The Ruby Suns

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The Ruby Suns is a project fronted by American-via-New Zealand musician Ryan McPhun since 2004. Known as a world traveller, McPhun has taken tips from many cultural and esoteric genres, while always being sure to throw his own person touch into the alchemy. If I knew anything about genres outside my little cultish universe of musical taste maybe I could draw some intellectual-sounding specific comparisons for you, but I don’t, so I can’t. Just believe me in saying it’s an eclectic, ear-catching sound. With a gentle yet earnest falsetto voice, McPhun dances beautifully around his shimmering synths, percussion-heavy jungle beats, and tastefully minimal guitar and bass lines.

Now signed to indie juggernaut Sub Pop Records, The Ruby Suns has birthed 4 uniquely distinct albums. His most recent work “Christopher”  is a driving synth-pop movement allegedly fueled by the breakup of his longtime girlfriend and old touring bandmate. This has quickly and surely become one of my favourite records of the year and provided a gateway to rediscover his solid collection of tunes. Other albums include his self-titled 2004 debut, 2008’s “Sea Lion” and 2010’s “Fight Softly” (another highlight).

Favourite track: Heart Attack (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7j9tjsq15o)… A heart-throb of pure sincerity.

Neon Indian

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Neon Indian is the moniker of Mexican-born, Texas-based Alan Palomo. He popped up in the 2009/10 musical flash storm that was chillwave, alongside acts like Washed Out, Toro y Moi, Small Black, and others. As with most bands in that movement, Neon Indian was automatically dubbed as one of the new cool kids on the indie block and promptly rocket-launched into the spotlight, playing at packed-out venues and giant outdoor festivals. I’ve got to commend these musicians for how well they’ve all stepped up to the plate, embracing (relative) stardom and continuing in their production of quality tunes during busy tour schedules.

Palomo is a wizard of all things electronic, with a particular knack for 8-bit, synth, analog and other old-school equipment. I saw him play as a full band live act in 2010, and (almost comically) half the time all I could see of Palomo was his curly black hair bobbing and bustling around behind a wall of keyboards, pedals, modulators and stuff I don’t even know the name of. This provided an interesting dichotomy: a busy bee knob-turner making loud and pulsing, yet simultaneously laid-back and chilled-out music.

Pictured above are Neon Indian’s two solid LPs: 2009’s debut “Psychic Chasms”, and the more refined / vocally-oriented 2011 follow-up “Era Extraña”.

Favourite track: Polish Girl (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DNTft-GnHI)… it’s like a love song made by an outcast Game Boy.

Pariah

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Pariah is UK producer and dance-master Arthur Cayzer, signed on the prestigious R&S Records. He lets the music do the trash-talking, and is indeed quite proficient at doing so. With flavours of dub, house, electro, and even ambient, Pariah has a thriving culture of musical organisms crawling through the ether. He patiently and methodically crafts layers in visceral, surging waves, with a tasteful use of vocal samples crushed into the bare essential melody and lyric. Cayzer has recently joined forces with like-minded UK producer Blawan (check out “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KL_Bbyi3ub8 & “Getting Me Down” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIkhewd69SE), in their devastating industrial / techno collaboration entitled Karenn (see if your ears aren’t bleeding after watching their legendary Boiler Room set: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU0k08fGBdk).

As Pariah, Cayzer has released EPs “Safehouses”, “Detroit Falls”, and “Rift” (in approximate order of preference), and a bunch of excellent remixes of artists like Ellie Goulding, Bombay Bicycle Club, How To Dress Well, and more.

Favourite track: Prism (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iksjNaWaq4g)… Yyyyyyyyyep.

Yuck

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Yuck is a now-3-piece grunge rock band with members from UK, USA and Japan. If you’re saying “sorry, what!?”, I reacted the same when I first heard of them. The original line-up was formed in 2009 around singer/rhythm guitarist Daniel Blumberg and lead guitarist Max Bloom, both formerly in the British band Cajun Dance Party (whoever that is), after serentipitously meeting bassist Mariko Doi and drummer Jonny Rogoff whilst on a Middle Eastern adventure (or so the story goes). In true indie fashion, Yuck kept to their own devices, independently recording and releasing simple and catchy songs on their original bare-bones blog. In early 2011, Fat Possum Records caught on and signed them for a moderately-anticipated debut. I’m sure they were as surprised as anyone with what unfolded next.

Yuck’s self-titled debut stormed the castle with one of the most well-rounded, endlessly playable, and altogether enjoyable grunge rock / shoegaze albums around. Elaborating on their solid songwriting foundation, they garnished unanimous critical acclaim and before long were playing at packed-out festivals around the globe. The iTunes/deluxe editions of the release (already 12 songs) feature a total of 7 bonus tracks, plus enough free online B-side material floating around to easily sustain another full album.

A year of silence went by, then it happened. Yuck simultaneously elated and crushed souls by announcing their 2013 follow-up “Glow & Behold” (Yay!) written and recorded without singer/frontman Blumberg (NNNNOOOOOOO!!!). Known for his quirkiness and musical erraticism, Blumberg has released 5 or 6 albums in about as many projects / monikers, and he apparently has decided to leave Yuck and record / tour as his current solo act “Hebronix”.

Bloom admirably stepped up to the plate and took over on vocal and full songwriting duty, but it obviously isn’t quite the same. I recognize that, technically, a singer is simply a member of the collective group, but since the advent of vocal-driven pop music like 200 years ago, they’re kind of important. The vast majority of modern-day listeners (myself included) are intimately tuned in to the vocal melodies, lyrics, appearance, and persona of the singer (and “leader” by default) of a band. So when a vocalist departs, I’m of the opinion that most bands are better off to get a new title and start fresh. But that’s just me.

I feel badly talking down at all to “Glow & Behold”, because it is actually a decent album with some excellent tunes to offer. Bloom has a distinctly different timbre and songwriting style than that created as a duo with Blumberg, giving rise to a familiar-meets-novel medium. The instrumentation has deviated from muddy, fuzzed-out grunge, to a more refined, polished indie pop. Unfortunately, being in the shadow of their amazing debut, “Glow & Behold” is overall about half as good. As is Blumberg’s project. I dearly hope Daniel reconsiders his decision and comes back to Yuck, and with his touch-and-go demeanor, perhaps it isn’t unlikely. One can dream.

So to recap: Yuck are awesome, and their story is melodramatically tragic. The tracks from their 2011 self-titled debut + bonus material / B-sides of that era are some of the very best music I’ve heard in years. I’d start there. This year’s “Glow & Behold” is an overall agreeable and altogether sonically separate experience that sounds like a different band.

Favourite track: The Wall (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glOfHOxdRCU)… a classic staple of Yuck’s sound with Blumberg at the helm.

Loney, Dear

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Loney, Dear is the indie pop project of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Emil Svanängen. Self-releasing much of his earlier works, it’s obvious Loney, Dear is in it for the pure love and joy of creating, recording, and performing music. Most listeners new to his stuff find an immediate warmth and familiarity with his disarming approach to songwriting, featuring a vocal pitch that pierces the stratosphere, heart wrenching melodies, and impressive arrangements not often heard in this genre. During live concerts,  Svanängen is all smiles, ever complimentary to his backing band (or army), and avidly encouraging of his audience to dance, clap and sing along, often teaching them a simple harmony, and even leading in a few practice rounds.

Between 2003-11, he’s released seven (!) 10+ song LPs, placing Loney, Dear amongst the most prolific indie projects out there. My favourites are 2005’s standout “Loney, Noir”, 2003 debut “The Year of River Fontana” and his most recent work, 2011’s “Hall Music”.

Favourite track: Sinister in a State of Hope (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2_yhViC8bY)… a nice showcase of his mystic powers.

Local Natives

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Local Natives are a 5-piece indie rock band based out of LA since 2009. You know how you have that friend who is in a surprisingly talented band, plays relatively sizable shows now and again, and even managed to scrounge up enough cash and courage to release a 10-song LP? Basically that’s Local Natives, except they also occasionally perform at international music festivals in front of tens of thousands. I guess the big difference between your friend and these guys is that these days music news spreads like spicy gossip through the right online conduits, and friendo was unfortunately 10+ years premature. You know, MySpace era and whatnot.

Aaaaaanyways, Local Natives came out with a solid home-brew record called “Gorilla Manor” in 2009, named after the animal house collective all 5 band members lived in together. It was a huge critical success, perhaps a little blown out of proportion, but still is an enjoyable listen. At that time I assumed they’d follow suit with the modern indie one-album-wonder phenomenon: either take a massive stylistic nosedive and sell out, or just simply fizzle and die in their inability to re-deliver. Wrong again! They returned with a killer, gem of an album this year, the endlessly-playable “Hummingbird”. Working out some of their off-kilter vocal harmony kinks, and adding a tasteful variety of intonation and instrumentation, they’re bigger, they’re better… they’re back.

Although “Gorilla Manor” has some amazing tracks (especially “Cubism Dream” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26DrYvoviPo), I’d recommend starting with 2013’s “Hummingbird” – one of the best straight up indie rock albums in a while. Just full-bodied, boisterous, elegantly-executed jams.

Favourite track: Heavy Feet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds8zoKyaRvY)… Smooth groovin.