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.