I was recently put in my place for an insensitive tweet I wrote about an NPR podcast: "Has there ever been anything half as awkward as a white, middle-aged male analyzing rap lyrics on NPR? #bullseye," it read. At first, I didn't think anything of it — that is, until a few days after the fact, when my Twitter randomly blew up (well, by my humble standards). One guy accused me of being a racist (how?), and the "Bullseye" host himself, Jesse Thorn, told me to "check [my] assumptions before [I] get glib." Woops. And if getting called out by the host himself weren't enough, an apparent "Bullseye" enthusiast next visited my website before tweeting at me, saying, among other things, that my "list of best podcasts pulled directly from the iTunes Top Charts" (not true) and that my blog was a Buzzfeed clone (thanks, man. I'll take it.) And since I've clearly learned my lesson, I decided to write another listicle.
But I'm being transparent when I say that this particular list is directly influenced by a larger one produced by NPR Music. The list I speak of is the Austin 100, a 100-track playlist that NPR staffer Stephen Thompson put together to help listeners pre-game for the Austin music festival South by Southwest (or SXSW). And since I was unable to attend, I listened to the whole playlist over a series of days, releasing my inner flower child whilst I sat quietly at work. Each artist on the mammoth playlist was pretty great (with a few screamo exceptions), but there were a few who tickled my fancy — 12, in fact. And so it goes:
1. Shamir. This Vegas native is only 20, but his sass, lyricism and sense and style transcend his ripe age. His single "On the Regular" will have you jamming all month (year?) long:
2. Cheerleader. Indie singalong group Cheerleader seems to feed off of good vibes and soaring choruses. Their single "Perfect Vision" is reminiscent of bands like Walk the Moon, Grouplove and Team Me:
3. Genevieve. Singer Genevieve Schatz started out in the indie band Company of Thieves, but after they disbanded in early 2014, she launched her solo career. If her new EP, "Show Your Colors" is any indication of future success, she'll be just fine:
4. Kero Kero Bonito. Headed up by an England-based, Japanese singer, Kero Kero Bonito is J-Pop like you've never heard it before — with a London accent:
5. VÉRITÉ. Half indie pop and half electronica, VÉRITÉ sounds like early Marina and the Diamonds or an upbeat Lana Del Rey. Listen to notable songs like "Strange Enough" and "Heartbeat" along with a healthy dose of "Weekend."
6. Kaleo. I originally found this band on NoiseTrade, where their EP, "All the Pretty Girls," is currently available. The Icelandic posse has influences from Bon Iver and Vance Joy, mixing the indie, blues, rock and folk genres with ease. But learn from my mistake: there is a Hawaiian singer that goes by the same name, so the Kaleo page on both Rdio and Spotify has songs from both artists:
7. Big Phony. Korean-American singer Bobby Choy has a soothing voice, like Sufjan Stevens or Iron & Wine's Samuel Beam. His song "I Love Lucy" is a sweet love ballad that you can't help but put on repeat:
8. Courtney Barnett. This Australian is paving the way for female musicians in the talk-singing genre. Her electric guitar skills are unparalleled, and her deadpan voice is both strange and endearing. Be on the lookout for her new album, which drops today, March 23. Rolling Stone, the New York Times and NPR Music all have high hopes for Barnett, and it's easy to see why:
9. Kate Tempest. Much like Courtney Barnett, this London native rap/sings her lyrics. However, she's more than just a musician — she's also a poet. Tempest won the Ted Hughes Award for her poetry in 2013 for the spoken work "Brand New Ancients." Plus, there's nothing I love more than a cockney accent. (Lily Allen or Kate Nash, anyone?)
10. Little Simz. This 20-year-old British rapper is taking the young hip-hop world by storm with her new EP, "E.D.G.E." Her lyrics are explicit — and she's got panache by the scads — but she's also wise beyond her years:
11. Howard. Based in Brooklyn, this rock folktronic band is breathtakingly gorgeous. Think Hozier meets Beck meets Coldplay (but in a good way):
12. Wild Party. Like their name implies, this band doesn't take itself too seriously. If you're a fan of Walk the Moon, Smallpools or The Griswolds, Wild Party might just be the party for you:
For more information on these and other artists, tune in to the NPR podcast "All Songs Considered," — especially their coverage of SXSW. They know WAY more about music than I do, and they're pretty cool to boot. It ultimately isn't awkward when they analyze rap lyrics, even though they are middle-aged white guys on NPR.