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The Riff Report: The best musical hopes to break out in 2012

—Alabama Shakes

A glowing blurb on a music blog, word of mouth, some fiery shows and all of a sudden the Alabama Shakes are not only opening for the Drive-By Truckers but also landing their song “You’re Not Alone” in a Zale’s commercial. Not bad for a band with a four-song EP to their name. Most of the attention goes to frontwoman Brittany Howard, a force of nature who careens between achin’ soul balladry, classic rock wails and blues fire. Throughout that self-titled EP, you can hear Howard’s vocals pushing the equipment to its limits. It’s the sound of the band as a whole, though, the sound of a band of young kids making old-sounding Southern soul through modern ears, that makes the whole thing work. The Shakes just signed a deal with ATO Records, and are hoping for full-length release in the first half of 2012. — Andrew Gilstrap


—ASAP Rocky

He’d better hope his outlook is good, otherwise Warner Bros. is going to come knocking wondering what they’ve invested so much in. But I don’t think there’s much doubt Rocky’s going to be able to capitalize on his considerable hype this past year. Unlike plenty of rising hip-hop acts, ASAP Rocky didn’t rely on spending a few years churning out free mixtapes and touring to build a solid fanbase. He simply released two videos on YouTube that quickly went viral and let word of mouth do the rest, providing him with two of the best producers in the still-growing “cloud rap” scene, Clams Casino and Beautiful Lou, as well as Alabama’s disturbingly consistent DJ Burn One. As he’s currently on tour with megastar Drake, the sky is pretty much the limit for this kid from Harlem romanticizing Midwest and Southern rap, and few of his peers carry with them such exciting potential. — David Amidon


—Danny Brown

Danny Brown, perhaps more than any other figure, captures the complexities and contradictions of the current moment in hip-hop culture. His glammed-out look of tight jeans, hipster tees and dramatic, asymmetrical hair style apparently cost him a deal with 50 Cent’s G-Unit Records, but his depraved and irreverent tales of Adderall addiction, crack dealing and sexual conquest may be a bit much for the liberally educated fans of frequent collaborators Das Racist and other more critically minded hip-hop. One thing is certain: Danny Brown doesn’t care what any of these people think about him. His style is visceral and raw, combining a strange and manic flow with grimy electro-style beats on his 2011 mix-tape “XXX” for a sound that holds the potential for greatness, and the possibility of revitalizing the mostly stagnant arena of popular hip-hop. — Robert Alford


—Computer Magic

Making music under the moniker of Computer Magic, New York DJ, graphic designer and student Danielle Johnson has already attracted a following of Internet fans by uploading her homemade slices of synth pop one track at a time. Having already posted enough songs online to fill a double album (and without any real dip in quality track-to-track) Danz, as she prefers to be called, lays down her delicate vocals over a light curtain of retro synths and shifty drum beats. With a natural ear for melody to boot, her music has been compared to Au Revoir Simone and much missed Ben Gibbard/Jimmy Tamberello collaboration the Postal Service. Given the fractured nature of her releases, one wonders where her creative ceiling might be should she put her mind to her music in 2012. This time next year Computer Magic could be huge. — Dean Van Nguyen


—David Wax Museum

The noun “museum” that rests at the end of this Boston band’s name is entirely apropos, as this Americana group seeks to document and expand upon traditional Mexican music, bringing south of the border folk tunes to broader audiences. They may well be the American musical equivalent of chef Rick Bayless, as they educate non-Mexicans on the richness and complexity of Mexican music in the same fashion that Bayless does with regional Mexican cooking. David Wax Museum was recently named Boston’s Americana Artist of the Year and they’ve received plaudits from prestigious tastemakers like “The New Yorker” and NPR. The group’s latest album, “Everything Is Saved,” is an irresistible ride through the Americas, bubbling with energy and exciting instrumentation. And yeah, that donkey jawbone offering up rhythm on so many of these tracks is pretty cool, too. David Wax Museum is bound for greater success as they have a massive wealth of music to draw from as they bring a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility to folk music. — Sarah Zupko


—Lana del Ray

No artist lit up the blogosphere the way that Lana Del Rey did in 2011, and 2012 looks like the year that she is poised to break out, for better or worse. Every comment thread of every indie music site is filled with speculation on the past, present, and future of Lizzy Grant (aka Lana Del Rey). Some hope that the incessant online excitement disappears upon the release of a full album, some hope that her talent outstrips the focus on her mysterious background and heretofore shaky live performances, and some probably just hope that she poses for Maxim. Personally, I hope that she releases an album with at least a few songs that match the quality of the impossibly catchy (and creepy) breakout single “Video Games”. While “Blue Jeans” matched that song’s creepiness, if not its indelible hook, it won’t be until the release of her full-length in early 2012 that we know whether Del Rey has already peaked or whether she is better than we ever even knew. — Matt Paproth


—King Krule

Every social movement could use its own rabble-rousing singer-songwriting mouthpiece — or is it the other way around? — and precocious 17-year-old Londoner Archy Marshall is already being hailed as the voice of Generation Occupy. AKA King Krule, Marshall brings to mind strains of Cockneyed, Billy Bragg-ish agitprop pop, getting across a confrontational ethos while he’s working out his ideology and a specific list of demands, not too unlike the burgeoning mass demonstrations of the moment. On his all-too-brief just-released debut EP, King Krule crosses downbeat jazz-inflected guitar work and ramshackle sampling to convey a sense of disillusionment that’s more than your garden variety teen angst, coming off like Tricky as a busker on the dubby folk of “Bleak Bake” and a roughed-up Stuart Moxham on the self-explanatory “Portrait in Black and Blue.” If his social commentary can catch up to his resourceful, uncanny musicianship, Marshall might just be starting his own revolution. — Arnold Pan


—Purity Ring

The electronic duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick like to mix ghostly, ethereal vocals with sticky hip-hop beats in their already-buzzworthy project, Purity Ring. After making their rounds during 2011’s CMJ festival and releasing the outstanding single “Belispeak” (a 7-inch split with Braids released by Fat Possum), the Canadian duo seem poised for big things in 2012. Plenty of cross-genre comparisons have been made, although Purity Ring sound more like some futuristic combination of crunk-tastic hip-hop and spacey, synthed-out indie pop. When their debut full length arrives next year, that future could very well arrive. — Chris Payne



When members of Swedish retro hard-rock acts Witchcraft and Graveyard form a new band, it’s pretty easy to guess what the end result is going to sound like, but Spiders turns out to be a lot less predictable than expected. Sure, the foursome, led by Witchcraft guitarist John Hoyles, is heavily indebted to late ‘60s/early ‘70s heavy rock, but amidst all the references to Pentagram and Cactus lies a strong “Nuggets”-era garage rock influence as well, as Hoyles’s riffs often channel Fred “Sonic” Smith, Wayne Kramer, and Ron Asheton. Better yet, the presence of the strong-voiced Ann-Sofie Hoyles makes Spiders stand out, her strong, raspy howls bringing some welcome ferocity and personality to their 2011 debut EP. With only six songs released thus far the band has already created a stir in the metal world, and by the time their full-length debut comes out, a lot of people will be anxiously waiting. — Adrien Begrand



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