Let Namie Amuro, Little Boots, Alex Newell, and more soundtrack your summer

By Joey Nolfi
Updated June 24, 2016 at 02:52 PM EDT
AmuroNamiech via YouTube; Little Boots; Alex Newell; Brishop Briggs via YouTube

The summer music season might be kicking into high gear with chart-topping records from Drake, Justin Timberlake, and Fifth Harmony, but here are seven recent, underplayed songs from breakout artists to hear right now.

Namie Amuro, “Mint”

She’s sold more albums in Japan than Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Kesha have sold in the United States combined, but chances are you’ve yet to hear a single track by J-Pop superstar Namie Amuro. The Japanese equivalent to Madonna, Amuro is one of the best-selling artists of all time in her native country, with each of her 12 original, full-length albums earning platinum certification (or higher) in Japan. Stateside, she’s yet to notch a single track on a major chart, though she recently recorded two albums almost entirely in English: 2013’s FEEL, for which she collaborated with Zedd, and 2015’s Genic, which includes production from David Guetta and SOPHIE.

After a short post-Genic break, the 38-year old unveiled a new EP last month, featuring “Mint,” a wonderfully whacky mix of electric, surf-rocking guitars, R&B chants, and a pulsating EDM breakdown showcasing the sonic bravura that makes J-Pop some of the most interesting music on the planet.

Little Boots, “Staring at the Sun”

Over a decade ago, at the age of 16, Victoria Hekseth auditioned for the hit U.K. reality competition series Pop Idol. She made it all the way to the third round of tryouts, but was ultimately eliminated by producers before making it to the panel of judges, which then included Simon Cowell. Hekseth didn’t take no for an answer, however, and began releasing electropop music under the stage name Little Boots in 2008.

Three albums into her solo career (she recorded with the band Dead Disco before heading out on her own), Little Boots’ songs have appeared in major movies (“New In Town” was featured in Jennifer’s Body) and advertisements, but she’s yet to find major mainstream chart success in the United States.

Her new EP, Afterhours, builds a strong case for the industry making room for her on the airwaves, however. A two-track continuation of her 2015 concept album Working Girl, Afterhours’ standout track is the glistening, subtle banger “Staring at the Sun,” which seemingly resonates with inspiration from ’90s-era Kylie Minogue while adding a dash of cold, robotic Ladytron goodness. During an interview with Nylon, Little Boots called Afterhours “the soundtrack for when the photocopier powers down and the office is locked up, and you want to find somewhere to let your hair down and forget about the day,” and never has an artist more accurately described a body of work.

Bishop Briggs, “The Way I Do”

Big bass, soulful organs, flickering finger snaps, electronic riffs; Bishop Briggs’ music incorporates familiar sounds, yet it defies classification when the young Londoner mixes it all together. The Brit’s latest single, “The Way I Do,” stomps along with a subdued fierceness, accompanied by angelic delivery from a voice that sounds like a lovechild from Ivy Levan and Jess Glynne.

COIN, “Talk Too Much”

COIN’s “Talk Too Much” is a prime example of just how sweet indie alt-pop can sound when it’s done right. A little bit Vampire Weekend, a little bit HAIM, and a whole lot of fun, “Talk Too Much” is a spirited summer jam that’s sure to jump-start the early hours of your next rooftop party.

Kristin Kontrol, “White Street”

Kristin Kontrol, otherwise known as Kristin Welchez, otherwise known as Dee Dee, leader of the all-female group Dum Dum Girls, took a break from her rocker roots to explore a variety of genres on her debut solo set, X-Communicate.

From stadium pop-rock to electronic dance music, X-Communicate shows off Kontrol’s comfort in switching genre gears from track-to-track without missing a beat. The LP’s standout tune, “White Street,” is an ’80s throwback that pulls inspiration from Kontrol’s best moments with the Dum Dum Girls (we hear those subtle guitars and echoey vocals!) while exploring an altogether new, synth-and-hand-claps sound that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place filling an arena or soundtracking your next viewing of a midsummer sunset.

BoA x Beenzino, “No Matter What”

Twenty-nine-year old South Korean pop star BoA has sold millions of albums throughout Asia, the most successful of which, 2003’s Valenti, sold over 1 million copies in Japan.

Following a successful career in South Korea, BoA tried breaking into the U.S. market with an eponymous 2009 LP recorded entirely in English, featuring tracks produced by Bloodshy & Avant (“Did Ya”) and others previously discarded by Britney Spears (“Look Who’s Talking”). After the tune failed to catch on (it peaked at No. 127 on the Billboard 200), she again returned her focus on international territories, releasing several albums that charted in her native country.

Though her recent work skews more toward pop than dance, BoA’s new single, a collaboration with South Korean rapper Beenzino titled “No Matter What,” offers a grooveable, tropically-infused sound (think “What Do You Mean?” meets “I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)”) that could throb through speakers at clubs around the world.

Alex Newell – “Need Somebody”

You definitely know Alex Newell as Glee’s Unique Adams, but you probably don’t know the 23-year old actor recently released a stunning EP filled with some of the best dance tracks 2016 has to offer. Following the release of the five-track set, Newell wasted no time premiering his follow-up, throwback groove, “Need Somebody,” which bursts from your speakers with searing strings and sky-high vocals. Newell’s voice sounds right at home when compared to disco divas like Donna Summer, making his foray into music a welcome trip back in time for fans of the genre.