Since music is such a mature medium it is hard to tell whether everything old is new again. But music can’t change time, and whatever influences modern bands have, it is nice to there are still bands that music that is fun danceable and new.
1. THEE OH SEES. SXSW, Pitchfork, Empty Bottle, Logan Square Auditorium. OK. I admit it, I am addicted. I saw them 6 times, twice on three days, but there is a boundless sweaty energy to the revved up engine that is Thee Oh Sees. Jon Bryan and his crew don’t mess around with any of their slow songs live unless they actually play them at 45. Instead, they use their 45-80 minutes to blow the roof off of any joint they are in, causing some of the politist and happiest sweaty brownian motion dancing crowds I have ever been proud to be a part of. Frenzy is the most appropriate adjective I can come up with. I just wish I could see them every week–I would lose 10 pounds. (just think bom-bom-bom bom-bom-ba-da-da bom-bom-bom bom-bom-ba da-da da-da and speeeeeed it uuuuup). Whew.
2. DUM DUM GIRLS. Cubby Bear. While Dee-Dee’s crew’s records have veered towards Pretenders territory (which is not that bad), live she pounds whiskey and she and her black-clad band cool-ly channels 50 years of girl group and post-punk pop into 3 minute new wave symphonies of Phil Spector influence and Richard Gottherer formation. chiming guitars, fuzz guitar, fast drums, harmonies, songs about jail, catchy choruses, songs about futility and being a burn out, cover song (Smiths, Pale Saints, Sonny and Cher) –they push all the buttons with one gem after another of slick, shimmery dark pop confection. Shocking that they were not even the headliner! But after these girls, you really don’t want to hear anything else in a night.
3. WIDOWSPEAK. Empty Bottle. Another non-headliner–twice. This Brooklyn based band of Northwesterners is the epitome of Williamsburgh grungy dreamy pop. Best compared to Mazzy Starr, they lay down soft and sometimes surfy riffs with Molly Hamilton’s sultry, ethereal voice–changing pace and tone in the middle of words-lilting and lofting around, on top, over and around the music that can either flow hynotically at one pace or morph into clanging or sitar-like Indian rhythms. Definitely not a dance band, but a band to dream and coast to. Their second album is out soon so look out for them.
4. THE BLACK RYDER. This is an Australian band that formerly was 1/2 of The Morning After Girls and has relocated to Los Angeles and released one album of driving psychedelic music. Think swirling guitars, dark and slow or dark and driving, but no matter what you get darkness some lofty vocals and a heavy portion of thick distortion.
5. DUCHESS SAYS (Cobra Lounge). I once described Annie-Claude Deschênes the lead singer of Duchess Says as a combination between Iggy Pop and Linda Blair (you know, The Exorcist) and I am still standing by that statement. Annie is a confrontationalist, engaging and challenging members of her audience by singing in their faces, having them gather around in a circle around her while she radiates her energy and attention from person to person in the group. But there is music that underlies this out of her mind performance–pulsing electro pop that provides a high energy groove that allows the crowd to loosen up and Annie to prance and dance. I don’t love their recorded stuff, but live they are not to be missed.
6. HOLLOWS (The Burlington). A mod Summer fun band, Hollows (remember, no “The”) combined bouncy, catchy farfisa orga underlying surfy guitars, Blondie-esque vocals with multi-layerered girl group harmonies. Unfortunately, the band broke up, but luckily they left us with the Vulture album for you to play with the top down next Summer, or while imagining next Summer- a real pop gem.
7. LOTUS PLAZA (Pitchfork). If you like the dreamy psychedelic side of Deer Hunter then you are already familiar with this music–since this is the band led by Lockett Pundt from that band. They perform driving soundscapes that take the long lost and abandoned side roads to take you to a destination rather than the modern superhighway. Take the exit ramp, slow down, look around and the journey is pleasant and memorable.
8. BLEACHED . When the Clavin sisters from punk outfit Mika Miko joined together to make music I would never have expected them to perform strummy, catchy ditties infused by bands like Fleetwod Mac, The Beach Boys and The Chiffons. Once I heard them and identified their influences, I would have never expected me to like them. But sure enough, their chunky guitar raves, and sugary, whiney vocals are memorable and enjoyable.
9. WILD FLAG (Pitchfork/Metro). One of the highlights of my year was hearing three chords, the short sharp da, da, daaah sliced savagely from Carrie Brownstein’s guitar which told me the band was opening their set with a cover of Television’s See No Evil. Simultaneously, an homage to the swirling guitar interplay of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd and a mission statement for the band—that dual lead guitars can work. In Wild Flag’s second year of touring, they graduated from small halls to larger stages (and unfortunately too many fans of Carrie) and venues with a slight dropoff of their ability to sustain a high level of power. But when Brownstein violently windmills or stabs her guitar and snarls or Janet Weiss’ propulsive drum fills take over a song and obviate the need for a bass there is still a lot of angst
and magic to entertain and energize.
10. SECRET COLOURS (Subterranean, Pulaski Park). This Geneva, Illinois based psych band wears its influences like The Warlocks, The Morning After Girls, Asteroid #4 and The Black Angels, but as younger generation musicians are somehow less laid back and add a little bit of speed to the shoegazer haze–I’m thinking like Booker T and the MGS, but with a guitar army. Not too shabby.
11. THE RAVEONETTES . Surf and chainsaw guitar, ethereal vocals, played out over synth drums, this formerly Swedish duo that now resides in LA and Brooklyn has been combining 60s pop (like the Dum Dum Girls, their records are produced by septegenarian semi-legend Richard Gottherer) with millennial shredding noise for good measure.
12. JAPANDROIDS. Another graduate from clubs to big venues and festivals have earned their success as a result of incessant touring and a pretty darn good second (third if you count their compilation of singles) album–these two guys from Vancouver still bring the goods live, combining punk energy, Tom Petty beats and frat metal power chords and sing along choruses (oh and yeah come to mind), there is no reason not to throw your fist in the air and shout along.
Honorable Mention: Prince Rama–engaging band that combines yoga and Cirque De Soleil dance routines with Ravi Shankar inspired trance beats. Not sure there is musical talent, but they perform. Zoe Keating–creates intricate layered symphonies from looping her cello.