50. Janelle Monáe
Intelligent, passionate, and groundbreaking are all words that describe this young musician. Monáe has worn many different hats through her career already, though her constant seems to be her unbreakable and iron-willed spirit. There aren’t many musicians today who have the ambition to write a full concept album that incorporates the soul, pop, and classical genres, and Monáe did so with her first studio album, The ArchAndroid. This multi-year project demonstrated her uniqueness as a well-rounded musician and her ability to make connections between music and society. She hasn’t quite topped her first album yet with anything else she has done, but she continues to be a force in her field and a role model for others. I expect her to keep surprising us listeners for years to come.
49. Young the Giant
This energetic and relatively young band has already captured the ears of many. Within five years, they have infiltrated the rock n’ roll scene and have become a household name to those who love a bit of a ragged edge to their music. There are several bands that are still ahead of them in terms of the development of the shabby and invigorating rock sound, but time is on their side. Young the Giant seems to only be at the beginning of their potential, and with a few big hits already making waves, that says a lot. Their new album Home of the Strange is one of the most anticipated rock albums of 2016, and should be very telling as to what direction their development takes them.
They are truly a one-of-a-kind group, who despite their young career and somewhat smaller following have produced quite a substantial amount of music. Led by frontman Zach Condon, this multi-talented band uses a plethora of sounds, from traditional piano and drums to strings, trumpets, and flugelhorns, in order to grasp attention and create intriguing pieces of music. Beirut’s greatest asset is their unique timbres that hide in the background until they are needed to raise the bar. Their combinations of a familiar sound with other musical traditions from around the world are nothing short of creative.
47. Kelly Clarkson
Clarkson’s musical career is too stellar to ignore. She is one musician who, despite her continual output, is indeed on the decline. She could never top her first album, and nothing that she has written in the past four or five years have cultivated anything extraordinary. There is evidence that she has sold out to those who run the pop industry today, which never ends well. However, what she did for pop rock at the beginning of her career had a massive positive effect that was felt for years. Instead of nit-picking her flaws of today, let’s instead celebrate her glory days when she brought power and true talent to the stage as a singer and songwriter. She was a class act with some of the first mega-hits of the early 2000’s, back when the most popular music was also some of the best. Those few hits alone are keep her in our minds today.
46. The Lumineers
The Lumineers belong to a long line of folk rock bands that are after the down-to-earth friendly sound, which has suddenly become a rather large favorite, and they do it better than most. They don’t have a whole lot of output yet and have been riding on the success of their most recognizable song, “Ho Hey”, for the majority of their career. While that song may still be their best one, this is not a simple one-hit wonder band. Their cool, simplistic sound and creativity with melodies allow them to break through mediocrity and have an identity; a successful identity at that. Perhaps a more robust approach to their already passionate songs are on the table for them in the future.
What do you get when you combine a love of hip-hop with an education in jazz? You get the group BADBADNOTGOOD, who shatter the barriers of traditional genres to create the music that’s in their creative and interesting minds. Simply put, their musical intelligence and no sense of limits have created some of the decade’s coolest grooves. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about these guys is their growth in musical maturity since they began in 2010. They started by covering existing hip-hop songs in a jazz style, and they grew to mastering long form jazz in a modern setting with their newest album, IV. As Paula Meija wrote in an album review for Prefix magazine, “The shockingly talented trio manages to transform covers and simultaneously pay their respect to formative influences… sculpting them into sounds you never could have fathomed in your trippiest dreams.” And, as one of my musician colleagues Eric Novak said, “BADBADNOTGOOD, like holy s**t dude.” Holy s**t dude, indeed.
In the mid 2000’s, a massive wave of pop punk took the music world by storm. A plethora of bands were writing music to serve an audience of angst-filled teenagers, for whom music was their true outlet. Now that the dust from the pop punk/pop rock craze has settled, it is Paramore that has emerged as one of the few victors from the massive pile. While most every band of that genre focused on creating an energy out of volume and fast beats that would fuel the hearts of adolescents, Paramore took its time to develop their own voice with creative melodies and interesting timbres while still giving off the same kind of energy their counterparts were. Sure, their song “Misery Business”, which blended well into the sound of the times, was fun to jam to. However, while others flamed out, Paramore continued to write quality song after quality song and capture new audiences while staying true to themselves. There’s still no catching the pop punk queen, but this group has done well to separate themselves from similar bands that didn’t quite match their level of talent.
43. Two Door Cinema Club
This trio of young musicians from Co. Down, Northern Ireland caught fire quite quickly and haven’t stopped to look back. Their intuitive melodies have served them well and deserve the whole world humming their tunes. They have a handful of incredible songs that help lead the way for today’s quality pop music, while the rest of their work, although likable, does not have the same catchiness. Consistently finding that killer combination of melody and harmony is certainly a challenge, but they have done it scantily throughout their career with songs such as “Changing of the Seasons” and “What You Know”. As long as they keep active, they’ll strike gold again and more hits will follow.
42. Jukebox the Ghost
There seems to be two types of people in this world: those who love pretty much everything that Jukebox the Ghost has ever written, and those who haven’t heard of Jukebox the Ghost. That isn’t even much of an exaggeration. This band came to me by way of a friend, which is how lots of non-radio music gets noticed these days. As you may know, it is difficult to truly grasp the full nature of a musician by listening to one song on an iPod in a crowded place. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t blown away at first. It wasn’t until I revisited them to do this project that I realized who they really were. I was hesitant to rate them higher than so many other more recognizable names, but in the end my ears don’t lie. These guys are the real deal in indie rock and deserve recognition. They have a knack for finding interesting melodies with amazing feeling for nearly every song, a consistency that is better than some of the biggest names today. As Spin’s Samantha Promisloff put it in a Catch the Buzz article, “Jukebox the Ghost is a refreshing reminder that the lighthearted electricity of a fantastic pop song is still filled with live wires.” If they spend some time getting on board with new timbres and longer forms, they could really sneak up on the true greats of today under everyone’s radar. When someone you know asks you to give Jukebox the Ghost a try, I suggest you listen.
41. Kamasi Washington
Despite what the mainstream media might have you believe, Jazz is not dead. Plenty of innovative groups and virtuoso musicians still dedicate their lives to this genre, as well as it also being an important academic disciple within the study of music. Since 2000, Kamasi Washington has been one of the biggest names in jazz and can claim the title of today’s most talented jazz saxophonist. Washington keeps the spirit of traditional cool jazz and bebop while writing new charts that further the timeline of jazz and our appreciation of it. As a jazz musician, to become as recognized as he has in the music world today is an incredible accomplishment. He has not only worked with jazz greats such as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, but has also collaborated with the likes of Flying Lotus, Snoop Dogg, and most famously Kendrick Lamar. Washington’s virtuosity and creativity on his instrument are reminders to us that jazz will always continue to have those willing to learn it and those willing to listen to it.