It feels like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, a glimmer of hope that we might be able to actually see the return of live music by the end of 2021. And with the possibility of hitting the road this year still in the cards, many up-and-coming artists are getting ready to make their defining statements. Everyone has had their time to experience the varying cycles of emotion that come with trying to navigate a global pandemic, with some artists reframing their whole musical identity around our new reality, and others forging forward and refusing to slow down.
Whether a rising pop star, rapper, or indie rocker, 2021 is sure to the be year of some massive breakout acts. You might recognize some of the below names from our list of the most anticipated albums of 2021, and there are even some we’ve discovered and become bullish on within the last month. With more range of definition for “indie rock” than ever before, here are the rising indie musicians to watch in 2021.
After making waves in the DIY scene, Philadelphia-based trio Another Michael turned heads with their recently released debut album New Music And Big Pop. The album showcases their tight knight chemistry and their modest-yet-fun-loving attitudes, which give them the ability to craft breezy and infectious tunes. As they’ve already drummed up excitement about their debut release, Another Michael is sure to be going places. – Carolyn Droke
New York City collective Michelle stormed onto the indie scene last year with their infectious and joyful single “Sunrise,” which boasted a unique blend of R&B and funky indie rock aesthetic. The group is said to be working on a new full-length album for release sometime soon, proceeded by the singles “Unbound” and “FYO,” all of which show the group’s versatility and ability to jump seamlessly across genre boundaries and sonic sensibilities. – Zac Gelfand
One self-released EP was all John Ross’ band Wild Pink needed to get some label attention. After a release on Texas Is Funny Records, they found their way to Tiny Engines, where the group spread their wings over the course of their first two albums. That includes 2018’s Yolk In The Fur, a soaring, heartland-inspired indie rock album that first landed them on many people’s radars. Their first album on Royal Mountain Records, A Billion Little Lights, just dropped, showing that Ross and company are continuing on their upward trajectory with an exciting and natural progression forward.– Derrick Rossignol
Brooklyn-based rocker Quinton Brock caught our attention late last year with the infectious standalone single “To The Moon,” which blurs the lines between anthemic indie rock and reserved punk aggression. The track was born out of a particularly rough period in Brock’s life, when his best friend passed away, then his dog passed away, then his longtime girlfriend packed up and left. The track is Brock’s attempt to reconcile with his difficult new reality, something he manages to do with grace and poise. While there has been no official confirmation of forthcoming new music, we can’t wait to see what Brock comes up with next.– Z.G.
Kississippi (aka Zoe Allaire Reynolds) has undergone quite the transformation over the past few years and the whole journey has been worth keeping tabs on. She began her musical journey in more of an indie-folk lane, but she has new things cooking now. She signed with Triple Crown Records last year and dropped “Around Your Room,” a propulsive synth-pop single that shows off her adaptability, vocal smoothness, and melodic talents. She hasn’t released a new song since then, but it’s also the kind of tune that lives in your head rent-free, generating all kinds of interest for whatever she has coming up next. – D.R.
20-year-old UK songwriter Arlo Parks went from creating melodies in her bedroom to writing music that has literally saved people’s marriage. With her debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams, Parks combined poetic lyrics about relatable but oft-ignored aspects of teenage depression and anxiety, while also reminding listeners there’s always hope. Her words have resonated with many and thereby catapulted her into the indie spotlight, so keep an eye out to see where Parks takes her fluttering music next. – C.D.
The Austin, Texas group has called their music “pillowcore,” and while that was said half in jest, it’s an accurate descriptor for the downtempo and comforting music they make best. Their 2020 single “I’m Sorry,” the band’s latest material released since their 2019 third album Heavy Lifter, encapsulates that energy well, as it’s an alternative-leaning track seemingly tailored for calming nerves while retaining musical interest. Hopefully, it’s also a sign of things to come.– D.R.
Although Sasha Spielberg’s latest album Spoiled Love was just released earlier this year, the album’s intercontinental writing process imbued each song with a sense of space. It’s this fresh approach to songwriting that makes Spoiled Love a very interesting listen that will surely reward listeners and help to grow Spielberg’s following both within and outside in the indie-folk scene. – Z.G.
Making comparisons is a useful way to give a new listener an idea of what an artist sounds like. That doesn’t really work for Petey, though, because he’s just… Petey. He borrowed from emo, indie pop, folk, and pretty much everything else on the handful of EPs he has released since 2019. 2020 was particularly fortuitous, as the year yielded highlights like the LCD Soundsystem meets trap meets electronica of “Pitch A Fit!” and the emo-folk of “More To Life Than Baseball” (which, coincidentally, are both baseball-related). “You never know what they’ll do next” is a worn-out saying, but the only thing you can expect out of a new Petey release is that it will be distinctly Petey.– D.R.
After gaining a significant amount of buzz with a series of EPs and other short-form releases over the last several years, UK quintet Squid are finally prepping their debut full-length effort for release later this year. Bright Green Field finds Squid at a crossroads between the melodic sensibilities of the Talking Heads and the modern avant garde experimentation of an act like Black Midi. So far, we have only heard one single from Bright Green Field in the form of “Narrator,” which puts the band’s eccentricities on full display and promises a wild ride from the remainder of the album. – Z.G.
Upon releasing their 2018 debut album, Austin, Texas five-piece Sun June spent the year touring with the likes of Lucy Dacus. Changing gears with their sophomore album Somewhere, the band focused on their songs’ production by leaning on the mantra “melodies are king,” which resulted in open spaces and discernible textures. Their focus on production, coupled with poignant lyrics, created an album that expertly examines grief in all forms with equal parts humor and humility. – C.D.
Miloe’s 2020 EP Greenhouse was is an incredibly exciting taste of what this young Minneapolis artist by way of The Democratic Republic of Congo has to offer from a forthcoming full-length release. With only five tracks, the effort showcases Miloe’s seemingly almost effortless knack for melodies and simple, yet captivating instrumentals that make the project as a whole undeniable. Not much is known about what’s on Miloe’s docket for 2021, but consider us excited for whatever that may be. – Z.G.
Katy Kirby grew up in the Bible belt, an identity that she both explores and dismantles throughout her debut album Cool Dry Place. The album puts her own unique twist on folk rock, combining gentle melodies with playful instrumentation. Her disarming vocals and troubling ballads are oftentimes interrupted by well-timed pauses and samples of wind chimes, which also give her soulful music a unique sense of place. – C.D.
2020 was supposed to be the year Baltimore’s Pinkshift really came into their own as a band, with their first official tour as a four-piece on the books, and new music in the works. The pandemic upended all of those plans, but they didn’t let that stop them. They unleashed their ferocious pop-punk single “I’m Gonna Tell My Therapist On You” in July, when it promptly went viral due to its My Chemical Romance-like grandeur and Ashrita Kumar’s insanely catchy vocals. With a viral hit under their belt, Pinkshift is already buzzing like crazy, and new music is surely on the way. – Z.G.
Proper.‘s latest single “Don’t” was co-produced by The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell, and undoubtedly features the band’s most direct and emotional songwriting to date as vocalist Erik Garlington grapples with the reality that they could be murdered by police at any moment. The powerful message is delivered atop the trio’s unique and earnest approach to emo and pop punk, a promising look at what’s to come from the buzzing Brooklyn outfit. The trio has used the pandemic to hone their songwriting, with Garlington attending virtual writing sessions with Campbell again, hopefully resulting in a new LP for 2021. – Z.G.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.