What’s Good is a weekly new music newsletter— and companion to the playlist of the same name— by me, Pitchfork’s founder and former Editor-in-Chief, Ryan Schreiber.
I'm looking forward to jumping back into the standard format with all-new 2022 jams next week. But today, I'd like to use this space to introduce you to the emerging artists who I feel are moving music forward most— the ones you'll need to know for the year ahead.
With that, let's meet Nine Artists Who'll Change the Game in 2022...
On 2020’s AUNTIE, Ian Isiah presented himself as a disciple of Prince: a gender-fluid, sexually charged missionary of funk. And like the Purple One, Isiah brought personality to spare, through ecstatic forays into new jack swing (the Onyx Collective-featuring “Bougie Heart”) and 90s R&B (“Loose Truth”). In October, though, his new single, “SEE YOU,” foreshadowed a new direction entirely. In a rare class alongside 2021's most gut-wrenching heartbreakers (a list that also features Jazmine Sullivan’s “Lost Ones,” SZA’s “I Hate U,” and James Blake's "Life Is Not the Same"), "SEE YOU" marked thee moment of arrival for Isiah, briefly sidelining his strong avant-garde instincts to showcase a striking aptitude for aching emotional resonance.
Gabriels have an ace-in-the-hole with vocalist Jacob Lusk’s otherworldly vocals, and the trio wisely lets his inordinate talent do the heavy lifting. Readers of this newsletter will be familiar with the group’s entrancing chamber soul and Nina Simone-inspired ballads. “Blame,” a haunted, mysterious ballad with highly stylized production work that calls way back to the 1930s, clocked in at #7 on my list of the year’s best tracks. There’s something at once classical and modern about Lusk’s voice, which the production duo of Ryan Hope and Ari Balouzian elevates with their unpredictable compositions. This band has managed to carve out a completely untouched space for themselves over the course of two all-too-short EPs; one can only imagine how they’ll apply their remarkable vision to the album format.
Shygirl’s been on a steady ascent for a few years, exploring the edges of pop’s relationship to club and experimental music with collaborators like Arca and Sega Bodega. Her 2021 singles— the ultra-raunchy, bass-heavy slowthai collab “BDE,” the full embrace of the house diva life on “Cleo”— emphasized the London rapper’s meteoric ascent. The versatility of Shygirl’s bars is one of her greatest strengths, but it’s the breadth of experimental approach that sets her apart. As the definitions of “hyperpop” and other post-genre pop music continue to expand, it’ll be daring artists like Shygirl who keep those sounds at the vanguard.
French-born, Belgian-Caribbean songwriter Charlotte Adigéry and her recording partner Bolis Pupul seem to think of music quite differently than most artists— for them, it seems to be an extension of the most progressive forms of conceptual art. The pair began working together in 2016 on the Belgian film Belgica, scored by Soulwax, and are now preparing their 2022 debut for that duo’s DEEWEE label. Early singles like “HAHA” and “Blenda” are simple in concept but masterfully executed in strange, unexpected ways. The former features Adigéry providing hysterical laughter that occasionally veers into tears. On “Blenda,” Pupul conjures up a fresh slab of funk-disco as Adigéry takes aim at nationalists: “Go back to your country where you belong/ Siri, can you tell me where I belong?” On “Thank You,” she toys with critics, saying, “Yes, I prefer my first EP too,” before singing in a gorgeous voice, “My inspiration comes from you/ Oh, what an honor.” It’s highly self-aware, cattily bittersweet, and musically unlike anything else in the landscape.
Talk about your multihyphenates: Madeline Kenney is an Oakland-based singer/songwriter and professional baker who happens to hold a degree in neuroscience— not that the whole music thing isn’t working out. Over five years, she’s recorded albums with indie stalwarts like Toro y Moi and Wye Oak, while recently coming wholly into her own as an artist. I recently discovered Kenney’s 2021 EP, Summer Quarter, through a friend who cited a lyric from “Wasted Time” as among his favorites of the year: “I wanna make a living now on the shit that just kinda falls out of my mouth.” (Who among us can’t relate?) Like many of her songs, “Wasted Time” bursts with a kind of casual wisdom, and moves patiently, floating along a guitar lick that flickers like a votive candle. “Truth,” however, is my personal favorite, a bummed-out, self-conscious apology to an ex whose love she still aches for: “Just like a kid, I crave your attention/ Look what I did, the mess in the kitchen is mine.”
On her November single, “I’ll Get Over It,” soft drum pads cushion her vocals while glitchy electronics slowly wrap around her. She’s called it “a song about change and growth” that skates “the line between pain and acceptance,” as is so beautifully, painfully summarized by its lyrics: “Kept waking up to your strange reality/ I hated what it did to me…/ I’ve just been out here screaming/ With no specific answer/ Just the dream.”
Imagine CAN remixed by King Tubby and fronted by Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca and you’ll land somewhere near the intoxicating sounds of Greentea Peng. Born Aria Wells in South London, Greentea blends reggae bass with a rap-sung flow and a penchant for psychedelic jams and disco grooves. There’s a lot to take in on 2021’s MAN MADE, a brilliant tapestry of myriad styles, rethreaded into something both fresh and immediate. Lyrically, she touches on her Arabic and African roots, like on “Free My People,” while “Nah It Ain’t The Same” makes clear that the personal is still political: “Inner battles dwell like city kids beneath the poverty line.” Another favorite from the latter half is the seven-minute “Meditation” (shoutout Sydney Reising for the heads up) which toys with modern jazz and looped grooves. Given her deft ability to subsume a universe of sounds in her work, I can’t wait to see what Greentea Peng adds to her bag of tricks next time around.
Yes, the South Central duo Paris Texas is named after the 1984 Wim Wenders masterpiece of the same name— sort of. They’re also called that because, like Paris and Texas, rapper Felix and producer Louis Pastel are “polar opposites. [The name] relates to how we started, and where we be at— the type of people that we were, and the environment that we were in,” Felix told Document. “We were always juxtaposed.” These dueling personalities help make them one of the most exciting new duos in rap. Their 2021 debut album, Boy Anonymous, and its EP follow-up, Red Hand Akimbo, thrum with distorted guitars and crunched drums, landing somewhere between N.E.R.D. and Death Grips. Film buffs may bemoan the lack of Harry Dean Stanton and Ry Cooder references, but these two have got everything else going for them.
Melanie Charles, like so many of her contemporaries in the enthralling modern jazz scene, uses the past to reframe the future. 2021’s Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women takes this philosophy literally, with inventive jazz interpretations of her favorite standards. “For me, there are so many musicians that are making what I call ‘trill jazz’ — my contemporaries like Kassa Overall, Theo Croker and Kamasi Washington,” she told Downbeat last year. “For me, ‘trill jazz’ is rooted in the sound of ‘by the people, for the people.’ But it’s also where the elders and the youth can connect.” Y’all Don’t (Really) builds on the framework of jazz by folding in other styles. By honoring her forebears with pride— not to mention her world-class vocal abilities and bandleader intuition— Charles forges a new path for herself, and the generation to follow.
As long as artists like DJ Manny run with the torch, footwork’s indomitable spirit persists. Teklife’s young gun possesses an ear for emotional connectivity within the genre that’s rarely been heard since Rashad’s passing, crafting tracks with both headphone addicts and clubgoers in mind. Last year’s Signals In My Head LP for Planet Mu felt like a significant step forward for the Midwestern producer, twisting together different strands of Chicago dance music history with all manner of vocal samples, breaks, and emotive chords at high tempos. Now based in Brooklyn with partner and fellow DJ SUCIA! (check their incredible two-hour b2b set for The Lot Radio last May), Manny is as well-poised as ever to continue his innovative streak.
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