For every musical genre there are hiddens gems just waiting to be discovered. These are the artists who have enormous talent, incredible songs, and at best a cult following. Some are well known to certain groups of music fans, and others are almost completely unknown. But if you’re looking for under-appreciated artists, here are a few from a diverse array of genres.
Rock: Rosie Tucker
Languishing for years out in California, Rosie Tucker is the kind of artist who probably just showed up at the wrong time. If this were the 90s, Tucker would be given a four album deal by a major label because their music has some distorted guitar on it. But Tucker is far more than just a distorted guitar.
2015’s Lowlight is a folk album where the songwriting and production was stark, intimate, and unadorned. But by the time Tucker went back into the studio, suddenly there was a rock band ready to translate that completely unique songwriting into incendiary indie rock. 2018’s Never Not Never Not Never Not retains all the fantastic lyrical turns of Tucker’s debut and adds a muscular backing band to add some more aggression and coolness. Tucker seems restless as an artist, and their newest music takes more experimental production work like sampling and reverb-laden vocals into songs like “Ambrosia” and “Brand New Beast.” I have yet to hear a Rosie Tucker song that isn’t fantastic, but it seems like most people haven’t caught on yet. Hopefully that’s just a matter of time.
Do you like Lana Del Rey but can’t stand every time she puts her own foot in her mouth? Well then let me introduce you to Kandle, the Canadian wonderkind who has all the smokey noir appeal of Del Rey without any of the more problematic elements.
Kandle, like a lot of Canadian artists, is currently finding it difficult to break through to the American market. She has two fantastic albums, 2014’s In Flames and 2018’s Holy Smoke, and just this year she released a great mini-LP called Stick Around and Find Out, but a major problem is that she is difficult to pin down. For one, her musical style, while unique to her, is hard to define. Even listing her as pop in this article feels wrong, since there are elements or indie rock, country, R&B, and even old-timey carnival music that comes across as the complete antithesis of most processed pop music. Still, she has all the elements of a classic pop star. She’s just missing the mainstream recognition.
Hip Hop: clipping.
Even if you don’t know clipping., you probably know one of its members, if not by name then definitely by his work. Daveed Diggs, who in clipping is about as spastic and aggresive as rappers come, was the originator of the roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton.
While his work in Hamilton is authoritative and regal, his work in clipping is sloppy, experimental, and purposefully challenging. Along with producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, Diggs makes brutal, stomach churning, and sometimes even unlistenable work that borrows from every style and genre, including industrial rock, musique concrete, noise, and darkwave. Diggs is constantly frantic, working harder than anyone I’ve ever heard in a recording booth. Like any good punk band, clipping is provocative and completely alien to both rap and pop music’s mainstream culture. And that’s what makes them so cool.
Jazz: Mulgrew Miller
If you’re a jazz fan, saying Mulgrew Miller is unknown is like saying Draymond Green is an unknown NBA player or Jimmy Carter is an unknown President. While he might not be one of the unimpeachable artists of the genre, he’s still a towering giant whose talent is indisputable and whose influence is felt in so many new piano players and bandleaders.
Most of the artists on this list have varied discographies, and Mulgrew is no different, but he does have a singular definitive work: 2003’s Live at Yoshi’s, Vol. 1. Accompanied by bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Karieem Riggins, the trio blast through an hour’s worth of material that could very well be the most prestigious jazz performances ever recorded (how’s that for an endorsement?). From the playful reinterpretation of the Guys and Dolls standard “If I Were a Bell” to the frantic speed of closer “Pressing the Issue”, the trio burn through beautifully soft ballads, mind bending solos, and lightning fast tempos that would even make the instructor in Whiplash blush.
Sadly, Miller died in 2013, leaving an entire jazz world to mourn the loss of a seismic talent. But his records, performances, and legacy live on, and with any justice in the world, he would be a household name.
If there’s one consistent theme of this list, it’s that it’s hard to find mainstream success when you can’t be neatly defined by a single genre. Unless your music is transcendent enough to appeal to all audiences, you’ll forever be relegated to fringe outsider status. As a part-grunge, part-metal, part-shoegaze, part-sludge, part-hardcore, part-space rock band, Hum are well aquainted with being left in the margins.
Best known for their 1995 alt-rock hit “Stars”, Hum’s fame faded quickly as the 90s alt boom transformed into the mushy post-grunge of Bush and the idiotic nu-metal of Korn and Limp Bizkit. Although it might not have been good for the band in terms of lucrative success, they’re all the better for it because their lack of fame meant that they could leave an impeccable legacy. With guitars detuned and cranked up for maximum power, they still have a somewhat nerdy appeal that comes from lead singer Matt Talbot’s detached, sardonic delivery. While most metal bands are focused on aggression, Hum has a more erudite and varied style that probably doomed them from the start. But man are they fun to listen to.
Electronic: Poni Hoax
This is the band that finally answered the age old question: “What if Daft Punk was even more French?” Home to all the same disco fetishism and robot-rock aesthetics, but without any of the cross-cultural admiration, Poni Hoax is France’s answer to David Bowie’s notoriously drug-fueled Station to Station and subsequent Berlin sessions.
In other words, they combine bright synthesizer and keyboard lines with menacing darkness born from rumbling post-punk basslines and the unsettling baritone of frontman Nicolas Ker. Even on their most celebratory songs, like the way-too-relevant “Antibodies”, there’s a tension and unease that colors all their songs. They’ve played with rock acts like Franz Ferdinand and solo sets with rave-addled audiences, but their own desire to consistently keep themselves in a state of limbo hasn’t helped their ability to cross over into the mainstream. But that just leaves them in a prime position for cult appeal.