It takes a mighty presence to hold an arena-sized audience captive. And though Kat Robichaud, who fronts Raleigh-based band The Design, has spent the bulk of her career on smaller stages, she’s the kind of heavyweight performer who could shake the rafters of a stadium. Armed with a muscular contralto, the singer powers through theatrical rockers that harken back to the ˜80s. Young America is the soundtrack to defiance, a stomping gutter groove for those with their jaws firmly jutted out. But even protestors like to take things to the dance floor now and then, and Sing, Girl, Sing provides the chunky rock guitars, a funk bass line, and angular percussion to get things moving. Still, The Design is a band that thrives on dissent, and nowhere is their unrest more palatable than on Burn” a rallying cry sounded by syncopated drums and a salvo of gnarly guitars. I will not be found wanting, Robichaud warns. No, ma’am. Absolutely not.
Brothers Nicholas and Lucas James may have had a wholesome upbringing”home school, Quaker school, Connecticut suburbs”but they didn’t let that corrupt their rock and roll souls. The brothers stood by their hot sauce-lovin’, God-fearin’, skinny jeans-wearin’ values, joining up with likeminded brethren Kevin Clymer and Dean Miller to form Ula Ruth in 2011. Their rock is steeped in distortion, with banged up and bruised grooves. Exhibit A: Empty, a stylish and subversive rocker with zig-zagging guitars engulfed in feedback. Exhibit B: Call To The Lonely, where handclaps, reverb riffs, guttural bass lines and throaty hollers combine for the New England version of Kings of Leon. I always open my mouth instead of walking away, Nick laments. Be glad he does”Ula Ruth’s rebel yell is worth the listen.
There’s a pantheon of music constructed of staccato guitars, thrashing drums, and searching, volatile vocals. Some call it emo, some call it pop-punk, some call it alternative. The name itself isn’t important. What matters is the legion of fans who flock to festivals like Warped Tour, snatch up records put out by Fueled By Ramen, and pour their love into every note, every word uttered. Band like At The Drive In, Taking Back Sunday, Motion City Soundtrack and countless others have supplied this demand over the course of two decades. You can add the name All About A Bubble to the list. The Tulsa, Okla. group delivers frenetic, precise rockers like West Coast, with its chugging guitars and monster melody. Impossible to Fade begins with singer Dustin Storm’s innervated croon before kicking into a coursing power ballad. The calm after the storm comes from Paper Planes, a mostly acoustic heartbreaker moved along by”you guessed it”big guitars and drums. Welcome to the pantheon, guys.
Attention, those trying to define the music of Get Back Loretta: Cease and desist. Give it up. Save yourself the trouble. The San Diego band defies categorization at every turn, deftly weaving elements of ˜60s garage rock, ˜70s soul and ˜90s Britpop into their songs. Your incredible journey begins with Break Down”a garage rock-soul revival with big, beautiful harmonies. Think Franz Ferdinand, if they were rubbed in the dirt a little. Grown So Cold is a jaunty, gypsy-inspired dance in the pale moonlight, while Gotta Believe is driving, adrenaline-fueled piano rock. And, though its name might lead you to believe it to be anesthetic, Ketamine swaggers with bluesy, almost theatrical, panache, while singer Steven Bradford delivers the punch with his killer croon. That’s the thing with this band”no song sounds like the next, but all of them are total knock-outs.
New York’s TV/TV has had its fair share of broadcasts on shows like The Hills, Flash Gordon and, yes, Living Lohan. But it was lead singer Josh Ocean’s appearance as a mentor on Made that launched the band into prime time. Listen to Fire Island Freakout and you’ll understand why they’re getting so much buzz. Gritty blasts of guitar, squashed beats and swaggering vocals make for modern dance rock savagery with echoes of the ˜80s. The song’s chorus packs a wallop”it’s hipster meets Mutt Lange, indie rock meets power pop. Already a darling on the Vans Warped Tour, a regular on the AOL Music charts and a familiar name on the marquee of NYC clubs like The Knitting Factory and Bowery Ballroom it’s hard to say what milestone TV/TV will hit next. Whatever it is, we’ll be tuning in.
“Fire Island Freakout” – TV/TV
If you doubt the healing power of rock, look no further than the musicians who travel overseas and the troops who flock to see them. Whether or not the treacle lasts, at least for an hour or two no one’s thinking about war. The Stellas, out of Charlotte, North Carolina, are one of the many bands who have brought the rock to the armed forces, touring Southwest Asia and the Middle East in 2009. One can imagine the kind of catharsis that took place with the band’s brazen brand of rock and roll. In Stereo begins with drums that sound like they’re being beaten to death in a warehouse, quickly followed by snarling, snaking guitars and the low-throttle threat of bass. There’s an undercurrent of urgency here, but singer Adam Middleton keeps his cool, at least until the chorus. The Stellas’ raw, feral garage rock is pressure-cooked to perfection”just right for blowing off steam.
“In Stereo (2011)” – The Stellas
Imagine Fiona Apple and Janis Joplin joined by Neko Case and Radiohead for a Saturday night out, reads the splash page of the blueVenus Web site. And although that suggests a supergroup fronted by three alpha women, blueVenus is in reality just one woman”singer-songwriter Andrea de Boer. That’s not to say the music isn’t larger than the sum of its parts. De Boer weaves a lot of ideas into each song, changing up time signatures and vocal parts like an actor trying on new characters. Killing Time introduces you to the warm brush of de Boer’s voice as she drifts through hypnotic, moody soundscapes. Grin, on the other hand, uses the wiry scrape of plucked strings and bleating horns to create a jazzy, Latin-infused number. Things may sound upbeat, but there’s distress lurking at the fringes. In Happy Tune”a creeper of a melody”de Boer tries to outrun her demons, telling herself Instead of dark I’ll be light. We hope she hangs on to a little of the darkness. Keeps things interesting.
“blueVenus” – Killing Time
Technical precision can be a thing of beauty. Musicians like Steve Vai and Neil Peart have inspired and influenced countless fans with their flawless mastering of their instrument. But imperfection can cast its own kind of spell, too. Keith Richards‘ rough and rangy style of guitar playing has certainly helped sell some records. The So and So’s, out of Manchester, England, fall into the Richards’ school of technique. Not Today is a loose and shambling melody made up of reverb guitars and the moony croon of singer-songwriter Richard Dutton. More upbeat, Jeckyll and Hyde shuffles along with the help of a bubbling bass line. The So and So’s are best described as part Morphine, part Kooks, as the strutting tremolo guitars and bleating sax of Unmistakable You prove. They’re not polished, but they’re gutsy”a perfect band for those who like it rough.
With a shock of flame-red hair and a voice that can shake the rafters, Casey Desmond is not one to be easily overlooked. Just ask Adam Levine, who picked the Boston artist for his team on NBC’s The Voice after hearing her power through Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. Desmond belongs in the same echelon of electro-pop performers as Natasha Khan and Alison Goldfrapp”all are sequined sirens able to lure listeners to the dance floor in seconds flat. Rendezvous is steeped in ˜80s pop, a punchy mix of wiry guitars, swirling synths, driving drums and Desmond’s dreamy, sailing vocals. Loose Ends is another quick hit of adrenaline”glammy, sexy and kinetic. If you ever wonder why I’m never surprised, I’m over here babe, listening to your phone line, Desmond purrs. She may like to tease, but if you’re looking for electrifying pop, heavy with hooks, Desmond’s a sure thing.
The Worsties play the kind of music that immediately lends itself to dance parties, fisticuffs and other forms of bacchanal. It’s fun, rowdy and isn’t afraid to bite. Which may be why the band has been picked up by shows like The Real World and Bad Girls Club. Led by the feline yowl of Anna Worstell (not far off from Karen O), the Worsties elbow their listeners to the dance floor with new wave, rock and punk that’s stylish and savage. Party Dress is straight out of the Motor City circa 1969. Frayed guitars and rock steady drums make for a pent-up rocker that demands you belt it out in unison. Likewise, XOXO, is an anthem for bad behavior, made up of thrashing drums and kiss-off guitars. Tightly wound and pressure-cooked, the track is about what happens when you let off a little steam. On Let’s Go, you not only get feral dance rock, you also get a spelling lesson. After the sing-a-long chorus Worstell declares, I just wanna dance all night. So do we. And so will you.