In the Spotlight: 50 Bands You Need to Hear in 2018 (Part One)

In the Spotlight (Part 1)

Last year we brought back, and re-branded, one of my favorite features from the AbsolutePunk days: the “Absolute 100.” And as we enter May and the weather finally starts to turn around a little bit, it’s the perfect time to once again team up with our contributors to bring you a whole bunch of new music to check out.

Just like years past we’ve compiled a list of 50 artists we think are worth your time. Some of the artists recently released their debut albums and some have been around for a while now but have flown under the radar. However, the one thing they all have in common is that we think they should be in the spotlight and are worthy of your ears. You’ll find the first group of 25, along with blurbs, recommended songs, and sounds like comparisons, below.


by Anna Acosta

Up-and-coming dark-pop duo Liis may have started with busking and acoustic coffee shops, but the end creation between dual vocalist/guitarists Lisa Haagen and Dana Cargioli is anything but simplistic – or even acoustic. The independent release duo’s debut EP Put It On; Show It Off (to be released May 12, 2018) is a beautiful tapestry of haunting melodies and wistful, starkly honest lyrics that manage to never once lose their poetic feel. Sleep on this group at your own risk – they’ve got nowhere to go but up.

Recommended Track: “Thief

RIYL: Daughter, Julien Baker, Lydia


by Jason Tate

I can’t think of a single artist I’m more excited to finally get a full-length album from than Florrie. She’s released a variety of EPs and single songs since around 2010, with the last coming a couple years ago. However, it looks like this is the year we’re getting more music and that rockets my anticipation up to a whole new level. Florrie’s music takes a few different forms but it’s almost always catchy and perfect for a summer day. I see sparks of Charlie XCX, Little Boots, and even a little Carly Rae Jepsen in there, but it’s the energy and creative diversity in her work that makes me think she has something really special in her.

Recommended Track: “Real Love

RIYL: Little Boots, Dragonette, Foxes

Ruston Kelly

by Craig Manning

Ruston Kelly is probably best known at this moment-in-time as Kacey Musgraves’ husband. 2018 feels destined to be Kelly’s year, though, so don’t be surprised if you’re reading a lot about him by December. Kelly has already racked up songwriting credits for country artists like Tim McGraw and Josh Abbott Band, and he recently scored some rock ‘n’ roll cred by opening for Brian Fallon on the Sleepwalkers tour. The time is ripe for Kelly to release his proper debut album, which should be out later this year on his new label, Rounder Records. Expect the album to build upon the foundations Kelly established on 2016’s Halloween, a stellar EP that sounded like a lost document from Ryan Adams’ ultra-prolific mid-2000s period. Just like Adams, Kelly is the kind of artist that could comfortably be classified as country, rock, or folk. In other words, he’s got the kind of universal appeal that not a lot of his Nashville contemporaries can’t match. That factor should set him up for big success whenever his new record does hit the streets.

Recommended Track: “Black Magic

RIYL: Ryan Adams, Brian Fallon, Afraid of Ghosts-era Butch Walker

Cecil Frena

by Mary Varvaris

A few months ago, I stumbled upon my favorite song of 2018 so far. That song is called “All Of My Heroes”, from the stunning, eclectic album The Gridlock by Edmonton artist Cecil Frena (previously known under the monikers Gobble Gobble and Born Gold). “All Of My Heroes” is the ultimate pop-rock song – it’s anthemic, and Frena utilizes cool distorted guitar, synths, and most importantly: his fantastic voice. Throughout The Gridlock’s 43 minutes, Cecil Frena never takes himself too seriously. There’s a distinct element of dark humor framing self-deprecating lyrics, but the melodies mostly remain upbeat. There’s a range of styles on display throughout this album, it’s almost too difficult to keep up. Take the raucous punk track “Unknow Yourself” where Frena is furious, and his words are scathing. Later, there’s the tongue-in-cheek “I Believe In Dancing”. “I Believe In Dancing” is the only acoustic-led track on The Gridlock, and it’s gorgeous and fantastic. Then, see him try balladry with the lovely piano-led “Hyphen”. But, The Gridlock doesn’t end on an optimistic note. Album closer “Human Math” is a dynamic, shattering song to end the record with. “Human Math” begins so gently, with quiet and mournful keys, and Frena’s hushed vocals before an urgent climax brought by intense, rollicking guitars; which complement crushing words that deal with an impending personal loss (“and it’s not your fault the coffin waits”). Cecil Frena doesn’t take the easy way out, and isn’t afraid to make music that asks questions without answers or happy endings. It’s real. It’s human. It’s also one of the coolest albums I’ve heard in a long time. The Gridlock might be the best, but also the most overlooked album by the end of the year. I desperately hope this isn’t the case, because Cecil Frena can and should be one of the biggest stars in indie rock.

Recommended Track: “All Of My Heroes

RIYL: Born Gold, Quiet Friend, Long Neck

The Penske File

by Jason Tate

Over the past few years my ears haven’t been as perked up by the gravely voiced singer over loud guitars thing. Yet, I find there to be something captivating by The Penske File’s recently released album, Salvation. It’s not really that they’re doing anything new, but their spin on this sound calls to me anyway. There’s some really good stuff in here.

Recommended Track: “Spin My History

RIYL: Spanish Love Songs, Youth Decay, Red City Radio

No Thank You

by Drew Beringer

Philly is the scene that just keeps on giving. The latest and greatest to emerge from the City of Brotherly Love is the incredible trio No Thank You. While the band’s debut Jump Ship was a solid albeit brief introduction to their brand of emo-tinged rock and roll, 2018’s All It Takes To Ruin It All is one of the genre’s better sophomore releases in recent memory. The record ultimately revolves around the passing of singer Kaytee Della Monica’s father and how she’s navigating through this loss. The band sounds more confident on record two – ping-ponging sonically from the likes of Rilo Kiley to The Get Up Kids – while Della Monica struggles to find the balance within the freshly introduced pain and grief into her world. All It Takes To Ruin It All is a brisk yet heavy record that’ll wring your emotions through the gauntlet, cementing No Thank You as one of the bands you absolutely cannot miss out on in 2018.

Recommended Track: “New England Patriots


by Zac Djamoos

You could listen to SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s entire fifteen-song discography in just about as many minutes, and it’ll still be the fifteen most exhilarating minutes of your day. The band features members of screamo and grindcore heavyweights Flowers Taped to Pens and Letters to Catalonia, and it shows. Their grindy Fashion Statements of the Socially Aware EP is some of the most punishing metalcore I’ve heard in a long time – I fell out with metalcore years ago when Risecore became the dominant style. But if there’s any band I believe can revitalize the genre, it’s SeeYouSpaceCowboy.

Recommended Track: “Jimmy Buffet Doesn’t Even Surf

RIYL: Daughters, Blood Brothers, Botch

Caroline Rose

by Aaron Mook

Caroline Rose is the kind of eclectic songwriter that only comes along once or twice a year, and Loner is the unexpected debut that very well may end up on everyone’s EOTY lists. Her personality is on full display in her music, which hops from genre to genre over the span of a mere 11 tracks and 34 minutes. One moment, she’s mimicking the dream-like textures of Beach House and the next, she’s recreating Haim’s vintage vocal melodies – sometimes, all within the same song (“Getting To Me”). From the Phoenix-inspired synth-pop of “Jeannie Becomes a Mom” to the Modest Mouse guitar work of “To Die Today,” Loner is irresistible, that rare record that truly has something for everyone. In her own words, she’s got soul.

Recommended Track: “To Die Today

Mammoth Grinder

by Jake Jenkins

When multi-instrumentalist Chris Ulsh isn’t busy behind the kit with modern day thrash metal titans Power Trip, he’s taking the helm in Mammoth Grinder, an old school death metal band that also features members of Iron Reagan. Like Power Trip, Mammoth Grinder’s particular brand of metal pulses with hints of hardcore punk, staying true to the raw and primal roots of the genre. On their latest full length, this year’s Cosmic Crypt, Ulsh has moved from guitars to bass, but the band’s guttural and intense bursts of death metal are still fully intact. Clocking in at just under half an hour, Cosmic Crypt is a quick, brutal assault that should please both new school and old school fans of death metal.

Recommended Track: “Blazing Burst

RIYL: Power Trip, Genocide Pact


by Jason Tate

I’ve been a sucker for groovy-synthy pop-music over the past few years and Paperwhite have that in spades. So far this Brooklyn duo have released a couple EPs and a few singles and should have a new EP out later this year. Their pulsating tracks sparkle behind Katie Marshall’s vocals and they have an undeniable ability to shine in the uptempo and somber dream-pop.

Recommended Track: “Unstoppable

RIYL: Great Good Fine OK, Say Lou Lou, Ryn Weaver

Holy Fawn

by Trevor Graham

Holy Fawn may have emerged from the desert, but their brand of spacey post rock is nothing short of otherworldly. Crafting dreamy, oceanic atmospheres with each track, this Arizona-based quartet blends influences from the finest in experimental rock and shoegaze with an undeniably palpable energy that’ll leave you emotionally winded. 2015 saw the release of their debut EP, REALMS — a vehicle for introducing their broad dynamic range, deliberately set to satisfy head-trippers and head-bangers alike. Their visceral knack for layering sound shines brightly through a familiar formula that Holy Fawn have mastered the art of frequently concocting: start quiet, then get loud. Like, really, really, tremendously loud. I hate to use the word “epic” here, but… this band brings the capital E. Amidst their stormlike compositions, vocalist Ryan Osterman pours velvet falsetto whispers, hushed and reverberated just enough to somehow both stand out and blend in at once. Their latest single, “Arrows”, features a dizzying array of shimmering, cavernous guitar loops, eventually delivering the listener to the group’s fiercest display of cacophony yet. It comes from their forthcoming Whelmed Records debut, which the band aims to release in late 2018.

Recommended Track: “Arrows

RIYL: Gates, O’Brother, Sigur Ros

American Aquarium

by Craig Manning

In the Americana world, American Aquarium tends to be a pretty well-known and well-respected enterprise. If you don’t venture down that musical avenue much, though, then I’d wager you’ve never heard of these boys from North Carolina. Ever since 2006, this band has been quietly cultivating one of the most solid discographies in roots music. In 2012, they brought in Jason Isbell to produce their LP Burn. Flicker. Die., a record they intended to be their swansong. Six years later, they’re still trucking—though frontman BJ Barham recently had to reboot the band with new players. No matter: the band’s newest record—the forthcoming Things Change—is arguably their most fully realized to date. Starting with a song about the day Trump got elected president (the fittingly titled “The World Is on Fire”), Things Change is in turns political and deeply personal. The wistful “When We Were Younger Men,” for instance, charts the pains of growing up and the fluctuations of friendships to the sound of Tom Petty hits. The record as a whole is a reminder of what makes these guys special: they can be introspective, incendiary, personal, or political.

Recommended Track: “The World Is on Fire

RIYL: Drive-By Truckers, Whiskeytown, Jason Isbell

Pale Houses

by Deanna Chapman

The latest music from Pale Houses landed in my inbox and in typical fashion, it took me a while to get to it. Once I did, though, I was thoroughly impressed with the band’s sound. If you’re looking for new indie pop to listen to, these are your guys. Song of the Isolation is their new EP and all six songs keep you engaged with the music. I’ll be keeping an eye on this band going forward because they’re one of the pleasant surprises of 2018 for me.

Recommended Track: “Tenderfoot

RIYL: Death Cab For Cutie, Bon Iver, Bleachers

Wild Pink

by Drew Beringer

It’s only been a little over a year since Wild Pink released their criminally underrated Tiny Engines self-titled debut but that didn’t stop the New York City trio from expanding their introspective yet sensitive indie-rock sound on their upcoming second album, Yolk In The Fur, this July. The first single, “Lake Eerie,” leans even further into the spacious soundscapes created by lead person John Ross. Clocking in just over five minutes, it’s just a taste of the leap the band has made from album one into their sophomore effort. Let’s just all promise each other that Wild Pink dominates our speakers all summer into the fall.

Recommended Track: “Lake Eerie


by Jason Tate

Spielbergs released their debut EP, Distant Star, last week (April 27, 2018) and it is full of sing-a-long choruses that just beg to be shouted in sweaty nightclubs. They are a band and sound that feels almost instantly recognizable and familiar, but when performed with such gusto are still undeniably addicting.

Recommended Track: “We Are All Going to Die

RIYL: The Japandroids, Latterman

Nora Rothman

by Anna Acosta

It’s said that the simplest things in life can be the sweetest, and that ethos has never been embodied the way it is in singer-songwriter Nora Rothman. Embodied by a certain ethereal quality that’s difficult to fabricate, there is very little outside from a sweet, lilting vocal and a lightly plucked ukulele to distract from Rothman’s straightforward, heartfelt storytelling. And there’s nothing like taking one’s craft and applying it to a cause: this spring Rothman’s self-titled EP (released summer 2017) was remixed by five separate female producers (Birch, Ah-Mer-Ah-Su, QRTR, Suzi Analogue, and Libra Rising, respectively) and re-released via Electric Bird Records as a fundraising initiative for Planned Parenthood.

Recommended Track: “Strange

RIYL: Phoebe Bridgers, Sufjan Stevens, Sarah McLachlan

Middle Kids

by Adam Grundy

Middle Kids are not your average indie rock band. Typically a band with this type of following would have been expected to have played multiple shows before being noticed for a record contract. Not the case here, as this Australian 3-piece band released their first single in 2016 without having played a single show. Singer/songwriter Hannah Joy found limited success by self-releasing songs via Bandcamp, but she finally got her big break when Elton John endorsed Middle Kids. Their music can be best described as upbeat, classic sounding, pop-rock built for audiences as close knit as the club scene yet polished enough for arenas. Check out their debut LP Lost Friends on May 4th via Domino Records.

Recommended Track: “Mistake

RIYL: Fleetwood Mac, Smallpools, Gang of Youths

Hop Along

by Mary Varvaris

Hop Along is an American indie rock band from Philadelphia, PA. Their latest album Bark Your Head Off, Dog can be effectively summed up in its album opener “How Simple”. When I watch the music video, I’m unsure if Frances Quinlan is poking fun at herself while reflecting on the unpleasant things about falling in love: “how simple my heart can be frightens me” or if she mourns for relationships that don’t end up working: “don’t worry, we will both find out / just not together”. Quinlan’s lyrics are straightforward in their honesty here, but elsewhere, her lyrics fall in the abstract with religious imagery and references to World War I (see: “One That Suits Me”). Frances Quinlan’s voice is indescribable. She howls, croons, screams, and yelps, her voice cracks – she gives everything when she sings. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is full of wacky, memorable instrumentation – “Somewhere A Judge” is groovy, and Quinlan briefly uses a vocoder towards the end of the song. “The Fox In Motion” is full of unforgettable indie rock riffs. “Prior Things” is lead by optimistic, beautiful strings. There’s a harp and strings in the outstanding “Not Abel”. “Not Abel” starts as a fascinating little folk ballad, combining gentle picking on the acoustic guitar with a harp. “Not Abel” feels like a revelation. Quinlan references the story of Cain and Abel, and for the last minute and 36 seconds, “Not Abel” becomes an anthem. Before then, though, she channels her anger at the men who affected her self worth and confidence, contemplating how it’s “strange to be shaped by such strange men”. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is a refined and cohesive effort, taking all the elements of Hop Along’s previous album Painted Shut, and expands on them. Hop Along give every song room to breathe, and develop a warm, spacious atmosphere. The instrumentation is creative and experimental. Bark Your Head Off, Dog will end up being one of the best, most ambitious indie rock albums of the year.

Recommended Track “How Simple

RIYL: Modest Mouse, Joanna Newsom

Soccer Mommy

by Jason Tate

You can choose to get caught up on the band name if you want, but if you do, you’ll be missing out on one of the more exciting voices in music right now. Soccer Mommy is the brainchild of Sophie Allison and her latest studio album, Clean, was released earlier this year. The music has a breezy angst to it that walks between this folksy-grunge sound and soft acoustic ballads. It seems perfectly tailored to be performed in a bedroom alone, sung to a few empty beer cans and tired eyes, or belted on stage to a room that will soon be learning every word.

Recommended Track: “Your Dog

RIYL: Alvvays, Anna Burch, Liz Phair

Travis Meadows

by Craig Manning

Invoking the spirit of the great Bruce Springsteen has become an increasingly trendy thing for songwriters to do in the past decade. In songs by The Gaslight Anthem, Titus Andronicus, Eric Church, and more, Bruce has been elevated to the status of rock ‘n’ roll’s patron saint. Still, there might not be a song that captures what it’s like to hear a Springsteen song in the car on a weekend summer night better than “Pray for Jungleland.” The song, a core cut from Travis Meadows’ 2017 album First Cigarette, is a wistful look back at the days before iPods or Spotify (or car CD players, for that matter) where your only option was to wait around to hear your favorite song on the radio. Meadows takes that idea and turns it into a song that feels as alive and full of possibility as any summer evening you’ve ever witnessed. Elsewhere on the record, he takes you to the deepest depths of human regret and hopelessness, purging his own struggles with alcoholism in songs that hurt like bruises. Suffice to say there’s a lot of darkness in Meadows’ music. Songs like “Sideways” and “First Cigarette” feel like they exist on a brink, one step away from giving up or giving in. But it’s songs like “Pray for Jungleland” or “Pontiac” that make First Cigarette a masterpiece, because they shine a light through the darkness and make it shine.

Recommended Track: “Pray for Jungleland

RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Eric Church

We Were Sharks

by Adam Grundy

Victory Records’ latest prized possession is We Were Sharks, whose crunchy guitar riffs and New Found Glory-esque pop hooks have certainly gained listeners’ attention. This 6-piece post hardcore band from Ottawa, Canada are poised for a big 2018 with the release of Lost Touch (February 23, 2018), which happens to be their second album, and was produced by Silverstein guitarist, Paul Marc Rousseau.

Recommended Track: “Hotel Beds

RIYL: A Day To Remember, Silverstein, Four Year Strong


by Trevor Graham

These Minnesota natives released a debut full length in 2015 that straight up stole my heart. Channelling the wintery ambience of indie darlings like Copeland, Of Brighter Days was the sound of a band exerting themselves on all fronts. The sense of melody, rhythm, instrumentation, lyricism — it was all there. Three years later, the band has released their new album, IIFOIIC — an acronym for the enthralling title track, “Is It Far Or Is It Close?”. The song, like many others in their discography, features haunting falsettos and soaring harmonies, glitchy electronic flourishes, trippy delayed guitar leads, and a powerhouse rhythm section. Their ability to bounce energy off of one another is unmatched in this scene, as they work like tiny parts of a well-oiled machine to push each other to the next level. At other points in the record, Author kick up the tempo to show off some of their most kaleidoscopic arrangements to date (looking at you, “Want”), where you may have trouble deciding whether to air drum or air guitar. Pro-tip: you’ll have time for the one you didn’t pick when you hit replay — you’ll want to hear that vocal hook again anyway. This is most certainly music made to soundtrack the leaves changing color, but don’t let that allow you to sleep on this fantastic band.

Recommended Track: “Is It Far or Is It Close

RIYL: Copeland, From Indian Lakes, Valise, Mutemath

The Night Game

by Jason Tate

Martin Johnson is an annoying good songwriter. Look, you can have your qualms with Boys Like Girls, but there’s no denying the earworms this asshole can write. His latest project has only released a handful of songs, but already they’ve run the gamut from 80’s nostalgia (“The Outfield”) to destined for pop radio (“Bad Girls Don’t Cry”). It’s nice to see Martin flex his songwriting chops and as he aims for a summer release with this project, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him once again with songs on the tips of everyone’s tongue.

Recommended Track: “The Outfield

RIYL: The 1975, LANY

I Don’t Know How but They Found Me

by Adam Grundy

This dynamic duo is comprised of ex-Panic! at the Disco bassist, Dallon Weekes and ex-Falling in Reverse drummer Ryan Seaman. These recent “cast offs” shouldn’t be written off yet as they plan to release an album filled with synth pop reminiscent of the 80’s.

Recommended Track: “Choke

RIYL: Tears For Fears, Elvis Costello, Orgy

Caitlyn Smith

by Craig Manning

If there were any justice, Caitlyn Smith would be the biggest star in modern country music. I don’t care whether you listen to country music or not: Smith’s debut album, this year’s Starfire, will knock you on your ass. The first time I heard her sing, it reminded me of the first time I heard Chris Stapleton. They both have these big, epic voices—voices so good you can’t believe they stayed secret for so long. It’s the kind of voice that can send shivers down your spine with a climactic key change (“Tacoma”) or leave your jaw on the floor with a theatrical torch song (“East Side Restaurant”). But Caitlyn Smith isn’t just The Voice-style good. On the contrary, she’s also a dynamite writer, someone who can silence a room with the sharpness of her pen just as much as she can with the hugeness of her voice. On “Scenes from a Corner Booth at Closing Time on a Tuesday,” she turns vignettes about nameless characters into a tongue-in-cheek treatise on modern loneliness, and on “This Town Is Killing Me,” she poignantly illustrates just how much it costs to chase a dream. If you listen to my recommendation once ever, make it this one.

Recommended Track: “Tacoma

RIYL: Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris, Taylor Swift

Looking for more? Check out Part Two. And, if you missed it last year, you can check out 2017’s feature here.

A playlist of all the recommended songs on Apple Music and Spotify can be found here.