Many indie rock bands find success by lashing out at past conventions as they forge revolutionary sounds. Grizzly Bear, one of the most critically celebrated acts of the past five years, is different. The audacious ambition of the band’s lauded albums resembles the most complex recordings of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac. As with those groundbreaking acts, the deceptively smooth veneer of the Brooklyn-based quartet’s music belies emotional epiphanies and insidious sonic inventiveness.
Fans of the Joy Formidable fall into one of two camps. The first set of listeners admire the Welsh trio’s ingratiating craft and memorable melodies. The latter group consists of fans who have experienced one or more of the Joy Formidable’s live performances. These giddy people testify that the Joy Formidable is one of the best rock bands in the world. The band swings for the fences on its new album “Wolf’s Law,” where a handful of songs sound like Bjork fronting “Joshua Tree”-era U2. The deeper album tracks showcase the band rattling the earth like Led Zeppelin and performing pretty pop nuggets in the vein of the Cranberries.
Tennis may be from Denver, but its sound evokes the warm sunshine and cool breezes of the California coast. The husband-and-wife team of Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore produce delectable pop that’s ideally suited for sand, suntan lotion and beach balls. Along with collaborator and drummer James Barone, the couple is renowned for producing hazy indie rock with ingratiating melodies. Moore sounds as if she’s about to break into the chorus of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” during many of Tennis’ frolicsome selections.
Deerhoof may be the world’s oddest funk band. While the foundation of the collective is American dance music, its sound is filtered through a global perspective. Deerhoof applies lounge music, Tropicália from Brazil, Japanese avant-garde, European pop and grating indie rock to funk rhythms. The band from California describes its music as “noise jingles for parties.” And much like brief advertisements, Deerhoof’s songs contain sudden shifts in direction and disposition. No band at this year’s Middle of the Map festival holds the promise of a better time than Deerhoof.
As Jeff the Brotherhood, siblings Jake and Jamin Orrall are a road-tested garage-rock duo. The Nashville-based brothers sound like a like a psychedelic version of the White Stripes or a meaner version of the Black Keys. Jeff the Brotherhood’s undiluted version of rock ’n’ roll is more than just a perfect soundtrack for beer drinking. Some songs are pogo-worthy punk anthems, while others recall the roots-based pop of the Avett Brothers. While the road-tested duo has been recording for more than a decade, the former members of Be Your Own Pet have only recently become critical darlings. The duo has recently racked up positive coverage from NPR, Rolling Stone and Spin.
Kids These Days
Most music lovers listen to a variety of sounds. It seems odd, consequently, that so many bands limit themselves to a single style. Kids These Days, a youthful collective from Chicago, combine Dave Matthews-style jams with hip-hop, jazz and funk. They characterize the eclectic blend as Traphouse Rock, a term that serves as the title of their Jeff Tweedy-produced 2012 debut album. During their powerhouse live appearances, the accomplished musicians in the band evoke Nirvana and Radiohead as rapper Vic Mensa spits clever rhymes. That approach causes Kids These Days to resemble a refreshingly diverse iPod playlist.
Iceage has found new ways to make noise. The Danish band redeploy the best ideas of heavy metal, punk and hardcore acts in brilliantly brutal configurations. Its ruthlessly heavy attack has made the quartet one of the most respected acts in extreme rock. Iceage combines the desolation of Joy Division, the rage of the Sex Pistols and the odd meters of Gang of Four with the vital sounds of contemporary acts like Mogwai. “You’re Nothing,” the young band’s second album and its first for the prestigious Matador Records, will be released in February.
The Whigs are touring the Eastern Seaboard with fellow Southern-rock traditionalists the Drive-By Truckers in March. It’s a perfect pairing. Much like Lucero, Kings of Leon and the Drive-By Truckers, the Whigs make savvy rock that embraces its roots in the South. The Georgia-based band has made multiple late-night television appearances and honed its rough-and-tumble approach for the past 10 years. Not only are the Whigs prone to extended guitar jams, the trio is one of the few bands at this year’s Middle of the Map to incorporate twang into its attack. Anyone with a propensity to yell “Free Bird!” at concerts may find a receptive band in the Whigs.
Years before steampunk had a name, David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand was playing music that exemplified the concept. His obscure but brilliant band 16 Horsepower fused a gothic sensibility to macabre, folk-based rock in the mid-1990s. As the visionary behind Wovenhand, Edwards offers a slightly different spin on the funereal approach. Both his band’s name and his timeless, trance-inducing work are inspired by faith-based concepts. Edward’s righteously powerful lyrics and otherworldly music make Wovenhand one of the most distinctive bands of the new millennium.
Although many observers consider the Appleseed Cast to be one of the most important bands of the past 15 years, most people have never even heard of the Lawrence-based collective. While the unhurried approach that characterizes much of the Appleseed Cast’s music is beloved by the band’s cultish fans, it doesn’t translate well to short attention spans. Expansive post-rock simply can’t be digested in small segments. The band’s music demands intent listening. The Appleseed Cast’s next album is slated for release April 9, heightening the significance of its appearance at Middle of the Map.
Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star