End–of–year lists in the music world gain credibility by doing one of two things: they either compile a bunch of albums that have already been validated with critical acclaim, or they include obscure bands just to score some indie cred. We’re doing neither in this list: here’s a handful of underground bands that released some pretty awesome music in the past 12 months — music that, despite being under the radar, is highly listenable. Fire up your computers and plug in your earbuds; let us show you what you might have missed:
Pianos, banjos, computers? Tunng have been pinned as “experimental” for their fusion of folk and electronic music, but their …And Then We Saw Land doesn’t sound nearly as weird as such a fusion would suggest. Tunng’s smooth and simple melodies are folky and highly accessible, and surprisingly enough, the occasional click or whir adds a nice accent to the music. In short, don’t get weirded out by the experimentation that must come with fusing folk and electronics.
Start with: “Hustle”
Peter Wolf Crier
There are moments on Peter Wolf Crier’s debut, Inter–Be, when you can hear feedback on speakers, and other moments when you can hear vocals echo off of walls — it’s production like this that gives their rock music a warm, grainy texture. Above all, Inter–Be is straightforward: it has polished guitars, simple drums and deeply felt lyrics. Musical calculus is rarely this simple, and Peter Wolf Crier’s music is simply rock, done well.
Start with: “Down, Down, Down”
Benjamin Francis Leftwich
An EP usually ends up being either a couple of B–sides that weren’t good enough to make it onto an album or a declaration of future artistic intent. The focus in the latter type is usually on “future” — that is, it exists before artists are really able to flesh out their artistic visions. On A Million Miles Out, British singer–songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich makes something permanent out of that which often becomes disposable. He does so by bestowing the songs on A Million Miles Out with the emotional weight that often goes along with full albums of hearts on sleeves.
Start with: “Atlas Hands”
The solo creation of Chicago–based Shawn Rosenblatt, Netherfriends has had a short tenure in the world of indie psychedelia, marred by a few (tantalizingly easy) Animal Collective comparisons. But the band’s sound — an engaging hybrid of AnCo–style haze, larger–than–life pop hooks and some seriously pissed off lyrics — transcend such simple analogies. And the ambition of such a sound is only matched by Rosenblatt’s touring regimen: He spent his 2010 writing, recording and performing an original song in all 50 states, a project that is near completion. Add that to the release of his first full length, the impressively cohesive Barry and Sherry, and Netherfriends’ big year should get them noticed in the indie world, whether they sound like Animal Collective or not.
Start With: “Washed Up 80s TV Star”
Buke and Gass seem primed for indie success from the get–go: their major hook is the instruments that each member of the boy/girl band built while determining their eccentric sound. Yet beyond the literal “buke” (an altered six–string baritone ukulele), and the “gass” (which combines elements of both guitar and bass), the duo of Aron Sanchez and Arone Dyer plays music that is both relentlessly exciting and refreshingly original. Their debut full–length, Riposte, dropped in September, showcases a fairly consistent hybrid of hard rock energy and indie experimentation.
Start With: “Medulla Oblongata”
Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees have been around for a while — 2010’s Warm Slime is the eleventh album the group has released under five different monikers over the past seven or so years. And though such a prolific resume couldn’t raise this San Francisco band, led by guitarist Jon Dwyer, from the depths of underground obscurity, Warm Slime makes a startling case. This pummeling, punkish statement was recorded live in one day, and it is jam–packed with eccentricities that perfectly accent the deceptive simplicity of their sound.
Start With: “I Was Denied”
Each time you think that every possible catchy hook should have already been created, a new catchy song seems to pop up — the best pop makes you wonder how an artist came up with something so addictive and yet still untapped. Generationals’ recent EP Trust inspires thoughts like these, cramming in a surprising amount of catchiness into 15 minutes. Although only a few instruments are involved in each song, each one is still a candidate for hookiness — basslines like the one on “Trust” aren’t forgettable.
Start with: “Trust”