I've been deluged with a ton of indie music this summer. Most of it is quite remarkably unmemorable. As we all know, anyone with a ProTools or Logic set up can record their magnum opus at home. But that does not make someone a songwriter, pop star, or an artist. I recently asked a young woman if she could name one band that was currently buzzing about New York that might have the career arc of Radiohead. Without missing a beat she said "no." She furthered, "There's just too much music, too much hype, and no monetary investment by the labels to sustain the really good indie bands."
With music quickly becoming a useless/priceless commodity, very few artists have an opportunity to make it today. So what we're stuck with is a bunch of myspace bands that will never leave the cozy confines of their digital nest. A few will find their way to the general public, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult. Unless a band plays out live and criss-crosses America, as many of the fringe bands do, forget trying to make an impression. Even having iTunes feature your track on one of their snappy commercials is no guarantee for success. In other words, "Don't quit your day job!" But all is not lost, and I have still been able to curate some gems from the mountain of discs and folders of digital ear candy. Below are some worthy candidates for your summer playlist:
"L.E.S. Artistes" - Santogold
I loved this track even before I saw the mad video for it. While her debut CD (cover above left) is a slightly uneven though sonically compelling hodgepodge of styles, this '80s alt dance rock homage remains my favorite song this summer.
"Mykanos" - Fleet Foxes
Forget the CSN-like vocal hype. Multiple harmonies alone do not define greatness. Still need fantastic songs. And though they've just released a critically heralded CD, I'm not ready to anoint them just yet. However, this catchy little folk-pop ditty from their EP Sun Dial deserves to be shared.
"Black Whiskey" - Facts About Funeral
Though the Seattle-based sextet's name leaves me cold, this straight-ahead rockin' but potent libation-fueled, jukebox sing-along is all shaggy, like Primal Scream mugging both Mott the Hoople and the Stones. Witness the majesty of the blazing git-tar solo outro after leader Rob Sharp warns us, "Here comes the rock 'n' roll."
"I Love America" - Daniel Wylie
It wouldn't be a worthwhile summer playlist without at least one Daniel Wylie pop-rock song screaming from my iPod. This is from the Scotsman's latest release, Car Guitar Star (image right), and answers all of your questions about why he still loves the U.S. of A.
"Sooner or Later" - The Feelies
They're back!!! The band with"perpetual nervousness" just played two sold-out nights at Maxwell's in Hoboken, opened for Sonic Youth on the 4th of July, and will soon re-release their two first LPs on Bar/None. This blazing, jittery ditty from their very last effort, Time for a Witness (A&M, 1991), even reached lucky number 13 on the Modern Rock charts way back when. Set your iPod on stun.
"Camp-Fire" - Starling Electric
And speaking of re-releases on Bar/None, they've just released the 2006 indie pop juggernaut Clouded Staircase by this Michigan quartet. Shades of The High Llama's Hawaii, Eric Matthews, and the Beach Boys sonic sensibilities permeate this immensely enjoyable orchestral pop nugget.
"Cheap and Cheerful" - The Kills
Is this a bleaker version of Bow Wow Wow reborn right? Or just a Jimmy-Mack-cheerleading-handclap routine gone Kidz Bop, New Wave wrong? Either way, it'll move you. Love the naked military drum beat break with VV's, aka Alison Mosshart, non-apologetic, cocky vocal refrain -- "It's Alright/To Be Me."
"My Sweet Love" - John Mellencamp
Mellencamp should host a summer camp in Indiana on how to write and record a catchy pop song. Leave it to this master singer/songwriter to continue to show the young bucks how it's done on his 23rd album. This simple ramshackle roots-rock rave-up a la Buddy Holly has a real garagey vibe -- thanks to producer T-Bone Burnett -- and tasty vocal duet by Ms. Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town.
"Belle & Sebastian" - Cineplexx
34-year-old Barcelona-based alt-pop-rocker Sebastian Litmanovich wears his influences right on his record sleeves and song titles. A very infectious piece of ear candy from Picnic (cover left).
"Hot & Bothered" - Lucy Woodward
Channeled from an old Yiddish song her grandmother use to sing to her, this steamy, earthy, and sensual title track is from her new CD. Ms. Woodward will have young -- and perhaps middle-aged and old -- lovers clinging to each other after just one listen to this sweat-soaked, string-heavy ballad. Part Julie London meets Dusty Springfield.
"Interstate" - Ryan Auffenberg
Infectious as hell Americana song from this SF-based singer/songwriter's Marigolds second long-player. Weird synth textures bubble under to create compelling counterpoints to this percolating gem.
"After Hours" - We Are Scientists
New wave confection with a nod to the Thompson Twins, Oingo Boingo, and perhaps the Jonatham Demme-titled movie. This is the Brooklyn duo's finest moment, so far.
"Good Vibrations" - The Beach Boys
Sadly, there may still be some music lovers in the universe who do not know this crown jewel of pop perfection. Quite simply my favorite song of all times, regardless of the season. This 3:39 minute pop-rock opera is a masterpiece in songcraft, production, and execution. If for some bizarre and silly reason you've never heard it, well, just click on the link above.
As the remaining dog days of summer unfurl, may you find respite from the heat and enjoy my music suggestions.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs, recently contributed to Chris Butler's The Devil's Glitch project (the longest song in the world), and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at William Morris!