Becca Stevens might be the only human who can cover Frank Ocean, The Smiths, and Usher, give them all a distinctive spin, and do it all well. Her acoustic rendition of Animal Collective's "My Girls" made me cry—I'm still wondering how her band got an accordion to do that to me. Stevens' eclecticism stems from a kaleidoscopic musical upbringing. She's had a composer father and opera-singing mother, a formal classical guitar and jazz education, and a stint in an Appalachian club band.
These forces all come together in her recent solo work, epitomized by her single "Bathtub," featuring Jason Collier, which fuses Michael Jackson-style pop grooves with her jazzy songwriting sensibilities and startlingly diverse instrumentation. The song jumps from a hooky, head-bobbing chorus to a swelling folk-guitar interlude, as if the pop-hit format only just barely contains the sheer open-minded creative force Stevens brings to her craft. At the center of this musical typhoon is Stevens' voice, which is versatile enough to croon those sexy R&B trills to then softly fall into an introspective murmur. Her work shows what's possible when an artist bucks the constraints of genre, and lets high-powered pop production infiltrate the traditionally analog world of folk and jazz songwriting. —Reid Kurkerewicz