Violet ChoirAside from being married, Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn have worked together across a slew of projects. That includes The Prowling Kind and MRCH, the latter of which remains quite active. In fact, the duo's latest project, Violet Choir, "branches off" from MRCH, as evidenced by this year's self-titled EP. But don't let the shared sonic echoes fool you; Violet Choir is something new entirely. The duo have achieved new levels of emotionality and mystery that permeate these five tracks. That translates into some especially infectious tunes from a pair with a long history of crafting sharp and expressive electronic music.
Media DarlingThere’s two really important things to like about this young-ish Valley band. For one, they claim that their objective is to "keep 'em dancing." And secondly, they titled their new EP Obeying Traffic Laws in GTA3. As if all that weren’t enough, there’s some generally great music here, and the band have a lithe and rhythmic take on dance- and post-punk. There’s clearly still some growing to be done, but this first crop of music shows Media Darling have a bright future of filling the dance floor. Just keep up those grand album titles, please.
Speaking of another fairly young band, Chrome Rhino released their debut single, "Zombie Vision," in October 2020. As far as introductions go, it’s a fairly promising one from a band that cites Queen and ELO as influences. The single is a clear encapsulation of the band's take on "face-melting escapism," a catchy little concoction of '80s-leaning dance-pop that's as blatantly cheesy as it is utterly endearing. For a band with so much growing still left to do, they’ve already nailed an essential blend of humor, playfulness, and great musical chops.
You may recognize Henri Benard from his drumming with Dry River Yacht Club and later Okilly Dokilly. But if he weren’t already busy enough, Benard has spent recent months focused on another project, CHKLZ. Benard, who goes by DJ Ill Chopo, is joined by local musician/artist LeMarshawn Jean, and together they've crafted a unique spin to electronic/EDM. Whether it's various remixes, or their own tasty single "Mexico," the duo exude an energy and creative devotion that's too enthralling to ignore. No rest for the uber-talented, right?
Katie Mae & the Lubrication
This Phoenix-based outfit, led by charming singer-songwriter Katie Mae, isn’t your standard country outfit. They describe their output as "purely interpretive," and while that’s a teensy bit nebulous, it does speak to the music’s boundless creative spirit. Case in point: last year’s album Hazy Angel, a five-track collection that captures the boundless grit and solemn vibes essential to true country music. But there’s a sense of intensity and tinges of dark energy that make this outfit purveyors of a fresh and emotionally rich brand of country.
Technically speaking, New Times tapped Touré Masters as an MC to watch way back in 2017. But the Valley rapper deserves even more spotlight for his subsequent work, most notably a string of solid releases over the last several months. That includes October’s soulful, unabashedly romantic Feels Like February and February’s Winning Wars Everyday, which combines wrestling geekery and frenetic wordplay. Here’s hoping Masters continues to find an even bigger audience — or expect another write-up sometime in 2025.
Jordan Tompkins (Tripaw'd and OO)
Much like Henri Benard, Twin Ponies drummer Jordan Tompkins is a busy man outside his main band. He’s got two projects that see him pushing the sonic confines of indie rock. Tripaw'd, which released post tense help in December, lean more toward big, blown-out shoegaze and noise rock. Meanwhile, OO opt for more streamlined, extra-weird alt-rock, as evidenced by last December's nice and good. Whatever project you prefer, it's clear that Tompkins, and his many collaborators, are creating magic happen across the board.
You wouldn't consider Chandler to be a destination for weird, unabashedly experimental electronic music. But thanks to the trio of Heptagon Heaven, that’s exactly the case. With a slew of 2020 releases under their belt, Heptagon Heaven have perfected a version of analog synth music, darting readily between dance and IDM to chiptune and synthwave and everything in between. It’s smart, well-crafted electronic music that’s perfect for both fans of technical prowess and those seeking out a dance party soundtrack.
Mile High Actors
Be it White Stripes and The Black Keys, or Japandroids and No Age, there’s something especially powerful about the rock duo. Gilbert’s own Mile High Actors (Jacob Smale and Joe Platt) continue that tradition with their take on bare-bones garage rock. Last November’s self-titled LP is full of big and brash rock, a combo of snarling guitar and explosive drums that belie the two-person configuration. Tradition is great and all, but these fellas flourish by smashing through everything — including listeners' ear drums.
GlixenYou may already know singer-guitarist Aislinn Ritchie from her band Dovi, which garnered some buzz with their poignant take on dream-pop. More recently, Ritchie's launched another project in Glixen, which continues very much in the same vein. The band, which is currently without an official release, has at least one song in the ether in "Mood Swing," an ultra fuzzy slice of shoegaze-meets-dream-pop goodness. Does this band scratch the same Dovi itch? Sure. But they're also a huge step forward into ethereal wilderness.
New Times last mentioned 8OhEight, no matter how briefly, in time for February 2020's totally excellent The Duck mixtape. Turns out, the producer/"audio engineer" has remained quite busy since then with a string of releases, most recently February's Pay-Per-View. It's not enough that his productions effortlessly combine soul, EDM, and '90s-style hip-hop. It's that he creates these lush and rich experiences for listeners, drawing them in with soundscapes that he's painfully constructed over time. Pay more attention to 8OhEight pronto.
After the Calm
Of all the artists on this list, After the Calm are likely the default veterans, having been together since mid-2014. In the time since, they've built up a decent following on the back of several releases, including May 2020's "Home Sweet Home." And it's easy to see why they've stuck around: AtC expertly fuse alt-rock, hardcore, metal, and a dash of emo, forging this vibrant rock sound that's as cathartic as it is all-consuming. The band doesn't so much reinvent the wheel as they combine their inspirations into something truly potent and powerful.