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.
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.
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.
MSF hails from Boston, so it’s not surprising one of their biggest influences is the seminal post-punk Beantown band, the Pixies. You can hear that influence best in their dark and cheeky track, Oven Head. Over piercing guitars that sound like they were recorded in a silo, David Michaels intones, That’s all I want, to die. Like the Pixies, the music is galvanizing, fitful and manic, but Michaels’ adenoidal croon brings an element of Elvis Costello to the mix. Oven Head is the sound of unraveling, but on the catchy Walking Jealousy frothy guitars and galloping, polyrhythmic drums lighten the mood. Who cares if you can’t decipher what the chorus is (We haven’t got our keys? We’ve all forgot our drinks?)? Your body will move regardless of what your brain understands.
Before he had even finished high school in Alabama, Nick Gill had three albums and a 50-date tour under his belt. And if that doesn’t impress you, his music will. Gill has come a long way since penning his first song in 8th grade about a kooky English teacher. These days his songs are poignant, spare meditations on life’s more difficult experiences: love, loss, and growing up. The haunting How It Feels is about a friend’s suicide. But rather than dwelling on the shock and horror, Gill reminisces about the good times”driving around with beauty queens on Halloween. As a violin, piano, and a softy strummed guitar deliver the elegy, Gill’s mellow voice ascends into a honeyed falsetto. Game is lighter fare”an upbeat melody led by a guiro, acoustic guitar and piano. Gill’s warm and dusty songs are on par with singer-songwriters like Jack Johnson and John Mayer. But unlike those elderish statesmen, this young buck’s just getting started.
Talain Rayne is shipwrecked. Thus begins Talain Rayne’s Kickstarter manifesto, a hilarious, touching plea for donations to help the singer-songwriter get a new set of wheels and get out of Dodge. (Dodge being Phoenixville, PA.) Rayne’s ability to raise more than $12K is due in part to his uncanny resemblance to Tom Hanks in Cast Away. But it’s also due to his huge talent. Rayne crafts swooning, emotive indie pop with stomping drums, cascading pianos, twinkling xylophone and awesome boy-girl harmonies. From his dreamy meditations on sibling revelry in Dear Sister, Your Brother to the fierce vulnerability in 16, Rayne knows how to pack a visceral punch. Probably one of his most moving songs is Family Wall, written for his father. I take back everything I said, all because I love you, dad, he croons. There aren’t a lot of dudes singing love songs to their dads out there, which makes this one all the more touching. Hey Talain ” we love you, man.
Most teen musicians play their first gigs in dubious places ” their parents’ garage, an empty parking lot, or, if they’re lucky, an abandoned shed out in the middle of nowhere. Not The Nowhere Nauts. Sofie Kapur, Hunter Lombard, Anders Kapur, and Tony Franco grew up in NYC, performing at clubs that more established bands would kill to get into. After being brought together by former Guided By Voices drummer Kevin March in 2008, the group began mining their influences and styles. What emerged was street-smart indie rock with punk and jazz underpinnings. Try To Light My Fuse starts with pulsing synths before guitars and bass burst forward, bobbing and weaving around sharp angles while drums whip them on. Sofie’s powerful voice is eerily reminiscent of Ann Wilson from Heart, shaking the rafters with wild abandon. The prize is in your view / Why not take a chance? She’s singing to you ” turn up the volume and grab your prize.
Matthew Peabody and Mike Kegler share a long history, one that spans bands and orchestras and college jam sessions. The Missing Chums is a continuation of that musical synergy. Along with keyboardist Matt Douponce and bassist Henry Van Loon, the band cranks out jumpy, lo-fi rockers. The title track to their debut album, Out of the Gates, is an anthem of uncertainty. I’m guessing this great flood will wash your conscience clean, Peabody warbles over furious strumming, handclaps, and tambourines. The excellent Cover It Up is more brazen, steeped in the ˜80s with big distorted guitars, rock steady drums, and Peabody’s loosened croon. The Chums’ music is raw and unrefined, equal parts nervous energy and swaggering hooks. On Yes You May isolation and desire creep in, but by Moving Target the group has pulled out the tambourines for a low-country jig. Life’s tough. Still, every underdog has its day.
Warning Birds is a band of Perthians led by Sam Carmody, a virtuosic singer songwriter with a bent for storytelling that tugs at the heartstrings. With his bandmates”bassist Carmen Pepper, guitarist Bensen Thomas and drummer Tim Bates”Carmody crafts dreamy, fitful indie pop. On Sally glistening pangs of guitar meld with gossamer layers of vocals and brisk rhythms in a tale of love gone dangerously wrong. Plastic Palms explodes out of the gate with soaring guitars and drums, then settles into a meditative meander through watery guitars and the intertwined vocals of Carmody and Pepper. Nowhere do these two sound more transcendent than on Ghost Town, a shuffling, melancholic melody with a chorus that swoons. There must be something here, they sing in harmony, before their voices are swallowed by rolling drums and funereal horns. Fans of Arcade Fire will love this. Put it on, sit back, and get your blissed-out brood on.