INDIE

KIM LENZ AND THE JAGUARS

KIM LENZ AND THE JAGUARS
KIM LENZ AND THE JAGUARS Follow Me kimlenz.com It’s easy enough to make a passable rockabilly record. Every city has a few guys and gals who slap doghouse fiddles and set fire to Gretsch fretboards, and let’s face it, penning neo-go-cat-go rave-ups is more pompadour sculpting than it is brain surgery. One way to stand out is to prop a pretty girl behind the vintage chrome microphone, but to go from Joanie B. Goode to Joanie B. Great, even the... 

KARNIVOOL

KARNIVOOL
KARNIVOOL Asymmetry karnivool.com Proggy hard rock is alive and well in the Land of Oz. On their third album, this Aussie quintet makes a fussy, fidgety racket, fashioning epic jams from disparate parts. Like Tool before them, Karnivool shift from slashing to serene with remarkable ease, and in a neat bit of, well, symmetry, Asymmetry works best when the band is at its most asymmetrical and disjointed. Whereas seven-minute-plus steady-burners “Sky... 

SARAH BLACKER

SARAH BLACKER
SARAH BLACKER Precious Little Things sarahblacker.com Plenty of songwriters spin melodies as effortlessly as Sarah Blacker does, and some even have similar ways with words, though it’s rare to hear phrases like “dirty dancing with the revelry of the heart” delivered with such a lack of pretension. What sets Blacker apart—and what explains her recent win for Female Performer of the Year at the New England Music Awards—is her willingness to... 

STAR & DAGGER

STAR & DAGGER
STAR & DAGGER Tomorrowland Blues facebook.com/staranddagger This sleaze-rock supergroup boasts members of Eagles of Death Metal, Cycle Sluts From Hell, and Queens of the Stone Age, and as if that weren’t badass enough, frontwoman Von Hesseling anchors the project with bruising soulfulness, holding it down like a female Danzig. As might be expected, S&D deal in blues-infused hard rock and chunky proto-punk, driving their “Freak Train”—one... 

CUTTOOTH

CUTTOOTH
CUTTOOTH Cuttooth facebook.com/CuttoothUK There’s a reason no one raps over self-styled “weird hip-hop” producer Nick Cooke’s beats. The barbiturate pacing and blissed-out synths on this, the U.K. artist’s sophomore record, are simply too delicate, and propping rhymes atop music this gauzily gorgeous would be like putting buildings on clouds. That said, singing suits the tunes just fine, and on “Old Tape Machine” and “Peace”—featuring... 

DAWN OF MIDI

DAWN OF MIDI
DAWN OF MIDI Dysomnia dawnofmidi.com Where but Brooklyn might a Moroccan pianist, an Indian-born upright bassist, and a first generation Pakistani American percussionist set up shop and seek to filter dance music through a prism of avant-garde jazz (or maybe the other way around)? Actually, Dawn of Midi formed at the California Institute of the Arts and released their debut in 2010, but it’s with this second effort that the now-East Coast-based... 

JARED JAMES NICHOLS

JARED JAMES NICHOLS
JARED JAMES NICHOLS Old Glory & the Wild Revival facebook.com/jaredjamesnichols This 22-year-old will fit right in at this summer’s Buffalo Chip Festival in Sturgis, S.D., and Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary shindig in Milwaukee, Wis., where bikers well schooled in gnarly blues rock will hear in his stinging riffs echoes of all the greats. Nichols has been honing his Clapton/SRV guitar heroics since his early teens, and he’s jammed with... 

THE ICARUS LINE

THE ICARUS LINE
THE ICARUS LINE Slave Vows theicarusline.com From Raymond Chandler to the Gun Club and X, L.A. artists have long written love-hate letters to their gunky, glitzy, hellhole of a paradise. “The rats are collecting underneath our floor,” Joe Cardamone sings on “City Job,” one of eight thrillingly bleak, burnt-black rock ’n’ roll bruisers on Icarus Line’s sixth album. As always, the band plunders from the finest drone- and stoner-rock sources,... 

AJ JANSEN

AJ JANSEN
AJ JANSEN A Country Girl Can Survive ajjansenmusic.com It’d be a drag to live through most of this New England country singer’s tunes—lots of small-town boys and girls breaking each other’s hearts—but they make for fun listening. Jansen clearly has a hoot writing them, too. While she seldom strays from genre tropes, she does tough-chick anthems (“Can’t Tame Me,” “A Country Girl Can Survive”), wounded ballads (“Darlin’”),... 

Orbé Orbé

Orbé Orbé
Orbé Orbé  Invisible Kingdoms orbe-orbe.com Midway through “Circus Star,” Cristina Orbé cuts to the chase: “I’m done waiting.” It’s a straightforward sentiment plenty of singers have spun into straightforward songs, but Orbé knows life is much more complicated—and colorful. So does Jahon Mikal, the producer she’s partnered with for this, the latest bullet point on an artistic resume that already includes soul-folk singer and spoken-word... 

ROB NANCE

ROB NANCE
ROB NANCE Lost Souls and Locked Doors robnance.com The title sounds defeatist, and most of the songs center on heartbreak and disappointment, but this North Carolina country-folk crooner is an optimist at his core. Titles like “Light in the Dark” and “Ain’t Losing Yet” tell the story, and if Nance knows he can’t whip the world into spinning his way, he’ll kill fate with kindness. Even when he’s plugged in and rocking, as on the Band-like... 

WILD PONIES

WILD PONIES
WILD PONIES Things That Used to Shine wildponies.net Formerly an acoustic duo, Doug and Telisha Williams plug in for these 12 country tunes, cut in three days with Ray Kennedy. The producer has worked with Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, and like those artists, Wild Ponies swing emotional wrecking balls with great delicacy, sometimes waiting until the third verse to deliver devastating revelations about their characters—and themselves. On “Trigger,”... 

TOMMY KEENE

TOMMY KEENE
TOMMY KEENE Excitement at Your Feet tommykeene.com Talk about taste. After opening his first covers LP with a Flamin’ Groovies nugget, this power-pop lifer gives the jangle-punk treatment to classics by everyone from Echo & the Bunnymen to Guided by Voices. On the Donovan and Big Star ballads, he unplugs without switching off the electricity.    Read More →

BEACH

BEACH
BEACH In Us We Trust bitchmusic.com Karen Mould usually goes by Bitch, but here, she’s BEACH. Does that mean she’s all mellow and summery? Not exactly. The electric violinist and singer-songwriter reinvents herself as an alternately bluesy and poppy, gloomy and giddy electro-rock high priestess. Ideas abound—most of them terrific.    Read More →

RADKEY

RADKEY
RADKEY Cat & Mouse radkey.net Matt Radke raised his kids right. The Missouri father home-schooled brothers Dee, Isaiah and Solomon, and judging by the sound of their band, he made vintage Misfits records a key part of his syllabus. Their debut EP is dramatic and ferocious—gold stars all around.    Read More →

JULIE KATHRYN

JULIE KATHRYN
JULIE KATHRYN Black Trees juliekathryn.com This pop-folk strummer has a master’s in social work from Columbia, so she knows a thing or two about human nature. That might explain the detailed character sketches “Johnny” and “In My Dreams,” as well as the electro-pop sugar shot “Nightingale,” the album’s most unexpected (and best) moment.    Read More →

ANDREW ST. JAMES

ANDREW ST. JAMES
ANDREW ST. JAMES Doldrums facebook.com/andrewsaintjames This 18-year-old San Fran riser has a lot on his mind—women, obviously, but also the pains of aging and the violence out in East Oakland. Luckily, he tackles his troubles with the freshness and energy of a precocious phenom. Think Bright Eyes meets Foster the People.    Read More →

PEDALJETS

PEDALJETS
PEDALJETS What’s In Between thepedaljets.com The indie world’s sudden interest in all things ’90s is great news for the Pedaljets, which is funny, since they missed out on that decade the first time around. Formed in Lawrence, Kan., in 1984, this is one of rock’s classic “coulda been a contender” bands, and had they stuck it out after the 1989 release of their sophomore album, they might have found fame in the post-Nirvana era. On their... 

MARSHALL CHAPMAN

MARSHALL CHAPMAN
MARSHALL CHAPMAN Blaze of Glory tallgirl.com On one hand, you can’t believe this South Carolinian cult fave is 64 years old. The singer, songwriter and “female Jagger,” as some call her, wrote and recorded her 13th album after what sounds like one hell of a trip to Mexico. Chapman gets real on bluesy rockabilly cuts and spills her guts on country-folk ballads, and thanks to warm production and sparse arrangements—all rumbling bass and twinkling... 

KEATON SIMONS

KEATON SIMONS
KEATON SIMONS Beautiful Pain keatonsimons.com A prime mover in his hometown L.A. scene, this singer-songwriter and studio musician has opened for Coldplay and Train, done session work for Snoop Dogg and Gnarls Barkley and landed songs on numerous TV shows, among them Celebrity Rehab, which featured his stepfather, actor Eric Roberts, as a patient. Why, then, isn’t he famous? It’s probably a matter of time. Simons’ sophomore effort is an exceedingly... 

JAY NASH

JAY NASH
JAY NASH Letters From the Lost jaynash.com Nowadays, since car-commercial placements are the new hit singles, you don’t want to be too much of anything—except maybe versatile. On his latest, this Vermont singer-songwriter mopes and strums like Ray LaMontagne (“Sometimes”), whoops and stomps like a Lumineer (“Sailor”), plays blues-pop riffs like John Mayer and even tries some Thom Yorke falsetto. No wonder he’s performed with everyone... 

THE MOTHER HIPS

THE MOTHER HIPS
THE MOTHER HIPS Behind Beyond motherhips.com Californian to their core, the Mother Hips know that life is nothing to get hung about. No matter what earthly concerns harsh our mellows, “man is not the man,” and we all wind up “back in the ocean.” So frontman Tim Bluhm sings on “Isle Not of Man,” the leadoff track on their eighth album. These self-styled “California Soul” survivors don’t fear a return to the Pacific, and on these slightly... 

NED VAN GO

NED VAN GO
NED VAN GO Lost in the Trouble nedvangomusic.com Carrying on the proud tradition of Southern Culture on the Skids, the Drive-By Truckers, and any country band that has dared to poke fun at Dixie living, Ned Van Go pack their fifth LP with gnarly cow-punk tunes (“Hog Rock Road”), silly-sweet country ballads (“Moon Shine on You”) and 95 mph bluegrass burners (“Copper Bluegrass”). “Where Ya Gone Virginia?” and “1000 Dollar Car,” meanwhile,... 

THE HAPPY HOLLOWS

THE HAPPY HOLLOWS
THE HAPPY HOLLOWS Amethyst thehappyhollows.blogspot.com In just one album, this female-fronted L.A. trio has done what it took similarly staffed East Coast superstars the Yeah Yeah Yeahs three records to pull off. They’ve gone from making garage rock to synth-pop, and while their transition has been less spectacular—they were never as explosive as the YYYs, and they’re not as experimental now—the change has been for the best. On tunes like... 

JANN KLOSE

JANN KLOSE
JANN KLOSE Mosaic jannklose.com A tune like “The Kite” might not sound dangerous, but the line “Let this kite take flight,” a seize-the-day metaphor for the heart or spirit of a fearful lover, is pure nitroglycerin. Had Klose handled those words incorrectly, he’d have blown his song’s credibility to bits and left himself with nothing but sap. But this German born, African-raised singer-songwriter does sentimentality with sincerity and... 

MANDO SAENZ

MANDO SAENZ
MANDO SAENZ Studebaker mandosaenzmusic.com This Mexican-born Texas troubadour has a deep, dark secret. Before turning his life to music, he earned—gasp!—an MBA. Luckily, on his third album, the country singer-songwriter never sounds like some stodgy businessman playing cowboy. In fact, he doesn’t really sound like anyone. Saenz sings with mumbled twang—think Tom Petty if he’d landed in Nashville instead of L.A.—and on his best songs (“Break... 

MICHAEL AND THE LONESOME PLAYBOYS

MICHAEL AND THE LONESOME PLAYBOYS
MICHAEL AND THE LONESOME PLAYBOYS Bottle Cap Sky rocknrollpoet.com Why do they call Michael Ubaldini the “rock ’n’ roll poet?” First, he’s a solid lyricist. Second, he’s a fairly limited singer, and on songs about heartbreak, outlaws, trains and highways, he never threatens to overshadow his words with vocal fireworks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as this Californian grew up worshipping Hank Williams, Bruce Springsteen and Joey... 

MOON HOOCH

MOON HOOCH
MOON HOOCH Moon Hooch  moonhooch.bandcamp.com Amazingly enough, the last band you’d want to hear on the subway after a long day of work sounds pretty great on record. Known for impromptu performances at Brooklyn train stations, this trio lets ’er rip with two piercing saxes and seriously fierce drums. Sound like something cooked up at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music? It was, but there are riffs amid the skronking and grooves in... 

The Tomás Doncker Band

The Tomás Doncker Band
The Tomás Doncker Band Howlin’ Wolf EP tomasdoncker.net Talk about a resume. A veteran of New York City’s avant-noisy No Wave scene of the early ’80s, guitarist Tomás Doncker has played with everyone from Bonnie Raitt to electro-dub producers. If anything links the various styles he’s explored, it may be the blues, and here, he covers five songs made famous by Mississippi legend Howlin’ Wolf. Doncker recorded the EP for a stage show called... 

VINYL SPECTRUM

VINYL SPECTRUM
VINYL SPECTRUM Cosmic Desire vinylspectrum.com “Your mind’s always in the way,” sing these San Fran funkateers, honoring their city’s history of jazzy psychedelic rock. The title cut, with its surf-noir guitar, would be the highlight, were it not for the two sax jams toward the end. More of Dario Slavazza’s sweet honking, please.    Read More →

RADIO DIAL

RADIO DIAL
RADIO DIAL Word Painter radiodial.us The voice is Sam Ward’s, but Radio Dial is a songwriting outlet for Memphis multi-instrumentalist Michael Caserta, a riff-slinging, hook-hurling master of Top 40 hard rock. Stone Temple Pilots rockers? Staind-style power ballads? Caserta’s got both, plus “Fake Memories” a fist-pumper you can’t help but dig.    Read More →

ARIAN SALEH

ARIAN SALEH
ARIAN SALEH Undone ariansaleh.com On his full-length debut, this Brooklyn-based grandson of Iran’s “first lady of opera” joins forces with studio wiz Chuck Wild and an ace cello-and-drum backing duo. The sound: gypsy folk, reggae, twitchy electro-pop and more, served with a tasty side of Middle Eastern mystery.    Read More →

BILL KIRCHEN

BILL KIRCHEN
BILL KIRCHEN Seeds and Stems billkirchen.com As leader of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, this Telecaster master predicted cow-punk, psychobilly and today’s Americana scene. Here, he revisits Airmen and solo classics, truckin’ for yucks on the Cody cuts—“Hot Rod Lincoln” among them—and even getting serious on a poignant Dylan cover.    Read More →

FIREHORSE

FIREHORSE
FIREHORSE Pills From Strangers thisisfirehorse.com Brooklyn singer-songwriter Leah Siegel climbs back in the Firehorse saddle for this, a seven-song sophomore set spanning artsy electro-pop to acoustic folk and the sublimely Spartan drum-and-vocal sketch “Any Other Day.” Siegel goes “Doves Cry”–era Prince on “Good,” underselling with the title.    Read More →

THE CHAPIN SISTERS

THE CHAPIN SISTERS
THE CHAPIN SISTERS A Date With the Everly Brothers thechapinsisters.com When ’50s rockers gain traction among young’uns, it’s usually because they represent the rebelliousness that historians often associate with the era, but that seldom translates in the malt-shop hits still heard on oldies radio. Recent examples include most-exalted badass Johnny Cash and feisty growler Wanda Jackson. The Everly Brothers are a harder sell, but the Chapin Sisters—two... 

MORTAR & PESTLE

MORTAR & PESTLE
MORTAR & PESTLE Mortar & Pestle mortarandpestlemusic.com One track into the debut from this Oakland trio, you might be surprised to see a drummer credited in the liners. On “U.V.”—as good a first impression as any new group might hope to make—singer Janaysa Lambert and keyboardist Paul Shinichi do soulful synth-pop somewhere between Depeche Mode and Des’ree, that ’90s one-hit wonder behind “You Gotta Be.” They could have gotten... 

DOUG MACLEOD

DOUG MACLEOD
DOUG MACLEOD There’s a Time doug-macleod.com A master of amused resignation, like all the best bluesmen, Doug MacLeod is as fine a phrase turner and joke maker as he is a string bender and drawling crooner—and that’s saying something. On his latest album—the umpteenth in a career rife with accolades and collaborations with genre greats—the 66-year-old hangs with good-time girls (“Rosa Lee”) and strolls on the dark side (“Run With the... 

MICHAEL GALLANT TRIO

MICHAEL GALLANT TRIO
MICHAEL GALLANT TRIO Completely gallantmusic.com Michael Gallant has never met a keyboard he doesn’t like. As a music journalist [and regular contributor to M], he’s profiled everyone from Dave Brubeck to Justin Timberlake—and as a pianist, he’s performed with Dixieland ensembles and composed scores for films, theater productions and even iPad graphic novels. Here, leading a jazz-rock trio, he deftly and tastefully swings between genres, playing... 

BORA YORK

BORA YORK
BORA YORK Dreaming Free borayork.com You can’t fake the warm feeling Chris Bartels gets on Dreaming Free, the full-band follow-up to an indie-folk solo effort he dropped in 2011. Collaborating with his wife and a group of good friends, the 25-year-old Minnesotan makes soft-focus synth-pop for young romantics and dreamers. Everything from the chiming guitars to the echoing vocals positively glows, and despite the bittersweet tinge of tunes like “Close... 

COLD SATELLITE

COLD SATELLITE
COLD SATELLITE Cavalcade coldsatellite.com What bar band sings lines like, “In the distance lies a city / a dappled ruby hub”? One smart enough to divvy up duties and let a poet write the lyrics and a burly-voiced guitar slinger deliver them. Cavalcade marks the second collaboration between celebrated wordsmith Lisa Olstein and acclaimed country rocker Jeffrey Foucault, and it’s plain to see what they get from each other. Songs this meaty and... 

HALLE & THE JILT

HALLE & THE JILT
HALLE & THE JILT Three Roads Home halleandthejilt.com Plenty of songwriters claim to take lyrics from diary entries, but in the case of Halle Petro, this seems especially true. Her songs are clear enough—most deal with relationships, and she pretty much lets on whether she’s hopeful or heartbroken—but there are gaps in the stories, just like there’s space in the arrangements of these 10 bluesy, rootsy jazz tunes. There’s little soul-diva... 

LINDA DRAPER

LINDA DRAPER
LINDA DRAPER Edgewise lindadraper.net On the latest from this New York singer-songwriter, the name of the game is motion. On “Glass Palace,” Draper contemplates leaving a lover and perhaps even passing into the great beyond, while “Right on Time” and “Hollow” find her “running down Bergen Avenue” and racing against the tide of tediousness threatening to overtake her life. With all of these songs—pop-rock sparklers informed by the... 

PARIS COMBO

PARIS COMBO
PARIS COMBO 5 pariscombo.com Few musical terms can be more terrifying than “jazz fusion.” When supremely talented players go all crazy chemist and start mixing genres, things can get ugly fast. But that’s not the case with Paris Combo. The French five-piece hit big during the ’90s swing revival, but then, as now, they refused to be fitted for standard-issue zoot suits. On 5, their first album since 2004, these wily Parisians throw a fantasy... 

THE BLACK LILLIES

THE BLACK LILLIES
THE BLACK LILLIES Runaway Freeway Blues theblacklillies.com Born of heartache—Cruz Contreras formed the group after the 2007 dissolution of his marriage, which also busted up his previous band—the Black Lillies are no longer strictly a vehicle for catharsis. On its third album, this seriously fierce trad-country outfit indulges in musical joyrides (see the sublime “Smokestack Lady”) and offers heartfelt character studies of Vietnam soldiers,... 

NAKIA

NAKIA
NAKIA Drown in the Crimson Tide nakia.net Singer, songwriter, actor and reality TV veteran Nakia Reynoso is a one-man variety show—a retro-sounding, thoroughly modern all-around entertainer for his time and place. In 2011, The Voice judge Cee Lo Green was sufficiently smitten to make him a quarterfinalist, and one spin through this six-song EP reveals why. Like Green, Nakia makes heavily varnished pop rooted in—but not slavishly indebted to—classic... 

CATHY

CATHY
CATHY Swimsuit Season cathymusic.com The latest in a long line of unassuming indie bands to have discovered the perfect ratio of wounded-dude sincerity to left-of-the-dial irreverence, Cathy makes record-geek rock everyone can get behind. Here, the Brooklyn foursome honors saints ranging from Alex Chilton to J Mascis, channeling their love and respect into punky power-pop jams and rousing alt-country sidesteps. There are even a few ballads, closer... 

GWEN SEBASTIAN

GWEN SEBASTIAN
GWEN SEBASTIAN Gwen Sebastian gwensebastian.com Thanks to The Voice—and judge Blake Shelton—this North Dakota singer-songwriter got her name out to the masses. Thanks to her voice—unusually tart and twangy—she skirts a pop-country pitfall or two, infusing this slick disc with a bit of old-school grit and genuine character.    Read More →

BAD PILGRIM

BAD PILGRIM
BAD PILGRIM Bad Pilgrim badpilgrim.com Good students of Operation Ivy, Less Than Jake and maybe even early Elvis Costello, Bad Pilgrim prove that poppy punk and breakneck ska can be sweet and juvenile without bouncing into goofball territory. Spin “Don’t Leave Me Alone” and spend a glorious 1:20 with your teenage self.    Read More →

JIMBEAU HINSON

JIMBEAU HINSON
JIMBEAU HINSON Strong Medicine jimbeauhinson.com Forgive Hinson if he’s feeling reflective. HIV-positive since the early ’80s, the hit-making country songwriter is glad to be alive, and on these earnest folk-rock tunes, he’s not shy about saying so. His calm, soulful delivery is as listenable as it is admirable.    Read More →

THE ORANGE PEELS

THE ORANGE PEELS
THE ORANGE PEELS Sun Moon theorangepeels.com On their fifth album, these Northern California tunesmiths rejigger the lineup and, by their estimation, get a bit experimental. Should they open for Muse, they’ll have a couple of grand arena-esque jams to pick from, but their focus remains sweet orchestral indie pop, complex yet light.    Read More →
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