Matt and Kim meets Wet, or Beach House meets Mates of State: The currently unsigned Mvscles bob along with effortless boy-girl vocals and bright synthesizers on latest single "Somethin". Recently freed from a difficult label scrap, the band craft this summer jam - seasonally inappropriate but perfect for a business model like the music industry who will get around to marketing this in a few months - with more than a little reverence for UB40's upstroke Caribbean synthesizer pop. The modulated call and response "oh oh ohs" need only three notes to worm their way into your short term memory and the small cavern of your heart reserved for inappropriately brief affection.
Sounding like a Scottish version of Men At Work, Prides, one of our picks for stardom in 2014, debut their first track, "Seeds We Sow" from coming EP of the same name. Some have called them "the male Chvrches", and "The Seeds We Sow" holds all the busting ambition of "The Mother We Share" circa 2012. Relying on a titanic chant-along vocal loop, the band heads straight for the arena, channeling some of the same territory as bands like St. Lucia and Sir Sly. This is the moment before the Moment; this coming summer and fall will find this band riding an immense wave of visible and seemingly organic hype. With a 2014 LP on the way and major label deals in place on both sides of the ocean, Prides are as primed to break big as any band this year.
We're in post-Local Natives, post-Lord Huron territory almost immediately on Gold Spectacles debut single, "Steal You Away". Of course, this means we're post-post-Vampire Weekend (first album, mind you) and post-post-post-Graceland once the suggestive bass pickups launch "Steal You Away" down its relentlessly sunny path. The lyrical image is heavy-handed: dusting off suitcases, tying up boot laces, shitty Sunday mornings, the necessity of getting with and away. It's kidnapping, the title, plain and simple. But somehow this darkness never captures the dark. Even a final, grittier guitar adds only a bit of sand to the gloss, a shimmering and catchy bit of global pop.
Entering themselves into the album of the year debate in the span of three minutes, Painted Palms drive at an anachronistic Beatles psych-stage on "Forever". The eponymous track from the band's recently released LP, "Forever" storms and stutters with wet-mix drums and sea-sick backing vocals pitching and yawing with the churn. However, despite the obvious comparisons to the Liverpool foursome, it is the ebullient and hooky melody, at times a chord progression that resolves with subtle but crushing authority, that makes "Forever" a mountain of pop that would make even a band like Tame Impala pack their shit and head home. "There's so many things I can't remember", sings vocalist Christopher Prudhomme, an intimation that this creation is a monolith that feels both very old and very new at once.
Caught somewhere between gravity and inertia, Katie Marshall of Brooklyn's Paperwhite sings, "I am frozen, out of motion" on debut single, "Got Me Goin". As the title, indicates, this jam, and they could easily be the next synth-pop outfit to inherit the throne of a band like Chairlift, is about movement. Marshall sings in the pre-chorus, "Is it something new that pushes me in motion towards you?" before racing synthesizers and a crystalline vocal that holds both the cloying and intense qualities of Caroline Polachek take to the top of the room. Marshall's vocal is an immediate star turn, while her brother, dummer in Savoir Adore, Ben, takes the lead on the glittering production. It is only a debut, to be sure, but it is one of the most promising ones you'll hear in 2014, a band spinning toward the sky. As Marshall sings near the end of "Got Me Goin", "Now I'm floating in thin air", a phase change of difference from the opening, frozen stasis, a mixture of form meeting function.
Opening to what sounds like it could well be some post-Edward Sharpe faux-folksy whistle garbage, Philadelphia's Cheerleader quickly redirect, "Do What You Want" toward the sort of synth-accented Americana that holds Ryan Adams at one end and War on Drugs at the other. The whistled chorus is thankfully overrun by a more useful and pregnant question, "Would it be the same?". The plaintive acoustic guitars offset against lyrics like, "These words are haunted by you," casting an unreliability on both our narrator and the object of his affection. The final, title edict, the blithe, "Do What You Want" rings sarcastic, a modern, catch-all, fuck-it-whatever for a free bird you desperately want to regulate back into your arms.
Urban landscapes after hours are designed for the percussive imaginations of the young. It didn't take a super genius to grasp the visceral nature of M83's "Midnight City"; the lyrics didn't matter: you were downtown in the city of your choosing, the neon lights came up as you got down. You would smile wide, the cut shots would be as quick as your laughter, the rent would somehow be manageable, your friends would be good looking but not annoyingly so. You didn't have to live in a city, just to imagine that one day you might, and when you did, the person you might be then and the things that your newly imagined self might do and say. It would all be, for lack of a better term, cool. Marque Dos, a New York band who do in fact live here in New York, spin this fable of urban escapism on the obviously titled, "City At Night". Minus the weirdly empty mix in the first verse, the 1990s Club Music piano foretells the chorus, a big, dumb and undeniable burner. This song won't necessarily end up on Top 40 radio in its current form, but it isn't far away - insouciant lyrics like "Well if the lights are coming alive, alright" making the perfect mindless chanting for great times in the early hours, an imagined series of aerobic feasts. Labels take notice, Marque Dos have a mountain of non-negotiable pop on "City At Night", as silly and satisfying as punching the air.
Brooklyn's Milagres return for their sophomore LP on Kill Rock Stars, Violent Light, with debut single, "Jeweled Cave". While the record is a diverse and ranging ride, "Jeweled Cave" channels the glam-rock aesthetics of the Bowie catalog, ringing synthesizers and a pleading, pathological chorus, "We were in love!". Nothing but green lights lie ahead for the band - the first two tracks released, "The Letterbomb" and "Jeweled Cave" perhaps the most immediate and bombastic cuts on the record but not the deepest or the best. If you enjoy the first few glimpses of the new, arguably more capacious version of Milagres, wait until you hear "Perennial Bulb" or "Terrifying Sea", the type of band that uses the word "torpid" in their lyrics without blinking, a small band moving toward the top of the room.
"park that car, drop that phone". The last line, "I'm still breathing with you, baby" remains a statement of existential truth and a romantic survival instinct in a world of devaluation and needless determinism.
Sounding more and more like a 20-years-later Tom Petty, Tokyo Police Club return with second track, "Hot Tonight" from third album, Forcefield. "Hot Tonight" is a wide-open hi-fi jam, something that sounds a lot like the last Noah and the Whale record biting into a surge protector. And maybe the guitars are too treble, and maybe, in some sense, the pop isn't quite poppy enough for Heavy Rotation, but few bands in independent rock circles make songs with such ambition and singable hooks. TPC, on the verge of being a radio band, may well read back like a union of the Cars and Petty in twenty years time, purveyors of big, catchy jams for open roads, downtown nights and any other cliche that springs to mind.
NO, a bunch of guys who play what you'd have to call "post-National" rock, debut their newest self, signed to Arts and Crafts, full-length record on the way in February, with lead track, "Leave The Door Wide Open". More than a fair share of bombast creeps in here, backing call-and-response chants of the title lyric owing to the band being a six-piece, and a final movement that sends the arrangement to the top of the biggest rooms. Even the blithe lyric, "We make some noise inside a room and call it art" belies the obvious self-consciousness here. This is a rock band staring you in the face and asking you to feel something: the old Coldplay trick. It works, making NO a band who could easily break out and through in 2014.
South London three-piece, Happyness chase a college radio aesthetic on lead single, "It's On You," a veneer briefly rich enough to reanimate 1988 from the depths of the Reagan/Thatcher era. The graphic, conversational nonsense of the verses offsets against a pleasant pre-chorus - "I can't get away" - before a Lemonheads meets Sparklehorse refrain presents the most pleasant iteration of "It's On You", the best track from one of the stronger debut EPs of 2013.
Kyla La Grange absolutely dominated 2011, and she returns with the blinking neon of new single "Cut Your Teeth". The bombast of her previous work - see, "Walk Through Walls" as both lyrical and arrangement evidence - is replaced here with a winnowing synthesizer riff and La Grange's brittle and brilliant voice. The title lyric is an aphorism and double entendre for the allegedly value and definite cruelty of experience. The closing sequence features La Grange bobbing and weaving through the synths, a hall of mirrors where her last lyric, "you never knew my name", hits like a fist.
This morning we are proud to debut the video for the stunning "Ghosts of Detroit" from Fancy Werewolves. The video is a visual love song to Detroit, a majority of the footage containing a steady shot of female lead singer, Katie Whitecar, riding around the city in the back of a pick-up truck. The other stars are the humans of Detroit, a subtle attempt to salvage the humanity of the city from the world of post-1970s economics, from rumored and real bankruptcies. Like the surging chorus of "Ghosts of Detroit", still one of the best unsigned rock songs of the past year, there is triumph and beauty here instead of blight. We can smile, laugh, think our deep thoughts under Midwestern skies, even if the world is falling down around us. As Whitecar sings, "We'll be like ghosts running, scared of nothing, flying through the empty streets," presenting the listener with all the things that have been lost here and all the promise that remains.
In a semi-annual feature on this website, we predict bands and artists who are primed to erupt in the following calendar year. In terms of critical batting average here, we've been both too early, too late, and also not at all. This game is more art than science. What follows is a list of acts that have a chance to make a major impact in 2014, though if you end up reading this after the fact, you've already heard them on the radio or in a commercial/film sync - most of these bands already have or will have publishing deals in the near future. The game isn't what you know, but when you know it, a fractious pseudo-celebrity culture as limited as it is stupidly exciting. Indie rock is a weird term, and an even weirder world as some bands get held aloft, Simba-style, as the next heirs to some brief and silly throne. But all of this is a bit inside baseball, and more importantly, the following bands and artists represent what pop might well sound like in the coming months.
This is less prediction than absolute certainty given their aesthetic odes to the Killers and Passion Pit's arena-sized hooks. Already toting a deal with a Columbia Records imprint and a respected publishing outfit, Magic Man's 2014 LP is going to be everywhere. With the right push, these guys will be doing some version of the Capital Cities game this year, achieving Top 40 ubiquity based on strong, memorable pop songs. If it happens in March, it will be one year to the day they played for about six people in our mutual hometown of Providence, RI. If indie rock was a stock market, and I were your stupidly exuberant broker, I would be encouraging you to leverage yourself to the hilt on Magic Man this year.
With a newly inked deal to Polydor in the UK and Capitol Records in the US, and this was largely based on the strength of one song, Broods is poised to transcend the slow-drive, neon burn of even a popular Internet band like London Grammar. Sure, at some point consumers are going to short the living life out of the R&B market in indie rock, but for now majors are attracted to the sound and will push the world James Blake built three years ago on unsuspecting music consumers in the United States. None of this takes away from the strength of "Bridges," a sexy parabola of a chorus and all the fecundity that producer Joel Little (of Lorde fame) marshaled with shrewdness on a track like "Ribs". If slow jams make a break this year, it could well be in the body and sound of Broods.
Sounding like a consecrated combination of Foster the People and Local Natives, Thumpers, a recent Sub Pop signee, craft life-affirming pop-rock almost type-cast for a filtered Levi's ad. On breakthrough, "Unkinder (Tougher Love)," the band stutters and leaps toward a spinning chorus. The implications: We are all young, and yes, life is hard, and, sure, love is harder, but we're all going to be fine in the end. This combination markets equally well to the young and the not. As long as the sparklers light our lives, forever around this fire in our skinny jeans, shirtless with boundless energy for the next thirty-or-so-seconds until we arrive, breathless, at a beach at sunrise. Wilderness, wild, life, youth and love, Thumpers provide a lyrical and sonic image of this self, and this self sells as beautifully as it sounds.
Prides was the male version of Chvrches in 2013 and find themselves poised to make a break in 2014. With UK and US label deals in place or in the works, Prides could well come storming out of Scotland with as much energy as the purveyors of "The Mother We Share". "Out of the Blue" likely isn't the song that will break them in 2014, though it was an absolute burner in 2013, which means it all comes down to their next single, tied to their forthcoming EP, setting the stage for an LP later in the year. As they sang on their only single of this year, "You break the surface, take the lead" which is about what we expect them to do in 2014.
Rainy Milo charmed with "Deal Me Briefly" in 2013, and though she doesn't seem to make it into the conversation with the other would-be starlets of 2014 - and here Chloe Howl comes to mind, someone already famous enough not to make a list of this type - Rainy Milo has the vocal chops and connections to make a big impact on the coming year. In our year-end list, the comparisons to Lorde are there, though it will take a mountain of organic momentum, or a song like "Royals" to seize blogs and heavy-rotation radio alike. She may seem like a reach for 2014, but the A&R gut says otherwise.
Easily the hardest of this bunch, Wolf Alice, seem more interested in making great rock music than achieving popular fame. For instance, their decision to include topless cover art on one of their 2013 singles indicated a cavalier approach to commercialism that may hamper their ability to crossover into mainstream circles - though it didn't hurt Sky. Wolf Alice, we suspect, doesn't care. "Bros" proved enormous in 2013, "Blush" and "She" backing the initial offerings with 90s alternative radio sonics. If it works for Wolf Alice in 2014, it will be a mixture of the Joy Formidable and the Silversun Pickups plan, a big single sometime in the early part of the year that begins to crest by the summer festival season, just in time for major media outlets to pick up on their sound as an "alt-rock revival". The most optimistic view has them on Alternative radio by the end of the year if they can pen their "Lazy Eye" to riches.