It’s hard to believe summer is almost upon us again entailing lazy days by the pool or a more expansive body of water, al fresco dining, wiping the sweat from your brow and walking or driving around listening to some new tunes. Beyond top 40 radio spinning Rihanna every half hour, there is another realm of music waiting to be snatched up. This summer, turn off the radio and plug into a couple of internet music blogs and webzines to unearth gems from these engrossing performers and to conceive an indie soundtrack to the season.
Russian born but New York raised, chanteuse Regina Spektor’s songs have a grand, showtuney bounce to them as she ruminates above love and time passing. Her latest album is Begin to Hope, the follow up to last year’s equally impressive Soviet Kitsch. On the new record, her voice sounds stronger and bolder as do her piano melodies. What separates Spektor from the archetypal piano laden songtress is her capability to create heartfelt and jocular music and lyrics to the point of even discussing the significance of “November Rain” in a song.
Download: “Summer in the City”
Indie rock encompasses a variety of subgenres, but 19 year old Zach Condon’s one man band Beirut is completely unclassifiable. He meshes an accordian with electronic glitches and his soaring voice generating music that sounds like what Prague in the 19th century must have felt like even though he recorded his debut album, Gulag Orkestar, in New Mexico and currently resides in Brooklyn. Old and new world clash together for one of the most unique projects to be released this year.
Download: “After the Curtain”
Hailing from Glasgow and sounding a bit twee, comparing this six piece to fellow twee group Belle and Sebastian seems ostensible, but Camera Obscura have a distinguishable sound. The remarkable Let’s Get Out Of This Country is their first album (third altogether) since 2003’s cloying Underachievers Please Try Harder. Lead singer Tracyanne Campbell engenders Mazzy Star, the Sundays and tweesters Tiger Trap on her orch-pop tunes allowing her vulnerability to seethe through. Camera Obscura write honest lyrics about disappointing relationships and finding the strength to be true to yourself.
Download: “Come Back Margaret”
Tapes n Tapes
Last year the band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah surmounted a music industry barrier with the success of their self released album. Following suite, the Minneapolis based quartet Tapes N Tapes own their overnight triumph to their mp3s exploding in the blog-o-sphere. With a DIY ethic, Josh Grier and band recorded their debut full-length, The Loon, on their own, released it themselves, and with the right amount of PR, they recently signed to a major indie label. Playing their quirky guitar fused music at an indefatigable 9 shows at SXSW probably didn’t hurt their chances either.
Band of Horses
Ben Birdwell and Matt Brooke were a part of the mainly local Seattle group Carissa’s Weird, but with their new group, Band of Horses, they’ve already hit a nerve on a national level. On their debut, Everything All the Time, Band of Horses imbue the intensity and forlornness of Arcade Fire and the countrified proclivities and warblings of My Morning Jacket and Neil Young. Their music is plaintive and hopeful at the same time with each song building and transforming into greatness.
Download: “The Great Salt Lake”
Parisian trio Phoenix released their first album in 2000 and went on to gain some attention with 2004’s Alphabetical. With their latest, It’s Never Been Like That, the band have arrived demonstrating their satiating synth-pop/easy listening sound. Lead singer Thomas Mars radiates coolness with his sultry vocals and his infectious songs such as “Long Distance Call” with its repeated, fast paced chorus and “One Time Too Many” with a propulsive drum/guitar/synth concoction becoming the best track on the album.
Download: “One Time Too Many”
Cold War Kids
The Reagan era named Cold War Kids are based in Southern California but sound like one of those trendy Brooklyn bands. With two EPs under their belt, this quartet is prepping their full-length debut. Lead singer Matt Aveiro belts and gnarls out songs akin to the Walkmen, especially on the epic sounding “Hospital Beds” about, well, the claustrophobia of being isolated in a hospital room used as a metaphor. They are currently touring with fellow buzzers Tapes n Tapes.
Download: “Hang Me Up to Dry”
In 2004, the music industry saw a deluge of UK revival bands beginning with Franz Ferdinand and ending with last year’s Bloc Party. The Futureheads released their self titled debut around the same time and have become one of the few UK bands from this period to leave an impact. Barry Hyde and group’s anticipated sophomore release, News and Tributes, is post punk at its zenith as the Futureheads evoke The Jam and Gang of Four with their amalgam of gritty guitar chords and boisterous, syncopated beats.
Download: “Fall Out”
Performing at SXSW can increase any band’s worth (see Tapes n Tapes), so it’s no surprise Texas based quintet Voxtrot has become the talk of the town. With a trio of affable Eps including Mothers, Sisters, Daughters and Wives and Raised by Wolves and Morrissey sounding lead singer Ramesh Srivastava, the band record lighthearted and swift 60s inspired melodic tunes with a sprinkling of dreaminess.
Download: “Rise Up in Dirt”
Swedish brother and sister duo, Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, must really like Dario Argento slasher films because their music certainly has that influence. On their latest release, Silent Shout, the duo utilize a vox recorder and dark electronic musings creating their own soundscape of IDM music. Ocassionally, the tracks are haunting like a 1980s horror film and are just as subversive. Not all of their songs hide in the shadows, though. On their previous release,Deep Cuts, their song “Heartbeats” is sheer new wave and has been given a folk makeover by fellow Swede Jose Gonzalez.
Download: “Silent Shout”
Snow Patrol is one of those bands you don’t want to admit to liking because not only is their music easily indulgent, but also somewhat mainstream (as heard on “Grey’s Anatomy”). But, who cares, they’re so damn good! 2004’s Final Straw was a pleasant surprise and their follow up, Hands Open, is more of the same: catchy uptempo songs about love gone right and wrong, with slower tracks that tug at the heartstrings. One song even gives a shout out to Sufjan Stevens, so you can’t go wrong with that sort of devotion. Indie and mainstream collide for gratifying results.
Download: “You’re All I Have”
Jolie Holland’s voice transitions from a Beth Orton lilt to her native Texas twang with a spice of Billie Holiday in the course of a single song. On her new record,the portentous titled Springtime Can Kill You, her sound encompasses blues, folk, gospel and jazz progressing from her 2003 Catalpa debut and follow up Escondida. Her title song is about going after what you want in love:”If you don’t go get what you need/something’s gonna break on the inside” and the caveat: “Springtime can kill you like it did me/so get out of your house.”And with summer breaching the surface, maybe Holland’s forecast will be accurate.
Download: “Crazy Dreams”
Attractive, young and sarcastic, Londoner Lily Allen could invariably be the next Mike Skinner, except with estrogen. Her debut album Alright Still doesn’t drop until next month, but she’s already found a fanatic following on the Internet. Her banter encircles songs about crack whores as she observes her city on a warm day and making excuses at a bar why she shouldn’t go home with someone (“I lost my phone…I’m getting married next week,” etc.). Besides her witty grime inclinations, she can be serious, too. Beauty and brains go along way.
Download: “Knock Em Out”
Mates of State
Husband and wife duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have been making beautiful yet esoteric music together for a few years but are now finally receiving some long overdue accolades with their critically acclaimed new record, Bring It Back. Their music arrangements are simplistic as they integrate Casio keyboards, drums and Gardner’s Aimee Mann semblance voice as their music resonates ebullience and palpable emotions. It’s lo-fi with the highest quality possible.
Download: “Fraud in the 80s”
Formed from the debris of emo groups Promise Ring and Dismemberment Plan in 2003, Davey von Bohlen and band released their critically panned first album, Glass Floor, in 2004. Sounding less emo and more pop orientated with electro tinges, Maritime have finally found their niche on We, the Vehicles. Universal and relatable themes are present on the kind of album to play on a thoughtful summer day when one needs a breather from the chaos of the daily grind.
Download: “Tearing Up the Oxygen”