Steady Skies rides the line between the arena and the front porch. They’re musicians who dole out poppy hooks and plucky banjos in equal measure; a rock band that flirts with country. Start your introduction with Remember When, a driving melody pushed along by the deep ripple of bass, bright spears of guitars, and the slight country cadence of singer Tyler McCuen. That song’s mid-tempo musings give way to more apocalyptic imagery on the doleful Church Bells. I hear church bells ringing in the city streets / Crowds of people falling on their knees, McCuen sings over wailing guitars. If thinking about the end of the world is too much of a buzzkill, skip to Waiting For. There, existential anxieties”bursting dams and falling skies”are wrapped up in an ambling, country-spun melody. When in doubt, a spoonful of banjo can help the melancholy go down.
Katie Ekin has always had a heart for music, but she didn’t always have the heart to play for an audience. Although she grew up watching her father perform in a band, it wasn’t until she was 15 that Ekin finally picked up the guitar. Since then, she hasn’t put it down much. To date, she’s got nearly 200 songs under her belt and no desire to slow down any time soon. Her indie folk pop is sparely arranged and lightly glazed. Falling Out Of Your Arms tells the story of slipping out of love through rippling guitars, soft percussion, and Ekin’s lilting, multi-tracked vocals. Minus the appearance of an improbable guitar solo in the middle, it’s a song meant for chilling out. With the holidays just around the corner, we recommend putting Underneath the Christmas Tree on rotation. Retro-styled in the same vein as Santa Baby, the track is sonic hot apple cider”sweet, warm, and something you’ll want seconds of.
The Byrds, the Zombies, Fountains of Wayne, OK GO ¦ mop-topped power pop has a long history here in the U.S. and overseas. Its combination of hooks, guitars, swagger, and rhythm has proven to be an indelible attractor. So if you’re into power pop, it’s likely you’ll be into The Yearbooks. The Chicago-based band is made up of singer Sars Flannery, guitarists Eric Hehr and Bill Friel, bassist Drew Potenza, and drummer Adam James. Together, they crank out hooky rockers with karate chop guitar riffs and propulsive rhythms. Start your introduction with She Did It With Her Eyes. It’s angular, edgy, and jagged with airy vocals”part Strokes and part Death Cab For Cutie. Season of Love, with its staccato guitars, throbbing bass, and strutting drums, is the sound of being cool. Listen and learn.
There are innumerable artists out there, filled with talent, who are frittering away in obscurity because they don’t have exposure. This is not Xoe Wise’s story. The singer-songwriter was plucked from the teeming masses of Chicago artists by none other than Microsoft to perform at the company’s Illinois store opening. Things went so well there that the technology giant then funded Wise’s 25-date U.S. tour. It may not be a breakthrough, but it’s definitely a push in the right direction for someone who deserves the attention. Wise’s music provides the soundtrack for sleepyheaded romance and quiet reverie. The pitter-patter of percussion, yawing violins, soft piano, and Wise’s gauzy vocals combine for dulcet melodies like Silent Rain and All You Gave. She even weaves a little Auto-Tune in on My Heart as her voices tiptoes up the scales. Wise’s songs are sweet panaceas for life’s pricklier moments. Let’s face it, we can all use more of those.
Amazing things can happen in the bedroom. OK, get your mind out of the gutter; we’re talking about music. Specifically Shaky Voices, a one-man band out of Nashville, led by multi-instrumentalist Patrick Baker. Baker recorded most of his last album in his bedroom, using a Dell computer for a kick drum and a mic case for a snare. Whether or not you think pounding a computer repeatedly is a wise move, you can’t argue with the results. Surely Thou Doth Jest is a jaunty jig that shuffles along, cool and confident. Fingers plunk down on piano keys and shake tambourines as feet kick the Dell in time. It’s smart, eccentric post-punk/pop for resourceful slackers. Or, as Baker describes, A lo-fi, late night jam session between Pavement and Pinkerton-era Weezer on a cheap, out-of-tune acoustic guitar that’s missing the ˜A’ string. We couldn’t agree more.
Separately, Elora Taylor and Dee Filc are just two twenty-something ladies from Oakville, Ontario. Together, they become something even better, a folk duo called Tallulah Darling that plays stripped down, bare bones rock and country. Though the two cite influences like Miranda Lambert, Loretta Lynn, Dixie Chicks, and Toby Keith, you’ll find more street edge in tracks like Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. There, a serpentine bass, buzzsaw guitar riffs, and cheeky lyrics are loosely combined for raw, unrefined rock. Metal Heart, on the other hand, is a more lackadaisical meditation on love, wrapped up in acoustic guitars and falsetto vocals. Finally, on This Is Not A Joke, those country roots are unearthed. With the wistful, confessional appeal of Taylor Swift, Mulligan delivers her simple request: This is not a joke so please stop smiling. Mute adoration, however, is permitted.
The first thing you have to know about TAMPPA is that he loves his hood. Born and raised in Brooklyn, the rapper considers the borough his muse. On Brownsville Grind, a nod to one of Brooklyn’s public housing projects, TAMPPA paints a picture of his hustle. The track is a soulful, brassy, hip-hop hot cooker with an intro by none other than Ludacris. TAMPPA’s got connections”his cousin is Anthony Cruz, a.k.a. the rapper and frequent Nas collaborator, AZ. As you can hear, talent runs in the family. TAMPPA’s tracks are filled with lyrical smart bombs. On Gotta Be More he talks about rising above his situation and chasing the dream, rapping, Like the late, great Michael, I gotta go thrill ˜em. By Fix Your Face he’s arrived. Over rattling textures and a fat bass line he proclaims, We are kings, and ghetto legends. All hail the next great MC of Kings County.
Bonus update. Tamppa has a personal message about his latest collaboration:
If you’ve never heard the name Yuri Koller, you better ask somebody. Like, maybe Saigon, Drake, or Diddy’s Day26 band, all of whom have crossed paths with the artist and his music. Koller, who used to go by the stage name Lokz, is a Toronto R&B singer and megawatt star in the making. No, seriously. Listen to Throw It Away and tell us it isn’t one of the best R&B/pop jams you’ve heard since Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around Comes Around. Over shuddering synths and a thumping beat Koller introduces us to his formidable talent. His voice sails dreamily on the chorus of the jazzy Without You, and goes rapid fire on the stylized and dynamic R&B banger 24 Hours To Love You. Like the heir apparent to Usher, Koller brings incredible vocals, killer production, and lots of sex appeal to the game. He won’t be a free agent for long.
Pop music is great, but if you’re looking for emotional depth, you may not find it in an LMFAO song. So when Chase Manhattan was recalibrating after his band short-circuited midway to their big breakthrough, he turned his focus to making pop music with substance. Enter Goodnight Argent, a nod to an old studio on Argent Road in the band’s hometown of Pasco, Wash. The band crafts burning, soulful pop, part Justin Timberlake, part Ben Gibbard. Those Were The Days is a smoldering look at summer love, driven by a simple back beat and panging piano. When the sun comes up will the stars remember our love? Manhattan wonders. Then, like an admonishment, the band fires back with Don’t Get Sentimental, a track filled with spacy sequences and piercing guitars. The only thing these guys have in common with LMFAO is that they’re sexy and they know it.
Bands of brothers”history is riddled with them. From Creedence Clearwater Revival to the Bee Gees to Kings of Leon to The Beach Boys to Kool & The Gang to Good Charlotte to Pantera to, well, you get the point. Oaklynn, a band out of Dalton, Ga., brings its own exceptional symmetry to this illustrious group. Made up of two pairs of brothers”Josh and Seth Smith and Tripp and Tate Howell”Oaklynn purveys catchy, hook-driven synth rock with gossamer vocals. Fans of Postal Service will love the band’s single Everytime. Over compressed beats, tambourines, digital bleeps, and reverb guitars, Tate Hollowell sings, Every time you come around here lately, you lift me off the ground. Oaklynn’s ethereal songcraft has a similar effect. Next time you need a serotonin surge, give these guys a try.