1. Ãlafur Arnalds — “LjÃ³siÃ°“
I stumbled across this Icelandic artist sometime in the fall, and I was struck by Arnalds’ musical landscape. After listening to something this beautiful and peaceful, I was surprised to find out he was a drummer for several heavy metal bands. If you like this, explore his other work for more contemporary, neo-classical, rhythmical music.
2. Bernhoft — “C’mon Talk”
I don’t know how I didn’t hear of Bernhoft before a few weeks ago. He has tight beats, great vocals and solid lyrics, three things that keep me listening. His loop-pedal skills are poetic, and his music is just plain cool. He’s got a good voice and knows how to use it. Check out the live videos, and his 2011 album Solidarity Break for a great taste of soulful, catchy sounds.
3. ÃlÃ¶f Arnalds — “Ãg Umvef Hjarta Mitt”
Not to be confused with her cousin Ãlafur, ÃlÃ¶f is another amazing Icelandic artist who’s worth giving a try. She has an unfamiliar folk sound that I find really intriguing to listen to. This track is rather obscure, from a compilation album titled “Vertical Integration,” but it’s worth finding on YouTube. Once I start listening to this track, I have to hear it to the end.
4. Dawes — “My Way Back Home”
I love this Americana-style band. They have an honest, tearing sound that is hard not to enjoy. I saw them live at a small show in Milwaukee last year, and I am glad I did. Dawes writes simple music that has profound surprises.
5. Matisyahu — “Sunshine”
He has skills. Anyone with a beard like his has got to have skills. If you want uplifting, deep music that is something between reggae and hip-hop, listen to him. I love the lines to “Peter Pan” and “Soldiering On.” Although it’s not released on an album, it is on some live recordings. His beat boxing adds just another element to the hip music Matisyahu makes.
6. Jamie Cullum — “Umbrella” (cover)
I’ve had a thing for good covers of this song, and this is one of them. Cullum makes great music and beats, and I love how he loosens the foundations of originals to make something that’s unique but true to the meaning. Anyone who can seamlessly incorporate “Singing in the Rain” into Rihanna is worth finding and listening to. It’s not on an official album, but you can find it on live recordings.
7. AWOLNATION — “Sail”
I know a lot of people know this one, but for those who don’t know it, you need to listen. I spent about two weeks shuffling back to this song daily, because I liked the mood and intensity. Something between angry and plain reckless, this track has bass that will rock you, and a mix of screaming/floating vocals that are emotionally jarring and just plain tight. I like to visualize this song in slow motion.
8. Melody Gardot — “Baby I’m a Fool”
If you like classic jazz singers, you’ll like her. She’s got something going on. It’s not the deepest of current jazz, but it’s certainly worth listening to. If you check out her history, you’ll even better appreciate her art.
9. Gary Clark Jr. — “Bright Lights”
This makes you want to drive fast or move in slow motion. Probably the darkest song on this list, I like it for the hard g
uitar, slow beat and great solos. Also, whoever engineered this song made some subtle beauty.
10. Tom Waits — “Burma Shave”
If you don’t know who he is, you need to. Tom Waits is one of the strangest, genre-bending artists I know. He spins words like webs. Waits’ songs are often as deep as his voice. This is the first one I ever heard by him, and I still get stuck on the line about root beer.