Every year there are dozens of artists nominated for golden gramophones, and for many non-mainstream music consumers, it’s tough to take many of the nominees seriously. Did The Weeknd really make the best album of the last year? Did Wiz Khalifi really write one of its best songs? Probably not. But the fact remains, The Grammy Awards are still a big deal in music, and the recording academy still does its part to highlight some of the world’s top artists — even if some of them fly too far under most listeners’ radars.
As always, we’re here to help. Here is our list of the top 10 Grammy-nominated artists to check out, whether they take home the trophy or not:
Alabama Shakes — Album Of The Year
Athens, Alabama-natives Alabama Shakes write passionate crossover-pop music with a sharply rhythmic edge. A longtime up-and-comer whose latest record Sound & Color has taken the music world by storm, the band is equally adept in studio as they are live, where intensely-personal performances have been steadily capturing them a bigger and bigger audience.
Hiatus Kaiyote — Best R&B Performance
From the first minute that most are exposed to Australian R&B group Hiatus Kaiyote, listeners find themselves in a sort of musical trance. With layered jazz harmonies, stirringly-smooth rhythms with odd-metered breaks, and 80s-influenced synth tones, the group weaves a tapestry of sounds unlike any other. And though they may be something of a sleeper at this year’s Grammy Awards, each any every one of their creations is a beautiful piece of sonic art — the sort of head-bobbing masterpieces that you fall in love with immediately, but are complex enough to listen to over again for months on end.
Courtney Barnett — Best New Artist
With a left-handed Fender guitar and a ragged visual aesthetic that immediately evokes comparisons to Kurt Cobain, Courtney Barnett uses hilariously candid lyrics to showcase her less-than-depressed observations of the modern world. A brilliant songwriter whose casually-produced rock tells stories of visiting potential homes in the suburbs, being a hypochondriac, and not wanting to go out to parties, Barnett’s music will evoke wide grins from those who listen to her words, and nods of approval from those who don’t.
Flying Lotus — Best Dance Recording
West coast electronic musician Flying Lotus has had a heck of a year. A below-the-radar type, Lotus spent his time working closely with fellow Grammy nominee Kendrick Lamar, helping create the spaced-out sounds that made Lamar’s Album Of The Year-nominated To Pimp A Butterfly, a massive musical gem. A jazz-influenced producer who is the grand-nephew of John Coltrane, the California native crafts intricate electronic works with deep groovy beats; complex sonic creations which are worthy of his golden ancestor.
D’Angelo and the Vanguard — Best R&B Album
One of the most important R&B singers of the past 20 years, D’Angelo surrounds himself with some of the world’s most talented musicians, both inside and outside the studio. An extremely talented vocal performer with songs that helped form the foundation of the modern R&B aesthetic, D’Angelo is a must-add for those who don’t already have him on their deep-listening playlists.
Chris Stapleton — Best Country Album
Bearded country songwriter Chris Stapleton may be new to the stage as a solo artist, but his songs are not. Having written over 150 songs for other musicians over the years — big names like Adele, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw, and Brad Paisley — Stapleton clearly saved some of his best work for himself. With a perfectly-pitched vibrato, the Nashville musician sings about love, heartbreak, and the road on 2015’s Traveller, easily earning himself a Country Music Award for album of the year in the process.
Leon Bridges — Best R&B Album
A new star with a throwback sound, Leon Bridges’ sound emulates classic soul artists like Otis Redding without copying them, providing a unique-yet-classic twist on one of America’s best historical genres. A Texas-born musician who debuted last year on Columbia Records, look for Bridges star to grow brighter as his career lengthens, even if his sound stays firmly rooted in the past.
Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest — Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
Massive and massively talented don’t often go hand in hand in music, but they do with Snarky Puppy, an amalgamation of some of jazz and R&B’s finest musicians who have made their name by playing heavily-arranged tracks on gorgeous live videos. Their most recent effort, in which the Texas-based group joined forces with The Netherlands’ Metropole Orchestra, is a staggeringly passionate set of recordings, with beautiful string harmonies that layer perfectly into Snarky Puppy’s modern R&B sound.
Caribou — Best Electronic/Dance Album
A popular electronic project from Candian musician Daniel Snaith, Caribou crafts dance-inducing electronic music with an indie rock tinge. Songs are catchy and mostly club-worthy, but with just the right amount of musicality to actually withstand intellectual scrutiny.
Jason Isbell — Best American Roots Song
Former Drive By Truckers member Jason Isbell has made a name for himself over the years as a deeply contemplative alt-country songwriter, joining the likes of Ryan Adams as a successful breakaway artist. With a heavily visual lyrical style, Isbell transports listeners to a pleasurably melancholy state, the sort of music that was purpose-built for porches and sunsets.
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