I’ll be the first to admit this is a selfish post. Heck. It might even be a bit Hipsterish.
I realized recently that there are a few bands/artists who I invariably return to again and again, bands whose output I have most of and will listen to for hours on any given day. These are bands that I’m consistently surprised very few people know about. I mean, I kind of get it. Without MTV giving a regular showcase to new, small bands, and radio increasingly a pay-for-play corporate hit machine, it’s really hard to discover new music. I generally rely on Youtube and word of mouth from friends.
So think of me as a friend.
Here are 5 bands you’ve probably never heard of, and why you’ve been missing out.
Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly
Named for a video game cheat code for an old Batman video game, Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly is the British phenom Sam Duckworth. He’s largely described as indie/fusion. A bit folky but with some great rhythmic structure and first class arrangement, his first album, Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager, came out when he was 20. That album charted at 26 on the UK charts but is virtually unknown stateside. It also landed him on a few prestigious top 100 lists for that year, including NME. Not bad for an album recorded primarily in his bedroom. Though there is some criticism that his guitar hooks are uninspired, his lyrics more than make up for it. And politically, he’s been an avid supporter of Love Music, Hate Racism which earns him bonus points in my book.
For music sample, get an earful of “Call Me Ishmael” which suggests, among other things, that “You are not your job. You are not the clothes you wear.”
Speaking of bands centered around a single singer/songwriter, let me direct you to Brooklyn’s own The Damnwells, fronted by Alex Dezen. Their first album, Bastards of the Beat was recorded in Dezen’s bedroom and a self-storage unit, and was released in 2003. They went about recording a second album and went on tour only to have their label abandon them–all of which was chronicled in the documentary Golden Days (currently available on Netflix). For much of their history, they’ve been considered alt-country, which suits me just fine, though their sound strays a bit. I’ve got all their albums and listen to all of them regularly. It’s hard to pick a favorite. Dezen is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s MFA creative writing program, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where he also taught Rhetoric and Creative Writing from 2008-2010. And while his writing chops show, he’s not as smug about it as The Decemberist’s Colin Meloy. Solid lyrics and pop hooks, and the occasional steel guitar…what’s not to love? Ryan Reynolds was such a fan he got them to do the music for his movie Chaos Theory (speaking of under-appreciated).
For a sample, I’ve chosen “Jesus Could Be Right” which showcases their easy harmony, slick hooks, and smart lyrics.
To be fair, if you live in Canada, you might know Winnipeg’s The Weakerthans. Outside the Great White North, odds are less good. Formed by frontman John K. Sampson in 1997 after he left the punk band Propagandhi, The Weakerthans have a bit of the punk edge left to their sound, but couched within crisp, pop songs (and a few with amazing steel guitar parts, such as “Benediction”). With a knack for insightful lyrics, they’ve sung about depression and inertia as viewed by a pet cat (“Virtue the Cat Explains Her Departure”), and the sport of curling as a metaphor for stagnant relationships (“Tournament of Hearts”). Damn are they catchy. And Sampson’s lyrics are goddamned poetry.
This is a band worth traveling to see, but you can skip their live CD as it doesn’t lend anything to the experience. For sample music, I’ve chosen “Sun in an Empty Room” — the video for which depicted the fading fortunes of a neighborhood of Winnipeg.
While there are two Pernice brothers in the band, it seems that Joe Pernice of the Scud Mountain Boys is the driving force behind this band. Their first album, Overcome by Happiness came out on SubPop in 1998. If you’ve heard them before, it very well could have been their song “Weaker Shade of Blue” which was used to sell paint for a Sherwin William’s commercial a few years back. Of all the bands on this list, I can’t imagine a better example of a master craftsman of the perfect pop hook. It’s a crime that the Pernice Brothers aren’t huge. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who writes a more compelling melody paired with razor sharp lyrics. Again, Joe Pernice is a great lyricist with two books to his name, including It Feels So Good When I Stop which was published in 2009.
For the sample, I’m sharing “Conscience Clean (I Went to Spain)” which offers up the charming lyric “”There was a night, went a year too long, heady bliss and suicidal calls from dusk til dawn.”
My kid brother, Ben, introduced me to Maritime with their first full-length album, Glass Floor from 2004. Made up with the broken pieces of the bands Promise Ring and The Dismemberment Plan, there is something decidedly Brit-pop about them. Their musicianship is super tight. And they have yet to put out an album that didn’t delight the hell out of me (though if you’re going to start anywhere, you can’t go wrong with We, the Vehicles from 2006). Maritime is a small band, regional to Milwaukee, if I understand correctly, so chances of you seeing them live on tour aren’t great. In fact, I’m not even sure if they’re recording another album or not, which would be a big loss. Their last album, Human Hearts from 2011 was outstanding.
For your listening material, I was going to include the deceptively peppy “Someone Has to Die.” But in honor of it being winter right now, I’m going with the video for “Paraphernalia” which was shot during a blizzard in their home town. Cuddle up under a blanket and be stunned.