With 2013 officially in the past, we can now start looking into the hazy future that is 2014. We know lists abound this time of year, but we can’t help throwing yet another onto the pile. We’ll keep it short, but here are a handful of artists that we’ll be watching in 2014.
Ishmael Butler After Sub Pop heard THEESatisfaction’s spaced out collaborations on Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up, the label decided to release the group’s impeccable debut album awE naturalE. The record’s cosmic soul made it one of Sub Pop’s most unique releases of 2012. The band’s signing also stands as the first unofficial A&R action by Shabazz MC Ishmael Butler. This past August, Sub Pop sealed the deal and officially incorporated Butler into its A&R team, giving him the hefty responsibility of seeking out new talent for Seattle’s biggest little label. In Butler’s words, he’s looking for “imaginative artists, daring artists, courageous artists, independent-thinking artists, artists that aren’t relying on trends or superficial things to get noticed, artists that are more musically inclined rather than image inclined, artists that are hard workers and ... cool.” But while Butler isn’t exclusively looking to sign rap artists, his hire leads to speculation that 2014 could be the year Sub Pop goes hip-hop. The timing is apropos, too—the city is brimming with incredible rappers and producers like Kingdom Crumbs and Blue Sky Black Death who deserve quality label recognition and could soar with his personal endorsement. Although there’s no telling if he’ll look specifically within Seattle for talent, his many collaborators and home base here suggests that as a possibility. On top of that, he and his bandmate Tendai Maraire are working on a follow-up to 2011’s highly acclaimed Black Up, slated for release sometime in 2014. Butler’s a busy dude, and his many projects are bound to turn up something interesting this year. KELTON SEARS
Iska Dhaaf The duo of Benjamin Verdoes and Nathan Quiroga has all the makings of a breakout year in 2014. Their band, formed after each member left a respectable former outfit (Verdoes from Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band, Quiroga from Mad Rad), stormed onto the radar this past summer with minimal advance notice and two online-only releases. On the strength of the band’s groove-laden surf-inflected hit “All the Kids,” Iska Dhaaf earned critical accolades while whipping up small, packed crowds in house shows and gallery spaces, playing raucous sets that had people talking for weeks after. While expectations grew, the band went to work recording and producing videos, including an artful, revelatory short film for a new song, “Happiness,” which amplified the buzz considerably. There is little doubt that that buzz will carry through to the spring and that the band will find itself on all the area’s major festival bills—Sasquatch!, Bumbershoot, MusicfestNW—positioning itself to be Seattle’s breakout band of 2014. Whether or not that happens depends largely on what’s going on in Olympia’s Dub Narcotic Studio right now, as the band is finishing up the recording of its debut full-length album with producer Ephriam Nagler, a K Records regular whose production is largely responsible for the buoyant darkness of the band’s previous releases. MARK BAUMGARTEN
Lena Simon While at Cornish, 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist Lena Simon dabbled in a little bit of a lot, studying everything from classical clarinet (her most proficient instrument) and composing music for Javanese gamelan while simultaneously joining three other widely-respected indie bands: Pollens, Tomten, and Throw Me The Statue. Last year she added Kairos, her new project, to the load and it’s since signed to Fin Records. With the label’s help, she’s released two gorgeous singles, “That Which is Not” and “Undermine,” pretty electronic tracks that, respectively, call to mind to the layered, lush electronica of Tracy Thorn and Cocteau Twins. Live, her band is composed of some of Seattle’s best and brightest, too, including lyricist Kate Finn (aka Katie Kate), Ray McCoy of Charms, Alex Barr of Kithkin, and Conor Sisk, formerly of Brite Futures. In addition to playing bass, drums, keys, guitar, and laptop, Simon possesses vocals with a naturally smooth, warm tone that add a delicate softness to what might otherwise be an icy, inorganic landscape. As is suggested by her new band’s name—an ancient Greek word meaning “the right or opportune moment”—Simon is in the zone. With Fin gearing up to release Kairos’ six-song debut EP this year, this talented and well-connected young artist is poised to deliver exciting things. (Thurs., Jan. 16, Columbia City Theater) GWENDOLYN ELLIOTT