Best Unsigned Artists of 2012

A Boy and His Kite

A Boy and His Kite

A Minor Bird

Sucré

Bhiman

Bhi Bhiman
A gifted songwriter with a sturdy baritone, Bhi Bhiman breathes fresh air into dusty Americana traditions. Although much of the material on this self-titled album echoes post-war American folk themes—with songs about riding the rails ("Guttersnipe"), unfaithful love ("Crime of Passion") and living on the fringe ("Life's Been Better")—Bhiman's songs are packed with rich details pulled from a post-colonial perspective that reflects his Sri Lankan ancestry. A traditional piece like "Time Heals" is endowed with the slightest suggestion of Afropop guitar, and when he sings about what's cookin' in the kitchen, the dish is kimchee, a Korean snack of pickled cabbage. By viewing the modern world through such an old lens, Bhiman delivers a keenly balanced, culturally savvy collection of neo-traditionalist songwriting.

Nate Cavalieri, Google Play

Cassadee Pope

Cassadee Pope

The Bomb Shelter Sessions (Encore Edition)

Vintage Trouble
Echoing the vintage blues-rock of Chuck Berry and Led Zeppelin, and the timeless soul of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, The Bomb Shelter Sessions is Californian four-piece Vintage Trouble's attempt to re-create the era of vinyl records and juke joints. Produced by Rogers Masson (Daughtry, Day of Fire), and recorded live in just three days at the Bomb Shelter studios in Laurel Canyon, its 11 retro tracks, described by James Brown-esque frontman Ty Taylor as "primitive soul," include the singles "Nancy Lee" and "Nobody Told Me."

All American

Hoodie Allen
While he had already released a couple street albums, a handful of mixtapes, and plenty of Internet-uploaded tracks, All American is still rapper Hoodie Allen's official debut, being distributed through "proper" channels for a change and delivered with a true marketing push, as in a social-networked "I'm going to personally call every fan who buys this EP" push. It's the right time, too, as the sorta Mac Miller, sorta Mike Posner, sorta will.i.am-type artist is now filtering all these influences through his own personality, which is charming, approachable, and uplifting, although there's plenty of evidence you wouldn't want to leave him alone with your unlocked liquor cabinet. "On a night like tonight, I kinda feel like, anything's possible/We All-American" is how the opening "Lucky Man" effervescently rolls, coming off as a Black Eyed Peas-sized kickoff to a frat party. Plenty of easy-rolling pop-rap tunes fill the rest of the EP, save for one disco-infused dance number ("Small Town"), and through it all, Allen's faithful producer RJF offers vibrant sounds and stylish beats, going the full Posner on the piano-driven "No Faith in Brooklyn" and drenching "High Again" in spacy echo and reverb. Good times, and at eight tracks, plenty of it for an EP.

David Jeffries, Rovi

Change Your Name EP

Fort Lean

Monsters Vol. 3

Figure

High, Wide & Handsome

The Trishas
The Trishas represent a crucial infusion of fresh blood into the Americana/alt-country scene, not only because Savannah Welch is the offspring of the great country songsmith Kevin Welch, but because she and the three other young ladies in the group bring such a surfeit of singing and songwriting talent to their debut album. When their airy-but-earthy voices come together in the rich harmonies that define High, Wide & Handsome, framed by organic-sounding, acoustic-based arrangements, it evokes the days before the Dixie Chicks' direction was detoured by the pitfalls of fame. And when those voices lock in on a timeless melody like the one on album-opener "Mother of Invention," they achieve a rootsy frisson of a kind unheard since Alison, Emmylou and Gillian harmonized together on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

Jim Allen, Google Play

The Village

The Family Crest

Those Of Us Still Alive

Tiny Victories

Kids Raising Kids

Kopecky Family Band
At their best, Nashville's Kopecky Family Band (a family in the broader sense, as in a close circle of friends) generate a majestic, heavenly kind of sunshine pop folk with horns and cellos and bright, melodic harmonies, all driven by sharp, inventive drums and percussion and plenty of jangling electric guitars. The band has released three previous EPs, but Kids Raising Kids is the first full-length, and the first for the band since signing with ATO Records. This isn't one's typical Nashville fare -- the album sounds more like a cross between California pop and British Invasion, with a hefty dose of Byrdsian folk-rock guitars, heavily echoed vocals, and nary a drawl in sight. The addition of horns and cello in the band, and even lap steel guitar now and then, means these guys (and girl) have a wide sonic palette to work with, and on songs like the gorgeous "Wandering Eyes," which opens with a boozy horn section before gracefully erupting into a pop/rock gem that would make the angel band proud, and the bright, bouncing "Hope," which has a similarly majestic pop tone, this is an outfit to be reckoned with. Not everything on Kids Raising Kids hits that level, though, and despite the sheer diversity of sounds available to the band and the fact that they admirably explore that diversity in the arrangements, some of these songs are not rescued from the second tier. In all, Kids Raising Kids feels like half a great album of soaring 21st century folk-pop and half just a good-to-OK album of inventively generic 21st century folk-pop. One gets the feeling that the Kopecky Family Band's next album could well be a stunner. The talent and vision are clearly there.

Steve Leggett, Rovi

Untogether

Letting Up Despite Great Faults
California dream pop band Letting Up Despite Great Faults were sometimes shuffled off under the "shoegaze" banner, filed with other 2010s revivalists of the washy guitar-pedal style like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Wild Nothing. While all these bands share a sturdy foundation of pop and an obsessive fascination with its fuzzier side, on their second full-length, Untogether, LUDGF wander closer to the dancier elements of their dreamy indie sound, peeling back some layers of noise to accentuate their rhythmic undercurrents. The chorus-heavy guitars, buzzing keyboards, and driving drum-machine beat of opening track "Visions" all speak to a New Order influence, but when the high-pitched lead basslines come in, the song starts "screaming" New Order. Michael Lee is bandleader, lead singer, and player of most of the music on their recordings, and his breathy vocals sit coyly low in the mix, coming off like a cloudy-eyed Postal Service-era Ben Gibbard more than Bernard Sumner's pitchy croons. The pulsing shimmer of "Take My Jacket, Pauline" blends the classic '80s electro-pop sound with that of the band's contemporaries like Wild Nothing, with backing vocals from Alyssa Criswell rounding out the hazy romantic vibe. "Postcard" furthers the coagulation of '80s electro bands and their updates, borrowing heavily from the theatrical urgency of M83 with driving keyboards and distorted electronic drums. Untogether quickly loses steam, with songs blending pleasantly into one another, becoming a little too dreamy to stay lucid when soaked in muted production and watery electronics. The album walks the delicate line of being a collection of sounds to get lost in and losing the plot, but standout tracks like the melancholic programming of "Bulletproof Girl" and the fast-paced cinematic glow of "Numbered Days" keep Untogether from becoming one long song or a pastiche of friendly electronic influences.

Fred Thomas, Rovi

Able Bodies

From Indian Lakes

Ghost of Browder Holler

Chelle Rose
"Appalachian rock 'n' roll" is what Chelle Rose calls her rough-and-tumble mix of country, rock, blues and deep-fried, swampy soul. Chelle (pronounced "Shelley") has roots in both east Tennessee and North Carolina, and the vivid story songs on her Ghost of Browder Holler album let you see, hear and feel the thick Southern atmosphere that stokes the coals of her creativity. Judging by the artistic company she keeps, Rose is perfectly positioned: Ghost of Browder Holler is produced by outlaw country legend Ray Wylie Hubbard and features contributions from rock keyboard king Ian McLagan (Faces, The Rolling Stones) and alt-country heroine Elizabeth Cook, among others.

Rose came up on the sounds of country mavericks like Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, and Browder Holler bears touches of everything from Williams' whiskey moan to the sultry, funky country-soul of Tony Joe White and Bobbie Gentry. The bluesy, goosebump-inducing ghost story "Browder Holler Boy" could be a spiritual sequel to Gentry's spooky smash "Ode to Billie Joe." On the more earthly side, there's the roof-raising, roadhouse-rocking "Alimony," an autobiographical anthem about busting out of a bad marriage to follow the muse all the way to Music City. From what we can see, that story has a happy ending.

Jim Allen, Google Play

Everybody Eat Bread

Rich Kidz

Sugar & The Hi Lows

Sugar & The Hi Lows
Behind the superstar country gloss of Nashville, there's a lesser-known indie pop scene that's given birth to acts like Hot Chelle Rae and Kings of Leon. Sugar + the Hi-Lows just might be the next breakout band to capture the nation's imagination. They have a lot going on. Guitarist/singer Trent Dabbs looks like Kiefer Sutherland, and singer Amy Stroup blends the best features of Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow. Simply put, they look like pop stars and they have the singing and songwriting talent to back up their image. They've already had tunes placed on shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Parenthood", and on their debut they dig deep into the sounds they grew up on to craft eight strong entries that reference the classic sounds of Southern AM radio in the '50s and '60s. The opener, "Show and Tell," has a sultry Memphis groove with a hint of Philly soul in the strings. Dabbs and Stroup deliver warm, seductive harmonies perfectly suited to the song's inviting lyric. The sound of Sun Studios is stamped on "Two Day High," a rockabilly romp that contrasts Stroup's laid-back vocal with Dabbs' primal guitar. "Stubborn Lover" mixes traces of girl group R&B and Motown to good effect, while "This Can't Be the Last Time" slides in with a greasy Southern funk backbeat. The stylistic range is impressive, but the arrangements are never forced or overly clever. Sugar + the Hi-Lows may be retro, but they've got enough flair to make the music sound hip and modern.

The Kaleidoscope

Lemolo

Must Be Nice

G-Eazy

Life in Stereo

Ryan Farish

Hi-Heels & Low-Lifes

Josh Baze

Another Night

The Newton Gang