Let’s face it: it’s been a tough year. Mass violence and civil unrest has left much of the country clouded in a state of existential dread, while divisive election-cyle politics have only left us angrier and more cynical. Death and fear dominate our headlines and many of our politicians once again thirst for war. Here at home, development proceeds unimpeded, threatening to destroy some our most beloved cultural institutions, while the city’s most vulnerable residents continue to suffer at the hands of the worst income equality in the nation. If you’re looking for silver linings, however, one could point out that historically art tends to be more compelling and challenging in times of great social distress. Nowhere has this been more true than in Atlanta and Athens, which saw a slew of forward-thinking artists emerge in 2015.
While no means comprehensive, the list below, delivered in alphabetical order, presents a cross-section of new and emerging artists we feel are going to have a major impact in 2016. We may live in dark times, but the future of the local music scene looks increasingly bright.
Credit: Abra Facebook
While Abra’s dank ’80s pop remains a welcome respite from Awful Records’ idiosyncratic hip-hop, the Darkwave Duchess still manages to inject her music with a sense of the eccentric. After finding her footing with a series of exploratory singles, the Atlanta songstress made major waves this year with her debut LP, Rose. Sensual, soulful, and ethereal, Abra’s music hits that exultant sweet spot between triumphant dance floor grooves and breathy late-night ruminations. So what can we expect in 2016? Well, it’s Awful Records we’re talking about, so expect anything and whole lot of it. It’s Abra’s world — we’re just living in it. – Guillermo Castro
The description of any band as an experimental duo screams ‘gimmick,’ but Art Contest are moving too fast to care if they are written off. Between spilled test tubes of noise, jazz, rock, and pop, the recent transplants from Clemson, SC to Athens have found their niche in experimental music. After releasing a series of singles which appear designed to make the listener question everything about existence and reality, Art Contest is nearly ready to release their second full-length album. The Two Songs LP will be released sometime in early 2016 via Post-Echo. Expectations are high for the record, and you can be sure Art Contest will exceed them. – Russell Rockwell
Just over a year ago, rhythm assassins Bodyfather seemed poised to set the scene ablaze with their explosive mix of ripping guitars and boundless hardcore energy. The band had followed up their blistering 2013 debut with a pair of venomous tracks featured on a split 7-inch with fellow noise mongers MTN ISL, and were well on their way to completing their sophomore EP when their drummer decided he was done playing in bands. Bodyfather haven’t been heard from since. Recently, however, it’s been made known the group have discovered a replacement and will be back in force in 2016. The band’s new record, Heavy Rest, is due out in February, and we couldn’t be more excited. – GC
Best known as the guitarist for debaucherous noise-rockers Hawks and local punk mainstays Wymyns Prysyn (among a litany of other projects), Andrew Wiggins started Caesium Mine to explore his love of minimalist synthesizer music and icy sci-fi soundscapes. His work is dark and engrossing, tracing a line between surreal ambience and desolate post-apocalyptic backdrops. Over the past year, he has amassed a small catalog worth of compositions and currently has three tapes worth of material ready to go. According to Wiggins, Atlanta imprints State Laughter, Mission Trips, and Scavenger of Death have all expressed an interest in working with him, but so far the only confirmed release is a track on the upcoming DKA Records compilation. Rest assured, we’ll be hearing a lot from Caesium Mine in 2016. – GC
Sure, Culture Culture have only released a total of six tracks since early 2014, but the result has been an amalgam of intricate, memorable dance pop that could have easily been played in New York’s Studio 54 in it’s heyday. In late November 2015, the group put everyone on notice with the release of the stunning “Ashton Kutcher, Come Back,” the first single from their upcoming EP, JX-3Please, due out sometime in January. The track manages to draw influences from more recent works like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, while also mixing in a healthy dose of ’80s synthpop in a brief 4:11 span. It’s a fantastic first effort, and — with any luck — a strong indicator of what’s to come. – Nicholas Ryan Taft
Since their formation in late 2013, exwhy’s mission statement has been clear: “All we wanted was to play music, making lasting friendships and drink beer for free”, says frontman Jack Fowler. But after a four-track demo caught the attention of Other People Records, the band knew that they could dream much bigger. The result? An upcoming ten-track monster called The Feels.
Recorded with Kenny Muto at Tomuto Sounds and mixed by Beau Burchell of Saosin fame, The Feels encompasses everything the band stands for: solid bass and drum play, calculated guitar riffs, and puzzle-like lyrics that serve as Easter eggs hidden in plain view. The LP hits iTunes, Google Play and Amazon on February 5. – NRT
As another year comes to a close, we could all use a reminder that sometimes good things come out of shitty situations. For the Atlanta music community, that reminder is the garage-punk foursome Heavy Eyes. Like some sort of DIY Megazord, Heavy Eyes was birthed from the broken pieces of Kidbrat, Diamond Thief, and Novus. With the addition of Michael Cera Palin frontman Elliott Brabant, the creature was complete.
The fiery three-song EP the band released in October was a rollicking mix of punk and rock, bound together by seemingly limitless energy. In addition to an already crowded list of upcoming local shows in January and February, Heavy Eyes will be blowing up the South during a short spring tour with Atlanta garage-pop sister duo Femignome. – RR
Credit: Jenny Thomas
Illegal Drugs appeared on the Atlanta scene early this year with an EP entitled On Fire. Ten days later, they made their live debut at 529 on a show with The Liverhearts, Jaye Jayle (the alter-ego of Young Widows guitarist Evan Patterson), and NULL from Birmingham. The four-piece, comprising of members from Turf War, Hawks, and the Husseins, blew me away that night with their noisy rock n’ roll carnage. Since then, they’ve played with several national acts, including White Reaper, Coliseum, and Destruction Unit. I’ve seen them two or three times this year, and each time has easily been among my favorite live performances of the year. Their shorter, more furious garage-rock cuts are simply vicious, but it’s their longer, more mid-tempo tracks where they truly let their post-punk influence shine, harnessing the energy of a thousand slow headbangs. Look out for a new EP sometime next year. – Ben Braunstein
Credit: Erez Avissar
The excitement following Mothers since releasing the first singles from their upcoming debut LP has been electric. Between playing CMJ and supporting a variety of national acts in 2015, Kristine Leschper’s Athens-based band has amassed a dedicated following. It’s easy to resonate with Leschper’s hope and heartbreak, but what makes Mothers truly standout is the band’s ability to make experimental song structures feel tender and natural.
Mother’s debut, When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired, is set to drop on February 26 via Grand Jury Recordings. If the singles are any evidence of the quality of the record, expect the album to find its way on a few best of 2016 year-end lists. For their part, the group has committed to the expectations for success with boundless enthusiasm, booking an impressive three-month national tour that includes stops at SXSW and the Daytrotter Music Festival. – RR
After releasing a total of 8 solid, eclectic tracks in 2015, Pop Weirdos are poised to surpass their fairly recent success in 2016. Multi-instrumentalists Bennett Kane and Jamison Murphy have a knack for taking listeners back to a time when melodies were simple, but still had the malicious intent of staying in your head. Recently, the band posted a 58-second “math weirdo” clip, stating that the duo was working a new EP with Richard Sapeta, who took on the drumming duties for their most recent single, “Alcudia,” which means newer, more intricate material might be coming sooner than later. – NRT
Pop punk has been pronounced dead more times than anyone can count, but bands like Sea Ghost imbue the genre with an irrepressible spirit. Since bursting onto the scene earlier this year with their debut LP, SG, Sea Ghost has been a fixture at all-ages shows, redefining power pop for a post-Warped Tour world. Lead singer Carter Sutherland wears his heart on his sleeve and beckons the listener to do the same.
Currently, the band is working on a new EP, Boy Music, in addition to plans for a limited East Coast tour this coming spring. Despite the sad truth that 2016 is certain to be infested with more unease and Donald Trump headlines, Sea Ghost remind us that there is still a place for youthful optimism. – RR
Credit: Alex Schelldorf
Despite their only release being a three-song demo from 2014, Shampoo has retained a level of buzz so surprising that it would seem inappropriate if it wasn’t for their gorgeous live shows. Their simple take on ’80s pop reimagines an alternate world in which Johnny Marr wrote New Order songs. In a local scene populated by garage rockers, punks, and experimental weirdos, Shampoo is a breath of fresh air for the art kids who just want to dance.
Shampoo will finally be satiating our reverb-starved souls with their relaxed interpretation of new wave in 2016. Though they haven’t announced an official release date yet, the band has finished recording their debut full length and will be releasing it sometime in the coming year, along with tentative plans for another EP. – RR
Slang has been a band since August of 2014, but it was this year that Sean Bryant, Grant Taylor, Ryan York, and Hayes Hoey truly began to make waves. This year alone, the art-rock quartet has played with a variety of national musicians including Diane Coffee, Hank & Cupcakes, and Emo Side Project.
Their sound is a rather distinct one, with influences ranging from glam to post-punk, all played with an offbeat cabaret feel. Over the summer they released a three-song self-titled EP, the tracks of which will be re-recorded and mastered for their upcoming full-length debut, out January 15. “Don’t sleep,” as they say, but with Slang, it’d be hard to. – BB
Credit: Red Bull Media House
Consisting of esteemed multi-instrumentalist Alexa Lima, vocalist Afua Richardson, and producer Brett Leggitt (a.k.a. Deku), Waking Astronomer has all the makings of a powerhouse trio, but with only one single (albeit an excellent one) and a handful of performances to their credit, it’s been difficult to pin down the group’s defining aesthetic. That will change soon though, as the group recently announced the details of their much-anticipated self-titled debut, due out February 5 via Psych Army Intergalactic. – GC