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Fifteen for '15: The Phoenix Acts to Watch This Year

With summer preparing to give us a triple-digit reminder why the snowbirds leave in April, local musicians are hard at work.

Lucky us, because we get to reap the fruits of their labors.

The Phoenix music scene is as diverse as the Valley of the Sun is large. With everything from house DJs to conscious hip-hop to old-school groove metal, there's something for you no matter your favorite genre.

We've sifted through hundreds of local artists to present 15 talented troubadours poised to make waves in the Arizona music scene this year. This selection represents just a small sampling of the singers, instrumentalists, and performers who make the Phoenix music scene so great.

Catch them around town -- while you can.

Betrayal of Allies A phrase like "betrayal of allies" doesn't immediately call to mind a group of people who function well together. But in the world of heavy metal, it's the perfect emotional ammo for a band of artists to make great music. Founder and lead guitarist/vocalist Cody Williams was living in New Hampshire when he came up with the name after a falling out with a friend -- and the melodic thrash band Betrayal of Allies was conceived.

"I moved to Arizona in 2007 with a three-track demo I had on MySpace and began looking for band members," Williams says.

He began playing with drummer Vinny Handrick, but they parted ways quickly. Then, Williams met another drummer and bassist Blake Crockett, and the three began seeking a second guitarist.

"Long story short: We went through countless lineup changes," Williams says. "[Eventually, I] rejoined with Vinny to make Life's Time, our debut album, released in 2014."

Now consisting of Williams, Crockett, brand-new drummer Andy Lister, and guitarist/backing vocalist Nick Abbas, the band brings a variety of influences to the table. Betrayal of Allies combines the melodic heaviness of Killswitch Engage and the rawness of Cradle of Filth with the complexity of Arch Enemy and the aggressive musicianship of Metallica. On the other hand, the group pulls from influences like punk, soul, and blues artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, John Legend, and Sam Smith. And Life's Time puts it all on display.

Songs like "Reckoning for a Devil in Disguise" opens with an elegant, twangy Spanish guitar before leaping into a thrashy breakdown that charges full-speed ahead into raw, gravelly vocals that alternate between shouting and screaming. The title track is a proud anthem that wavers between a slow chorus and speedy shredding complemented by double bass drum. And "As I Bleed" gives a taste of the band's talent for tempo change, its penchant for squealing guitar, and its dark, atmospheric sludge metal side.

It's metal that will satisfy the most adamant headbanger and mosher while still being suitable for hard-rock radio.

As William says, "Our goals for 2015 to 2016 is this: Play a bunch of shows, get our name out there, and destroy!" LAUREN WISE

Brutha White

Going to a Brutha White show is a contemplative experience. His shows inspire toe-tapping and head-bobbing, and his lyrics deliver existential messages about cherishing time here on Earth.

As he strums during "Letter to Momma," from his 2013 11-song album, WuT-Ever May Come, heartbreaking lyrics about his mother's death bring tears to the eyes of those in the audience. White wrote the song while sitting on a beach crying, and his pain is felt in every word he sings.

Brutha White, whose real name is Tim White, describes his music as "acoustic hip-hop -- Ben Harper meets Sade with a cousin of A Tribe Called Quest," and he delivers it with soulful, emotive vocals while playing guitar.

White says he wants to "wake people up a little, just to themselves." A newer track, "Truth Be Told," is about self-realization and letting go of external influences. To achieve this himself, White meditates and teaches meditation to friends, insisting he's able to transcend worldly desires.

"I have the innate pleasure of seeing things through lenses people normally wouldn't," he says. "It doesn't make me special. I just don't get construed by angers or jealousies or defeats -- none of that fazes me."

The attitude translates to the patience White has when it comes to songwriting. He says songs often come to him, but he will perform them only when they seem truly appropriate for the world surrounding him. "Music is food," he says, and he has thousands of songs ready for the right moment to be released.

"This is pure humility, but I could look at someone and write a song about them right now," White says. "But I don't use that unless someone asks me to. I use the universe. If it's lashing out, it'll come out."

He hopes people who come to his shows find everlasting joy, not just fleeting happiness. "You can be happy now and sad tomorrow, but you're always joyous," White says. "If it's something I see people don't carry because they're lost in drugs or some emotional barrier or are too self-conscious, why not spread it? I believe the shows will get under your skin a little bit, and you might just walk away with an open, smiling heart." NICKI ESCUDERO

Cherie Cherie The band first performed at Crescent Ballroom under the name Neil Diamonds Are Forever and later gave a nod to the Suicide song "Cherie." But Cherie Cherie has come a long way since doing Neil Diamond covers, and with a weekly residency at Lost Leaf and a full-length album in the works, this year promises to be its biggest yet.

Like a moody noise-pop cross between Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, Cherie Cherie employs two vocalists, Ann Seletos (drums) and Lonna Kelley (guitar), who share the spotlight equally.

Matt Wiser (lead guitar) and Jay Hufman (bass) round out the band, giving a strong Jesus and Mary Chain feel with some folk influence.

Formed around March 2013, Cherie Cherie self-released its debut EP, Share, in December of the same year, and it quickly disappeared into the hands of fans. Ryan Breen recorded all five tracks in two days at Kelley's home, and they were mastered at SAE Mastering. The band has said they wanted to capture a particular sound at a particular time in a particular place, which is why they chose the same living room that doubles as practice space.

Only 100 copies of Share were made, but James Fella, owner of Gilgongo Records (managed from his home whenever he has spare time), approached the band about a reissue, ordering another 300 prints of the 12-inch. The album cover, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Cher with prickly pear hair, was designed by Jacki O., known for her work with the raunchy Poolboy Magazine.

Naturally, Cherie Cherie was invited to Gilgongo's 10-year anniversary show, alongside Fella, Stephen Steinbrink, Mallevs, and Sissy Spacek.

Now Cherie Cherie is busy writing songs and hoping to record its debut LP this spring for a release in the summer.

"Gilgongo's been great," Seletos says. "We're not really sure what we're going to do with this next record. We're just trying to focus now on getting the songs written." TROY FARAH

Doll Skin The oldest member of Scottsdale band Doll Skin is just 18 years old. In the little more than a year that the four-piece punk outfit has been together, it has passed many milestones that far older and more experienced bands have yet to surpass.

For starters, the band already has had the opportunity to open for Alice Cooper, a big deal for any act. It's an even bigger deal for a local group, and a major accomplishment for a four-piece whose combined age doesn't equal Cooper's (the granddaddy of shock rock has three years on the young women of Doll Skin).

The band also was scheduled to open for legendary rockers Social Distortion on March 25 and has put together more than a few well-attended shows with other underage rockers.

The youthful punkers have surpassed 1,000 Facebook likes, which may seem a silly measuring stick. But no doubt there are more seasoned Phoenix bands attentively watching their computer screens, hoping their groups reach the milestone.

With all that standing, however, the group still does not get its due respect.

"I think we pick up on a lot more crap than other bands do because we are an all-girl band," says guitarist Alex Snowden. "Not so much disrespect, but more a kind of doubt. But we take that for what it is, and we do our best to show those people who have doubts about us. We get weird looks going into venues. It's just obvious that people aren't expecting much from us."

One of the most common things they hear is a backhanded compliment for all-female bands. "You're really good, for an all-girl band." It's "praise" that other all-female bands in the Valley, such as the Venomous Pinks and Sister Lip, have both said they've encountered in the past.

"We are always good for an all-girl band," Snowden says. "But we want to be good for a band."

Doll Skin definitely will take huge strides toward that goal in 2015 as the band prepares to travel to Roger Clyne's Circus Mexicus music festival in Rocky Point. The group also prepares to enter the studio to release its debut full-length album.

"I think we have done a lot for how young we are as a band," says bassist Nicole Rich. "And it was totally unexpected. When people recognize us, and when people ask us to play shows, I still can't believe it because we are all so young." JEFF MOSES

Freaks of Nature In deciphering the mindset of local garage band revivalists Freaks of Nature, it's necessary to look well beyond such "superstar" garage rockers as the Stooges or the Velvet Underground. These bands were a little too "clean" to offer the kind of musical influence guitarist, vocalist, and harmonica player Daniel Shircliff sought.

Instead, Shircliff is seduced by the "screwed up" sounds of true garage bands -- those teenagers bashing away in the literal garage trying to copy the songs they heard on the radio but not having a clue how to go about it.

"When I heard those first '60s punk bands, the whole romance of that really attracted me," he recalls. "It was that tinny, fuzzed-out sound. Plus, the two- and three-chord simplicity of it was kind of laughable, loud, and fun all at the same time."

Shircliff took that raw energy and exuberance and channeled it into Freaks of Nature, also featuring guitarist Steven Ostrov, bassist James Hanna, and drummer David Cain, possibly Phoenix's lone pure garage-punk act.

"You're playing some loud, screwed-up music, and people are like, 'What the hell are these guys doing?'" he says with a laugh.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion bassist Russell Simins understood exactly what the Freaks were trying to accomplish and invited the band to Tucson's Waterworks Recording studio to cut an album.

"He was into what we were doing. We were a little surprised by that," Shircliff says. "All I really planned to do was put out a bunch of 45s, self-recorded and self-released. It just happened that we had an album's worth of shit."

Everything was recorded in vintage fashion in one or two live takes with no overdubs. "I think a lot of the songs on there could be straight out of 1966," Shircliff says, proudly. Germany's Screaming Apple Records is slated to release Songs for Savages in April. Until then, when the band hopes to begin touring afar with like-minded acts, the Freaks of Nature -- much to Shircliff's surprise -- command the stage at the Lost Leaf every third Saturday. "We're kind of an anomaly in this town," he says, but "it's punk, the rawest form of punk you can almost get. People go ape for that shit sometimes."

Not many, perhaps, but enough in a small-world kind of way to keep these Freaks on the musical map for the foreseeable future. GLENN BURNSILVER

Gay Kiss Fifteen facts about hardcore band Gay Kiss:

1. It had bad luck in Nashville, where vans go to die.

2. Singer Roger Calamaio (disclosure: Calamaio is a contributor to New Times, including this feature story) frequently injures himself while performing and has a fondness for urgent-care facilities and hospitals. His favorite is the hospital at Vanderbilt University. He thought he was dying one night on stage in Cleveland because of a concussion he'd sustained the previous night.

3. Guitar player Mitch Parent really loves the band Slowdive. It is a tiny bit frightening.

4. Gay Kiss toured with OFF!, a punk supergroup featuring members of the Circle Jerks, Redd Kross, and Rocket from the Crypt.

5. The band's first album, Fault, came out in 2013 and their next album, Preservation Measures, dropped March 20 on Raleigh, North Carolina's Sorry State Records, home of Double Negative and Manipulation.

6. Bass player Jirix-Mie Paz is not the original bass player. He joined in March 2011.

7. Drummer Daniel Schurgin abstains from any type of fantasy or theoretical "best show ever" lineup discussions.

8. Gay Kiss and California-based NASA Space Universe, according to Roger, "have a hive mind connection" and if you ever get the chance to see these two bands together, prepare to get your face rocked off.

9. Parent predicted they would be part of the "Fifteen in 2015" list in 2009. He does not claim to be clairvoyant.

10. Gay Kiss, according to Schurgin, "has a convoluted history. We started in early 2010, and it didn't really work out." In fact, the band's first show featured two bass players who are no longer with the band and the group had a completely different name.

11. Paz started as the band's driver, roadie, and provocateur. According to Calamaio, "He made us road dogs."

12. Preservation Measures is the first recording by Gay Kiss solely written by the four current members.

13. Each member of Gay Kiss contributes to the booking process for scheduling gigs.

14. Gay Kiss, according to Parent, is a team. "We're like Stand By Me [the movie]," he says.

15. The first person to purchase a test pressing of Gay Kiss' Preservation Measures was from Glendale. This is ironic and weirdly cool because the purchase was made in Raleigh. TOM REARDON

Injury Reserve "We want to blow up and be Kayne West," says Nathaniel Ritchie, a.k.a. Ritchie With a T, about his hip-hop group Injury Reserve. "We are trying to be the biggest of the big, as a group together making hits. We don't want to be some underground kings. We want hits on the radio, and we want to win Grammys . . . We are not comfortable or settled. We are hungry. We are not resigned to being underground artists or local artists."

Injury Reserve is doing everything it can locally to ensure the group won't be "small." In only a year and half, the Tempe-based three-piece hip-hop crew already has opened for Dilated Peoples, Action Bronson, Blu, and Curtis Williams.

The band's attempted national coup just began recently, with its first trip to South by Southwest in Austin.

"We had set a goal that we wanted to play South by Southwest this year. We thought it wasn't going to happen because we weren't where we wanted to be with the album," Ritchie says.

He and bandmates Jordan Groggs (a.k.a. Stepa J Groggs) and Parker Corey expect to release their debut full-length album, Live at the Dentist's Office, within the coming three months. The video for the promising first single, "Whatever Dude," is nearing 7,000 views on YouTube.

The group also is producing high-caliber music videos that other bands would do well to study. The videos for their tracks "Black Sheep," "Harvey Dent," and "Groundhog's Day" are all professional-quality videos with professional-quality concepts.

With the new album, everyone in the group said they felt they were really just finding their sound. On their debut EP, Cooler Colors, the members admitted they felt there was too much emulation of their hip-hop forefathers and not enough Injury Reserve shining through. But with the upcoming Live at the Dentist's Office, they say, they've found their stride.

More experienced Phoenix hip-hopper Sincerely Collins described Injury Reserve as "Kanye and Mos Def had a baby that was raised by Andre 3000." The band members say they are more like "Kool Kids meets Odd Future meets De La Soul meets OutKast." No matter which hip-hop icon is figuratively banging whom, what these kids are making is terrific. JEFF MOSES

Jock Club Jock Club is the EDM extension of 20-year-old Andrew Flores. Better known as the drummer of acid-tinged desert-punk band Destruction Unit, the multifaceted Flores since has put himself on the national music community's radar by performing high-energy solo deep-house DJ sets under the moniker Jock Club. Inspired by quintessential DJs such as Jeff Mills and Robert Hood, Jock Club produces a trance-inducing minimal style of techno that is peerless in Phoenix.

Having started in mid-2012 as a casual bedroom experiment, Jock Club slowly moved forward in a more serious manner as he began to perform live and release mixtape EPs with the forever-puzzling Ascetic House collective.

"Everyone involved with Ascetic House has made it easy to express myself through music. I feel glad to be a part of a group of ever-expanding creativity," Flores says.

Coming from a background of playing in punk and hardcore bands such as the short-lived and infinitely terrorizing Urban Struggles, Jock Club eschews the typical club DJ performance circuit in favor of underground house/warehouse shows with fellow Ascetic House electronic acts Marshstepper, Body of Light, and Memoryman.

"Coming from a scene with punk and hardcore bands makes it a little difficult to make an impact musically," says Flores on the somewhat unorthodox leap between genres that seem diametrically opposed. "The mindset is almost exactly the same when it comes to executing a live set with high energy, though."

To that end, Jock Club has earned the reputation as the night-ender powerhouse that carries audiences into the after-hours with his deep '90s- and Detroit-inspired techno marathons.

Twenty-fourteen was good year for Jock Club, with a month-long national tour and the release of his first full-length LP, After Hours, on former Chaos N' Tejas fest organizer Timmy Hefner's 540 Records.

Beyond having former and current positions as a ruthlessly attacking heavy percussionist, there is yet another facet to Flores' musical repertoire as a studied jazz percussionist.

"Jazz music is always an influence on me, in every style of music. Even now with Jock Club, I take a lot from jazz music -- the chords, the harmonies, and rhythms. I don't think I would be where I am today if it weren't for the time spent learning about jazz," Flores says.

After closing out 2014 with a performance in New York City at the weekly Nothing Changes gig in Manhattan and releasing yet another EP, District, under the Ascetic House imprint, Jock Club aspires to have a bigger year in 2015: "Hopefully 2015 will see a few more Jock Club vinyl releases, and a ton of live shows! I am also hoping to do another U.S. tour with Memoryman." ROGER CALAMAIO

MC Rashenal Somewhere along the line, the term "conscious hip-hop" became code for didactic rhymes. Phoenix rapper Joshua Bolick, better known as MC Rashenal, knows this, and on Life Learner, the rapper's latest album, he doesn't preach so much as he explores, examining his own motives and reflecting on them, creating a connection with the listener that feels universal.

"The theme of continual exploration in my lyrics and life stems from all my life experiences as a summation of who I am today," Rashenal says. When he's not rapping, the 32-year-old works as a software engineer, and his vocational desire to constantly improve, upgrade, and expand informs his music. "There is definitely a mold that all rappers are 'supposed' to fit into, but I have always known one of the keys to longevity is being truly who you are and letting that come through in the music."

A creation of the production talents of Maker, DJ Les735, Lakai, and other members of the Earsweat collective -- whose aim is "to bring some of the best things about the original hip-hop culture back around in fresh new ways for future generations" -- Life Learner is smooth and jazzy, recalling elements of classic hip-hop.

"Everything is cyclical, and it really feels like a new renaissance right now," Rashenal says. "Hip-hop music and culture has so much more depth and beauty compared to how it is often presented nowadays.

As commanding as he is, Rashenal still found room for friends on the record and is joined by some of Arizona's finest, including Random, Optimal, and G-Owens on "Think" and Eligh of the Living Legends on "Day Break." Freestyling with his partners, Rashenal's flow is concise but artful.

"I often like to comment on society and other things in an abstract way," he says, "so the idea is clear, but it doesn't necessarily complete the thought for you, giving the listener that freedom to decide what it means for them."

Though hip-hop is often a playground for clever boasts, Rashenal is more apt to rap about how he's still figuring things out. "The theme of the album is Life Learning," he says, "which I have come to know is absolutely critical for working toward living to your full potential." JASON P. WOODBURY

Man-Cat Your pop idols no longer are safe, thanks to Man-Cat, one of the most ambitious bands in the Valley. While most groups are content to record an EP here and there, maybe even do a small tour, Man-Cat strives to piss off major corporations and bubblegum pop stars, framing its cease-and-desists next to its Snooki-themed celebrity votive candles. Whether it's marketing Lana Del Rey's "Pussy Cola" (which got Pepsi's lawyers involved) or claiming responsibility when Justin Bieber puked onstage in Glendale, Man-Cat is not to be trifled with.

But who is in Man-Cat? No one really knows, as all four (possibly more) members veil themselves with tiger masks. Besides, according to the band, identity is irrelevant -- most Top 40 hits aren't even written by their performers. So while Man-Cat may describe themselves as "thieves of intellectual property," they'd really rather you focus on the music and not their pretty faces.

Last year, Man-Cat didn't play out a lot, which suggests that the band was lurking in the shadows, plotting its next move. "Mainly, we were refining our songs and recording them, and that took up a ton of time because we recorded it all ourselves," says one member. The album became Classic Rock, Man-Cat's first full-length and the follow-up to its 2010 EP, Hunt, Catch & Kill.

With lyrics cut-and-pasted from your least-favorite Billboard hits, Man-Cat melds its sample-based music with synth-heavy leads and eight-bit blips, almost like an analog Girl Talk. The text-to-speech mantras only add to the disjointed, dance-filled energy on songs like "Repeat the Sound" and "Not Applicable."

"We don't want the four-year lapse to happen again, so we're going to try to keep momentum and write and record an EP sometime in [2015], too," a Man-Cat spokesman says.

True to form, Man-Cat also has some highly secretive projects in the works, which likely will involve high-profile celebrity pranks and other forms of culture jamming. TROY FARAH

Pro Teens When Andy Phipps started woozy indie rock band Pro Teens, he had an aesthetic in mind: "Surf Michael Jackson." His former group, lauded Phoenix band St Ranger, fielded "surf" comparisons, too, but in the case of Pro Teens, "surf" serves more as a description of the overall vibe than a direct comparison to the Ventures or Duane Eddy. Everything So Far, a collection of recordings posted on the band's Bandcamp page, does have a connection to surf's mellow, reverb-drenched, and languid feel, but its connection to Jackson-esque soul pop is more literal.

"I listen to Mega 104.3 everyday, so [an] R&B influence [has planted a] firm foundation within my brain," Phipps says, citing KNRJ, the old-school Cordes Lakes radio station locked on his FM dial. The band's EP definitely showcases Phipps' interest in vintage R&B, but he isn't exclusive to decades like the '70s, '80s, and early '90s. "I listen to the modern stuff and the oldies. I can fuck with some Ginuwine and even Trey Songz."

Recorded by Austin Owen (something of an in-house producer for Rubber Brother Recods) and Wally Boudway (of psych-folk band Wooden Indian) at downtown locales Dressing Room and the Icehouse, Everything So Far represents Phipps' nascent vision of what Pro Teens is all about, a four-song set loosely centered on the concept of growing up. The collection's first two songs, "Teen Feelz" and "Puberty," with their ping-ponging synths and blurry vocals, sound like warped transmissions from Ariel Pink's boombox.

"Puberty's got me thinking I'm so big when I'm not," the 23-year-old Phipps sings in his finest baritone. "I just don't know myself."

"Those are the first two songs I wrote for Pro Teens, so I think I was just kind of sticking to a gimmick," Phipps says. "Puberty is about change more than a coming of age. "Teen Feelz" is about being frustrated in a relationship."

As excellent as the opening songs are, it's the latter half of the collection where Pro Teens really shine. "Goodnight Moon'd" is an off-kilter slow jam, betraying Phipps' R&B roots, while "Contact High" is a blissfully stoned pop jam echoing the Beach Boys at their most sedate.

"I think an underlying theme for Pro Teens might be more about how I view myself," Phipps says. "I'm still an irresponsible teenager at heart who just wants to have fun." JASON P. WOODBURY

Shawn Skinner Folk singer Shawn Skinner grew up in Phoenix, spending formative years in the desert mountains surrounding Black Canyon, and the Sonoran Desert has left a mark on his "sunbaked Americana," which evokes the wide-open spaces of the desert. Those songs are best experienced on his live album, Alive at the Last Exit.

Recorded in the downtown venue Last Exit Live, Skinner wasn't even aware he was being recorded performing songs like "Letting Go and Holding On," "You Better Not Miss," and "More Than the Same." As such, his performance is conversational and spontaneous, comprising simple elements: guitar, voice, and harmonica.

"I don't really think about the performance part so much," Skinner says of his songwriting process. "When I write, I try to tell a decent enough story and work out a melody to complement it, [but] I'll do my best to sing and play the hell out of it when given the chance to do so."

Skinner's songs find him concerned with familiar folk themes, honor, integrity, and responsibility. Perhaps the best of his songs is "Debt," written after the birth of his second child. Grappling with necessity, he sold a guitar, paid a bill, and picked up cheaper guitar, one he realized he liked even better than his old one.

"I had this real nice expensive guitar, and I realized that I didn't need it," Skinner says. "At the same time, I was wrestling with the notion that maybe I could write and play for a living someday because I love it, but I'm dead certain I don't deserve it. So I was staying up real late writing, and I'd try to forget about it when I'd go to sleep, but I couldn't and still can't. All the while, there is a much greater debt that I can't pay but can only be forgiven of. At some point, pride will break down and a dude just has to own up and ask."

Supported in part by culture-oriented organization the Habanero Collective, Skinner has been busy performing alongside like-minded pals in folk rock band Some Dark Hollow, but he's also plugged away at his own solo recordings, gathering songs, and polishing them patiently. "I just need a full loaf of bread. I have some super-supportive pals that are helping me figure it all out," Skinner says. "We're hoping to get it done real soon." JASON P. WOODBURY

The Stakes The Stakes started 2015 strong with the release of their debut record, The Stakes Music Vol.1, in late February, and they hope to ride that wave out of the local hip-hop community and into the consciousness of the indie music scene.

They play an eclectic style of jazz- and funk-infused hip-hop with a full band, two MCs, and a soulful singer who adds the flavor of contemporary R&B to a melting pot of sounds. Some of the members, including singer Holly Pyle, are classically trained jazz musicians, while others got their musical training through less formal methods.

"It's a really powerful conglomeration of diverse artists, and it makes a whole different kind of family," says Pyle, the band's lone female member. "You find similarities between people you'd least expect and then oppositions between people you would think would be agreement."

Pyle is the band's newest member, and she conveyed her own experience with finding affinity in a less likely place with a story about her early integration into the Stakes' music.

Keyboardist Ben Scolaro, the more classically trained, tried to "feed" Pyle ideas and help guide her musical decisions to make for a seamless transition from the band's original singer.

Scolaro's guidance was not compatible with Pyle's process, however, and she wound up finding easier access to the music through the coaxing of the two MCs, Lord Kash and Zeedubb.

"I had hardcore writer's block, hardcore lyric insecurity, and they were, like, you need to write stuff. And then I wrote stuff, and they were, like, 'That's awesome,'" Pyle says. "When I stopped listening to [Scolaro] and did what I wanted, it started to make more sense to me."

The music obviously makes more sense to Pyle, as she starred in the group's music video for "Can't Get You Out of My Head" and wrote the song for which the video was made.

"I love this group," she says. "They are not afraid to express themselves. When they make a statement, they own it. And you feel the energy, and it's awesome. There's a sense of inclusivity that we're after. We are trying to bring people together. We're trying to find those wavelengths that can reach people and make them want to improve their lives and be optimistic and look toward a brighter future."

The Stakes have high hopes of releasing their first full-length album by the end of 2015 and garnering the attention of Phoenix's diverse festival scene through appearances at events like Apache Lake Music Festival and Sidepony Express Music Festival. JEFF MOSES

Strange Lot A performance in late August 2014 at KJZZ's Tiny Desert Concert Series (a companion to NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series) technically was Strange Lot's first show. The psychedelic garage band had formed barely a month earlier.

With the release of its Walk of the Sun EP, recorded entirely by singer and guitarist Dominic Mena, Strange Lot's popularity only grew from there: "Upside Dwners" was nominated by local music blog Yab Yum as single of the summer, and the band was featured in the ASU State Press and Michigan's Earology Dept.

Maybe all that attention would put a lot of pressure on the band, whose members met via Craigslist. Not so, says Mena: "Everyone's been very supportive and helpful, it has only driven us to work harder and put on great shows . . . It's been rewarding to get such terrific feedback and opportunities from music that we have fun playing and recording."

Indeed, Strange Lot, which also includes bassist Dave Dennis and drummer Tim Lormor, is wasting no time. In May, the band will release its first full-length, Another Mind. If the singles are any indication, it's a much louder, full-bodied sound than that of Walk of the Sun. "Into the Night" has a hard punch to it, but the band says the album also will feature groove-based jams, ambient jazzy-psych, and hints of shoegaze.

The band announced on its Facebook page that it will release the album on its own label, Strange Records.

In mid-December, Yab Yum premièred the three-piece's first single from the album, "Call My Name," which fuzzes with distortion in an almost surf-rock way. Lyrics, such as "Coming off the effects of washing over," ride the line between cerebral moodiness and a stark disenchantment with everything.

"The way I write lyrics is very stream of conscious," Mena told KJZZ in August. "I don't like to force it or think about it too much . . . that's the beauty of stream of consciousness. Your mind takes over and you allow it to speak whatever you're feeling."

It seems being inwardly focused, perhaps key to Strange Lot's early success, is all the band really wants to address. In this way, it seems the group's members are staying humble and not letting all this get to their heads.

"We've discussed music videos, but our focus right now is on producing the record and getting it out there," Mena says. "In terms of direction, our goal with this album is to show everything we can do." TROY FARAH

Wax Society With major co-signs from radio personalities like Bootleg Kev and Tino Cochino, the Tempe/Mesa-based hip-hop collective known as Wax Society managed to make a major impact in 2014. Wax Society is made up of five primary members at the moment: MCs (R.E.D, Teek Hall, Kollateral) DJ/producer Urb Beats, with Summer the Kid providing production and videography work. The team generates hard-hitting flows over laid-back productions, consisting of thumping rhythms and ethereal synthesizers.

Wax Society hit hard throughout the year with solo releases from Teek Hall and Kollateral, and the group released seven music videos in 2014. Adding to the momentum, they managed to hit hard with several big shows, including Pusha T at Club Red, the Blunt Club, and prime placement at the massive Arizona Hip Hop Festival. They also joined the new #YoungArizona movement, organized in part by Tino Cochino and DJ Madd Rich. The results of this garnered an appearance on the #YoungArizona mixtape as well as a radio interview on Power 98.3's Ground Zero show. In November, the Arizona Hip Hop Awards nominated the collective for Best New Group. Wax Society also managed to make several local year-end best-of lists.

With Bootleg Kev calling Wax Society the "Wu Tang of Arizona," 2015 looks to be a breakout year for the group. It is slated to appear on Bootleg Kev's highly anticipated compilation The Co-Sign, designed to shine much-deserved light on the rising Arizona hip-hop scene. Wax Society also will release The Wax Tape, set to drop this summer.

"We plan to utilize our connections to have a bigger push on local radio stations and bring a quality of merchandise that reflects the image of Wax Society as a brand," says Teek Hall, expected to drop another solo project in 2015, as is each MC in the squad. With so many weapons in its arsenal, it's safe to say 2015 Wax Society should have an interesting 2015. JARON IKNER

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