Fickle by design, pop music is pretty much impossible to predict. There’s no telling which way the winds will blow when it comes to anointing the next big thing. One year it’s Adele, the next it’s Miley. For our annual roundup of ones to watch, we don’t bother peering into a crystal ball. Instead, here are 10 bands and solo artists doing interesting work that’s worth your time – and listening pleasure – in 2015.
Already known as a core member of Arcade Fire, Butler reveals a deep reserve of feeling and nuance on his debut solo album, due in early March on Merge Records. “Policy” is a burnished gem that shares musical DNA with not only his main band, but also the Violent Femmes, Television, and Arthur Russell. The press materials describe it simply as “American music.” Butler’s elastic voice, which at times recalls that of his older brother, Win (Arcade Fire’s frontman), oscillates between world-weary croon and punk sneer. (Butler brings his solo tour to the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge on March 6, a few days before his album’s release.) -James Reed
The British singer-songwriter recently won the BRITs Critics’ Choice award, which bodes well since previous winners include Sam Smith, Adele, Ellie Goulding, and Florence and the Machine. In the US, Bay also won praise as the opening act for Hozier, including a show at the House of Blues on Halloween. Across three EPs of beguiling indie folk-pop, Bay evokes artists like Jeff Buckley and Damien Rice, thanks to delicately crafted tunes and an expressive voice that drifts from smoky to husky to feather-light falsetto flights. Bay releases his debut album, “Chaos and the Calm,” on March 24. -Sarah Rodman
Easy on the ears and eyes (always a deadly combo), Combs is a Nashville-based songwriter who doesn’t fit neatly into country’s parameters. He’s not a young outlaw like Sturgill Simpson, and certainly not a bro on par with Luke Bryan. Combs is, however, an elegant singer and songwriter, spinning gold from tales about heartache and redemption and spirituality – all with a tasteful patina of pop and soul. I hear echoes of Mickey Newbury and John Prine in “All These Dreams,” Combs’s sophomore album, which is set for release on March 3, with a Boston date likely in the spring. -J.R.
The Colorado farm girl who drove silage trucks to put herself through college has opened for a slew of big Nashville names, including Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, and Florida Georgia Line, and even handled warm-up duties for Bob Seger. The singer-songwriter-guitarist recently inked a deal with Universal Nashville on the strength of her two indie singles, the laid-back country rocker “Get Out” and the sassy, swaggering “Cowboy Side of You.” Dunn, who plays Mohegan Sun on ThursdayJan. 15, is at work on her debut album, which hopefully will be able to break through country radio’s stinginess when it comes to female performers. -S.R.
RUBY ROSE FOX
A longtime fixture in Boston’s music scene, Fox has upped her game in recent months with shiny new music and a lengthy residency at Atwood’s Tavern that just wrapped up on Thursday. It’s easy to see what the fuss is about. Fox, who cut her teeth fronting the defunct ska band Mass. Hysteria while still in her teens, has reinvented herself as a soulful pop powerhouse: full-throated and full-throttle. Named female vocalist of the year at last month’s Boston Music Awards, Fox fronts a band now, and is poised for a breakout year. At last. -J.R.
It feels appropriate that the North Carolina native’s T Bone Burnett-produced debut solo album, out Feb. 10, is called “Tomorrow Is My Turn.” Best known as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens has spent the past year showing what she can do on her own, both as a songwriter and with her remarkable, elastic, expressive voice. Be it garnering standing ovations at the “Inside Llewyn Davis”-inspired “Another Place, Another Time” concert or holding her own with folks like Elvis Costello in the Showtime documentary “Lost Songs: the Basement Tapes Continued,” it is clearly her time to shine. Giddens plays the Somerville Theatre on April 18. -S.R.
This Swedish singer-songwriter, who studied music in school as well as having it in her blood — her late father Mawdo Sey was a well-respected Gambian musician — made a huge splash performing her deeply felt soul-pop hit “Younger” at the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Concert. The even better “Pistols at Dawn,” a majestic electro-soul treatise on romantic dissolution, and the fidgety, gospel-tinged jam “Hard Time” — all featured on her 2014 EP “For Madeleine” — point to a bright future for the 24-year-old with the big voice. -S.R.
That’s a rather petite stage name for the robust talents she brings to her mashup of rap and R&B. Already a rising star in her native Chicago, Tink has been on her way up for the past year, churning out a stream of videos and songs she posts online (www.soundcloud.com/tink_g). Following two promising mixtapes and ahead of a full-length debut, Tink has also been collaborating with Timbaland and indie-rock duo Sleigh Bells. The 19-year-old got some high praise from her mentor, too. “Her album is probably one of the best albums I did since [Aaliyah’s] ‘One in a Million,’” Timbaland recently said. -J.R.
That smooth operator you hear on Tuxedo’s recent single, “Do It,” is Mayer Hawthorne, the blue-eyed soul revivalist who’s particularly popular in indie circles. He’s now fronting a duo with hip-hop producer Jake One, crafting dance-floor catnip indebted to both Motown and Giorgio Moroder. After a few online teases, including a space-age take on “Wonderful Christmastime,” Tuxedo’s self-titled debut is slated for March 3 on Stones Throw Records. Highly recommended for fans of Justin Timberlake at his funkiest. -J.R.
This British quartet has released a pair of EPs that prompted both the UK press and other artists, like alt-J, to sing its praises. Based on tracks like “Moaning Lisa Smile,” a bright, catchy slice of hard-charging pop, and “Heavenly Creatures,” a moodier, more introspective ballad, Wolf Alice’s debut album, slated for release this year, should get the band some love on this side of the pond as well. Currently, the group only has a New York date and a European tour on the books, but we expect that itinerary to expand. -S.R.