The Music Issue

Alex Woodward, Lauren LaBorde & Will Coviello on 2012's local artists to watch

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Button pushers, knob twisters, clowns, classics — the laundry list of musical personalities in New Orleans reads longer than a Breakfast Club of genre stereotypes. These aren't entering freshmen or a graduating class of 2012, but below are nine acts making big splashes this year, whether they're earning their letterman jackets or burning them in shop class.

WHO: Heat Dust

WHAT: three dudes kicking over speakers and blasting fuzzed-out punk

After a three-year stint in Austin, Texas, guitarist Jasper den Hartigh returned to New Orleans and assembled Clayton Hunt and Shawn Tabor for Heat Dust, which debuted in October 2011. The band's upcoming 10-inch record, a collection of barreling three-minute gut punchers (a la Dinosaur Jr. and The Men), will be released on Texas Is Funny Recording Co. The band also is working on a full-length debut. "Writing a short, tight pop song is about the hardest thing you can do — writing pop songs that are really noisy with really depressing lyrics," den Hartigh says. "Making it into something really exaggerated and over the top, making 'being sad' seem ridiculous." (Check the chorus on the latest earworm "No Hands": "I'm driving no hands on the bridge / maybe now you'll hear about me.") — Woodward

Heat Dust:

WHO: Nesby Phips

WHAT: hip-hop veteran and quick-witted lyricist turned multimedia renaissance man

Nesby Phips remains a busy but low-key persona in hip-hop, as a go-to producer and arranger for MCs or singer/songwriters. He burst into the current hip-hop wave with his catalog of "Phipstapes," a near-monthly string of releases offered as free downloads on his website. (His latest is 0017th: Hollygrove Ain't Enough, a collaboration with Boston rapper Reem.) Fellow New Orleans rapper Curren$y added Phips to his Jet Life Recordings, while Phips readies a new crop of artists on his Backahouse Music production company. Now Phips is scoring films, forming a band and will also release his full-length album Life With Options and a collaborative EP Simply Phips. He also has his eye on dance music. "I want to reach a point where I'm known as a music producer, not just in the hip-hop realm," he says. "Any given day, I'm doing it, not just half-assed." — Woodward

WHO: Whom Do You Work For?

WHAT: a texture-rich post-punk trio with deeper bass than So So Def

As a duo, Whom Do You Work For?'s manic live sets slipped in and out of post-disco fury and head-bobbing, bass-driven dance music. Bradley Black's whispered vocals, knob twisting, pedal pushing and percussion keep up with Jonathan Hight's live drums. With the addition of Isidro Robinson, the trio is laser focused. "I'm playing exclusively guitar now," Black says. As a trio, the band adds more room for textures and "nuances and details — a lot more complexity," Black says. On single "Panic," muted bass pulses and drum taps open to vocal harmonies and throbbing guitars. The band releases its titular EP Sept. 13, and soon will release a cassette tape on Waypoint Tapes. — Woodward

WHO: Vox & The Hound

WHAT: dapper and disheveled orchestral pop and campfire sing-along anthems

Vox & The Hound's self-described "Western" influence is more spaghetti than country, with composer Ennio Morricone cited as inspiration. The band shares Morricone's meticulous dedication to composition — those perfectly placed slinky guitar lines and shuffling timpani are not unlike the detailed spreadsheets the band uses as reference while recording its full-length debut Courage, out Nov. 30. The band (Leo DeJesus, Rory Callais, Andrew Jarman, Eric Rogers and Daniel Ray) "planned it out to a T," Ray says. The band's classically trained ears have a knack for heart-hugging harmonies and locked-in offbeat pop grooves. — Woodward

WHO: Alexis Marceaux & The Samurai

WHAT: introspective, angel-voiced bayou pop bent for L.A. stardom

Millions of people will tune in every week and see Alexis Marceaux — she's competing on NBC's The Voice, a main event singing-quest very much unlike its Botoxed Star Search predecessor American Idol. Between flying to Los Angeles to tape and writing and recording for her other projects (she'll release an EP with The Samurai, aka Sam Craft, in November), the 23-year-old is learning Cajun French for a contemporary swamp-pop supergroup (Sweet Crude), which also debuts in November. With The Samurai, the multi-instrumentalist shifts from her more straightforward folk-pop to "something that's still really wacky, but still catchy enough you could hear it on the radio." Catch Marceaux on NBC at 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays beginning Sept. 10. — Woodward

WHO: Nicky Da B

WHAT: 22-year-old New Orleans bounce human computer

With one release, 2011's Please Don't Forget Da B, under his belt, Nicky Da B was thrust on the national radar with "Express Yourself," the panicky Diplo collaboration featuring that DJ/producer's trademark glitchy production and machine gun beats under Nicky's rapid-fire rapping. The song's video, a showcase of furious booty-clapping around New Orleans, was an Internet hit. In between touring legs (he just did Burning Man), he's working on new music with Mad Decent (Diplo's label) and other producers. "I'm going to have a lot of music coming out all at once," he says. "So just be prepared for that." — LaBorde

WHO: Luke Winslow King

WHAT: guitarist/singer/songwriter updates folk blues for a polished yet genuine sound

Luke Winslow King recorded June release, The Coming Tide, with a full entourage at Piety Street Studios, and it's a wonderful if hushed foundation for King and Esther Rose to trade call-and-response vocal harmonies throughout the album. King wrote seven of the 11 tracks, and in total they fill a beautiful suite of traditional folk blues, with strains of spirituals, traditional jazz and folk. A native of Michigan who grew up singing Baptist hymns, King came to New Orleans in 2001 to study musical composition at the University of New Orleans, but John Boutte introduced him to the blending of jazz and other local sounds. With Coming Tide, he achieves what he describes as "a new vision for folkier, family-band kind of parlor music." It has retro stylings and string picking that have become popular recently, but the album evokes both the genuine feel of good folk music and elegant vocal harmonies. — Coviello

WHO: Nasimiyu Murumba

WHAT: socially conscious jazz and neo-soul

Minneapolis native Nasimiyu Murumba (who performs under the mononym Nasimiyu) this year released her first full-length album, the sonically eclectic Rules Aren't Real. Besides performing with her backing band the Many Moons, she plays drums and sings in Saint Bell with trombonist Jeremy Phipps, she's in MinuteHead with guitarist Elliot Slater and in the jazz quintet Rainy Days. Murumba's also collaborating with Theresa Andersson and is involved with InterAct NOLA, a theater group for mentally challenged performers. She's happy being busy. "My schedule is completely full of exactly what I dreamed of doing for my whole life," Murumba says. — LaBorde

WHO: Au Ras Au Ras

WHAT: thrift store pop confessionals from a former drummer-for-hire

Tess Brunet sat behind the kit for Deadboy & The Elephantmen, Generationals and Athens, Ga.'s Twin Tigers, but with Au Ras Au Ras, she showcases her songwriting and dreamy, melancholy pop, floating somewhere between Cat Power's tack and Beach House's whimsy. She released her self-titled debut last year, and on Sept. 11, she'll release The Great Nothing, recorded exactly one year after she recorded her debut, both produced at Mississippi's Dial Back Sound. Album single "I Lied" is a sharp and sleepy slow-dance dirge, where Brunet croons from the nightmare of regret — a dark choice to introduce the album, but it lures you into her dream world. — Woodward



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