Let’s be honest: The Grammys are a great spectacle and fun bit of junk food TV, but few of us take it seriously as any kind of measurement of musical innovation. Even this year, when more indie-bred artists are on the ballot than ever before, with the notable exception of Alabama Shakes it still feels like the Grammy-nominating committee is getting to the party a little too late. So we decided to take 10 of this year’s nominees and use them to introduce you to your next favorite band. Like The Black Keys? See why we suggest Two Gallants. Loving the Lumineers? Read why we think Trampled By Turtles is a good next step. This way, when the 2014 Grammys roll around, you can say, “Those guys? Man, I was into them forever ago.”
Like The Lumineers? Try Father John Misty.
Nominated For: Best New Artist, Best Americana Album
On a recent Saturday Night Live, the Lumineers grinned and stomped their feet. Last summer on Letterman, Father John Misty’s Joshua Tillman swiveled his hips like a lecherous lounge act. But both the Grammy-nominated Denver folk-rockers and the L.A.-transplanted former Fleet Foxes crooner share a fascination with strummy Americana. And the Lumineers’ best moment so far, the aptly titled “Slow It Down,” leans toward Tillman’s own shadowy intensity. Father John’s debut showcases a broader range of all-American styles, from Gram Parson’s country-rock to Lee Hazlewood’s symphonic cowboy-pop comedowns. Luckily, though, Fear Fun isn’t so aptly titled. With the wild-eyed sincerity of a cult leader, Tillman riffs on sex, drugs, and his own newfound hometown for some of 2012′s wickedest lyrical wiseassery. — Marc Hogan
Like Carly Rae Jepsen? Try Chairlift.
Nominated For: Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance
“Call Me Maybe” lords over an album — Kiss — that pleasingly serves up more than a few scoops of pink-and-purple Cars-indebted pop. Chairlift’s “I Belong in Your Arms” was a smash hit on a much smaller scale — it rubbed elbows with “Call Me Maybe” on various year-end lists, but not the radio dial — and similarly lords over an album that goes deep into the ’80s, though now we’re talking Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush. From both, the plea is the same: love the single, but pay attention to the album. — Jordan Sargent
Like Taylor Swift? Try Waxahatchee.
Nominated For: Record of the Year
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is Taylor Swift’s brightest blast of pop, a thrilling and antagonistic break-up exultation. But the foundation of her music — even last year’s Red — lies in the same type of bracing, lacerating relationship autopsies set to plaintive acoustic guitars that make up Waxahatchee’s American Weekend. Allison Crutchfield won’t soon be mistaken for a pop star that dates a Kennedy — her guitar tones are more ragged and her imagery much grimier — but in her songs the unrelentingly personal becomes universal all the same. — Jordan Sargent
Like Gotye? Try Radical Face.
Nominated For: Best Alternative Album, Record of the Year
Xylophones? Who needs that first-world instrument when handclaps and a tambourine can craft an equally irresistible groove. On this stellar cut from Floridian Ben Cooper’s project, he matches Gotye’s inescapable tune in the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink department. But Cooper’s resulting rollicking anthem — powered by double-tracked acoustic guitars, rustic piano and Cooper’s high, keening croon — is less like wandering the Australian outback and more like cruising in a boxcar with a bunch of hobos. — Kevin O’Donnell
Like Kelly Clarkson? Try Corin Tucker.
Nominated For: Song of the Year, Record of the Year
Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” is a Nietzschean testament to the strength gained from overcoming a bad relationship. The girl-as-survivor anthem functions as heroic storytelling in pop, giving voice to female empowerment. But what about the struggle for respect that happens within a committed partnership? The Corin Tucker Band’s Kill My Blues celebrates strength in vulnerability by reflecting what it feels like when you turn your relationship into a family. And frankly, while Clarkson has never sounded better, nothing compares to Corin Tucker’s voice when it soars like a jet plane. — Tobi Vail
Like Jack White? Try Dead Sara.
Nominated For: Album of the Year, Best Rock Album
Jack White seemingly rifled through his classic rock collection to create Blunderbuss, but that album’s guitar-god moments pale in comparison to Dead Sara’s self-titled debut. The Los Angeles quartet storms through gnarly hard rock influenced by bluesy grunge (“Test On My Patience”), punk (the snarling “Monumental Holiday”) and metallic twang (“Timed Blues”). Credit for this raw power goes to the talents of lead guitarist Siouxsie Medley and vocalist/guitarist Emily Armstrong. The latter’s gravelly, vibrato-laden wail especially commands attention; think Stevie Nicks possessed by a demon — or the ghost of a wizened blues warbler. — Annie Zaleski
Like Mumford & Sons? Try Trampled By Turtles.
Nominated For: Album of the Year, Best Rock Performance
The dramatic sine curves of Mumford & Sons’ acoustic anthems, which begin quietly and progress straight to rousing climaxes, get tweaked and trampled on Stars & Satellites, the sixth album by Duluth, Minnesota, veterans Trampled by Turtles. Supporting Dave Simonett’s self-reckoning lyrics and earnest vocals, the band has grown into one of the most accomplished and ambitious string bands around. Each song here contains some lively flourish — the majestic fiddle cascades on “Midnight on the Interstate,” the tectonic rumble of cello on “Alone” — that shows these Turtles not only mastering the new folk genre but thinking well beyond it. — Stephen M. Deusner
Like Frank Ocean? Try Elle Varner.
Nominated For: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best New Artist
A confident R&B debut that isn’t afraid to reach across genre boundaries in order to make its point — that might describe Frank Ocean’s much-ballyhooed channel ORANGE, but it also serves as an introduction to the first album by Elle Varner. Not only can she out-falsetto Odd Future’s resident crooner, tracks like the fiddle-strung “Refill” (up for Best R&B Song) and the saucy “Sound Proof Room” have a brash confidence that demands repeat listens. — Maura Johnston
Like fun.? Try Foxy Shazam.
Nominated For: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best New Artist
Like fun., this Cincinnati septet draw from glam-rock, pop and R&B for a holler-from-the-rooftops, glory-glory-Halllelujah kinda vibe that totally cops to its own exaggeration and earnestness. Foxy Shazam, though, rock a lot harder; in fact, they never do anything to less than extremes: When they embrace Queen-like overdubbed choirs and scuzzy Led Zeppelin-eque stolen blues riffs on this, their fourth and most realized album, they really, really go for them. And so any appraisal of their most popular song, “I Like It,” where singer Eric Sean Nally repeatedly wails Robert Plant-style, “That’s the biggest black ass I’ve ever seen/And I like it, I like it – a lot!” should take into account that everything Foxy Shazam stand for is larger than life, including the soulfulness that’s intertwined with their innate ridiculousness. We all have obsessions that others could judge harshly, and if one of his is African-American backsides (he’s featured them the cheerleader-adorned cover of Introducing and similarly themed “Oh Lord” video), he’s also bold enough to admit it. This guy does not hold back, and, in the bigger picture, it’s endearing. — Barry Walters
Like The Black Keys? Try Two Gallants.
Nominated For: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Rock Album
They say that you don’t sing the blues to wallow in them; you sing ‘em to rise above ‘em. This folk-blues duo’s reunion/comeback album draws its considerable power from a somewhat similar dichotomy. While embracing (really, for the first time) bloom as well as blight, they create a sound more crunching, grinding, shredding and thrashing than ever even as they are softer, sweeter, more soothing and intimate. So they come off as just like themselves only more so and there’s this whole new feeling. That ain’t easy, folks. — John Morthland