Hyped on: the indie press; Missingtoof
Who: Pete Cafarella (vocals, synths) and Nate Smith (beats) used to play in Discord art-punk band El Guapo. Then Cafarella traded in his guitar for the keytar, ripping infectious nu-rave lines on what is arguably one of the most maligned instruments around (they don’t care). The duo is currently bigger in the U.K. than here—thanks to opening slots with Hot Chip and Klaxons—but are poised to break it at home, what with the heat of summer and roof parties around the corner.
What: Speaking of summer, “The Volume” sounds like the jammy jam of the dog days of ’08. All pulsing beats, keytar wanking and Cafarella’s nimble turns of phrase, the track borrows the best elements from both Chromeo and the Rapture and screams P-A-R-T-Y, while reminding all headphone users that loud music does cause hearing damage. Tinnitus? Ha! “Generation Y” is a corny blend of Minneapolis funk and the “Miami Vice” theme song. Again, synths rule the day. “Kick Drum” features Naeem Juwan from Spank Rock in a very expected cameo.
Made for: Remember that song “We Like to Party” by the Venga Boys? Does that song ever: 1. pop into your head, giving you a guilty smirk, or: 2. require you to look the video up on YouTube to sate your sudden need to hear it? If number one is true, check out Shy Child. For number two? You need a hobby.
X-Factor: NME wrote: “Shy Child are to Kraftwerk what the White Stripes are to Led Zeppelin!” It’s going to take a couple $50 iTunes gift cards to figure out what the hell they are talking about. – MR
The Morning Benders, "Talking Through Tin Cans" (+1 Music)
Hyped on: Nu Rave Brain Wave; FMLY; Stereogum
Who: Led by singer-songwriter Chris Chu, this Berkeley, Calif., quartet has been kicking around for a couple of years now, garnering a strong Bay Area following and a bit of national buzz with a pair of self-released EPs. They’re now signed to the newly launched label from +1, a music management and PR company that also works with bands like the Kooks and Editors.
What: At first, the Benders come on like a highbrow guitar-pop band in the Spoon/Voxtrot/Ambulance LTD vein—and to a degree, they are. But there’s a sunny, countrified glow to Chris Chu’s songs that sets them apart, especially on “Patient Patient,” with its loping melody, and the brilliant “I Was Wrong” and “Crosseyed,” which sound like lost songs from Jeff Tweedy’s pre-Vicodin years. And just when you think the Benders are all about the good vibrations, they go all dark and edgy on “Wasted Time” and “Chasing a Ghost,” unfurling some nicely nasty guitar lines and snarled kiss-offs like “there’s only a carcass left where our love used to be.”
Made for: Fans of classic pop songcraft with just the right amount of lo-fi crunch. Anyone who prefers the catchier, more uptempo songs in Elliott Smith’s catalog (all three of them). Cal Berkeley girls who want to moon over the baby-faced Chu.
X-Factor: The band’s official bio is written in Madlib form. Sample line: “They will always have a [noun] of San Francisco, where they first grew to love the [noun] of playing for a live audience.” Hey, can we start writing our CD reviews like that? – AH
Sara Melson, "Dirty Mind" (Nettwerk)
Hyped on: Stereo Subversion; Mainstream Isn't So Bad…Is It?; Brewed Fresh
Who: A decidedly Midwestern native (Indiana, to be exact) now based in L.A., Sara Melson is muscling up to get in the currently glutted mix of engaging female singer-songwriters vying to be this year’s Feist. She comes armed with much stage experience (Melson has opened for a disparate lot, including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Mojave 3) and a panoramic collection of well-crafted estro-pop.
What: At her best, Melson rides an easy musical highway that’s equal parts Sheryl Crow at her country-rocking best, a commercial Aimee Mann and a much more mature Fiona Apple. She’s backed by a respectfully reserved band that sounds capable of ripping it up in concert. Her bold, expressive lyricism is reflective of someone ready to put her unfortunate romantic past fully behind her and explore the endless possibilities of true liberation (see the down-home groove of the album’s title track). While not every song is as fully realized as the record’s top tunes, Melson makes a respectable bid to cross over into the land of Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles as one of the top guitar-strumming girls to watch.
Made for: Ladies looking for a new patron saint of female empowerment. Guys that love empowered ladies with a guitar and something to say. Casual Fiona Apple fans who can’t be bothered to wait around for her to make a new record. Anyone looking for a female artist not quite as “out there” as Feist or Sia. Friends going through a break-up in need of self-affirming anthems.
X-factor: Melson’s debut album is on famed Canadian indie label Nettwerk, which is where another Canadian Sarah, as in McLachlan, got her start. – STS
Genghis Tron, "Board Up the House" (Relapse)
Hyped on: 20 Jazz Funk Greats; Audiversity
Who: A Philly-based hard rock trio with an unusual, synth-based sound—they are to keyboards as Slayer’s Dave Lombardo is to drums. In the last few years, GT has served as opener for a who’s who of underground metal, including stints with Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan and High on Fire (they’re also South by Southwest favorites).
What: Hey, who really needs a drummer? Or a bassist? Turning conventional thrash on its end, Genghis Tron foregoes the rhythm section and utilizes drum machines and assorted synths to create their racket. A track like “I Won’t Come Back Alive” skitters along, as the echo-filled vocals of the awesomely named Mookie Singerman wash over a dischordant Moog before breaking down into a NIN-inspired screech fest. “Chapels,” however, is every bit the musical facepunch that a Pig Destroyer or Converge track would offer, with some moody, Theremin-sounding solos. Then there’s “City on a Hill,” which features a funky electro breakdown straight outta “Krush Groove.”
Made for: Hipster metalheads. People who think electronica, thrash and prog are equally great. Fans of anything with the word “Tron.”
X-Factor: Completists, beware: the band has released two tour-only EPs, one of which (2006’s “Cape of Hate”) had only 150 copies pressed. – KM