As a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer, you could say that I kind of like music. In fact, I really really really do. I can always be found listening closely for my next musical obsession, in nearly any genre out there. I’ve gathered such a mass of artists I listen to, I see no reason in so selfishly keeping them to myself. My friends know that I am notorious for hording the aux cord, and my roommates don’t seem to mind all the music coming out of my room. At least, not yet. There are many more from where this shortlist comes from, and I promise, they’re all just as talented.
Ms. Aalegra caught my attention in 2015 with her single, Emotional. The song is a pure outburst of raspy, cool, soul pop vocals. Her voice has more than enough swagger to pull together the horn-driven release. After some research, I found a 2014 EP, There Will Be Sunshine, which features Common. I forgot about the Stockholm-raised singer until I stumbled upon an enticing bit of neo-soul featured in an Apple Watch ad on Instagram. The comment section mentioned Snoh Aalegra’s In Your River as the soundtrack, which is the second track of a nine song mini album released this year. I have listened to the 2016 release, Don’t Explain – EP, close to twenty times, and it still goes down smooth. Snoh Aalegra channels Michael Jackson-esque passionate vocals on top of fresh-sounding R&B beats. The album plays as cinematically as the album cover, no doubt fit for an Apple ad. Its writing credits are mostly due to Aalegra herself, but the album also features a Billie Holiday cover, and even a song by popstar and known ghostwriter Sia. I’m no movie buff, but Snoh Aalegra’s 2016 EP transports me to a James Bond universe with every listen.
Standout Tracks: Emotional, In Your River
My discovery of the falsetto semi-god that is Kevin Garrett happened as a very happy accident. The Pittsburgh based pop-producer/songwriter was the opening act for my favorite of his contemporaries, James Vincent McMorrow, at the Thalia Hall in Pilsen, Chicago. As a young, glasses-wearing stranger sat down alone behind the electric piano onstage, not many members of the audience even knew his name. By the end of his set, he had impressed everyone in the room. His performance was an exploration into the male falsetto, a dangerous weapon in the right hands. Mellow Drama, Kevin Garrett’s 2015 debut EP, is filled with the same high-pitched swooning, synth riffs, slow tempos, and soul-inspired drum beats. In the studio, he artfully adds onto his raw, soulful piano-playing with his own careful production. Garrett has been busy since his 2015 EP; he’s released two dangerously chill singles, and has earned himself a writing credit on Beyoncé’s Lemonade with the song Pray You Catch Me. If you at all trust Bey, give Kevin Garrett’s small, impressive catalog a chance.
Standout Tracks: Refuse, Control
Margaret Glaspy’s entire rough and telling catalog consists of a 2013 EP, and a 2016 full length album. The singer-songwriter combines the honesty and poetic lyricism of Bob Dylan and Courtney Barnett’s punk rock, with an artful sprinkle of uhh, yodeling. Her unique voice is tricky to pinpoint, unveiling aspects of a Southern twang with a native New England accent between notes hand-plucked on her Fender Telecaster. I first found Glaspy on NPR’s Tiny Desk series. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, the host of NPR’s All Songs Considered Bob Boilen invites artists to play a small set behind his relatively sizeable desk in the NPR office at Washington, DC. Performers from Macklemore to Hozier have all graced the Tiny Desk with their presence and presented modest and honest sets. This is the exact setting that Margaret Glaspy shines, eyes mostly closed and backed by a politely played drumset and a bass guitar. Naturally, she’s even admitted to being a “huge Tiny Desk concert fan” in an amateur recording of one of her most touching songs, Somebody to Anybody, on her YouTube channel. A comment on another of Glaspy’s videos sums up the homely sense of belonging in her voice by encouraging her to keep the home recordings online and that “…this recording is gold. Keep it up!”
Standout Tracks: Emotions and Math, Somebody to Anybody