Low Roar is Ryan Karazija, former singer of West Coast band Audrye Sessions. Originally from San Francisco, he moved to Reykjavik, Iceland, and recorded his first full-length under the new moniker. The album’s beautiful and ambient indie-folk has a haunting chilliness that seems borrowed from the frigid, isolated surroundings, while Karazija’s voice, eerily similar to Thom Yorke’s, is yearning and vulnerable. The songs are simple — adorned only with bells, accordions and occasional electronic bits — yet filled with emotional depth.
New York-based Guards is led by long-haired California crooner Richie James Follin (brother of Madeline Follin from Cults). The band — which also includes Loren Ted Humphrey, John Fredericks and Kaylie Church — produces charming, retro lo-fi pop that calls to mind the sweet vocal harmonies and cheery melodies of classic Doo-wop and 60s girl groups. Their songs are chock full of hearty organ chords, dark lyricism, fuzzy reverb and rollicking choruses, and even feature cameos by Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and MGMT’s James Richardson.
Ryan Lott — the man behind Son Lux — marries lush orchestral arrangements with glitchy blips and bleeps, making for rich and lovely electro-pop. He created his second album, We Are Rising, in response to NPR’s All Song’s Considered RPM Challenge, a test that asks musicians to put together an entire album in February, the shortest month of the year. He succeeded with the help of members of My Brightest Diamond, The Antlers and Midlake. Here, Lott performs in a more stripped-down, intimate style, spotlighting his quivering, pained vocals and sad, haunting lyrics.
Brooklyn’s Spanish Prisoners play swirling, multi-layered indie rock full of airy, glowing pop melodies tangled up in fuzzy, trembling reverb. The four-piece — made up of Leo Maymind, Mike DiSanto, James Higgs, and Amberly Hungerford — have taken their dreamy psychedelic music on the road with the likes of Foals, The Rosebuds, and John Vanderslice. Gold Fools, their self-released record, was one of NPR’s “Five Best Bandcamp Albums of 2011.”
Hailing from Wales, Los Campesinos! play wild indie-pop that’s clever, catchy, and overflowing with fiery, jarring punk-infused moments. Though the seven-piece has gone through a number of personnel changes over the years, the band’s nurtured a tight, sunny-meets-rowdy sound — inspiring everything from joyous head-bobbing to adrenalized raised fists. Underneath the energetic, sweet melodies are tales of heartache. Here that vulnerability especially shows, as they perform stripped-down versions of songs off their latest album, Hello Sadness.
Hailing from Stockholm, Serenades features Shout Out Louds vocalist/guitarist Adam Olenius and Laasko frontman Markus Krunegard. Together the duo create gorgeous synth-pop packed with sugar-coated melodies, impressive harmonies and anthemic choruses. Formed just last year, the Swedish group’s already signed to Cherrytree Records -- an imprint of Interscope, headed by famous Lady Gaga A&R honcho Martin Kierszenbaum -- and has a pleasingly polished, radio-friendly sound.
While Hurricane Irene blasted up the East Coast in September, Magnetic Island — formerly known as Renminbi — were holed away in Burlington, VT, and their hometown of Brooklyn working on their debut full-length album. The resulting songs sound a lot like that ferocious, but unpredictable storm: dark, brooding, and mysterious.
Thieving Irons features former Pela guitarist Nate Martinez alongside musicians Dan Brantigan, Josh Kaufman and Andy Nauss. Together the Brooklyn four-piece play charming folk-pop whose tone is somber yet warm, and whose texture is rustic yet robust. The beautiful full-bodied orchestration — including wincing banjos, charging pianos, and heralding trumpets — gives their songs a lush, layered sound. Combine that with Martinez’s distinct pained vocals, and the result is music that’s thick with emotion and brawn.
Born in England as Shahanara Taj, 18-year-old Rani Taj has quickly risen to become one of the most popular female dhol players after her version of Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” became a YouTube viral hit. The dhol — a double-headed drum that’s beaten with two wooden sticks and is popularly used in Punjabi Bhangra music — has historically been played by men. But Taj, having learned the dhol from experts Harjit Singh of Azaad Dhol and the Dhol Blasters, has broken this tradition. Here she performs and explains how she creates the tantalizingly hypnotic beats.