In music blog land, January tends to mean one thing: predicting which lesser-known artists will break in the coming year. At HumanHuman we’re slightly different, deciding instead to use trends from the previous year to determine which of our features and near-featured artists are poised for a big year ahead.
Not to burst our own bubbles, but we were pretty on-the-money last year with Mura Masa, Anne-Marie, Dua Lipa, Aurora, The Japanese House, dvsn, and Abra. This year, though, we’d like to separate our trends into two distinct categories: past sounds and future sounds. By deconstructing the musical trends found across HumanHuman discoveries in 2016, we’d like to believe we’re able to predict what will reach the mainstream for 2017.
While last year was all about the synth-heavy, whispery songstresses, we’ve found that this year, more than ever, brought us new artists harkening to distinct past guitar-based sounds, all of whom had absolutely massive breakout years. While many listeners and critics have posited that guitar music may have died in exchange for electronic music and synthesizers, 2016 let us know that this is not the case (thankfully backed by Noisey’s Shitty Music Cliches That Need To End In 2017).
We saw the emergence of Sgt. Pepper-indebted The Lemon Twigs with their lush debut full-length; Whitney’s near-perfect first record drawing from late ‘60s acoustic pop; both Big Thief and Mitski’s fresh approaches to Neil Young-style singer-songwriter folk rock; Car Seat Headrest’s masterful take on Pavement-esque ‘90s indie rock; Pinegrove’s emotional, acoustic pop punk Cardinal LP; Preoccupations’ post-rock glory; along with a brilliant new record from once-featured, early ’70s influenced Kevin Morby. Even one of the UK’s hottest new artists, Rag’N’Bone Man, relies on his husky delta blues vocals and stomping guitar for his massive radio smash “Human”.
This coming year is going to be no different, with countless new artists ready to for breakout years with their harkening back guitar driven sounds. Lucy Dacus relies on brilliant Bob Dylan-reminiscent songwriting (and a dash of sober humor) for brilliant DIY debut that was eventually snatched up and reissued by Matador. While Julia Jacklin takes those same ‘70s singer-songwriter vibes and turns them into country-tinged pop with her debut release. Even hotly-tipped Aussies Middle Kids channel Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac.
There’s Albin Lee Meldau and Marlon Williams, each with their own fresh takes on the blues; BBC Sound longlisted Cabbage and their politically charged Sex Pistols-reminiscent UK punk rock; Nap Eyes and their modernized woozy Velvet Underground reincarnate in the form of their album Thought Rock Fish Scale; Tipling Rock’s ode to surf rock, guitar-driven hooky gems; as well as Lo Moon’s epic ‘80s era Peter Gabriel channeling debut, “Loveless”, that will surely take over the world any minute.
Even the riot grrl era peeks its head out with lady-led guitar-wielding groups, like The Big Moon, who somehow manage to combine Nico-esque vocals with punchy guitar riffs. Then there’s the punkest teenagers who blend Sleater-Kinney rock with classic mid-century pop harmonies, The Regrettes and new wave, The Pretenders-indebted Anteros.
While guitar rock is definitely thriving, 2016 also saw the emergence of a new genre-bending, sound that combined futuristic, slightly hip-hop production with live instruments and soulful vocals. Even the mainstream is heading this way, with downtempo EDM and pop music combining to make way for everyone from heavy hitters like The Chainsmokers and Odesza to newcomers Gryffin, Jai Wolf, and Louis The Child.
On our side, though, these future sounds were spearheaded by banner years from some of 2016’s most-blogged-about artists, whose music manages to straddle several genres at once. Acts like the electronic-pop blue-eyed soulful HONNE, Grammy-nominated forward-thinking R&B maestro Gallant, and the immensely talented first lady of this futuristic movement Nao all went from blog darlings to selling out some pretty massive rooms with major label debuts under their belts. Aussie heavyweights RÜFÜS finally crossed over with their full band, live electronic shows and their Odesza-cosigned album Bloom.
The mysterious Terror Jr emerged into the blogosphere and went viral with their future pop sounds (propelled in part by Kylie Jenner.) While Mura Masa released some of the most brilliant bodies of music with futuristic production, live instrumentation, and top-notch guest features. And who can forget, possibly 2016’s greatest breakout artist, Maggie Rogers and her electronic-tinged folk-pop, which has already propelled her to selling out 500+ capacity rooms for her April tour, behind singles “Alaska” and “Dog Years” alone.
It’s looking like 2017 will only continue this trend with the electronic-R&B vibes of NoMBe, the somehow classic-yet-futurist sounds of Jorja Smith and serpentwithfeet, and the future synth-funk delivery from Parcels, M.I.L.K. and LEISURE. While we haven’t heard from the master of maximalist futuristic electronic music Jai Paul in a while, instead Tom Tripp, Krrum, and his own brother A. K. Paul are stepping in with their own takes on glitchy, soulful electronica.
Further to the left, there’s the hip-hop-inspired R&B HUNTAR, Wills and Toulouse; the icy, rock-leaning Klangstof, Colouring and Two Feet; sleek, minimal pop projects off bloom and Michl; plus maximal pop weirdness from aptly named Weirdo, Let’s Eat Grandma and Plaza. And who can forget Anchor Point’s newest up-and-comers Jadu Heart and the aforementioned Mura Masa’s touring buddy BONZAI, who are slated for breakout years.
We hope that our close inspection of the most influential trends of 2016, with their major contenders, will help guide your ears through the year ahead. Of course, there’s plenty of still emerging acts to keep tabs on throughout 2017, but we’re also eagerly awaiting all the unreleased, unknown talent that’s yet to surprise us, possibly giving rise to a whole new musical trend.