Fame is fickle. Often the ones who are most worthy of the spotlight will go through their careers without ever reaching it. For some reason or another, these artists have yet to be embraced by the mainstream on the scale that we think they deserve. But at least we know they’re great, and our fingers are crossed.
María — First Aid Kit
Swedish folk sister duo First Aid Kit made their U.S. debut in 2010 when they recorded a single for Jack White’s label, Third Man Records. After more than six years together, they have yet to really break through to stardom, although all the elements of their country-folk sound point to it. They have the aura of mystery. They have the beautiful harmonies. They have the extremely catchy tunes. And yet, none of it gets enough attention as it should.
Bryan — Wilson
These Detroit party metallers may have just released their debut album “Full Blast Fuckery” last year, but I’m already sick of waiting for them to hit the big time. Never has a band so masterfully blended the irresistible sleaze of Guns N’ Roses with the schizophrenic blitzkrieg of Every Time I Die. Wilson has been making a name for themselves through high-profile tours with the likes of GWAR and Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, as well as slots on enormous festivals like Rock on the Range 2014. Still, the band has yet to reach the headliner status that seems inevitable with arena-ready guitar anthems like “My Life, My Grave” and “College Gangbang.” I know I’m impatient, but I want to see the band playing their own sold-out shows now. Wilson, let’s skip the foreplay and get straight to the “Fuckery.”
Tess — Miniature Tigers
Each of the Miniature Tigers’ four albums has been totally solid, yet completely different, showing their progression from total pop-rock to dream-pop. They also have an amazing live presence (that I can vouch for). I’ve seen them five times, and each time they have found a way to keep the crowd on their toes, from conga lines in the crowd to making out onstage. The band is loyal to their fan base and incredibly responsive. After their international tour with Fun., it’s hard to understand why they aren’t more popular.
(Cool note: this music video was filmed in my hometown.)
Devon — Toro y Moi
To describe charming producer Chaz Bundick’s project Toro y Moi as anything more complex than “pop” would simply be out of character. Yet, his music definitely deserves a better identification than “something on my hipster friend’s summer playlist.” True, his soothing, repetitive vocals atop silky, funky R&B melodies give the sensation of basking in the warm glow of summer with nothing to do, nowhere to be and all the time in the world. Still, his confidence grows louder and more lively with every album he releases. Bundick’s soft-spoken talent shines bright for those who are willing to see it.
Sam — American Football
Releasing only one eponymous album in 1999 before reaching a mutual decision to break up, American Football never gained much exposure beyond Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where the trio attended college and played in a variety of bands. Only after the group called it quits did they begin to gain a cult following, which consists primarily of indie kids in touch with their feelings (so me!). Blending emo, post-rock and math-jazz tempos alongside heartfelt lyrics of adolescent growing pains and self-reflection, American Football sound just as much at home in 2014 as in the late ‘90s. Though they were overlooked in their prime, the band is currently touring to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of their masterpiece, which serves as a bittersweet reminder of what could have been.
Adam — Blu
Since dropping his 2007 debut, “Below the Heavens,” and being named HipHopDX’s “Rookie of the Year,” Johnson Barnes has stayed under the radar. Better known by his stage name, Blu, the California-based rapper is known for his ability to create hard-hitting music over smooth beats. This juxtaposition gives him a unique sound that leaves listeners feeling like they’re either underwater or walking on clouds. Blu has stayed relatively underground throughout his career, claiming he has to be constantly going in and out of the spotlight in order to expand creatively.
Quinton — Killer Mike
Atlanta’s recent rap renaissance has taken the Internet by storm, but somehow one name is constantly left out of the conversation: Michael Render, also known as Killer Mike. The activist son of a police officer, he uses his medium to speak out on police brutality, racial divides and the American justice system. In the last year, the 39-year old Dungeon Family affiliate has reemerged as half of Run the Jewels alongside New York rapper El-P. Despite the popularity of the system-shaking duo, the clever and outspoken emcee is repeatedly left off Atlanta’s Mount Rushmore of rap. He prefers to hang out in the shadows, discretely dropping knowledge bombs.
Lauren — Avi Buffalo
Avi Buffalo’s music is pop enough for radio play, but has just enough weird, jazzy guitar solos to keep it original. The Long Beach band’s songs are comforting — all maintaining a laidback, surfy feel with quirky, honest lyrics. Avi Buffalo released their self-titled debut in 2010 when they were barely out of high school, and after gaining some more experience and entering adulthood, they dropped their sophomore album, “At Best Cuckold,” in September. The lush musicality and unconventional ballads show their growth, but Avi Buffalo’s still-stuck-in-adolescence vibe and girl-crazy lyrics keep them grounded.
Jenna — The Maine
You probably knew this band when you were in middle school and lead singer John “Ohh” O’Callaghan was a teenage heartthrob. Maybe you even saw and met the band at Vans Warped Tour over the summer. Since the days of “Everything I Ask For” and “I Must Be Dreaming” on their 2008 debut, the band has evolved from pop-punk prettyboys into a mature rock outfit. Recent releases have displayed a more driving, guitar-oriented sound, culminating in their newest album, 2013’s “Forever Halloween.” Meanwhile, O’Callaghan’s lyrics show him wearing his heart on his sleeve, combining raw emotion and vivid imagery. The Maine’s musical evolution has proven they are more than a pop-punk band for teenyboppers — they have legitimate talent and should be taken seriously.
Britny — Samuel Larsen
If you’re a “Glee” fan, you might recognize Samuel Larsen’s name from his brief stint on the show a few years back, but don’t hold that against him. He is a talented performer who plays multiple instruments and has a fantastically magnetic, smoky voice. His first EP, “Pocket Love,” was a solid, soul-inspired effort (unfortunately now only available here). But his new EP, the much more playful and funky “Vices,” is some of my absolute favorite music right now, crossing into downright groovy territory. Larsen is technically skilled, writes great music and seems like a genuine guy. I sincerely hope other people discover and love him as much as I do.