The Books

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The Books were an experimental pop duo who originated in New York around 1999. Described by principal songwriter Nick Zammuto as “collage music”, they are certainly just that: a conglomerate of literally hundreds of distinct influences from musical genres to instrumentation to cultural reverences and languages. They are a hailstorm of snippet sampling, chopping up archival tapes, interviews, instructional videos, advertisements, movie quotes, birdsong and just about anything else that makes a sound, crafting them into the chaotic yet calculated musings of a creative psychosis (“The Lemon of Pink” being a prime example: http://youtu.be/FC0jSezdwTU). Somehow, with all these variables The Books maintain control, layering on gorgeous acoustic work and whisper-soft melodies that permeate each void like sparkling honey. Zammuto and his band mate, cellist Paul de Jong, are masters of avant-garde instrumentation, looping beats etched into vinyl records, distorting sounds through PVC piping, capturing fan-oscillation sound-waves, and beat-matching the cadence and inflections of whatever field sample is utilized. Watching The Books live performances, it’s obvious Zammuto was having a blast, reveling in his audiences’ appreciation of his bizarre songwriting and quirky video accompaniment (such as that for “Smells Like Content”: http://youtu.be/ZHNArEfBKdc).

In their 12 years, The Books released 3 noteworthy LPs, debut “Thought For Food”, and my two favourites “The Lemon of Pink” and “Lost and Safe”, the latter being in my opinion their best work (and perhaps easiest to follow). The exact details of their parting are not entirely known, but unfortunately it sounds like it wasn’t exactly amicable. Zammuto has since continued working under his surname, with a few catchy tracks to date (try “Too Late To Topologize”: http://youtu.be/GXezRitYvxE).

Favourite track: An Owl With Knees (http://youtu.be/krm1Qmje5gE)… evidently they also excel in stripped-down simplicity.

Keane

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Keane are a British rock band formed around core members singer Tom Chaplin, multi-instrumentalist Tim Rice-Oxley, and drummer Richard Hughes. With origins in the late 90s when Coldplay were first exploding, Keane certainly contributed to the popularization of piano-driven rock, aiding in their standing out amongst the guitar-leaning music world. In fact, apparently Chris Martin had approached Rice-Oxley about joining Coldplay at one point. Alas, Keane was destined for their own legacy.

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I strived beyond anything to distinguish myself from the crowd. One of the ways I arbitrarily decided to do so was by selectively refuting a random assortment of some of the popular trends of the era. With a teen’s tenacity, I avidly abstained from Apple products, Facebook, ethanol-containing beverages… and also decided I’d boycott music played on the radio or TV shows in general. Naturally, this led to me missing out on a lot of cool shit. I remember covertly downloading songs like The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside”, Coldplay’s “Politik” and Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know”, listening to them in absolute secrecy, and then deleting the evidence, gazing around my surroundings like I’d just ordered a nudey magazine online. One day I realized the castle I’d built was forged of bigotry and ignorance, admitted (to myself) I was a fool and downloaded Keane’s killer 2004 debut “Hopes and Fears”, unabashedly basking it its glory. These days, Keane isn’t even remotely considered a “guilty” pleasure, given they’re just straight up awesome.

In their first and sophomore albums, “Hopes and Fears” and “Under The Iron Sea”, Keane crafted a gorgeous sound of stripped-down piano and synth anthems, marching bass lines, and absolutely iconic melodies and lyrical work by Chaplin. Like some irrefutable drug, even in my most bitter and stubborn age I simply could not keep myself from these songs, and this dichotomous strain of cognitive dissonance was perhaps one of the keys that helped me see the light. Some things are popular for good reason.

Favourite track: Everybody’s Changing (http://youtu.be/Ea7QxBHvJrM)… Ahh so many feelings.

Stars of the Lid

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Stars of the Lid is a drone / ambient project by Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride that started in the early 90s. They are both angels of the heavens, sent down to calm our spirits, soothe our dreams, and provide the theme song for the day our hearts beat their last, blood flow slows to a stop, and one by one every cell stops dividing. My brother sent me the link to Stars of the Lid’s MySpace page many years ago, and I was kind of confused with what exactly it was. Instead of selfies of random bands, the top 8 friends were simply names of philosophers, scientists, and other big-name thinkers. I almost missed the fact that music was playing at all, faintly hearing quiet waves of sound washing in an out of my computer, like the whirling glow of a distant lighthouse through the fog. I left the webpage open, and continued with reading whatever monotonous textbook I was struggling through at the time. Over the next 30 or so minutes, I felt an incredible peace and tranquility, as though every pulse and retraction of tone drew a small sample of adrenaline or cortisol from my system. With the crushing weight of a continent, yet the pillow-soft elegance of a nimbus cloud, Stars of the Lid can envelop and surge through your core like nobodies business. Must be what meditation feels like.

Stars of the Lid have created 7 amazing LPs and a host of other compilations / EPs over their 2 decades. My two favourites are their two double-album masterpieces, 2001’s “The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid” and 2007’s “Stars Of The Lid And Their Refinement Of The Decline”. In addition to this, both members are avid side-project musicians, with McBride recently composing the soundtrack for a documentary about bee colony collapse disorder called “Vanishing of the Bees”, and Wiltzie releasing an excellent album under the moniker “The Dead Texan” (try “A Chronicle of Early Failures, Pt. 2”: http://youtu.be/v0fQP4NNJb8) and another with composer Dustin O’Halloran as “A Winged Victoria for the Sullen” (love “Steep Hills For Vicodin Tears”: http://youtu.be/9Iaxe5K3Ljo). If Stars of the Lid proves to be a bit too mellow for all you go-getters out there, you might want to give some of these latter acts a try. Update: AWVFTS have released a new album “Atomos”, the soundtrack accompaniment for a project by contemporary choreographer Wayne McGregor via Random Dance (try “Atomos VIII”: https://soundcloud.com/erasedtapes/a-winged-victory-for-the-sullen-atomos-viii/s-dX0Zy).

Favourite tracks:
The Atomium (http://youtu.be/4pAYUPHVXXU)
Even If You’re Never Awake (Deuxième) (http://youtu.be/P9ofQUMRj6M)… DIY stress relief.

Caribou / Manitoba

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Caribou (previously Manitoba) is the stage name of multi-instrumentalist and electro mastermind Dr. Dan Snaith (yes, “Dr.”… of Mathematics, in fact) originating from Dundas, Ontario. This guy is basically the modern-day Mozart of indie-electronica, and remains a forerunner of the artistic elite of his generation since day 1 of releasing music. I was introduced to Manitoba while on a bus trip around age 12 – one of the older scenester dudes walked down the aisle with a small battery-powered stereo quietly playing the opening track of debut album “Start Breaking My Heart”. Up to that point, I’d been dependent on the 3 terrible radio stations of my hometown for exposure to new music, mostly waiting intently for “Tubthumping” or “Mambo No. 5” or like Shawn Mullins’ “Lullabye” to come on. So when I heard this uncanny blend of euphoric, pillow-soft melodies and beats floating gently by, it was like some primitive area of my temporal lobe awoke from cryosleep.

Snaith is a polymath of all things music, with absolute creative control of practically all aspects of his music, including the writing, recording, engineering, producing, and every other -ing to do with getting stuff done. Tubthumping, even. If that wasn’t enough, his live act of musical savants puts on the most enjoyable indie show I’ve ever seen.  His esthetic has crossed many genres (successfully meldeding most of them together), creating a truly unique listening experience through every single album.

As Manitoba, Snaith released 2 LPs: 2001’s “Start Breaking My Heart”, a largely instrumental / sample-based preface to his complex creativity, followed by 2003’s “Up In Flames”, a showcase of his etherial voice and equal capability to craft more structured rock songs. Soon thereafter, some weirdo threatened to sue over the name Manitoba, so the moniker was changed to Caribou. Regardless, his genre-defining momentum only increased, with 2004’s “The Milk of Human Kindness”, 2008 Polaris Music Prize-winning masterpiece “Andorra”, and his latest, the house-shaking dance banger “Swim”. Oh and I almost forgot, he also DJs under the name Daphni, providing a multitude of remixes as well as a catchy album “Jiaolong” (check out song “Ye Ye” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUFQbc5ymrw). Everything Snaith touches is critically acclaimed and worth its weight in gold; I’d recommend starting with “Andorra” if you’re more of an indie-pop kind of individual, or “Swim” if you prefer fist-pumping and head-bobbing. Update: “Our Love”, Caribou’s much-anticipated new album, was released this week. I’ll go ahead and let it just speak for itself – “Can’t Do Without You”: http://youtu.be/BI2Et19vDCM.

Favourite Manitoba track: Brandon (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGUodHSC0hs)… this is the song mentioned above.
Favourite Caribou tracks:
Andorra – She’s The One (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgslCkXXgSk)… I realize it’s biased to be giving him more songs than other artists, but it’s my website and I’ll do what I want with it.
Swim – Sun (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98D0zbiJR6o)… so, so good.

Minus The Bear

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Minus The Bear are a 5-piece technical indie-rock band from Seattle, founded in 2001 on local label Suicide Squeeze (also home to early Modest Mouse and Elliott Smith). A conglomerate of musicians involved in one way or another with influential acts throughout the late 90s/early 2000s such as Botch, Sharks Keep Moving and Kill Sadie, Minus The Bear are the closest thing to a super-group attainable within the realm of indie. Except maybe Gayngs, with their absurd hoard of musicians. Minus The Bear are some of the most seasoned and consistently talented songwriters around, with an uncanny ability to pack each riff to the brim, without ever becoming superfluous. The driving force of the act is found in lead guitarist Dave Knudson, who is probably the most talented, entertaining and innovative guitarist in all indie music (try this on for size: http://youtu.be/9CwL3yb1pLY?t=9m52s). With unprecedented aptitude, he crafts beautifully intricate lines with tapping, looping and sampling of freshly recorded bits on the fly, morphing his piercing, bare naked guitar tone through a meter-wide pedal board capable of generating just about every tone imaginable. Alongside Knudsen is Jake Snider, singer and talented guitarist in his own right, who remarkably manages to carry the simultaneous duty of vocals while forming the foundations of their complex patterns.

Straight from onset, Minus The Bear have delivered a steady supply of quality music. Debut LP “Highly Refined Pirates” (home to arguably their most famous song “Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse”: http://youtu.be/m3a4jxt4hcs) immediately set them apart from the pack, with technical work approaching that of a math rock band, but enough repetition and familiarity to sing along too. Follow-up LP “Menos El Oso”, their finest work to date, is the perfect blend of driving rock jams, guitar solos and sampling. Fun fact: the guitar section at 3:06 of closer “This Ain’t A Surfin’ Movie” (http://youtu.be/ikiSGwAURqA) is the literal reason I decided to start playing guitar. 2010’s “Omni” and 2012’s “Infinity Overhead” also have their merits.

Favourite track: Pachuca Sunrise (http://youtu.be/Cib_3se6z1I)… Still trying my darndest to plagiarize these guys.

The Drums

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The Drums are a an indie-pop band from Brooklyn, formed in 2008 from the ashes of former one-hit-wonder group Elkland. As an aside, I say “one-hit-wonder” because I’ve only heard one song, the killer track “Apart” (http://youtu.be/U251tbM3gYk) from their sole LP that is literally impossible to find. Anyways, The Drums represent the distilled, oaken-aged whiskey of their former artistic selves, and have since stormed the indie realm with force. Fronted by the fearless, forthright vocalist Jonny Pierce, The Drums are stripped down to a mantra founded upon the absolute fundamentals of songwriting – hooks and words. They get away scot free with phrasing and chord progressions from dead center of the beaten path, which the modern listener, swimming in the current sea of musical eccentricity, welcomes as a breath of fresh, familiar air. An ice-cold, glass bottled Coca-Cola. With the weight of their merit resting heavily on the sturdy, personable voice of Pierce, there’s the perfect amount of air-tight background instrumentation in the form of classic, formulated structure to complement his demeanor. For those that like The Drums, it’s love at first sight.

In the last 5 years, The Drums have put out 3 top-notch releases. Debut EP “Summertime!” is a near album-length set of surf rock jingles, perfectly suited for its eponymous exclamation. Follow up LPs include a self-titled expansion on a similar beach-themed vibe (arguably their best, also named NME’s Album of the Year), as well as 2012’s “Portamento”, a darker and more introspective delicacy. Update: LP #3 “Encyclopedia” has now dropped – it provides a welcomed revisitation to their upbeat, eat-your-heart-out selves (try standout “I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him”: http://youtu.be/jelmjVCinto).

Favourite Track: Book of Stories (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRVOn6JQlBQ)… and “I Felt Stupid”… and “Down By The Water”… and “Money”… and “Days”. Oh and “Make You Mine”. And now “U.S. National Park” and “Wild Geese” too. Ok I’ll stop.

Dom

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Dom is the eponymous project by Massachusetts-based Dominic Cournoyer, piecing together bits of DIY lo-fi indie rock and electro-pop.  The guy’s a bit of a rascal, running his mouth in interviews, belittling background stories of other bands and usually carrying around a can or three of some cheap booze – but one thing’s for sure: this dude knows how to jam. Creating splashes with his debut 2010 EP “Sun Bronzed Greek Gods”, Dom delivered 7 groovy tracks packed with party-appropriated hooks, a healthy dose of Casio keyboard tones, driving guitar lines and voice that exists somewhere between a bratty whine and an anthemic chant. Follow-up 2011 EP “Family of Love” provided another handful of catchy tunes, some of which are his best to date. Apparently Dom is currently working on his debut LP “Sweet & Sour”, featuring Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus. So we’re all going to have to just wait and see about that one.

Favourite track: Damn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBTey9pgAJo)… There you have it, folks… straight from the horse’s mouth.

Hundred Waters

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Hundred Waters are an indie / electro pop quintet from Gainesville, Florida signed to OWSLA since 2012. Utilizing tasteful restraint, muted drum programming, and a host of ethereal keyboards and wind ensemble scoring, Hundred Waters sets the stage for their silver bullet: singer Nicole Miglis. With a voice that’s thin and attenuated as a wine glass, yet dagger sharp and clear as the night sky, she is the thread that intertwines their sparse and calculated instrumentation, wrapping their sound in a pretty red bow. With melody-harmony work that could melt the coldest of hearts, Miglis will undoubtedly be recruited to join the chamber choir at the pearly gates.

Thus far, Hundred Waters have released 2 excellent LPs, 2012’s self-titled debut and this year’s “The Moon Rang Like A Bell”. They have also released a few remix EPs, with contributions from notable artists such as Star Slinger, Teebs, The Field, and Tim Hecker. To promote their new album, Hundred Waters released a free 6-track bundle available here: https://bundles.bittorrent.com/bundles/tmrlab. What a pleasant bunch.

Favourite track: Murmurs (http://youtu.be/vo-8Oa2t4Ro)… Me too.