Top 5 underground artists destined to crawl up mainstream ladder

This year has been full of great independent album releases that have gone relatively unnoticed by the mainstream music industry. Here are five acts that deserve a little more time in the limelight.


Joshua James's folk, rock and country sound is inspired by his nomadic experiences. Photo courtesy of Intelligent Noise/NorthPlatte Records

1. Joshua James. Joshua James’s 2009 album “Build Me This” is a gritty, well-worn release that makes no apologies for being brutally honest about regrets, love and death. With a soft Nebraskan lilt, James traverses a blend of genres — folk, rock and country — to color in his experiences as a nomad across the Midwest to his current home in Utah. His latest release, “From the Top of Willamette Mountain,” builds upon the sharp storytelling of “Build Me This” to provide a powerful tracklist. Whereas the songs on “Build Me This” were beautiful in their fragility, tracks like “Queen of the City” off of his new album are rooted into the ground and reinforced twice over by his voice, which sounds stronger and more substantive this time around.

Shara Worden has worked with indie bands The Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens and the singer-songwriter shows her own personality in her indie project My Brightest Diamond. Photo courtesy of Asthmatic Records

2. My Brightest Diamond. My Brightest Diamond is in good company on a label founded by folk forerunner Sufjan Stevens. Led by singer-songwriter Shara Worden, the band is known for its whimsical approach to rock, pulling elements of jazz and big-band music to create tracks that are deceptively light-hearted. Worden has a gorgeous, airy voice that is showcased on songs such as “Escape Routes” and “High Low Middle” on the band’s fourth studio album, “All Things Will Unwind.” Admittedly, My Brightest Diamond has been around for a while, but the band’s latest album is notably captivating.

London-based rapper Maverick Sabre outshines his rapping competitors Professor Green and Example with his unique blend of R&B and soul. Photo courtesy of Mercury Records

3. Maverick Sabre. Maverick Sabre produces a fusion of soul, R&B and hip-hop that is hard to find. Sabre stands out among the circle of London-based rappers, including Professor Green and Example. Often described as a “male Amy Winehouse,” his voice is smooth and eerie, and his music has incredible repeat value. His 2012 full-length debut “Lonely Are the Brave” features over a dozen brass-laden tracks, any of which could be released as his next single. Standouts include the somber “Open My Eyes” and the unapologetic powerhouse that is “Let Me Go.”

4. The Mowgli’s. Recently, The Mowgli’s single “San Francisco” was featured as the Free Single of the Week on iTunes, and with good reason. The song is perfectly crafted to get listeners up and dancing. The band’s music is bright, and begs to be played at full volume. Rooted in vintage rock, while still wholly modern and in stride with bands like fun., The Mowgli’s brand new debut EP, “Love’s Not Dead,” is the optimistic foil to Joshua James’s dark “From the Top of Willamette Mountain.” Listening to “San Francisco,” you can nearly taste the salt in the air of the California coast.

5. The Lighthouse and the Whaler. With every EP, compilation or album The Lighthouse and the Whaler releases, the band is getting noticeably better, transitioning from endearingly fresh-faced to cohesive and focused. With experience, the scope of the group’s music has also expanded. The band’s 2012 release “This is an Adventure” features festival-ready tracks that have earned the band nods from NPR, MTV and Paste magazine. The Lighthouse and the Whaler has moved away from the mellow songwriting found on its earlier EPs and gone toward rhythmic rock that is heavy on the guitar and reminiscent of Band of Horses and jingle bells. If we’re judging by its latest album, The Lighthouse and the Whaler will be around for a while.


Reach the reporter at

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.