While Stars may quietly have a large fan base that sweeps through Canada and the United States, The North is one of their best albums since their quintessential album, Set Yourself On Fire. Taking a much darker and more electronic turn for the best, Stars never ceases to have some of the most beautifully written songs about love and heartbreak and the darkness of it all. From “Theory of Relativity” to “The North”, the chillwave electro beat that pulses through the whole record makes every word that lead singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan sing makes it all the more relatable and heart-wrenching. Still full of lush instruments, The North presents an overwhelming sense of twisted beauty, a feat that only these Canadian indie rockers have mastered in the indie world. From overlapping lyrics to complete and utter chaos, each song is its own story and each story connects in some way. And that is exactly what Stars has always done, and they do it in a way no other band has mastered. It’s their art form of music, and they embody every single lyric and note that comes from their instruments. Seeing them on stage is a gift, full of passion and utter joy from the songs they present, The North is just a continuation of the greatness that this band continually puts out. They have never released a mediocre album, and this one doesn’t disappoint at all.
Okay, everyone is probably a little sick of Grouplove, only because of “Tongue Tied” ceaselessly playing on the radio, but if you haven’t listened to the whole album, just skip that one song and give this indie gem a listen ASAP. In the realm of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and a little bit of old Weezer, this band is honestly all about fun. They have fun songs, fun lyrics, fun stage presence. Formed in Los Angeles, Grouplove’s debut, Never Trust a Happy Song, earned critical reviews throughout the music industry, and “Tongue Tied” became an instant good feeling hit. While some may not be quite interested in the male singer’s voice (he can be screechy at times, but probably helps their “rock” status and it still sounds pretty decent), and while “Tongue Tied” and “Itchin’ On A Photograph” are him solo, the best songs are between the Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper. Their voices compliment each other in a way that is not usual–(if any of my readers listen to Fucked Up, it’s kind of that dynamic), between his rough and tumble voice and her sweet melodic tones, the two make the songs more interesting. The songs themselves are much like British indie rock, fast and powerful and just all out energetic, “Chloe” being the titular song in that genre. Every song is full of jangly, fist bumping and leg kickin’ kinda of jams, with songs that sound like Irish drinking songs or sound like they should be played in a stadium, Grouplove has the talent and ability to change up their sound but with keeping with their original vision. This band should not be judged as just a “Top 40″ radio band, they are so much more than that, and if they continue to grow and make songs with insane hooks and melodies, they will break out of their stereotype and hopefully more listeners will give them a chance.
In the midst of seasons changing, between days full of light and a hint of warmth to snow days, restlessness is approaching. So, thank god for indie pop newcomers, Blondfire, and their anthemic four song EP, Where The Kids Are. Brother and sister duo Bruce and Erica Driscoll may be the younger generations voice, writing one of the most catchy songs about transitioning from childhood to adults in indie history. “Where the Kids Are” is full of indie pop electronic goodness, with a chorus that will make you belt your face off, “live it up, you’re growing up/parties in the wilderness of life/light it up, just give it up/where the kids are running free tonight”. It’s a rebellious anthem–one that has blown up on alternative radio. Moving through their EP, the songs become slightly more tamer but that undertone still has that “awkward transition” feeling, allowing tweens, teens, and twenty-somethings to really fall in love with Blondfire and understand the trials and tribulations of growing up. It’s also a great party EP, with a little bit of disco hidden in these gems. Disco is having a great revivalist movement within the indie world, and while that may make some shudder, it’s a great addition to indie pop/electro groups, each song is its own, they don’t sound exactly the same, yet there is a constant flow of groove. “Waves” is the best example of this funk; just an all out example of how disco and electro-pop can come together and be friends. If this EP is a clear indicative of the direction Blondfire is going in, they are going to become the indie darlings of their sub-genre, they understand their audience and themselves, but still grasping the need to have fun within the music they write.
When it comes to famous Icelandic artists, you instantly think Bjork or Sigur Ros, both known for being slightly off kilter with very experimental music. However, between Iceland and Scotland are the Faroe Islands where folk beauty Gudrid Hansdottir calls home. One of the most charming and soothing female voices in indie folk music to date, Hansdottir is influenced by only the greats of folk/country music, and throughout her sophomore album, Beyond the Grey, you hear the mixture of her American influences and native sounds. A complete storyteller, her lyrics seem like a children’s storybook meant for adults, with cunning characters and a moral (or not so much) ending, she relies on the imagery she grew up with: the sea. She sings with a fire in her voice that makes her all the more compelling, from “Vina” to “A Faroese Fisherman Speaks of Drowning”, the sea obviously calls to her and has given her the inspiration for the album. Much like a younger Joni Mitchell, she has the perfect folk attitude with all the imagery for nature and love, you could even go so far as to calling her an indie hippie. While the melodies might be classic for the folk genre, it mostly melts away with the power of her voice and lyrics, she could honestly do without any music and sing a capellea and listeners probably wouldn’t notice. She enchants everyone with every word that slowly drips out of her mouth, creating worlds and stories with her mouth; an artist with words. Hansdottir is on her way to becoming one of the top indie folk artists of this generation, touring all throughout Europe her songs will only get better with the experiences she has, and she will touch your heart with a single song.
Cloud Cult. A band that seems to have its own following, but never really breaks the mainstream of the indie world. A group that continually molds into a whole other band from loud indie rock and fuzzy guitars to the most sincere orchestrations lush with violins, there is one thing that never changes about this band, a message of love and hope for their listeners. Tragedy struck the Minowa family, losing their son at a very early age, and that is clearly a driving force on their earlier records. Yet, Love takes a new approach. While there are no overly sappy songs about being in love on this album, it seems to be more about how to love through pain. It’s a complicated band, they do not lack any depth within any song as their melodies are just stacked with different little nuances that take a couple of listens to catch. From the sort of continuation of their previous songs, “1x1x1″ drives the indie rock force into the ceiling, just all out crashing drums and loud guitar wales, to their more melodic and softer orchestrations, Cloud Cult understands the making of an album. Harkening back to their earlier albums, The Meaning of 8 and Advice From the Happy Hoppopotamus, the band resorts back to their earlier sound with almost anthemic and completed stories through every three to five minute song; that is something rare within the indie world, to have storytellers pour their heart and soul into every single song, and to not let the album drop off at the end. Minowa and clan understand that an album has to be whole and can’t just be singles put onto a record, and every little bump and emotional moment flows through the record with ease. Love may go unnoticed by bigger indie websites and bloggers, but I believe in this band’s ability to tell its message through song, with Craig Minowa leading the group. While he may have suffered the most tragic accident, the band continues to live on, and have made music that helps people cope with life and those fans are fans for life.
With one of the most hauntingly memorable voices of this decade, Grimes has snuck into everyone’s heart with her hit summer single, “Oblivion”. Easily one of the oddest artists to come out of Canada, Grimes an alias for Claire Boucher, is rocking the indie scene with her mixture of electronic beats, every day noises and high falsetto voice, you should know this lady . Her most recent album , Visions, is her first legitimate attempt at breaking onto the scene. After being signed by 4AD, Grimes recorded the album in her home on GarageBand an amazing feat for one of the most lauded albums of 2012. Everything on this albums screams creepy, even the album artwork makes it seem like you are about to listen to some form of death metal–but that vibe makes Visions incredibly refreshing to listen to. With a voice like CocoRosie mixed with Cocteau Twins paired with often misunderstood or even non-human lyrics, the album kind of sends you into another world. Grimes’ world. “Oblivion” may be the quintessential song of the album, with lyrics that may be a murderer’s ode (or a stalkers, let your mind run wild), they get stuck in your head for days. “Coming up behind you always coming and you’d never have a clue/and now I’m left behind, all the time/ I will wait forever, always looking straight/thinking, counting, all the hours you wait/see you on a dark night”. Yet, only Grimes could make this song sound pop-esque and could make it a hit. While she has around two previous albums and one EP (Halfaxa, Darkbloom and Geidi Primes), Visions is the most mature to date. As a collective, you must listen to the album as a whole in a dark room and see how paranoid you become. It’s eerie, and it’s a little psychotic, but I think that’s exactly the intended message Grimes is trying to portray, and damn does she do it well.
When you think of Nashville’s music scene, your mind immediately jumps to all of the country artists who call the city home; but what you may not realize is there is a huge indie revival hitting the scene and Pocono is easily a band to look out for. Without a single twang in their music, their EP flows like a complete album that had me wanting more at the end of it. The quartet may not have established indie cred yet, but their music acts like it. Already matured, this is not your normal DIY EP, this is a band who have obviously worked hard at creating an EP that samples what the band is about, between the indie rock dance single, “Candlelight” (think Arctic Monkeys,but less British), to their towering ballad (if you could call it that), “New Wind”. The lead singer oozes that front man quality through the power of his voice and backs that power up with all the guitar hooks and just indie rock goodness that flows through this five song EP. Pocono is the type of band that will have that hit on alternative radio that you can’t get enough of, but it’s a band that you know nothing about If you enjoy bands like Manchester Orchestra or Young the Giant, be sure to listen to these guys. Then you’ll be that cool kid who knows a band before they got big. Check out their social media pages, or listen to them on Spotify!
Powerful, driving, and haunting are the best words to describe Dark Dark Dark’s third album, Who Needs Who. The Minneapolis sextet is often lauded for their upbeat chamber-folk and whimsical songs, but perhaps no more. This album is full of heartbreak, and singer Nona Marie Invie releases that through the darker and musty music paired with the absolute breathtaking lyrics that drive this album to become more than critics give Dark Dark Dark credit for. While still maintaining the essence of their chamber folk attitude, mixed with their almost jazzy bass lines, Invie sings with immense passion that will stop anyones heart and without that constant upbeat tone, this album is more downplayed, simplistic yet haunting, like a soundtrack to an old time horror story–every song gives off that quality of extreme loss and pain, but it’s so addicting to listen to, there’s no way you could stop. You feel every emotion that is poured through these ten songs and you live through them. Able to mature from their subgenre that critics have so lovingly placed upon them, they have proven to their fans and indie music lovers everywhere that they can make an album that will definitely be able to stand alone for a long time. From the wonderful tribute that’s not a tribute , “Patsy Cline” will make you reminisce about that one that got away, to “How It Went Down” about leaving and new beginnings, these songs will tug on your heart strings with no doubt.
Somewhat of a mini supergroup, Bad Books brings their folk/alt rock collaboration to the ultimate fruition on their sophomore album, II. Folk god, Kevin Devine along with Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, the two combine their genres to create one of the most enjoyable full length albums in 2012. While not on many people’s top lists, the single, “Forest Whitaker” is honestly one of the most weirdly catchy songs, mixing with Devine’s folk lyrical roots and Hull’s almost angelic mastery of fuzzy alt rock. When you look at it on paper, this collaboration is bizarre and almost guaranteed not to work, but for some reason, it does. Adding these wild guitars and heavy drums to Devine’s folk songs is almost like wondering why this duo hasn’t always been like this. Now, you can easily tell which song is whose (they have VERY different voices), but if you listen closely, you can hear a little bit of Manchester Orchestra’s riffs and those almost heartbreakingly beautiful moments of music that Hull so often creates. Yet the beautiful thing about this band is, it’s completely separate from who these two men are normally. Andy Hull said to Rolling Stone in an interview, “‘Bad Books is my therapeutic outlet, [It's] a place I can go and do whatever I want in the moment. Somehow, amazingly, it works out.’” (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/song-premiere-bad-books-strays-from-comfort-zone-on-forest-whitaker-20120813). And it does work out. From “Forest Whitaker”, the album turns in a completely different direction, more in tune to Devine’s forte, with the haunting tune, “It Never Stops”, then moves to another dark tune, “Pyotr”, and then finally goes into the most Manchester Orchestra-ish song (which is just incredibly catchy, still), “Friendly Advice”. And it’s wonderful to see that while these two musicians are probably from completely different worlds and mindsets, the two can still create this completely relevant and absolutely wonderful album. And it’s the most consistent album that I’ve listened to in a long time, while it may seem disconnected because it jumps between genres, there is a pulse that goes through the whole album that allows it to work as a whole. While I enjoyed their self-titled album in 2010, II just takes it to a whole other level of maturity and growth between the duo and somehow it works.
Along with the fascination with hip-hop artists, hipsters unite around the current hip-hop gods, Odd Future; and while members such as Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, and Earl Sweatshirt have molded into their own creations, it’s Casey Veggies’ turn. While Odd Future as a collective is great hype rap and hip-hop, each person in the group has their own style from Tyler the Creator’s brash and often offensive (according to some) style, to Frank Ocean’s smooth voice and status as R&B’s savior (I completely agree). But Casey Veggies is somewhere in the middle, mixing samples with fresh beats may not seem new and inventive, but it’s the fun in the lyrics that makes this good. Off of his first mixtape, “Customized Greatly, Vol. 1″, each song is it’s own but somehow they all form a smooth flow despite the different styles performed in each song. From “Bye Summer” which harkens a nostalgic feeling with 70′s beats to “Odd” which seems to sample an Indian singer. However, it works. And with all these “famous” rappers putting out mixtapes that just are ridiculous and all about “pussy, weed and alcohol”, Casey Veggies presents an intellectual side of hip-hop, of course with swear words thrown in (because it just has to be, so don’t let your child listen….yet). This first mixtape seems to be him coming into his own skin, away from Odd Future. “Bye Summer” features this with lyrics like, “getting more mature now I’m listening to slow stuff/doing style changes like a bowl cut”. This is a man who knows where he wants to go with his career, and it definitely is starting to show on this volume–and while he does have two more mixtapes and a full length album, “Sleeping In Class”, I always find it fun to listen to the very first one, to see how an artist mature, and Casey Veggies is getting there. This is a superb mixtape, groovy as hell, and exciting to see him crop up a lot more in 2013.