|In the Spotlight: 50 Bands You Need to Hear (Part Two) May 3rd 2017, 11:30, by Jason Tate
Today we’re happy to bring you part two of our “In the Spotlight” feature. We’ve got another group of 25 artists that we think are worthy of your time and ears. Our contributors have made their picks, put together blurbs, and pulled out recommended songs.
If you missed part one, you can find that here.
by Jason Tate
MUNA are a three piece out of Los Angeles that craft a dark synth-pop sound right in my musical wheelhouse. They released their debut LP, About U, earlier this year and it’s been in constant rotation as the weather shifts in Rain City between annoyingly wet and cold to slightly less annoyingly cold. The pulsating percussion over well-weaved vocal melodies mixes perfectly with the season. It’s the kind of music that can sit in the background at a party and at one point or another you’ll find all of the guests nodding along, or it can be experienced between headphones alone in a dark room with a stiff drink.
Recommended Track: “Winterbreak”
RIYL: Lany, Banks, Fickle Friends
by Craig Manning
Playful, tongue-in-cheek band name aside, Mandolin Orange write and perform some of the most beautifully understated and intimate music out there these days. A folk duo featuring singer/songwriters Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, Mandolin Orange have been around since 2010, but have really started to pick up steam in the past two years. Their most recent record, last year’s Blindfaller, was a socially-conscious set of folk tunes that rings even more true after what happened in November. But the band’s crowning achievement at this point is 2015’s Such Jubilee, a record that has sneakily become one of the most-played albums in my vinyl collection. Marlin and Frantz’s songs are gentle and pleasant enough to play in the background—whether you are working, chatting, or sleeping—but they also have the power to enchant and entrance when you listen closely. Case-in-point is “Blue Ruin,” a song about the Sandy Hook shootings that avoids self-righteous sloganeering in favor of tortured resignation, quiet rage, bottomless sadness, and unanswerable questions. It’s one of the most haunting songs written this decade.
Recommended Track: “Blue Ruin”
RIYL: The Lone Bellow, Nickel Creek, Field Report
by Aj LaGambina
Milkshakes, hailing from Connecticut, are an alt-rock/power-pop powerhouse that released their first LP, Juvenilia, in November of last year. Focusing on huge, 90’s throwback instrumentation and relatable musical themes, the band stands out as one of the gems of the CT music scene.
Recommended Track: “Past Tragedies””
RIYL: Basement, Superheaven, Microwave
by Kyle Huntington
Very rarely will a band be both tied to their influences in a way that allows them to exist on their own platform whilst simultaneously feeling very worthy amongst said classics and also come along at just. the. right. time. Bristol, England based band IDLES released their debut album Brutalism in March and it’s the most perfect call-to-arms, the rally-round, the gang mentality against the injustices and divisions so prevalent in the world lately. Spilling over with angry fuck yous, relentless rhythm sections and wired guitars whilst maintaining a sense of humour throughout, there’s few albums as directly raw sonically and as on-point culturally as this in 2017.
Recommended Track: “Mother”
RIYL: Pissed Jeans, Iceage, The Fall
by Deanna Chapman
Weller is a recent find for me. It’s the solo project of Harrison Nantz out of Philadelphia. He came around after I had already left the city, and it left me a bit bummed. Weller’s music, however, is well worth a listen. The Philadelphia music scene does not disappoint. Weller fits right in with the bands that have come out of there. Career Fair has bouncy melodies that you just want to jam out to. The music is well-crafted. The most recent release is a split with Rue from October 2016 and I’ll just be over here waiting for more.
Recommended Track: “Buck”
RIYL: Sorority Noise, Pinegrove, Modern Baseball
by Zac Djamoos
While the might have one of the least-Googleable band names ever, Post Modern’s music more than makes up for it. Their 2015 EP The Current was promising, displaying a knack for crafting hard-hitting post-hardcore. They’ve released a string of singles since which have only built on that promise. They’re gearing up to release a new record this year, and if it’s as good as the singles suggest, Post Modern is name we’ll be hearing for a long time.
Recommended Track: “Speak Soft”
RIYL: Thrice, Circa Survive, Have Mercy
by Craig Ismaili
This Philadelphia area band has drawn attention from alternative radio stations in the region, including Radio 104.5. This is in part because their music displays a boundless ear for melody that belies a pop act underneath the wall of sound of an alterntive act. It’s also in part because their live sets are at once filled unbridle exuberance and yet still remarkably polished. But perhaps the biggest asset Sonnder displays is their malleability. On their debut album Entanglement, released a little over a year ago, they display the ability to shape-shift to fit different perceptions of the band seamlessly, from the hard-charging “New Direction,” the opening track off Entanglement and also often the intro to their live performances, to the harmonic balladry of “Late October,” to the dance-pop of “Siren Calling.” In an era where the biggest single on the radio could be anything from a bubblegum pop song, to a piano ballad, to a folk-pop track, their ability to make an immediately captivating song in any genre will serve them well in the future. They are working on new music now which should be released later this year.
Recommended Track: “New Direction”
RIYL: Smashing Pumpkins, Silversun Pickups, Toyko Police Club
The New Respects
by Greg Robson
Nashville quartet The New Respects offer up a confident slice of soul-based rock with equal amounts of R&B, funk and even radio-ready pop. Vocalist Jasmine Mullen has a natural charisma and swagger but draws on the strength of her bandmates (drummer Darius Fitzgerald, guitarist Zandy Fitzgerald and bassist Alexis Fitzgerald) to do much of the heavy lifting. Their new EP Here Comes Trouble (Credential Recordings/Caroline Distribution) is sleek, sexy and scintillating. The strongest of the EP is the soon-to-be pop smash “Trouble” and the sultry ballad “Come As You Are.” The band’s youth is probably their greatest asset and their rise to larger stages seems almost inevitable.
Recommended Track: “Trouble”
RIYL: Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, St. Paul and the Broken Bones
by Becky Kovach
Singer/songwriter Ian Kenny has been a part of the New York scene for a while now – his previous band NGHBRS began in 2010 and made waves in 2013 with their album 21 Rooms – but it’s with his latest project King Neptune that Kenny seems to have finally found his footing. I was initially drawn to the band by “Black Hole,” the first song released under the new moniker. It’s dark and angry, fueled by static-y guitars and a volatile chorus about no longer knowing a person you once loved. Kenny’s voice is rich and gritty – the kind that can go from growling to smooth and back in a single measure. King Neptune’s debut EP A Place To Rest My Head has been out since last October and is still in constant rotation on my iPod/Spotify/stereo.
Recommended Track: “All Night”
RIYL: Envy On The Coast, Cage The Elephant, Heavy English
by Aj LaGambina
Crystal Clear are a six piece based out of West Haven, CT that focus on a bright and energetic indie-pop sound. Their debut EP, Rough Draft hit bandcamp at the end of March and provides a perfect soundtrack for the New England springtime. The three original songs, and a unique take on Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” make for a breezy listen, though there’s plenty of musical layers to dive in to if critical listening is more your thing. The title track especially, with it’s big chorus and bouncy, ukulele-driven instrumental begs for sing-alongs in the car.
Recommended Track: “Rough Draft”
by Zac Djamoos
Souvenirs’ 2014 debut You, Fear, and Me was a pleasant slice of indie rock, but it’s their sophomore outing that’s really going to turn heads. Posture of Apology finds the Carpinteria, CA, band leaning more heavily on the indie than the rock, trading in the booming choruses and distorted guitars for sparkling keys and spurts of electronics. And, hell, it pays off. “Bend and Break” feels like a poppier take on latter-day Copeland, and “Proof” is proof (ha) that Souvenirs are just as good at writing subtle, slowburning pop songs as they are at writing massive, shout-your-lungs-out ones. Even still, you might want to shout your lungs out to a song like “4th and Holly” anyway.
Recommended Track: “Roman Candle”
RIYL: Death Cab for Cutie, The American Scene, Mansions, All the Day Holiday
by Jason Tate
Danny Black is the project name for Good Old War’s Daniel Schwartz. The music is instrumental and guitar based, but it inhabits an atmosphere of driving on a backroad in the middle of summer. Dream-like, carefree, and uninhibited. Danny Black’s debut (and perfectly titled) album, Adventure Soundtrack, came out earlier this year and is impossibly easy to get lost in.
Recommended Track: “High Tide”
RIYL: Days Away, Good Old War
by Craig Manning
What does Steve Moakler’s music sound like, you may ask? Like the greatest summertime soundtrack you’ve never heard. With his breakout 2017 album, Steel Town, Moakler is slinging the sunniest choruses in country music—and that’s saying something, for a genre whose mainstream stars really, really love their summertime. The songs on Steel Town range from wistful heartbreakers (“Summer without Her,” with a vibe reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional’s “Dusk and Summer”) to pure song-of-the-summer pop tunes (the undeniable “Suitcase,” which needs to be on your playlist come June). Moakler, like many of Nashville’s brightest talents, hasn’t yet broken through in his own right—though he has penned a few songs for major stars like Dierks Bentley. But between Steel Town and 2014’s Wide Open, Moakler’s got pop songs that will appeal to country fans, country songs that will appeal to pop fans, and enough heartfelt, nostalgic lyrics to fill any summer night. Check him out now—before he’s one of the biggest names in music.
Recommended Track: “Suitcase”
RIYL: Will Hoge, Matt Nathanson, Twin Forks
y Zac Djamoos
Sometimes you want to drop the pretenses and just rock, and that’s what Black Foxxes do best. The Exeter, England trio delivered one of the best no-frills rock albums of 2016 – a year that saw no shortage of great rock albums. I’m Not Well stood out due to the raw energy Back Foxxes bring to the table. Whether it’s an unexpected scream breaking through a quiet verse or the sudden drum fill that introduces the title track’s massive hook, there’s always a burst of energy to keep you on your toes. With Black Foxxes racking up festival dates left and right, they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Trust me, you’ll want to be able to say you were a fan before they take over the world.
Recommended Track: “River”
RIYL: Brand New, The Felix Culpa, Manchester Orchestra, Microwave
by Craig Ismaili
“Smoke Signals,” the first song Bridgers released from her as of yet unfinished debut album is a remarkable achievement in a song transporting the listener to a specific place. You see, the world within “Smoke Signals” is lived in. This is not a love song in the abstract. The etching of the passage of time is written all over it, from the tragic passings of Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead and David Bowie memorialized in song, to an entire verse about The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now.” The celebrity deaths speak to some innate desire to transform one’s life for the better, or just to escape the enormity of it while (“It’s been on my mind since Bowie died / Just checking out to hide from life / and all of our problems / I’m gonna solve them.”). So it’s not at all an escapism fantasy, as so many other songs are, no it’s a journal of a life “lived deliberately” as Thoreau would say in the name-checked Walden. It’s a remarkable testament to the power of Bridgers as a songwriter and a storyteller that she can paint a picture so vividly in just a few simple phrases. The singer/songwriter, who has recorded with Ryan Adams and is signed to his Pax Am label imprint, is a rare, once-or-twice-in-a-generation talent, and I urge you to get aboard the hype train with me before it has passed you by.
Recommended Track: “Smoke Signals”
RIYL: Julien Baker, Elliot Smith, Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch
by Kyle Huntington
An early blueprint for this Minnesotan band’s music was seeing people having fun at their shows and continuing to create music that engaged a crowd into a sense of joy and elation. This serves as a great and inclusive foundation, but it’s on their debut album landmark where Hippo Campus evolve and flourish in the nuances and more sombre tones. These moments ice the top of every portion of the album and consequently deliver an outstanding debut. Each song is its own entity whilst remaining a part of a cohesive whole. Bon Iver collaborator BJ Burton handles production duties allowing transitions between tracks to be sequenced thoughtfully and there’s diverse soundscapes from piano-led tracks to more heavy guitar-driven songs that are relentless in their force – but nothing is ever confused or lacking in an identity, in fact landmark boasts a very authentic stamp. Lyrics, handled by guitarist/vocalist Nathan Stocker, are reminiscent of a young Morrissey in their self aware and often humorous ‘coping mechanism’ style and they’re delivered with the heartfelt, floaty vocal tones of frontman Jake Luppen for truly effective measure. landmark is an indie-rock album that doesn’t have a weak moment, consistently great from start to finish with some of the most memorable musical compositions I’ve heard in some time.
There’s that rare type of hype around the band, a non-claustrophobic buzz, which allows their unique breed of infectious, outrageously pop-sensible and intelligent indie music to bloom.
Recommended Track: “Way It Goes”
RIYL: Bombay Bicycle Club, Vampire Weekend, Bleachers
by Becky Kovach
There’s no replacing My Chemical Romance. However, British newcomers (or at least new to me) Creeper are giving the kings of the goth scene a run for their money. The band’s debut Eternity, In Your Arms, is drenched in the same dark and theatrical nuances that MCR became known for. If you missed them on tour with Too Close To Touch and Waterparks, have no fear – they’ll be back this summer on the Vans Warped Tour. Time to break out the eyeliner.
Recommended Track: “Misery”
RIYL: My Chemical Romance, Alkaline Trio, AFI
by Anna Acosta
You’d hardly know synth-pop duo Shallows are newer faces on the LA music scene to look at the year they’ve had. Marshall Gallagher’s meticulous production combined with front-woman Dani Poppitt’s hauntingly addictive vocals peppered 2016 with festival-ready singles. The lyrics dance around themes of longing with no shortage of clever wordplay, transmitting their message so effectively that the listener can’t help but want to hear more. With Poppitt at the helm, Shallows have achieved that ever-so-elusive feat: to embody everything current about the LA music scene, while feeling in no way derivative. The good news? They’ve got an EP coming out later this year. One thing is for sure: this band won’t be underground for long.
Recommended Track: “Matter”
RIYL: Lorde, Lana Del Rey, Halsey
by Craig Manning
White Reaper aren’t quite a hair metal band, but they sure sound like they could have been hustling up and down the Sunset Strip 35 years ago. Situated on the musical spectrum somewhere between Van Halen, KISS, and Japandroids, White Reaper tear through one party-ready rock song after another on this year’s (un)ironically named The World’s Best American Band. Loud, raucous, glammy to the nth degree, and loaded with arena rock signifiers—chugging guitars, ripping solos, pounding drums that reverberate through your entire chest, bellowed vocals, and sugar-rush melodies that double their enjoyment factor with every beer you drink—this record feels tailor-made for loud-as-hell car listens this summer. If you thought that Japandroids LP from earlier this year was too overproduced or too stuck in a mid-tempo rut, White Reaper have the antidote.
Recommended Track: “Judy French”
RIYL: ‘80s hair metal filtered through a modern alt-rock prism
Posture and the Grizzly
by Zac Djamoos
Posture and the Grizzly are a puzzling band. I Am Satan contains a nearly even split of pop-punk and post-rock, sometimes within the very same song (see opener “I Am Not a Real Doctor”). They manage to combine the best aspects of both genres to create an impressive and expansive album that’s also just fun as hell. There’s beauty and space in “Star Children,” there’s catharsis in “Acid Bomb,” there’s a monstrous earworm in “Kill Me,” and there’s a great record in I Am Satan.
Recommended Track: “I Am Not a Real Doctor”
RIYL: blink-182, Runaway Brother, The World Is…
by Kyle Huntington
There’s a danger with debuts that are a long-time coming, a momentum can be lost. A spark can fade a little or fickle fans can just lose interest. The Hampshire, England band may have taken five years to produce their debut album That’s Your Lot, which was released in April, but it’s so self-assured in its brooding wonder and euphoria that any potentials pitfalls another band may encounter are bypassed without a second glance by Blaenavon. Produced by Jim Abbiss who has a masterful touch on so many staple indie-debuts (Arctic Monkeys, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Temper Trap and…Adele) the record is best summed up by frontman Ben Gregory himself: “That’s Your Lot is five years of our lives condensed into 59 minutes of yours. Youth, capriciousness, duality, duplicity, love, bitterness, fate. Songs from the human core: some malleable, long considered – others pure, direct, cruelly honest. An album to bathe in and appreciate the inevitable end.”
Recommended Track: “Orthodox Man”
RIYL: Bombay Bicycle Club, Foals, The Maccabees, The Temper Trap
by Craig Manning
Lindsay Ell built her following on YouTube, covering songs by other artists. For the past few years, though, she’s been slowly making a name for herself in mainstream country music, releasing hooky one-off pop-country singles like the bubblegum kiss-off “By the Way” or the infectiously ebullient “All Alright.” It wasn’t until this spring, though, that Ell really showed the world what she was capable of. With the release of her debut EP, Worth the Wait, the 28-year-old Canadian country singer has cast off the usual constraints of pop country for a soulful, versatile set of songs. Her producer, Kristian Bush of the band Sugarland, encouraged her to pick her favorite album and record a cover version of the whole thing, to get a better sense of what makes the songs tick and what she wanted to accomplish with her own music. Ell, a whiz of a guitar player, chose John Mayer’s 2006 masterpiece Continuum. Unsurprisingly, the influence of that record is splashed all across the songs that make up Worth the Wait—and not just in the closing cover of “Stop This Train.” Still, the most intriguing moments here are all Ell’s, from the soulful blues-pop of “Waiting for You” to the kinetic “Criminal,” all the way to the goosebump-inducing title track. Trust me: this girl is one to watch.
Recommended Track: “Worth the Wait”
RIYL: John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Logan Brill
by Craig Manning
A former ad executive turned country singer, Sam Outlaw sounded charming but somewhat limited two years ago when he released his first LP, 2015’s Angeleno. The songwriting was very solid, and Outlaw’s voice—not far removed from Jackson Browne—was butter. However, most of the songs were so old fashioned—with sweeping strings, mariachi horns, and more than a few hat tips to classic California country—that the record didn’t engage me quite as much as other more forward-thinking roots music records from that year. Outlaw’s second disc, this year’s Tenderheart sees the singer/songwriter breaking out of his traditionalist mode a bit, widening the palette for something that feels more his own. The highlight is lead-off track “Everyone’s Looking for Home,” an aching slow-burn that modernizes Outlaw’s sound a bit without sacrificing intimacy. But the whole record—from the title track, which calls back to the melody of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” to “Look at You Now,” the Ryan Adams-style ballad that sits in the closing slot—is the direct opposite of a sophomore slump.
Recommended Track: “Everyone’s Looking for Home”
RIYL: Dawes, Jackson Browne, other Laurel Canyon country/folk acts
by Zac Djamoos
I think there’s a For Everest song for everything. Want something snappy and infectious? Listen to “Autonomy.” Something slow and building? “Vitamins.” Want to shout along to something angry? “I’m in a Boxcar Buried Inside a Quarry.” Their debut We Are at Home in the Body runs the whole gamut of human emotions in nine songs, and toys around with just about every style. The two songs they’re released on their upcoming split with Carb on Carb only have me more convinced that For Everest can do no wrong. They’re one of the most creative and refreshing new bands around, and they’re only one album in. Strap yourself in and start singing along.
Recommended Track: “Autonomy”
RIYL: The World Is…, Dowsing, Everyone Everywhere, Paramore
by Craig Manning
If you’re looking for a “song of the summer” candidate, Nikita Karmen’s new self-titled EP has two of them. “First” is the most obvious pick, an instantly hummable song about the kind of vindictive, petty jealousy that sets in when your ex moves on before you do. But “Love in a Thrift Shop” is sunny and sugary-sweet, too, with a big hook that sounds exactly like something Nashville radio could latch onto. Karmen’s wheelhouse is pop-country, but her music is refreshingly bare, with sparser and more organic arrangements than what you’d hear from many of her (overproduced) contemporaries. “First” starts out with nothing more than a lightly picked guitar and Karmen’s voice. It’s reminiscent of Adele’s Max Martin co-write, “Send My Love to Your New Lover,” only way catchier. And Karmen’s ballads—wrenching girl-next-door tales like “Curfew” and “Nobody with Me”—are similarly understated, allowing her pleasant voice and impressive songcraft to shine through. Pairing the pop-country cuteness of early Taylor Swift with the take-no-shit attitude of Maren Morris, Karmen might just be the next big thing.
Recommended Track: “First”
RIYL: Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Colbie Caillat