Who: The Wrens’ Charles Bissell was famously quoted as staying that Staten Islands’ Cymbals Eat Guitars “will end up indie famous within the year.” The nugget surfaced sometime in late 2008 and was pretty much spot on—though still unsigned, the band was crowned Best New Music by Pitchfork (arriving from way out of left field) and has opened for Art Brut and White Rabbits, with Europe and summer festivals on the schedule.
What: Apparently, Staten Island is a whole lot closer to Seattle than Brooklyn, as Cymbals take many cues from Pacific Northwest indie-to-mainstreamers Modest Mouse and Built to Spill (from Idaho, but close enough). Singer Joseph D'Agostino channels a Martschian wail and grandiose, reverb-laden guitar swells (“Share”). And even though opener “And the Hazy Sea” is a little too textbook loud/quiet—not digging into the indie rock syllabus past Sub Pop 101—it’s the third track, “Indiana,” that gets us excited. You hear a lot of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” in the opening and closing soundscapes, but the meat of the song is pure jangle—bouncy piano, Beulah horn flourishes. “Wind Phoenix” follows the same formula, but with marimbas!
Made for: When the needle skips off BTS’s “There's Nothing Wrong With Love” and you’re left with crackling silence, it’s time to put on this album.
X-Factor: More unconventional than you would think, two of the members are in their early twenties and two in their early thirties. D'Agostino earnestly claims to have followed Pitchfork, big time, in the eighth grade. – MR
Who: Three ladies out of Portland who just got named “Best new band” in Willamette Week’s annual new music issue. Not a typical trio in form or sound, Explode Into Colors are Claudia Meza (vocals, guitar), Lisa Schonberg (drums) and Heather Treadway (percussion, keyboards). They make a clever racket that roams from Afrobeat to dancehall to ESG-informed punk-funk to dub.
What: “The Sean Rocky Zach and Dekum Tape,” Explode Into Colors’ debut release, is an actual cassette tape made in limited editions—but MP3s of it are circulating, of course. Their forthcoming material should be much easier to find: Now aligned with Pacific Northwest indie powerhouse Kill Rock Stars, EIC plan to quickly release three seven-inch records (to be collected as an EP eventually) and their debut full-length. For now, seek out tracks like the percussively propulsive “Paper” and the spatially layered dub of “Sharpen the Knife.”
Made for: Indie craft fair after-parties. Hipster $2 beer dance nights. Those seeking cooler-than-NPR nu-Afrobeat.
X-Factor: Explode Into Colors got some major attention at this year’s South by Southwest. British tastemaker mag NME loved their sound, despite describing the band members as “three chubby grungey girls.” Could a breakout issue with EIC on the cover be far behind? – KND
Who: While all the other kids were off playing hockey or curling or whatever it is they do in Saskatchewan, Andy Shauf was holed up in his bedroom, writing and recording lonely little songs that he performed on an increasingly long list of self-taught instruments: guitar, banjo, drums, xylophone. For years, Shauf hid his songwriting habit from even his closest friends, but the shy 21-year-old finally emerged earlier this year with a debut album, recorded in an actual studio but still featuring Shauf on all the instruments.
What: As its title and isolationist backstory imply, “Darker Days” is an introspective, sometimes claustrophobic album, filled with songs that sound like they’re addressed to unrequited loves and/or the ghost of Elliott Smith. Despite this, the album’s best moments are surprisingly upbeat; opening track “Your Heart” is an early standout, with handclaps and twangy guitars buoying a sprightly melody, while the almost jazzy guitar hook on “The Greatest Moments” suggests Sondre Lerche jamming with Bright Eyes. Shauf is smart enough to let the bedroom demo roots of these songs show, but not afraid to layer on the bright vocal harmonies and dramatic, Death Cab-ish builds when the need arises (as on future “Grey’s Anatomy” soundtrack fodder “Were You in Love With Me”).
Made for: Bedroom folkies and aspiring open-mic stars. Recovering emo kids who prefer Dashboard Confessional’s acoustic stuff. Anyone who misses Elliott Smith’s songwriting chops more than his misery.
X-Factor: In case you needed any further proof that Shauf spent more of his childhood writing songs than playing hockey, check this YouTube video of the young Canadian demonstrating his not-so-formidable stick handling skills. – AH