Found Gems

Bella Ruse

Take Carol Channing, Joanna Newsom and some old wire recordings from the 1940s and you’ll be able to somewhat approximate the antique indie pop of Bella Ruse. Led by the whimsical warble of singer Kay Gillette, the Minneapolis band makes strange bedfellows out of their instrumentation, mixing glockenspiel with piano, guitar, kazoo and typewriter. The music that emerges is jaunty, teasing and a little magical. Gumption & Guts bounces along with kazoo chasing piano, as Gillette declares, This hell I’m living is no worse than knowing / That I just never had the gumption or the guts to try. Romantic satisfaction continues to evade the songstress on Complicated Rhythm, a quirky hodgepodge of tambourine, guitar, piano, trumpet and (again) typewriter that punctuates each lovelorn sentiment with a cheerful ding. There’s a lot to love about Bella Ruse, if you’ve got the gumption and the guts to try them out.



Swing Low

There’s a sort of quiet desperation that permeates the music of Timothy Bracken and yields songs that are pitch perfect for restless nights. The West Virginian manages to conjure a lot of feeling out of just a couple instruments”namely keyboards, acoustic guitars and drums”to create a collection of sleepy-eyed slacker anthems. Overflowing is dreamy, multi-tracked bliss meted out in small installments. Braken’s voice is similar to Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, especially on You Saw Me In The Light, a twilit dreamscape with skittery beats and reverbed vocals. Baseball fans will love the allegory of Dugout, where Bracken warily navigates a doomed relationship, saying, Guess I better put on my helmet before you throw a knuckleball at my head. Love ain’t easy, but it makes for a good song. If Bracken needs to strike out to keep these gems coming, well, batter up.

“Dugout” – Timothy Bracken

Manic Nirvana

Manic Bloom

When Manic Bloom found sudden international fame after providing the soundtrack to the YouTube videos of hoopster sensations Dude Perfect, they had to rely on online translators to communicate with new fans. Their music, on the other hand, speaks a language that’s universal. Technically flawless and tremendously melodic, Manic Bloom crafts total pop-rock seduction. It’s emo on steroids”big, bold, confident but still fraught with angst. Never Back Down crashes down with grinding guitars, thrashing drums, symphonic keys and the powerhouse vocals of David Stevenson. It’s no wonder Dude Perfect chose the track to accompany their impossible basketball shots”few songs are more anthemic. Push Off The Ground is just as impeccably arranged, but darker. Eerie beats give way to a full metal grind while digital textures rain down. Manic Bloom has a lot of ideas, but each is executed beautifully. They shoot, they score”every time.

Captains Of Hook


These are the things you’ll need to love in order to truly appreciate Osgoods: Hooks. Big, ballsy hooks. The Los Angeles-based band purveys quirky, ambitious rock that sounds like the rebellious offspring of Barenaked Ladies, Spacehog and the Flaming Lips. Steady is a plucky, bass-laden groove composed of electronic swirls, grungy guitars and singer Anthony Nigro’s muscular croon. Like much of Osgood’s songcraft, it’s lush, bold and catchy as hell. The band likes to top-load their arrangements with different textures and parts, which makes what would be a straightforward power ballad like You Made It Easy take on a Queen-like grandiosity. Moody blues are served up on My New Excuse, just before a crescendo of blistering guitars solos light the melody on fire. There’s definitely range within Osgood’s musicology; listen closely and you can hear anything from electro-pop to sludge. Staunch rockers, pop lovers with a tolerance for quirk”this band’s for you.

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein beat up Sarah McLachlan

We already told you to check out Portlandia, but this time we really mean it. IFC has released a teaser for next week’s episode, and it’s a chortlefest. Watch Carrie and Fred ravage a Sarah McLachlan piñata while their maid, singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, tries to intervene.

Nicki Minaj creeps on to SNL

Nicki Minaj is both sexy and macabre, and nowhere do those two sides come together more seamlessly than in SNL‘s new digital short starring The Lonely Island. Watch her do the creep on a corpse, and try not to wish you were the corpse.

The Bad


Now don’t panic, he’s still the same Bieber, only a little deeper. In an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, the teen pop star admitted his voice was changing. It’s definitely lower, he says, but I have a great vocal coach who’s helping me. A better Bieber is just on the other side of the puberty rainbow, kids. So don’t stop beliebing.

White Stripes officially break up

After a prolonged hiatus, the White Stripes announced that they will no longer record or perform as a band in a message posted on their Web site. Please know that it’s not because of anything you did. As the message explains, The reason is not due to artistic differences or lack of wanting to continue, nor any health issues as both Meg and Jack are feeling fine and in good health. It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way. Third Man Records will continue to issue recordings from the vault. And Meg and Jack want you to know that they both love you very, very much.

The Ugly

Robbie breaks into Moby’s place

Robbie, in case you didn’t know, is the name of the stranger who broke into Moby’s house in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles. The musician awoke at 7 AM to find Robbie standing in his living room, lost and tripping on acid. That Robbie! Always up to something! To read Moby’s account of the whole experience, go here.



Jesus rock may seem like a niche market, but Christian/gospel music sales last year amounted to nearly half a billion dollars, according to the Christian Music Trade Association. That’s nothing to scoff at, even if your tastes lean towards the more agnostic. Wichita’s The Lost Colors wear their Christianity with pride, but their turbo-charged pop-rock is palatable for both saints and sinners. Say OK begins with big, meaty guitars that send up banks of fuzz for singer Ellie Gorman to power through, while arcs of keys and chugging riffs up the urgency. Turn Around, with its spinning chorus, has just as much aggression, this time turned inward. But Blame veers from introspection to incrimination, challenging the listener to take stock of his or her actions and quit foisting the blame on others. The Lost Colors steep their rock in stormy hues. Which makes sense, because when your soul is at stake, things can sometimes seem a little bit bleak.

The Boys of Summer

The Passports

Does growing up under the California sun make a musician more likely to turn out warm, blissful melodies made for a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway? We’re saying “yes,” based solely on Redland, California duo The Passports. A panacea for gray days and melancholy moods, The Passports are all about vintage, Beach Boys-era pop”all hooks and ether. Put on By Your Side the next time you’re feeling blue and let radiant harmonies, rock steady beats, and jangling guitars envelop you in a golden haze. Robert Easley and Casey Curry are most definitely ˜60s rock connoisseurs, but they’re not simply mining antiquity. Rangy electric guitars, whimsical xylophones and panging pianos blend together in indie rock perfection. Keep the Vitamin D coming, guys. Us East Coasters appreciate it.

Harmony: Indie Rock Finds Its Voice(s)

Ask a music fan in their late 30s or 40s “ preferably one stuck in their formidable years, and not an old hipster “ to define indie rock as a sound, and you’ll unquestionably hear some semblance of these words: Loud. Abrasive. Anti-Authority. Forward-thinking. Think about indie-rock forebears, and some may even call them unlistenable: Sonic Youth reveled in noise; Lou Reed couldn’t sing to save his life; Michael Stipe’s lyrics made no sense. And yet, in the past few years, an unmistakable trend’s emerged that’s made indie rock something entirely different “ in a word, beautiful.

That trend is harmony, the melding of vocals singing different notes to create a full, hopefully gorgeous chord. Admittedly, harmony has been a trait of indie rock since the early years (Kim Deal and Frank Black dabbled, as did Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl) but only recently has it become an indie-rock trademark, rather than a side note. Blame (or thank) The Shins, whose New Slang made Natalie Portman swoon and Zach Braff famous six years ago, opened the door to indie-rock sensitivity in a way it’d never been opened before.

Only in the last couple of years has harmony become zeitgeist-y, though. First came the Fleet Foxes, the ultra-hyped, superbly bearded Seattle band whose atmospheric, folksy Sun Giant was the toast of 2008, thanks to singer Robert Pecknold’s harmonizing with all of his band mates to create glorious, seemingly impossible vocal collosi that are at once overwhelming and majestic. Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear broke out last year with Veckatimest, which took the Fleet Foxes lushness and weirded it up, the group-sings so striking, they won the band the top spot on the Wall Street Journal’s list of the best records of 2009. And now, Angelenos Local Natives take the trend a step further, with the foursome bringing the fuzz of electric guitars (and the jumpy rhythms of bands like the Talking Heads) to the party, busting out three-and-sometimes-four part harmonies that’re both electrifying and soothing, occasionally simultaneously. Listening to them “ or any of their predecessors “ may not be an anti-authority statement the way, say, listening to Iggy was in 1972, but so what: who needs attitude when you can have lusciousness, instead?

-Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is the LA editor of and has been writing about music professionally for over a decade for publications including the Los Angeles Times, Relix, and

Holiday In The Sun: All Aboard The Bruise Cruise

A funny thing happened on the way to the dive bar. Yes, the Black Lips, Vivian Girls, DJ Jonathan Toubin and others will be performing on the first-ever “Bruise Cruise Festival,” a luxury line headed from Miami to the Bahamas from February 25-28, 2011. With rockers/patrons paying $615 for an interior cabin and $665 for one with an ocean-view, the cruise is a fascinating study in indie music marketing. No doubt digital realities have lent freedom to artists seeking new channels of distribution, but they have also somewhat paradoxically devalued their creative output. Generating less income through recordings, it has become all the more important for them to monetize live performances and the Bruise Cruise can easily be understood in this context.

Organized by Michelle Cable of Panache Booking and Jonas Stein of Nashville band, Turbo Fruits, the concept is hardly revolutionary: There is a “Opry Country Classics Cruise” on Royal Caribbean, a “Gospel Music, Mexican Riviera Celebration” on Holland America, so garage rock on the Carnival Line is not a gigantic leap. Yet, unlike other musical genres, garage hasn’t historically occupied a cultural space one would readily associate with ice sculptures and elaborate floral arrangements and so the cruise suggests that the line between the alternative and mainstream is

Black Lips

growing increasingly blurry.

The 400 rockers who book tickets, as the Bruise Cruise website states, will share the ship with about 2000 regular passengers, which means that out-of-shape, Middle Americans in their fat pants will be piling fajitas and pasta salad onto their plates at the all-you-can-eat buffet next to the rockers in skinny jeans. The fest promoters seem aware of the cultural tension. On the site, next to a photo of the ship’s resort-style swimming pool they urge potential fest-goers to “Think Boogie Nights” and next to a photo of a miniature golf course to “Think Caddyshack meets Weekend At Bernie’s.” In these awkward attempts at spin, the promoters seem to be worried whether this indie experiment at sea will work out.  But is there really reason for concern?

As Rachael Maddux announced in her much-discussed cover story for Paste Magazine earlier this year, “Indie” as an artistic ideal that implied a willful operation outside the mainstream, has virtually lost all meaning. And perhaps, it could be argued, so has the idea of “mainstream.” In September, Iggy and the Stooges will be performing Raw Power at Kutsher”s Country Club in the Catskills. In October, indie institution Matador Records will celebrate its 21st anniversary with a three-day event in the mecca of kitch, Las Vegas. Hell, Arcade Fire just released an album called Suburbs about lawns, malls and the desire to settle down and have children. The world is ready for the Bruise Cruise. So, grab your PBR and head to the starboard deck. The shuffleboard tournament is about to begin.

Josh Neuman

Joshua Neuman used to be the editor-in-chief of Heeb Magazine. He has written for Slate, eMusic and ESPN. His first book, The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2005.