Afrocentric rock bands are a rare but beautiful thing. Living Colour, Bad Brains, Fishbone ” these guys stepped boldly into the mostly white arena of punk and hardcore, bringing with them styles and genres as divergent as jazz, funk, and hip-hop. And history was made. These days there are more and more afro-rock bands, most notably Brooklyn indie darlings TV On The Radio. Game Rebellion hails from the BK too, but is intentionally more lowbrow. Case in point: Dance Girl, which combines gnarly synth rock and bombastic hip-hop while cheering on a dancer and her pole. It’s brazen and dirty, infected and infectious. Things get more political with Blind, a jagged rap-rocker with lyrics that can slice you open. We’re zombies of debt, we’ve been buried alive, spits lead MC, Netic. Whether Game Rebellion is shooting off scathing social commentary or lyrically tipping strippers, there’s never a dull moment.
Blameshift’s steady rise to the upper strata of commercial music is the product of not just talent, but serious marketing mojo. First the band became road warriors, criss-crossing across the country in a bus fueled by corn oil and building a bi-coastal fan base. Those diehard fans allowed Blameshift to finance their first record through Kickstarter and release free downloads in exchange for a like on Facebook. Their strategy paid off, exposing their polished hard rock to new fans and sponsors, and netting them placement on The Real World and Call of Duty. Blameshift’s music is as heavy as it is catchy, driven by the siren song of Jenny Mann. Guitars chug and strike through mountains of distortion, drums are pummeled to within an inch of their life, and Mann’s voice pierces through it all. Start with Ghost or Killing Me for a dose of dark and fitful rock. If you like to dance through all the drama, we recommend the sinister, polyrhythmic rocker,The Sirens Are Set. Are you ready? Mann asks. This could last forever. Cool by us.
Stephanie White was one of the Top 21 female vocalists on American Idol season five, and though the New Jersey native didn’t make it as far as Taylor Hicks, it wasn’t for a lack of talent. White’s got the limber croon of a jazz chanteuse combined with a pop sensibility that makes her music appealing to the masses. With her band of merry musicians, the Philth Harmonics, the singer creates a gumbo of jazz, funk, ska, and even a little Caribbean. Cheat On My BFFL is a cautionary tale for jerk wads wrapped up in a party. The bass bubbles, the guitars strut, the horns bleat, and the girl sings a warning to men who mean her friends harm. Keep the party going with the sultry Prove It or the creeping jazz funk of Trying To Dream For You. Hey, Taylor Hicks”eat your heart out.
Just across the Hudson, tucked between the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, is Hoboken, NJ. A less frenetic, friendlier version of New York City, Hoboken still functions as sort of a microcosm of Manhattan with its restaurants, galleries, and vibrant music scene. Just like Hoboken, ARTWORK reflects the sometimes opposing forces and surprising beauty of the big city. On Skies gnarled guitars and stomping drums give way to a coasting melody with blissed out vocals and twee lyrics reminiscent of Owl City. But just as soon as you begin to get lulled into submission, in comes a menacing, spoken word bridge to upset the calm. On Casting Stones staccato guitars, blasts of distortion, thrashing drums, and whirls of synths create a decidedly more turbulent vibe. I’ll set the world in flames, singer Darren Fisher promises. True, but they’ll also provide the salve to soothe the burn.
Champagne Morning seems to have it all figured out. The band, based in Kiev, spends part of their time creating euphoric indie pop, and when they’re not doing that, they drink champagne. It might explain the mix of revelry, chaos and camaraderie that permeates their music. Take, for example, Miracle, a psychedelic mash of jaunty piano, guitars and drums that bounce along, feckless and free. Fly High keeps the party going with a neo-soul/rock groove, blissed-out female backup singers and an American rapper by the name of Fanamonon who somehow ended up in the Ukraine just in time to spit some lyrics on the track. Even Pain Plane, which starts off as a moony solo number, bursts into a crescendo of joyful noise at the end. Like the best drunken nights, you can only brood for so long before your friends show up to shake you out of it.
Bad stuff is out there”in nasty Facebook posts, shocking headlines and mean people looking to kill your buzz. Next time you feel a deep and abiding despair about humanity, put on Roads, a Washington-based band led by singer-songwriter Ian Vidovic. Along with keyboard player Abram Bardue and drummer Justin Abel, Vidovic crafts indie pop patchworks of found parts, binding them together with an unwavering hopefulness. On Love Will Grow piano and strings are met with yawning textures, rattles and creaks. I Don’t Know How, on the other hand, is a quixotic ukulele song, played sweet and easy. If you’re not a fan of high whimsy, you’ll want to bypass Roads. But if you like the gentle and earnest croon of vocalists like Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard and the quirky balladry of Decemberists, well, you’ve found your jam.
You don’t often find jocks onstage singing opera, but Ryan Hill isn’t your average guy. A baseball scholarship led Hill to Ottawa University, where he honed his swing on the field and his voice in the university choir. Guitar and piano practice and classical vocal training began to eclipse baseball as Hill developed his sound and evolved into a prodigious singer-songwriter. Believe introduces you to Hill’s most powerful instrument: a malleable voice that ripples up and down the scales. The guy can emote, and does so with just a simple acoustic guitar for much of the song. It isn’t until the three-minute mark that Hill unleashes the rest of his arsenal. Tracks like One More Time and What Do I Know are codas to the emotional turbulence of Believe. The latter is a dark and dusty waltz where Hill proclaims, I’ve done all I can do. I’m only a man. But man, is he good at what he does.
When Darling Parade couldn’t find a genre that described their sound to their liking, they took matters into their own hands and invented one. It’s called popcore, and for the uninitiated, it sounds a lot like emo-pop”the kind of music you’d expect to find on Fueled By Ramen. And although they may not appreciate the comparison, Darling Parade has a lot in common with acts like Paramore and Flyleaf. Each band softens their aggression with soaring female vocals. On Never Wrong, guitars run wild, alternating from chunky, buzzsaw riffs to urgent peals while singer Kristin Kearns powers through with her impressive pipes. You’ll find this dichotomy of ferocity and femininity throughout all the band’s songs, from the polyrhythmic What You Want to the galvanizing Take This City. Popcore, emo, rock”the label doesn’t really matter. Just crank it up and you just might feel young and reckless again.
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.
It’s not every artist who asks for your shoe size along with your name and email on his/her mailing list sign up form. But Nashville’s Jesi Kettering is just a smidgen more fanciful than most. Her songs are infused with whimsy, wrapped in quiet, breathless melodies. Full Circle is a dreamy echo chamber of ambient beats, guitar reverb and Kettering’s honeyed vocals. All of her songs are delivered softly and sweetly. Oh No, even as it bemoans the act of falling for someone, is a quiet little love song made up of acoustic guitars and brushed drums. In I Fell In Love, she tackles the same sore subject, this time with guitar, piano and violin. Call me a fool if I sound masochistic / If this counts as pain I want more, she sings. Ditto that.