New Music To Know: Best of 2014, So Far

Meet the 6 new artists — Sam Smith, Tove Lo, Shamir, Naughty Boy, The Cadillac Three, Nothing — we can't get enough of this year.

By Staff

Sam Smith is well on his way to having a 2014 of Lordely proportions.

One might even argue that he’s already ahead of last year’s Rookie of the Year, since Lorde’s anti-consumerist anthem “Royals” didn’t drop until August, while Smith has already nabbed the No. 2 slot on the Billboard 200 with his debut, In The Lonely Hour. Not to mention, that with first weeks sales of 166,000, he currently has the highest selling debut album by a UK male artist in Soundscan’s 23-year history.

Smith new album is filled with unrequited love songs perfect for anyone experiencing a bit of summertime sadness. Of course, we can only imagine the man who spurned Smith’s advances is kicking himself right now, while we reap all the benefits.

Related: Best of New Music To Know 2013

But Smith isn’t the only new artist in the past seven months that has honored with the title of New Music To Know. And certainly not the only one we think is truly in it for the long haul.

Already this year, The Cadillac Three gave us a look at “The South” we thought only existed in Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, while Tove Lo has got us wondering if binging on Twinkies — rather than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s — is the best way to get over a bad breakup.

Former pizza delivery guy, Naughty Boy can’t stop us from singing “la la la” right along with Sam Smith. (Yep, that guy again.) Ex-convict, Domenic Palermo of the Philly band Nothing has us pondering our existence with his band’s beautiful shoegaze. And Shamir combines the honest songwriting of Taylor Swift with the theatrics of Lana Del Rey to make something that sounds far wiser than his 19 years.

So get to know the six new artists we believe you won’t be able to stop listening to for the rest of 2014 below.


Sam Smith (Courtesy of Capitol Music Group)(Courtesy of Capitol Music Group)

Sam Smith

While features on the Disclosure song “Latch” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La,” may be why Sam Smith’s voice sounds familiar, it’s his original music that will officially make you a fan. Smith released his debut EP, Nirvana, in January, dropping his first full length, In The Lonely Hour,  in June. And while the EP was meant to serve as an introductory marketing tool for his label, it was something else entirely for Smith.

“‘Nirvana’ was my breath of fresh air… I actually wrote that song with the guys [co-writers James Napier, Anup Paul, Harry Craze and Hugo Chegwin, better known as producing team Craze & Hoax] and we released that halfway through making In The Lonely Hour. That was more of me taking a breather for a second…because it was so depressing,” Smith says with a laugh.

That need for a breather makes sense once Smith explains that the album tackles an intensely personal topic: his love life. Or rather, his lack thereof.

“I’ve never been in a relationship before,” Smith reveals. “When I was writing this album, I really delved into that fact. I delved into [how] I fell in love with someone who didn’t love me back, last year. I really went inside myself and I wanted to write an album for lonely people, because I don’t think there’s been enough music out there that talks about unrequited love.”

It’s an interesting choice, to release a pop album that tackles loneliness in the summer – a time generally reserved for club bangers and fun in the sun jams. But it insures that Smith will be doing what no one else is. – Courtney E. Smith

Tove Lo (Courtesy of Island)(Courtesy of Island)

Tove Lo

“Breaking up is hard to do.” That old pop cliché is at its truest after taking in Tove Lo’s debut EP, Truth Serum.

On her six-song release, the Swedish singer seems to be working through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief to get past one devastating break-up. Lo’s latest single, “Habits (Stay High),” might be the depression stage as she tries to get over her ex: she watches people get it on in sex clubs, picks up dads on the playground and binges on Twinkies only to eventually vomit them up in her bathtub. Who hasn’t been there?

“We don’t have Twinkies in Sweden,” Lo told of the recently resurrected cream-filled sponge cake, which she thought was just another word for cookie. “But they’re good, I’ve tasted them.” Fans have yet to start bringing them as gifts to her show, but what she’s really hoping is that Hostess will thank her with a box or two for the rest of her life. “I should be getting some Twinkies!”

But, all Twinkie talk aside, “Habits” and her song “Over,” where she chronicles the drunken night when she realized her and her boyfriend were officially done, are just two of the reasons why she’s earned herself the nickname, “the saddest girl in Sweden.” After sitting down with Tove Lo — pronounced “Too-veh Loo,” but she doesn’t mind if you say it phonetically — it’s clear that nickname is rather misleading.

“Well, I think when people meet me, they’re like, ‘Oh,’ because they expect this kind of sad, doped up, kind of girl, but I laugh a lot,” she said.” I think [the nickname is] funny, but I do get what they mean because all my dark sides kind of come through in my music…I’m not the saddest girl in Sweden, but sometimes I am, yeah.” – Shannon Carlin

Shamir_crop(Dale W. Eisinger)


Shamir started writing his own songs at around five years old, inspired in part by his songwriting aunt. She opted for stability instead of pop stardom and now writes with Shamir in her free time. “She got caught up in the corporate world. She’s a paralegal now,” he said laughing.

Every time he tells a reporter that his aunt is the one who got him interested in music, Shamir says his mom gets a little upset. His parents weren’t musicians—Shamir taught himself how to play guitar using that yellow, how-to book Guitar For Dummies—but they were music fans who introduced their young son to hip-hop, R&B, jazz divas like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone and ’70s rockers like Janis Joplin, who Shamir says just blew his mind. “I had never heard a voice like that,” he said. “And I wanted to hear more.”

Shamir’s singing voice, like Joplin’s, stops you in your tracks. In the two months since he dropped his first single, “If It Wasn’t True,” his voice has been described as “perfectly imperfect” and “androgynous,” a description he doesn’t mind, though he does point out that the accurate term is really “countertenor.”

“It’s not feminine, it’s not masculine. It’s a happy medium,” Shamir said of his singing voice. “I feel like if the world was more like that, our problems would be gone.”

While Northtown probably won’t help bring peace to the Middle East, it does offer an alternative to the more aggressive EDM music being played on the radio today. Shamir makes sensitive dance music that is at once minimal in its production, but theatrical in its delivery.

On the big heartbreaking ballad, “I’ll Never Be Able To Love,” he sings, “I’ll never be able to find that missing piece to make up for what I lack,” drawing out each word. This delivery is something he learned from Lana Del Rey, whose well-crafted personality is a big part of her music’s charm. “Me and Lana are kindred souls trying to take it back to a different generation,” he explained. “Her music is so calming that when I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate I put on Lana and I feel fine.” –S.C.

More of our best of New Music To Know on the next page…

The_Cadillac_Three(Courtesy of Big Machine Label Group)

The Cadillac Three

With their single “The South,” Cadillac Three were looking to give the youth of today a song that they could relate to, just as the band related to Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama” when they were little.

Jaren Johnston said he wanted the gritty track to be “an epic, Southern song that hits you immediately the first time you hear it. You know it’s a serious situation you just heard. That’s what I wanted to do. I sat down and wrote that.”

Fittingly, the three members of Cadillac Three –singer/songwriter Jaren Johnston, drummer Neil Mason and lap steel player Kelby Ray– hail from Nashville, Tenn. making the lines “This is where I was born/ And this is where I’ll die,” resonate even more.

Florida Georgia LineDierks Bentley, and Mike Eli of the Eli Young Band, are all featured on their current single, “The South,” which is Cadillac Three’s first radio hit. Chances are though you’ve heard countless songs by the guys on country radio. Their songwriting credits include Jake Owen’s “Days of Gold,” Keith Urban‘s “You Gonna Fly,” Tim McGraw‘s “Southern Girl” and his latest single featuring his wife, Faith Hill, “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” which he debuted at the ACMs, just to name a few.

Cadillac Three’s sophomore album could be out as early as this year. “We cut six or seven songs,” Johnston said. “I think we’re probably going to finish it up this month. It’s going to be 11 songs of fury. We’re coming out swinging and we’re real proud of it.”

Johnston said the guys have “two, three real cool Southern ballads” and that it’s going to be a “rad record.”

“We cut a song ‘White Lightning’ that everybody is really excited about,” he said. “It’s going to be a really well-rounded record that’s going to show what we do.” – Annie Reuter


Naughty Boy (Courtesy: Naughty Boy, Virgin EMI)(Courtesy: Naughty Boy, Virgin EMI)

Naughty Boy

When talking with Naughty Boy the words “fate” and “destiny” come up a lot. As they should. The former pizza delivery guy and hotel waiter started his music career thanks to a big win on the game show Deal or No Deal.

“I was in a bit of an all-time low,” he told “I never won anything so to go on a game show for the first time, the first time I ever applied for a game show, and to win gave me confidence.”

It should be noted, he didn’t just win, he took home millions.

Before his Deal or No Deal win, Naughty Boy (real name Shahid Khan) was broke and struggling to keep his head above water. “My parents wanted me to take my life seriously,” he said. Khan was at first concerned that his appearance on a game show would ruin any chances of people taking him seriously, but he now believes his good fortune can be a lesson to others.

“Whatever I’m doing right now,” he said, “I believe anyone can do this if they put their mind and heart into it.”

“[Music] is the one thing that I don’t feel like I’ve ever worked a day and that’s what you ultimately want for your job,” he added. “I’m doing what I love.” – A.R.


Nothing (Shawn Brackbill)(Shawn Brackbill)


“It sounds so dramatic,” Domenic Palermo told “I don’t necessarily think I’d be dead, but if there was no music in my life, I probably would have gone down a much more terrible road than I’ve been on.”

This means a lot coming from Palermo, the lead singer and guitarist of the band Nothing, who grew up in Kensington, Philadelphia, a neighborhood that is considered to be one of the most violent sections in one of America’s most murder-plagued major cities.

“I think growing up here has obviously shaped me as a person,” Palermo, who goes by his nickname “Nicky,” said. “It definitely weighs in on you, and comes through in the music. It’s a pretty grim city so most of the time it’s going to lean on the darker side.”

Raised by a single mother who he says was “listening to anything that was sad,” Palermo grew up on a steady diet of Britpop bands like Joy DivisionPulp and Suede. But it was My Bloody Valentine, which Palermo said he heard for the first time in the late ’90s while driving around with his friends in a car full of “cocaine and guns,” that would influence him the most.

By the time he was 18 years old, he was playing in the local hardcore band Horror Show. But in 2002, after one of the band’s gigs, the then 20-year-old Palermo stabbed another man during a fight and spent two years in jail for aggravated assault and attempted murder. While serving his time, Palermo took to reading the Russian greats like Gogol, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, who all play a significant role in his songwriting now. “It was a kickstart in the right direction to find likeminded people who were helping me explain how I felt,” he explained.

Nothing’s debut, Guilty of Everything, also gave Palermo a chance to address his past for the first time. “It seemed like an appropriate time,” he said. “A lot has built up to the LP for me personally, so I figured it was a good chance to express that point in my life.” – S.C.




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