trophy by beating the fan favorite, Nicki Minaj — who, as it happened, put out her first mixtape all the way back in 2007, too.

And yet I did feel sympathy for the Grammy nominating body while putting together today’s playlist, which is full of up-and-coming artists who have recently caught my ear. No, they’re not exactly “new” — all have previously released music, and in some cases a few albums. But they’re new to me, and I hope that means at least a few of them will be new to you, too. They’re an eclectic bunch, making confessional acoustic folk, brash electro-pop and off-kilter art-rock. All have fresh albums that have either just been released or will be very soon. I would happily break Milli Vanilli’s (rescinded) best new artist Grammy from 1990 into four pieces and redistribute it to the following acts.

Listen along here on Spotify as you read, or hit the YouTube links as you go.

Jana Horn is a native Texan with a poised, glassy voice that reminds me a bit of the great ’60s folk singer Vashti Bunyan, except Bunyan’s voice evoked pastoral realism instead of Horn’s subtly mischievous mirror-world. The sparse, spine-tingling “After All This Time” — from a new album coming out next week, “The Window Is the Dream” — was what first caught my ear, but it’s since led me back to her great 2020 album, “Optimism,” and the absolutely haunting song “Jordan,” a poetic meditation on a Bible verse that Horn unfurls with the fixed gaze and confident pacing of an expert storyteller.

Sonic Youth never made a guest appearance on “Sesame Street,” but what the Brooklyn duo Water From Your Eyes presupposes with its latest single, “Barley,” is, well … what if the band did? “1, 2, 3, counter,” the vocalist Rachel Brown intones in a bone-dry deadpan. “You’re a cool thing, count mountains.” Nate Amos provides the perfect complement by kicking up dust storms of distorted, deconstructed guitar riffs. “Barley” stacks familiar words and musical elements in unpredictable shapes, creating an internal logic as alluring as it is mysterious. It all bodes very well for the group’s album “Everyone’s Crushed,” which comes out on May 26.

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