We’ve dug into sources, clicked MySpaces and stalked tweets… Everything short of taking a one-way trip to SXSW. And what have we found? Lost hippie children, dubstep invaders and more unspeakable talent. This month, JUICE presents 15 acts that are set to become part of our musical diet for the remaining months of 2010-some familiar, some not so and some totally unknown to the average music tourist. One thing’s for sure: no one sings to the same chord.
Text Ben Liew, Kevin Yeoh, Miranda Yeoh + Raphael Westwood
Every year, there is one band that’s worth all the hype. One band that has that crucial combination of coolness, originality and hipster playfulness. With strong words of praise from foremost music critics and publications, not to mention a spot in BBC’s Sound Of 2010, The Drums is that band this year.
No overnight success, it’s been a long trip for the original duo of vocalist Jonathan Pierce and guitarist Jacob Graham. The two best friends met at summer camp and soon after launched their first act called Goat Explosion. Touring the States for most of their teenage years, the electro pop band worked hard but yielded less than what they put in.
Sometime in 2003, Jonathan and hometown friend (and master woodsman) Adam Kessler formed another short-lived band called Elkland (named after the town in Pennsylvania). Signed to Columbia Records, Elkland received favourable attention from the indie scene with their infectious debut single ‘Apart’. Jacob, on the other hand, formed Horse Shoes, which played “aww”-inspiring sentimental love songs.
After flogging the elk to death, Jonathan decided to take a few years off from writing music, becoming disillusioned with the music biz. Luckily for him, his mate Jacob was around to cheer him up. Having grown tired of electronic music, they ditched the synths for guitars and started writing again with their first song being the aptly titled ‘Best Friend’. And thus, The Drums were born in late 2008.
Jonathan and Jacob recorded and produced about 15 songs in Florida, and after saving some money moved to New York City. With the addition of Adam on second guitar and NYC native Connor Hanwick (formerly of lo-fi teen pop duo Cape of No Hope) on drums, the band set up a month-long residency at a small club on the lower east side of Manhattan. By word of mouth, The Drums’ shows became a weekly dance party attended religiously by New York’s music-fanatic population.
Fast forward to a string of exuberant live performances (with Jonathan reinventing the Ian Curtis-stylised swaying) and The Drums are now dubbed by NME as “New York’s official coolest new band”. They’ve received invitations to play at international festivals and to open for established (ie. more than a year old) acts.
But what’s their secret? Jonathan reveals: “We only write about two feelings: one is the first day of summer when you and all of your friends are standing on the edge of a cliff watching the sun set and being overcome with all of your hopes and dreams at once. The other is when you’re walking alone in the rain and realise you will be alone forever.”
Agreeably, simplicity is key to The Drums’ pop-drenched surf rock sound. “There’s an instant gratification in straightforward music,” reflects Jonathan. “Pop music is how I feel. Even if I feel silly, I’ll tell you about it in three minutes. That’s why I love the 1950s. Songs from the 80s, 90s, 30s or whatever don’t make me wild in the same way. The 50s was the beginning of basic pop music. They did it from scratch and pulled these amazing, timeless melodies out of thin air.”
And from the breeziness of ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ to the gentle reverb on ‘Down By The Water’, that’s all you’re going to hear. Timelessness. BL
Marina & The Diamonds
The UK has had a productive 2 years churning out a whole bunch of talented female artists in the singer-songwriter-electro folk-pop arena. It’s a wonder no one has actually created a new genre to pigeonhole them yet. First there was Little Boots, then La Roux, then Florence and The Machine. And now, barely into the 2nd half of 2010, the runner-up of BBC’s Sound Of 2010, Marina and The Diamonds, is causing a commotion.
It’s a common misconception that The Diamonds (a direct translation from Marina’s family name Diamantis) is the name for her 4-piece band-just like how Florence and The Machine works. But interestingly enough, The Diamonds actually represent Marina’s fans. “I’m Marina. You are the diamonds,” states Marina on her MySpace page.
Is the half Welsh half Greek singer-songwriter all she’s hyped up to be? In a world filled with predictable pop starlets, Marina breathes fresh new life into the staleness of pop music. Quirky and often dramatic onstage, Marina’s experience as a performer shows through her voice. She uses her instrument well, especially on tracks that are nothing short of vocally demanding in terms of range and tone, and she handles it with strength not unlike the musicians that have come before her such as Tori Amos, and even Florence Welsh herself.
Marina’s trademark sees her singing each word flamboyantly and regularly punctuating with conviction, sincerity and theatrics. She first debuted her singles ‘Obsessions’ and ‘Mowgli’s Road’, and soon after released The Crown Jewels EP. This year, her full-length album The Family Jewels was finally released in February. Only time will tell if she will fizzle out like the rest of them who have jumped on the trend bandwagon, but it looks like Marina and The Diamonds are here to stay. MY
London-based recluse Derwin aka Gold Panda is an up-and-coming UK producer, remixer and artist who’s causing quite a buzz with his style of unabashedly collecting bits and pieces of sound to make samples-all chopped up from dialogue, music, and random sounds from vinyl and VHS tapes of movies-to create his distinct sound. We will see a lot more of Gold Panda in 2010 as he’s already remixing for the likes of Little Boots, Bloc Party, Simian Mobile Disco, and even up-and-comer Marina and The Diamonds. His most well known track ‘Quitter’s Raga’ is a good example of how Gold Panda works: different fragments of sounds paired together to make something new and beautiful. Embracing a wide range of genres that you just can’t seem to pinpoint-whether it’s techno to Pitchfork-christened “Dilla-style hip hop”-Gold Panda produced 3 releases: the Before EP, the Myanmae EP and his newest ‘Quitter’s Raga’ single release. He might not be entirely groundbreaking or new, but Gold Panda’s interesting mishmash of sounds is definitely worth more than a single listen. MY
Achtung, Clubland! From ze heart of ze city known as Berlin comes a mysterious figure who may be ze DJ to end all DJs. Crappy impersonations aside, Siriusmo’s eclectic mixes skitter to the side of experimentalism and avant garde electonica while staying true to the trip that only dance music can provide. It’s often noted that DJs can be as wanky as guitarists or singers, going on and on without making things interesting. This is not the case for Siriusmo. ‘High Together’ and ‘The Uninvited Guest’ on his MySpace shows that his sound can be commercial yet maintain its funky rawness. A frequent collaborator with glitch hop homeboys Modeselektor, he has released a mini-cluster of gems over the years including Diskoding, Allthegirls, Minirock and the Sirius EP. Siriusmo has said he will not perform live due to conflicting interests, which could be because he’s rumoured to be a prolific graffiti artist. Jah, right! BL
Their fans include late actor Heath Ledger, Billy Zane and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante (who also mixed their debut EP). But Warpaint is more than just a Hollywood band of the moment. Imagine not one but 4 Patti Smiths pouring their poetic hearts out at once while playing loose, psychedelic-daydream goth jams. Warpaint consists of artsy banshees Jenny Lee Lindberg (vocals/bass), Emily Kokal (vocals/guitar), Theresa Wayman (vocals/guitar) and Stella Mozgawa (drums). They used to play live with vamp movie actress Shannyn Sossamon (who played drums) back in 2007 and have toured with the likes of Black Heart Procession, Little Joy, Moonrats, School of Seven Bells, Yeasayer and Akron/Family. Signed to Rough Trade, Warpaint have been described as “Cocteau Twins on razorblades” (by website The Dumbing Of America). And while they’re from modern-day LA, they look as though they could’ve crawled out from The Factory circa 1963. Which is all very exciting, especially if you’re a misunderstood, recluse of an artist called Andy. BL
One listen to their shooting star hit ‘When They Fight, They Fight’ and you’ll immediately categorise Generationals as one of those bands who are doing the revivalist thing properly. Sounding vintage with modern indie is tricky, but the duo of Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer has done so-with chirpy horns, handclaps and doo-wops to boot. Ted and Grant were in another band called Eames Era for 5 years prior to this, and they kept on writing songs even after the band split. Eventually, they decided to pack up for home in New Orleans and record their first album Con Law. Generationals formed around this record and were joined by drummer Tess Bruneh of Au Ras Au Ras in 2009. So what if Con Law sounds a bit like Phil Spector pointing a gun at the Beach Boys? You can’t put a price on this sort of sweet catchiness; it’s the stuff summers are made of. BL
Imagine Mika before he got famous and that’s what Darwin Deez is, minus the high-pitched vocals. Led by Andrew Hoepfner, this ragtag bunch of loosely-defined musicians and dancers from New York already have a lo-fi recorded album out titled Astrological Epochs And The Sands Of Time. And oh joy times a thousand! 10 of the bizarrely titled album’s songs are on their MySpace. Described by the band as “happy music for sad people”, “white music for black people” and “indie rock with a side of calisthenics”, it seems Darwin Deez plays extremely rhythmic music, whether downtempo or upbeat. Amidst their quirkiness and eagerness to entertain, Andrew does pen down some literate lyrics. The first line on ‘Bad Day’ goes “I hope that the last page of your 800-page novel is missing” with the resolving pop chorus continuing with “I hope every day for you is a bad day”. With a job waiting tables at a vegan restaurant, we wonder where Andrew finds the time for such words. BL
Fidget came and went. Electro short-circuited on overplay. And donk, well, donk-ed out. Without a doubt, 2010 will be the year of dubstep. The dark horse of dance music deeply rooted in Jamaican dub, which honed its characteristics over decades of UK garage, is finally getting the spotlight it deserves. And at the forefront of this movement is dubstep supergroup Magnetic Man. Wielding oversized Macbooks, dubstep provocateurs and producers Benga, Skream and Artwork (who collectively hold the first 3 Big Apple catalogue numbers) come with tight and unf*ckable credentials. A typical Magnetic Man set would usually compromise of a mix of original tracks produced together, and live remixes of Benga and Skream’s tracks accompanied by synchronised projected visuals by Novak Collective. With a string of releases as far back as 2007 and more chirpy dance genres fading out, it looks like clubland will have to embrace the creepy, cold robo rave beats of Magnetic Man whether it likes it or not. And while we’re at it, please tell your friends this isn’t Radiohead’s new remix album. BL
Okay. We’re well sick and tired of the term “indie”. Yeah, being independent is cool and all but when every loser with a beard is claiming to be so, it gets a little redundant. And how come all of the bands either sound like Arcade Fire or The Strokes? East London art pop trio Citadels (notice how we avoided indie?) takes cues from the former but while they strive to sound like they’ve recorded in a cathedral, there’s a unique blend of psych that brings them closer to The Flaming Lips, MGMT and The Unicorns. Buzzing guitars, stabbing synths, cascading flutes and girl/boy vocals complete their package, which explodes with dreamy textures and melodies when opened. Bandmates Bramble (vocal/guitar), Jimmy Lazers (vocal/guitar) and Lucy Sunchild (vocal/piano/synth/flute) have just completed a sell-out support tour with BBC Sound Of 2010‘s Two Door Cinema Club and are currently recording a new single due for release in June before festival and international appearances throughout the summer, and an album in late 2010. And they say it’s bad to sound like someone else? BL
DC/Maryland/Virginia (or more known as DMV) has become the hotbed for emerging underground talent lately, and one of them is Dunc & Toine Makin’ Dollas aka DTMD. Made up of producer Dunc and MC Toine, they recently released their latest project called The Basics EP, which is old school with a tinge of new school flavour. Dunc produced DTMD’s critically acclaimed 2009 album In The Ruff, which was soon getting a major thumbs up from fellow producer and rapper Oddisee-who has worked with the likes of DJ Jazzy Jeff, Talib Kweli, J-Live and Little Brother. DTMD are heavily inspired by the late, great J Dilla, so things can only go up from here for the boys. And they’re not even of legal drinking age yet! KY
Born Theophilus London II, this rapper, songwriter and producer from Brooklyn is making waves in the alt pop movement. UK magazine NME has already given him high praise: “…his patter is sumptuous, his look untouchable, his soundscapes plucked from mythical ghetto neverlands…he’s the real deal.” We couldn’t agree more. Theophilus raps and sings in a whispery manner on his music, which carries a bit of hip hop, a bit of electro, a bit of techno, a bit of rave and a bit of new wave. He put out an independent release called This Charming Mixtape in 2009 and suddenly, the world took notice. Theophilus also took time to collaborate with Mark Ronson and Sam Sparro to give us Chauffer, the trio’s luxurious and nostalgic-sounding supergroup. Right now this BK brother is working with the UK’s Hudson Mohawke and Simian Mobile Disco while his upcoming mixtape will feature Lightspeed Champion and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. Theophilus’ bona fide, black, pop geek style has arrived. Watch out, AndrÃ© 3000! KY
Free The Robots
Want mind-warping electronic music with sick hip hop beats? Then you must check out Free The Robots’ debut release Ctrl Alt Delete. Hailing from Los Angeles, Free The Robots is a project started by Chris Alfaro in 2003, who has shared stages with Flying Lotus, Prefuse 73, the Glitch Mob and Afrika Bambaataa. On Ctrl Alt Delete– which also features Ikey Owens of The Mars Volta-the genre-defying artist combines dusty swap-meet samples, futuristic synthesisers and live instrumentation with traditional jazz, psych, electronica, hip hop, progressive melodies and killer drums with obscure sample blends. Free The Robots has since reached a worldwide audience and found its place among the top artists of this subgenre. Past, present, future; grit and swagger; this is Free The Robots’ sonic arrival! KY
Now, how many people do you need in a band to actually call it a band? It seems you need just one, as in the case of Washed Out. Ernest Greene is the sole member of Washed Out from Georgia, North Carolina. And no one is more surprised than he is with the amount of attention he has gained within such a short amount of time. Washed Out’s debut EP Life Of Leisure is the perfect soundtrack for whenever you’re in a lazy mood with chilling beats, comforting vocals, and just enough effects and layers in each song to not overwhelm you. This intelligent concoction allows each track to develop on its own and take its time to wrap itself around your mind. The short but sweet EP will have you returning to it over and over again, what with it being easily accessible on the net. But of course, you could always mail order it. RW
Two Door Cinema Club
Hailing from Bangor in Northern Ireland, Alex Trimble, Kevin Baird and Sam Halliday make up Two Door Cinema Club. With songs that are instantly likeable and catchy, they seem like popstars in waiting. What is it that’s so appealing about them? They let the music do the talking. At first glance you’d expect some generic indie guitar trio, but TDCC’s songs flutter with such freedom that they sound genuinely exciting. Their debut album Tourist History starts with a bang with songs like ‘I Can Talk’, ‘What You Know’ and ‘Something Good Can Work’, setting the tone for the band with skittering beats mixed with frenetic guitar riffing. Think early Bloc Party with Vampire Weekend and you’re somewhere close. Heavily blogged about with loads of dance remixes, every song from start to finish is loaded with tremendous amounts of hooks that will leave you addicted all day. RW
Chapel Club was born in the summer of 2008 in the shadow of St. Luke’s Church. And it took very little time for the defining elements of Chapel Club’s signature sound to take shape-heavy drama from the guitars, a rhythm section as tight as a hanged man’s gullet, melodic intricacies, and a vocal that croons and swoons its way through stories of lust, love and loss like a modern-day Jacques Brel. Chapel Club aren’t run-of-the-mill like other bands. They have their own formula of doing things that they discover by chance, which they want to have remain something of a mystery. With songs that provide a connection with the sex, love, grief, frustration, pride, power, jealousy and faith of one’s life, it is a no-brainer why the Chapel Club have managed to gain a large fan base over the last 2 years. RW
For our take on which local bands are riding the lightning rod of success this year, click here.