October 8, 2012

AwkwardSound Presents: The Best Breakthrough Artists of 2012

Whittling down the year's best new-ish artists has proven to be no easy task on AwkwardSound. As AS gets a head start on its Best of 2012 series, it's become quickly obvious that this will be one of the most fiercely competitive seasons as opposed to those previous, and that goes for all categories across the board. This year's Best Breakthrough Artists began with a long list of names including many BUZZSounds and other acts who simply hit their stride after years of cultivating their craft. Battle lines were drawn, genre lines were blurred and in the end, only 10 bands stood out amongst the rest to take home the honor of AwkwardSound's Best Breakthrough Artists of 2012. They're the shape-shifting of things to come from here on out...

Charli XCX

It's becoming tougher and tougher each day to pick out the good eggs in the mainstream pop marketplace thanks to an increasingly similar sound across the board, but goth-synth songstress Charli XCX is holding onto her own dark style despite the colorful expectations from her world. For a 20-year old Brit, Charlotte Aitchison's youth doesn't work against her, as tracks "You're the One" and "I'll Never Know" demonstrate a palette enjoyably conflicted over Robyn's refined sensibilities, Zola Jesus' elegant darkness and the ex-teenie bopper who really just wants to drunkenly dance her bedroom drunk to the Spice Girls.

Daughn Gibson

The tall, dark and handsome crooner with an affliction for blue-eyed electronica and haunting country classics known as Daughn Gibson makes for one of most eclectic genre crossovers of the year. Despite hailing from Carlisle, PA, the rugged baritone's debut All Hell binds together southern gothic noir with dubby synth beats, melding the peak eras of Stephin Merritt and Nashville back '50s recording scene to a strange tee. Gibson recently signed with Sub Pop Records, who will release what will surely be an every buzzier effort in 2013.

Death Grips

A confrontational blend of hardcore ethos, noise and rap made for a pretty interesting and entertaining story this year thanks to Death Grips. The trio of Stefan Burnett and the production duo of drumming machine Zach Hill alongside keyboardist Andy Morin struck a nerve with early listeners last year with their self-released Ex-Military mixtape. Signing on with major leagues this year at Sony Epic ensured the world would be subjected to their aggressive socio-political beats -- even if the label themselves weren't yet ready for it. Masters of today's social media / music hybrid, Death Grips both defines and blurs the lines between classic DIY and modern times.


Most musicians struggle to carve out their own identity when pursuing a new band on top of a pretty well-known one, but Zachary Cole Smith is a rare case where the latter only helped to do just that. As the guitarist in NYC-based indie pop quartet Beach Fossils, Smith uses the band's lo-fi jangly interweaving as a jumping off point for his new project DIIV, then navigates the ship into a darker, more aggressive and electric territory on their debut Oshin. Considering there's been more talk about DIIV than Beach Fossils in 2012, it wouldn't be such a ridiculous statement to say that both bands are at an equal level of success right now.

Frankie Rose

Formerly a Dum Dum Girl who later moved onto her own project with backing band the Outs, the uncrowned queen of the NYC indie scene Frankie Rose is simply Frankie Rose in 2012, and all the better for it. On her re-debut album Interstellar, Rose gives the clank and fuzz that has permeated the "girl group" scene over the past half decade a grander pop makeover by stitching threads of the dreamy C86 soundscape into the pattern and displaying them as inescapable starbursts on the LP's most immediate singles.

Joyce Manor

Joyce Manor aren't quite hardcore and yet, they're not entirely a pop punk band like the ones that made you embarrassed of your kid sister's CD collection back in Aughties. They're a group of young Bay Area punks who we're seeing grow up right before our ears, however, and that's part of the appeal to this quartet's youthful sound that teeters the line between the fun you had at your friends' basement shows and the moment you were introduced to a more "mature" punk band (Superchunk, Desparecidos and Jawbreaker come to mind...) who sounded like everything you wanted to become once you got older. With this year's sophomore effort Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, Joyce Manor sums up those moments in 13 minutes.


"The music started / I realized it was all a lie / The guitars were playing out last year's punk," proclaims Merchandise frontman Carson Cox in the phenominal track "Become What You Are" off this year's Children of Desire. They're the most honest words about the state of punk in 2012, and it's not by coincidence they come from a reformed hardcore act who've spent years in the DIY circuit before realizing nostalgia was attempting to stunt the genre's progress since returning to form in 2010. Despite sporting an eerie likeness to Morrissey in the vocals department and careening their way around the soundboards with shellacked noise pop, the unsigned trio of Cox, Dave Vassalotti and Patrick Brady maintains cred with the underground scene simply through past association, proving that you can still get the ballsy and tough respect from your peers even when you step away from your Black Flag discography.


Not giving a fuck about style or grace might be as well the M.O. of SLEEPIES, the Brooklyn punk trio who -- along with a host of noisy counterparts across the style-conscious area's music scene such as Mr. Dream, the Men and Nude Beach -- are bringing BK down to earth with their anti-fashionable slop of fuzzy riffs and grating tunefulness. Now part of the Godmode Records roster (co-run by Mr. Dream drummer Nick Sylvester,) their sophomore effort Weird Wild World upholds their counterparts' plight to un-numb the senses by refuting self-awareness, and instead going for a spinal tap that tests whether or not listeners are paying attention to what they're consuming or are simply being force fed. If the latter, SLEEPIES' steady diet of nothing provides a healthy alternative.

White Lung

In 2012, gender agendas shouldn't define art, and White Lung frontwoman Mish Way wants you to know that. Her band is three-fourths female and Way's kindred luminaries include the likes of the entertainingly deranged Courtney Love and the reputable Kathleen Hanna. Yet, White Lung isn't looking to recreate the riot grrrl movement -- They just want to be looked at no differently as their boys club peers. From here on out, that shouldn't be too difficult -- The Vancouver quartet's sophomore effort Sorry is a fast-moving fire of melodic hardcore with all its themes and statements displayed in plain sight. What you see is what you get here, my friends, and sometimes the most obvious forms art are the most shocking.


To put it bluntly, there is no greater force that is about to erupt out of NYC's noise rock scene than there is the one coming our way from YVETTE. The duo of Noah Kardos-Fein and Rick Daniel were literally discovered through the practice space walls by Mr. Dream drummer Nick Sylvester (which says something about how gloriously loud these two dudes get,) who then snatched them up as yet another recruit to his Godmode family in 2012, releasing their latest single soon after. YVETTE is the sound of an imminent war that must happen for the sake of all that is good in NYC's noise scene, which hasn't seen a hope this great since bands like Ex Models, Black Dice and Parts & Labor easily slipped off the tongues of BK's dwellers.

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