I’ll take bands I’ve never heard of for 200, Alex

Today’s post seems fitting, given the news from yesterday. There are any number of journalists and bloggers out there who can do a far better job of paying tribute to Adam “MCA” Yauch than I can. I will say that I never had so much fun at middle school dances as I did dancing around to “Sabatoge”, and “Girls” will always be linked to driving around with the windows wide open and the song blasting at ear-splitting levels. The music world’s lost one of its pioneers, and he will be missed.

Which brings me to my topic for today. The BF and I have pretty disparate choices in what makes for good music, but there’s one thing we can agree on: the state of rock music today pretty much sucks. So instead of tuning into my local modern rock station (1077 The End), I end up trolling websites like NPR and KEXP (our local indie station) for new music suggestions. Here’s some of what I’ve found lately:

Bruiser Duke Spirit – So I used to have a subscription to Marie Claire magazine, and hidden amongst the stories about beauty and fashion are the newest releases in music, movies, books, art, and theatre. I’ve actually found quite a few songs I liked through their regular feature “99 cent DJ” and Duke Spirit was one of them. Lead singer Liela Moss has a distinct Bjork-ish style about her, but Duke Spirit’s songs are infinitely more accessible. “Bodies” has a bass line that sounds like it’s been ripped straight from the Chili Pepper’s “Breaking the Girl” (this is not a bad thing), “Procession” comes across as slinky and militant at the same time, and “Everybody’s Under Your Spell” is a throwback to early 90’s guitar-driven rock…perfect for someone like me.

Center: Level: Roar Youngblood Brass Band – The BF doesn’t particularly care for hip hop, so I was quite surprised when he handed me this album. Then I listened to it, and I wasn’t. Youngblood Brass Band combines what appears to be a marching band with their smooth lyrical stylings, and the result is fun and far more interesting than a lot of music today. Most of the songs fit under the banner of conscious hip hop, much like Blue Scholars and Flobots (two other favorites of mine). “Human Nature, Pt. 2” samples Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, and “Brooklyn” shows off just what the band behind the MC can do.

Handmade Hindi Zahra – Another artist I discovered thanks to Marie Claire, Zahra is a Moroccan singer-songwriter who reminds me a lot of Zee Avi. Singing in English, French, and some Berber languages, her sound is mellow and warm. “Ahiawa” wouldn’t sound out of place in the middle of the Deep South (except it’s not in English) as does “Set Me Free”. “Don’t Forget” floats along on a hypnotic waltzing beat, and “Beautiful Tango” will probably make you think you should be wandering through narrow cobbled streets in the rain, looking for a dance hall. Honestly, of all the new albums I picked up in the last six months or so, this is my favorite.

Glass Drop Battles – Ringing with steel drums and an echoing keyboard that almost sounds out of tune, Battles has a hard sound to classify. So I won’t. Mostly instrumental, the few songs that have words are actually disappointing compared to the ones without. The guitars vibrate, then fade in and out in a crash of notes, and it’s great for listening to when you want background noise but can’t be distracted. Think of them as an alternative to your usual drum and bass or trip hop, because one can only listen to so much Thievery Corporation. The songs range from exuberant (“Ice Cream”) to insistent (“Futura”) to epic (“White Castles”).

Dead Man’s Bones Dead Man’s Bones – What to say about Dead Man’s Bones…they’re fronted by Ryan Gosling. At first I thought it was a kind of joke band (not unlike Jack Black’s Tenacious D) but no, Gosling’s, well, dead serious about this. Bones is strange. It’s got a 70’s folk music vibe to it, but it’s not folk music. Hell, I don’t really know what it is. You’ll have to listen and decide for yourself. Almost all the songs feature the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir, which would make it stand out in and of itself if it wasn’t so…weird. Seriously, I’ve listened to this album several times since I got it, and I still can’t decide whether I like it or not. The songs don’t follow any sort of theme, making the album more of a mishmash of sounds. The one constant, besides the children’s choir, is Gosling’s hesitant vocals, which give you a sense he’s almost coaxing them into being. Try “Dead Hearts” and “Paper Ships”; they’ll give you an idea of just how varied this album is.

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