For devoted music fans, the thrill of the chase —scouring blogs, listening to online streams, buying albums by unknown acts— is the endless pursuit of the new. That next new band that's going to blow your mind, win your heart, or soundtrack your days. Every year, thousands upon thousands of artists arrive as new bands, and issue their first ever records. Most of them are utterly forgettable, but a rare few rise above the rabble. These are debut albums infinitely impressive, introducing singular new acts whose individuality seems set to produce careers of rewarding records.
Though he lurks behind the name Perfume Genius, and his face is obscured on the cover of Learning
, Mike Hadreas effectively lays his soul bare on his first public release. Written and recorded at his mom's house in suburban Seattle as a form of post-breakup catharsis, the record is a suite of slow, sombre, minor-key piano laments that serve as an audio memoir. The stand-out song is "Mr. Peterson," an ode to an old teacher who introduced Hadreas to weed and Joy Division. Hadreas delivers the kicker —"he told me there was part of him missing/when I was 16/he jumped off a building"— almost incidentally, but that only makes its emotional punch all the more potent. So goes the album: Hadreas using a delicate delivery for devastating confessions.
2. Wild Nothing 'Gemini'
Be it synthesizer kitsch, Goth ambience, or C86-ish shambles, innumerable bands recycled sounds from the '80s in 2010. None did it with the same elegance as Jack Tatum, a Virginia Tech student who started home-recording as Wild Nothing. Employing jangly guitar by way of Johnny Marr, melodic basslines cribbed from Peter Hook, washes of decadent, Kate-Bush-styled art-rock synths, and a casual vocal style owing hugely to the Go-Betweens, Tatum cast back to indie sounds three decades old. Yet, this wasn't some ironic smash-and-grab. Instead, Gemini openly taps into mass-cultural nostalgia; Tatum's sad pop-songs washed-out by wooshy synth sounds and dusty effects that make them feel faded like old photographs, hazy like half-forgotten memories.
Eric Berglund is one half of the Tough Alliance, the high-concept Swedes who single-handedly hipsterized the dreaded sound of early-'90s pop-house, with its chiming piano vamps and ecstasy-touting soul samples. His side-project, Ceo (apparently a word, and not CEO, though, this being the Tough Alliance, the whole thing's a bit mysterious), is a slightly more downcast take on similar sounds. There's still the tendency towards big synths, glow-stick grandstanding, and electronic cheesiness, but, here, Berglund shows off his sensitive side: with Beatles-esque orchestral parts, unashamedly-awkward crooning, and even wonky acoustic guitars. What carries over from TTA is a sense of sheer charisma; White Magic an album big on feelgood charms.
True Panther Sounds
is a benign name for an album, but, here, on Cameron Mesirow's first Glasser LP, it's a loaded title. Where most 'concept records' are works of sustained, linear narrative, Ring
doesn't progress along those old lines. Instead of heading from start to finish, it turns back in on itself: the disc designed to be able to picked up at any point, and listened to all the way back. What does this mean in execution? All the songs bleed into the next, but, most notably, its final song ("Clamor") ends with an outro that leads perfectly back to the beginning of its opener ("Apply"). Heard on repeat, Ring
—in all its flutters of percussion, crinkling beats, and sweet singing— goes around and around for eternity; with no beginning, and no end.
The rise of Dum Dum Girls is a familiar digital-era tale: home-recording project begets blog buzz, big-label deal, hyped record, and live-band assembled after the fact. Yet, gladly, this Dum Dum Girl —"Dee Dee," AKA 27-year-old Kirstin Gundred from San Diego indie outfit Grand Ole Party— deserves all the acclaim that came to her. Why? For a simple yet profound reason: she's got a great ear for a tune. Even when her early vinyl singles were caked in home-taper murk, satisfying pop-songs still brightly glimmered. I Will Be
cleans DDGs up, but only to a degree; Gundred recording the tunes at home and sending them to prodcuer Richard Gottehrer (Blondie, The Raveonettes) for polish. The result is a record that sounds sharp even amidst its fuzz.
Frankie Rose had spent plenty of time at the back of stage, playing drums in Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, and, then, in the Dum Dum Girls live band. Finally, with Frankie Rose and the Outs, she steps to the front of stage. And, on the project's eponymous debut, she takes a shine to the spotlight. Highlighting Rose's better-than-advertised pipes, the record is steeped in girl-group echo, garage-rock scuzz, and of-the-moment lo-fi fuzz, and serves as a sister set to DDG's I Will Be. Yet, even though Rose and co. crank out 11 songs in under half-an-hour, the songs are anything but speed-freak cuts rollicking at a Ramonesy clip. Instead, there's plenty of half-tempo ballads, and even if few tunes with a jukebox-worthy, country-ish lilt.
Male Bonding are living the alt-rock revivalists' dream. Founded in 2008 on a love of early-'90s US indie, the English trio have signed to Sub Pop, collaborated with Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, and crossed paths with Thurston Moore. Moore wondered if they'd stolen his pre-Sonic-Youth band's name, but Male Bonding's gag handle was coined when the trio —all record-store clerks, no less— moved into the same flat, and decided to start a 'pop' band. Recording their early jams direct to mini-disc(!), Male Bonding's pop-songs were captured so in-the-red that they were buried in fuzz. The aesthetic stuck, and the debut Male Bonding LP, Nothing Hurts, finds the Englishmen sounding so cruddy it borders on grunge. How's that for alt-rock revivalism?
Rock-band self-descriptions are rarely evocative, but Fang Island's diagnosis of their exuberant sound —"everyone high-fiving everyone"— is awesome. The Brooklyn bros are the musical equivalent college kids at a keg party: really, really excited, and absolutely committed to having a good time. On their debut, self-titled LP, Fang Island crank out soaring, overdriven, dueling-guitar leads, thunderous drum-fills, and chanted vocals. All delivered with the infectious exuberance of Andrew W.K (who, not coincidentally, just collaborated with the band). Yet, this isn't dumb, macho rock. Instead, it's nerdy, quirky math-rock at heart; all intricate playing and rhythmic repetition. Fang Island aren't posing, wannabe rock-gods, but geeks gone wild.
Buke and Gass are a duo, but that's not their names. Their names are Arone and Aron (really), and 'buke' and 'gass' are their home-made instruments: a six-string baritone ukulele, and a mutant guitar/bass hybrid (respectively). The duo, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, occupy opposite ends of the tonal spectrum: the buke shrill, sharp, sinuous; the gass thumping, boingy, fuzzy. Using an army of foot percussion instruments at the same time, Buke and Gass are two who sound like many. Their debut disc, Riposte, is full of spasmodic rhythms, radical shifts in tone, and a sense of relentless adventure. And, though the LP employs a bazaar of bizarre sounds, its defining instrument is something more universal: Dyer's beautiful voice.
The three Brooklynistas behind Prince Rama came together not in some Williambsurg warehouse, but at a Hare Krishna commune in rural Florida. Calling themselves, initially, Prince Rama of Ayodhya, they sought to puncture the limitations of this dimension —or, at least, y'know, trance out— by making wild percussive jams à la Gang Gang Dance
. On their debut album, Shadow Temple
, the trio bang drums, squelch synths, chant mantras, and wail operatically. It sounds both timeless and tremendously 2010. The LP was recorded in a "135-year-old haunted church," by Avey Tare and Deakin of Animal Collective
, and issued on AC's taste-making Paw Tracks
imprint. And when it comes to hipster tribalism, Animal Collective are the eternal seal of approval.