Monday, 04 January 2016 11:35

16 Local Artists To Watch in 2016

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Each passing year provides new life and new opportunities to reexamine yourself, your opinions and your community. So as we all contemplate what 2016 will bring, it’s a great time to look at some of West Michigan’s best and brightest bands set to make this year one to remember.

Comprised of both established and emerging artists — but not all-encompassing — this list should serve as a conversation starter for shared musical discovery and a celebration of some of the incredible things coming out of West Michigan.


1. Big Dudee Roo
With vocalist/bassist Max Lockwood having won the award for best folk/country song at this past year’s ArtPrize and with the release of Big Dudee Roo’s terrific new EP, Dudee Free, just last month, this long-running rock band stands ready to emerge as one of West Michigan’s breakout stars. Its powerful sound, strong social conscience and small-town sense of community — spanning from their days growing up together in Wayland — should push them onto even greater and more widespread acclaim. Listen here:

2. Darling Down
Last year these Battle Creek rockers made a splash online with a single-shot video for their version of Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the Summer.” They were also a hit onstage when they opened for Buckcherry and Saving Abel in Kalamazoo. This year, look for frontwoman Amanda Legault and company to heat things up even more with a new album in the works that’s poised to capture the tempered resiliency of their city’s longstanding hard-rock scene. Listen here:

3. Watching for Foxes
Arguably the band with the most buzz in the already buzzy local folk-rock scene, this five-piece has a lot in store for 2016. They’ll start by releasing their first full-length album, which they recorded last year with Ben Zito from GR’s own folk-rock favorites The Crane Wives. Then Watching for Foxes returns to the road where their dark indie-folk, filled with howling harmonies and lush instrumentation, will no doubt earn them even more eager eyes and ears. Listen here:

4. Valentiger (Pictured left)
Mainstays of West Michigan’s music scene since 2008, pop-rock veterans Valentiger have a massive tour already lined up for this month. And like anyone who dares to venture out on the road in January, their passion and confidence will no doubt help them earn a larger audience. The band’s heartfelt hooks have kept them going, and with a history of penning new tunes while travelling, don’t be surprised if they come back in February better than ever. Listen here:

5. hi-ker
Following the success of their stellar 2014 EP, this synth-pop outfit’s musical journey found them transforming from a four-piece into a trio over the past year. Their futuristic sound shouldn’t go unrecognized by any fans of like-minded West Michigan stars like B0RNS and Stepdad as they continue to explore indie music’s electronic side with more experimental daring than any band this accessible ever does. Listen here:

6. Michigander
Capping off the past year with a huge headlining show at Kalamazoo’s Shakespeare’s Lower Level, singer-songwriter Jason Singer has already come a long way in just two short years. A true lyricist with a voice that compels impassioned sing-alongs, Singer and his band are quickly reshaping the contemporary-folk scene in their fickle college town while proving that living-room troubadours can take over even the biggest stages as long as they’ve really got something to say. Listen here:

7. AOK
Honestly there’s nothing quite like electronic duo AOK in all of West Michigan. With big guitars, big beats, and a big voice, compliments of vocalist Angela B., the band holds nothing back when they perform, bringing to mind acts like Sleigh Bells, but blowing them away with sheer volume and sonic diversity. Offstage they’re currently signed with rising GR label Hot Capicola Records, so perhaps that connection will help spread the word even well beyond West Michigan. Listen here:

8. The Lippies (Pictured left)
Another remarkable voice in Grand Rapids is vocalist Tonia Broucek of feminist punk band The Lippies. She is a rare, raw talent, especially in this socially-conservative city. Coming off large-scale shows in Chicago and Detroit, the band’s high-energy, high-velocity sound seems to be breaking out of the local scene. Not bad for a band that formed in late 2014.* Listen here:

9. Flood The Desert
Reinvigorated with the release of their new album Redemption late last fall, this progressive band is one of a small remaining handful of holdouts from Grand Rapids’ once dominant heavy-metal scene. Their diverse excursions and experimental style deviate from any conventional head-banger’s ball — so don’t be surprised if they resurrect the best elements of their collective past and inspire a whole new movement of ax-wielding riff warriors in our area. Listen here:

10. Less Is More
One of the strangest success stories in local music last year came when a mash-up cover that Kalamazoo indie-folk duo Less Is More hit over 20 million plays on Spotify. That unexpected smash fell outside their usual wheelhouse, but the exposure helped as the vocally-rich group expanded from the duo of singer/songwriters Jane Finkel and Brian Spencer to include Kzoo drummer Michael Sord. Expect to hear a lot from them in the coming months. Listen here:

11. B. Sykes
While West Michigan’s hip-hop scene continues to go sadly underappreciated, there is one name that has come up over and over again as the top rising star in the game: B. Sykes. The young rapper’s mix of old-school instrumentals and chill grooves with deft lyrical flow and conversational style makes his rhymes immensely personal, yet still great for the dancefloor. If his 2015 release Young Black Jesus is any indication, you better believe he’s ready to own 2016. Listen here:

12. Nordlund and the Nomad Assembly
West Michigan’s country music scene’s crown jewel is this rollicking four-piece. Releasing their debut late last year, RJ Nordlund and his roughneck gang gave Grand Rapids a good swift kick in the pants with their fresh, outlaw-country sound. With chops to match, and plenty of big shows already slated, they’ll surely win over the “I hate country music” folks. Listen here:

13. Drink Their Blood
This self-described “beastcore” band from Kalamazoo is both ridiculously technical and terrifyingly brutal. Their close connection with fantastic local video production company Three Goats Moving Pictures (including their own outstanding clip for their song “Ghosts”) showcases their multifaceted talents. They killed it when they opened for Mushroomhead at The Intersection last fall and frontman Ben Boggs outright shreds when he busts out his saxophone. If you’re looking for a truly different sound, look no further. Listen here:

14. Plain Jane Glory
The husband and wife duo of guitarist/percussionist/vocalist Michael Boxer and fiddler/vocalist Laura Boxer have been paying their dues in the Americana scene for a long time, individually and together. Hailing from Muskegon, they’ve built up a following all along the lakeshore now, filling coffeehouses and microbreweries with the heartfelt harmonies of their brand of Neo-folk. Currently they’re planning to release their highly anticipated second album, Grace of Hours, sometime this year. Listen here:

15. The Sailor Kicks
Very few bands in West Michigan are more fun than The Sailor Kicks. Honestly, how often does anyone see a ukulele in a ska band? Or are they an Americana band who happens to have a predilection for horns and skanking? Either way they welcome everyone and anyone to ride their awesome wave of surf guitar and other rad sounds every time they take the stage, clad in their trademark sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts. Listen here:

16. Olivia Mainville & the Aquatic Troupe
Already approved by Jack White, who listened to the band in Nashville, this rising gypsy-folk outfit from Holland has a lot going for them. Mainville’s debut EP, Full Steam Ahead, rushed her forward, putting the young singer-songwriter’s music into the minds of many within West Michigan. From there David Bowie bandleader Gerry Leonard worked with the band on its full-length, Maybe the Saddest Thing, released in December. Give it a spin and find out why so many have fallen in love with this unique sound. Listen here:


*Editor's Note: In the January print version of this story, The Lippies formation date was overstated and we incorrectly captioned a photo as The Lippies (their correct photo is posted above in the story). We regret the errors.

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