The Saturday Knights + free album download
From: Denzel, WA

Sounds like: um. Everything in your favorite used record shop thrown in a blender and ground with hip hop.

Okay, by now there's a pretty established history of rock music incorporating hip-hop (Beck's Odelay), or hip-hop incorporating rock (anything by the Roots), and a spectrum of genre-bending in between (A3's Exile on Coldharbour Lane, U.N.K.L.E's Never, Never Land, the Handsome Boy Modeling School, and so on), but damn if these guys haven't gone and made something that sounds completely new anyway. From the brilliant party bounce of "45" to the laid-back groove of "Patches," and the pop-metal crunch of "I Go," the album runs the gamut of styles with ease. As Three Imaginary Girls point out, there is no definitive TSK sound. Surf-rap? Trailer-hop? Ghetto polka? All of the above? Actually, I kind of like 'Ghetto polka.' But much more correct to say instead that the Saturday Knights have vibe, and that vibe is "party."

The new album Mingle may be completely unclassifiable but is absolutely worth the time...and if I'd paid for it, it would be worth the money, too. But, in a bit of post-Radiohead magic, the entire album is available to download for free courtesy of their label, Light in the Attic. So, give a listen on MySpace, check out the video, and then go get it for yourself and let me know where the heck to file them.

Favorite song: 45

Other opinions:
Three Imaginary Girls give it 8.6/10
Parasites & Sycophants call it "a seamless integration of things so many others have managed to grossly mishandle"
The Seattle Weekly call the songs on Mingle "righteously hip-shakin' party jams"


Blast from the past: Stone Temple Pilots - 'Interstate Love Song'

Smoke Fairies
From: London, UK

Jessica Davies
Katherine Blamire

Sounds like: sorrow, pain, and beauty.

I came across the Smoke Fairies completely by chance when they opened for somebody else at a tiny gig over a year ago. I can't for the life of me remember who they were opening for. That's in large part due to the fact that I was too busy falling absolutely head over heels for Jess and Kaf's aching, heartbreakingly lovely songs. Songs like 'Living with Ghosts' and 'Troubles' built moody, complex stories with little more than two-part harmonies and American roots guitar playing. It was, in a word, magical.

Fast forward a year or so, and the Smoke Fairies have acquired a drummer, spent time touring with Bryan Ferry, gotten Ed Harcourt to play in their backing band, and have recorded a bunch of new songs, which are currently making me fall for them all over again. A little more instrumentation (most notably, bits of piano melodies), a little different orchestration, but the same folksy textures and gothic storytelling combine to make powerful, irresistable music.

Favorite song: Wake You Up

Other reading:
Smoke Fairies interview on TuneTribe
Lobster Quadrille Magazine review


Factory Floor

From: London, UK

G. Gurnsey

M. Harris

D. Butler

Sounds like: it's 1979 and it's still neu

To read the bio on their MySpace page, Factory Floor has gone through a number of lineup adjustments in their time, so there's bound to be a variety of different sounds in their music. There is...sometimes they sound like Joy Division, sometimes they sound like the Fall, sometimes they sound like Wire.

I am teasing, just a little bit.

The core duo of Factory Floor, G. Gurnsey and M. Harris, clearly share a musical heart with Holger Czukay and Mark E. Smith, and lineup changes or no, there's no escaping those influence pumping through their veins. With the addition of D. Butlery, they've solidified as a trio, so we add, perhaps, a bit of John Cale, and run with it.

In songs like "Francis Francis" and "BiPolar," sparse beats create tensions which minimalist guitar and bass structures strain and break into explosions of anti-pop energy. In some sort of contrast, the instrumental "And Stood Listening to Anxiety" is a lush, cinematic soundbite; a snippet of a CAN diversion that simply must have a super-8 film attached to it somewhere. The dynamics will be familiar if you were up on Factory Records "back in the day," but there's a reason so many of those bands are still influential today. Factory Floor goes far beyond paying tribute to the infamous label's post-punk sound but instead creates it entirely anew, with great results.

Favorite song: Francis Francis


No Picasso

From: London, UK

Ronnie Joice - Vocals
Dan Fatel - Guitar
Jo Xorto - Bass
Ben Hutchinson - Drums

Sounds like: good old fashioned swagger rock.

Y'know, sometimes you can just tell where a band is from, and if ever a band sounded like a London band, it would be No Picasso.

With a driving rhythm section and sparse guitars unencumbered by heavy effects, No Picasso hearken back to the 60s London scene, with an absolutely infectious abundance of young, raw energy and talent. If the Strokes claimed the legacy of the Ramones and the New York Dolls, No Picasso are claiming the early days of the Stooges or the Kinks, and it's fabulous.

The lyrics have a loose, stream-of-consciousness attitude, but never get sloppy, and are bursting with raucous, punk bombast and confidence. Ronnie Joyce's cavalier vocals contrast with shout-along harmonies to create a dynamic that almost demands you join in.

The sound is a bit rough around the edges (they are currently unsigned, and all the MySpace tracks are listed as demos), but that's a huge part of what makes it work. At the same time, it strikes me as sound that would come off as manufactured and artificial coming from anywhere but London. Exciting stuff.

Favorite song: Paprr Bag


Port O'Brien

From: Oakland, CA (and Port O'Brien, AK)

Van Pierszalowski - guitars, vocals
Cambria Goodwin - banjo, vocals, keys, mandolin
Caleb Nichols - bass, vocals
Joshua Barnhart - drums, vocals, autoharp
Zebedee Zaitz - guitars, vocals, keys

Sounds like:

The spin on Port O'Brien goes that the Oakland band spend their summers working in the Alaskan fishing industry, and those long days of grueling work and isolation on Kodiak Island have fed the creative rat. While maybe not completely capturing the essence of the Alaskan archipelago in the same way that Calexico evokes the desert southwest, the similar influence of location is patently clear. The short newspaper blurb I saw which prompted me to look up Port O'Brien said this:

"If Calexico capture the widescreen, lonesome dustiness of scorched America, Port O'Brien are like their damp, more intimate equivalents."
It's a nice image.

But thematically, I find a better parallel in Death Cab for Cutie's album Transatlanticism: where Death Cab explored the isolation of fame and yearning for intimacy during long stretches on tour, Port O'Brien tackle the same loneliness, longing, and disconnection experienced in weeks and months at sea. The jangly, folk-tinged pop, stylistically akin to REM or Sun Kil Moon, is a perky contrast to the gray images of boats, rain, and exhaustion of being at sea which dominate the lyrics. The romantic notion of the Alaskan fisherman is contrasted with the danger, the exhaustion, and bleakness found in the day to day grind of being there.

In desperation is hope, though, and far from being moody music for a rainy day, I find even the slower songs like "Tree Bones" to be full of life and spirit. It's easy to imagine the simple acoustic sounds coming out of a fishery dorm late at night in celebration of getting through another day. As suggested by the title of their debut album, All We Could Do Is Sing, what else is there to do?

The cannery probably hasn't been a source of much more than cash for most, but Port O'Brien has found it a rich inspiration for creating great music that will appeal far beyond the remote Alaskan towns from which it grew.

Favorite song: Alive for Nothing

Video: Port O'Brien interview and concert footage


Tom McKean and The Emperors


Tom McKean: vocals/guitars
Bobby Williams: guitars/vocals
Andy Simms: keyboards/clarinet/horns
Iain Ross: drums/vocals
Ed Miller: bass
Also with Fay Walsh (cello and banjo), Nick Loe (bass) and John Parker (double bass)

Sounds like: a smoky, back alley gin joint.

Evocative and cinematic, the Emperors explore the darker shadows of rootsy blues and jazz with the moody maturity of experience and stellar musicianship honed by years of playing.

McKean's deep and scruffy voice draws inevitable comparisons to Tom Waits , and the band's overall tone may remind some of Nick Cave's latter-day balladeering as well. As usual, though, name checks really only provide a point of reference. The Emporers varied sound won't neatly fit a single genre: clarinet and guitar swirl jazzily through "Fever," while "This is the Year" has the same quiet, heartfelt energy of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." Other songs like "Heart of Mine" and "One Thing On My Mind" smolder with a subdued, moody simplicity, and the live video for "This is a War" captures their ability to positively set the house on fire. (Their live sets come highly praised...)

The Emperors are not, by a far stretch, your generic one-hit indie wonder four-piece, but instead a fine assemblage of musicians who have stayed in the game without losing their passion. Quoting the band themselves: "Through the vagaries of luck and hard work we’ve found ourselves making the kind of music we always wished we could." Lucky us that now we get to hear it.

Favorite song: A Little Something

Video: This is a War

Other opinions:
Strummerville calls them one to watch in 2008

LISTEN | Several free downloads if you join their mailing list: theemperors at



Akiko a.k.a. Exccedingly Good Keex on Drums/Vocals,
Simon a.k.a. Von Klinkerhoffen on Guitar

Sounds like: J-pop in a car crash

Every time I go to Dalston, I see police cars going really fast.

Dalston is a North London neighborhood with some decidedly rough edges, but with a whole lot of character as well. There is a genuine 'local' vibe I get there which I find missing from so many of the other towns in the fabric of 'Greater London.' Seedy characters on the street, great locally-owned eateries, a fantastic street market, and a couple almost randomly-placed clubs and theatres combine to make it one of the more interesting undiscovered parts of town.

Springing out of this eclectic and slightly shabby environment Comaenchi, a high-powered, crunchy, lo-fi band serving up equal parts riot-grrl punk, club night electro, and sludgy thrash metal. Akiko's vocals are a girly half-scream on par with Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna, with an occasional smoky undertone akin to that of Karen O. The resulting volcanic sound is as intriguing and edgy as the neighborhood from which it erupts. It makes me want to drive really fast, too.

If only I had a car.

Favorite song: Gentlemen Drivers

Video: Death of You


Lykke Li
From: Stockholm, Sweden

Sounds like: a breath of fresh air.

You do sort of have to wonder if Scandinavia will ever run out of pretty songstresses with inordinately catchy pop sensibilities. I sort of hope not.

Judging by this summer's festival circuit, Lykke Li isn't long for the little leagues. Her mix of vocal pop and quirky arrangements make for unconventional little songs that simply won't leave your mental jukebox.

While there's fun bits of electro dance beats, it's not the standard euro-club dancefloor fodder at all. Where fellow Swede Robyn goes for bass-heavy, slightly mindless dance pop, Lykke Li opts instead for more complex beats and lyrics with a heartfelt edge suggesting that they actually mean something. Plus, she plays real instruments. Little Bit is the song you'll hear on the radio first, I'm sure, and the video (below) does capture all of the slightly awkward brilliance of both the song and the performer. Her songs have all of Lily Allen's girly charm, Bjork's musical variety, and the Blow's lo-fi, DIY feel, topped off with a voice that ranges from Joanna Newsom's elfin chirp to Sarah Cracknell's best chantenuse. Can I name drop more? I will - her debut album, due out in the UK on June 6, is produced by none other than Bjorn of Peter, Bjorn, and John. She's got friends in high places; just wait a bit and watch her rise.

Favorite song: Everybody But Me

Video: Little Bit

Other opinions:


Midnight Juggernauts

Melbourne, Australia

Vincent Vendetta - keys/vocals
Andy Juggernaut - guitar/vocals
Daniel Stricker - drums

Sounds like: stadium-sized space-y krautrock disco.

Midnight Juggernauts are definitely building a buzz right now with the May release of their debut album Dystopia. Everything from Brian Eno to Pink Floyd and Daft Punk to the Scissor Sisters shows up here in an expansive, French disco new-wave journey into the heart of the sun. Except they aren't French at all, but a trio of interstellar travellers from down under, now making waves across the globe.

In an interview with the Guardian's Paul Lester, the band is quoted as saying the name Midnight Juggernaut "sounded like an unstoppable force in the middle of the night, and we thought that suited our music." It's an apt description. Songs like "Into the Galaxy" and "Nine Lives" throb with big, festival-friendly beats yet float along with space-age synths and retro-futuristic vocals, while songs like "Aurora" play to the darker, quieter, post-peak part of your trip. It's all very ELO, actually, and that's a fine, fine thing to me.

I could easily cross-reference a half-dozen incredible albums (Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, Ween's The Mollusc come to mind), but instead of feeling derivative, Dystopia simply feels as good. It has quickly become a favorite new discovery of mine and is one which seems destined to be on endless rotation this summer.

Favorite song: Road to Recovery


Alexander Wolfe
From: London

Alexander Wolfe - vocals and all instruments
Drums - played by Steve Pilgrim
Strings & Horns - played by The Wolfettes.
Peter Jackson plays bass & sings BV's
Rachel Dawson plays Cello
Terry Kirkbride plays Drums

Sounds like: a heartbroken angel.

It seems a little wrong that when I listen to Alexander Wolfe, so much of what I think about is how amazing it must have been to see Jeff Buckley when he was up and coming on the New York scene. But in reality, I can't think of a bigger compliment. Like Buckley, Wolfe can bring a noisy pub to a quiet standstill with simple acoustic arrangements and an achingly tender wail that pulls at your very soul. It's riveting, powerful music that simultaneously lifts your heart skyward while making you want to cry. Wolfe excels at restraint, though, which is part of what makes the music so compelling - so many moments should simply explode with frustration or pain or anger, but become all the more poignant for holding back just enough.

Songs like "Lazybones" and "Breakdown" - both of which feature far fuller instrumentation courtesy of his backing band - certainly start to explore the emotions behind the emotions, with a greater dynamic range and terrific pop potential. But, the magic here is in Wolfe's voice, and he's at his best in the quiet moments, revealing the tender pain of "Stuck Under September," barely underscored with strings and a light piano tinkle, or calling the desparate plea of "This Submarine." With a self-released album due soon, he's far too good to stay unsigned and secret for long.

Favorite song: This Submarine


Photo credit: Luke Newman

Au Revoir Simone
From: Brooklyn, NY

Heather D’Angelo
Erika Forster
Annie Hart
Three keyboards and an old drum machine

Sounds like: Watching dandelion puffs scatter in the breeze on a warm sunny day.

Pretty melodies with layers of synthesizer that go from the sweet and light to the melancholy and emotional, without becoming either cloying or too dark...which, yes, is maybe similar to what I said about Aya Peard, but leaning decidedly away from the dancefloor. A more upbeat song like "Night Majestic" will owe more to the Postal Service than to Portishead, while the vocal harmonies recall the happy chirpiness of the Ditty Bops or the Aquarian bliss of the Polyphonic Spree. Parallels with similarly synth-oriented dreamy pop band Air will be inevitable, particularly with the slightly heavier production of songs like "Lark," but Au Revoir Simone never let the technology take over, and their songs keep a genuine warmth and humanity that Air will frequently lose altogether.

Favorite song: Dark Halls

Other opinions:
10 Questions with Au Revoir Simone at Strange Digs.
The New Sound found them on mySpace, too.
Voilá! made them Band of the Week


Raif Pomeroy
From: Venice, CA (and the world)

Sounds like: Eclectic acoustic busker funk.

I originally heard Raif's band Ballyrag in 2003, and what I said then (in West Coast Performer magazine) was, "Where the Ocean Meets the 10 is an eclectic sampling of [Ballyrag's] extremely well-crafted fusion pop, drawing from a wide range of jazz, funk, and rock influences in catchy and original ways. The musicianship is impeccable; the arrangements are interesting and tight, and the sound is remarkably mature and varied."

I stand by that. I've had the album on the iPod for years now, and every time a track comes around on the shuffle I'm reminded of just what a - for lack of a more appropriate word - nice album it is.

I was saddened to discover recently that Raif passed away in July 2007 while diving in the Bahamas. He was doing what he loved, but it's still quite a loss. Check out the tunes, download some, and learn why I feel fortunate to have come across him.

Favorite song: Johnny Adkins


Aya Peard
From: Santa Monica, CA

Aya Peard - lead vocals
Paul Pellegrin - drums
Kaveh Rastegar - bass
Mike Schmid - keys
James Barry - cello
Gayle Davidson - backup vocals

Sounds like:
Textbook female vocal downtempo trip-pop.

There's some of Laika's bass-y space-y bubble grooves, a bit of low-key blippy electronica, the occasional acoustic guitar, and Aya's got a delicate, sweet voice that reminds me a lot of St. Etienne's Sarah Cracknell or maybe Jem. The songs are perfectly smooth and ambient, with a slightly sexy electronic vibe that generally avoids falling into stock vocal house - though it's also rich fodder for thumpy dancefloor remixes In general, though, it's quite mellow and pretty, but even her cover of the Bee Gee's song "How Deep [is Your Love]" stays just the right side of being too drippy.

I found Aya while looking up information on Raif Pomeroy, and came across a super nice memorial post in her blog...and of course had to give her a listen. It's not groundbreaking, and if you don't like the genre, Aya probably won't change your mind, but if you do, she's worth a listen.

Favorite song: 83rd Street


Five O'Clock Heroes (with Agyness Deyn)
From: New York City

Sounds like: True post-punk, as in 'from the early days of MTV, before Oasis came along and redefined britpop.' But the guitar-based stuff, not the synth-driven new wave.

This is the band that everybody suddenly knows because their upcoming single features vocals by supermodel Agyness Deyn. Describing themselves as 'two parts British and two parts American,' they've been derided as a Strokes rip-off, but I disagree - the early-80s British influence is far too clear. There's the peppy jangle of the Jam, the vocals are reminiscent of XTC, and "Don't Say Don't" has more than a bit of the reggae groove that was so distinctive in the early days of the Police. Overall, it's not particularly a new sound, but it's actually catchy and fresh in a lot of ways. When I read about the new Agyness Deyn song, I was all ready to write it off as a gimmick - which it kind of is - but after giving Five O'Clock Heroes a listen, I'm all the more interested to hear it.

Updated 13 June: The Agyness Deyn collaboration, "Who," is out, and y'know what? It's not too shabby. I gotta say, for my money, I think I like the non-Agyness tunes better, but I gotta give credit where credit is due. Far from being a token addition, Agyness Deyn makes the Five O'Clock Heroes a whole new band. The groove is still there, the jangle is still there, but it's a very different creature than the rest of the 'Heroes songs. The male-female vocal interplay is interesting, and as Agnyess takes over on the chorus this interesting little indie band suddenly develops a chart-topping sound that to my ear is actually pretty original, too. You can bet "Who" is going to be all over the airwaves all summer long.

Favorite song: Speak Your Language

Video: Who (feat. Agyness Deyn)


Florence and the Machine
From: United Kingdom

Florence Welch - everything

Sounds like: Remember the completely mindbending, raw energy in PJ Harvey's early demos? Do you remember thinking, "how does one little body contain that immense voice and that depth of anger and pain, and how can recording it possibly even begin to capture it?" And then listening to it over and over and over again? Yah. You'll listen to Flo and you'll think the same thing. It's not an unfair comparison, as long as you also bundle it with all the other fair comparisons you'll read as well - like Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Carole King, Cat Power. Beth Ditto. Nina-freakin'-Simone. It's all there. With the occasional tape loop or electro beat.

Florence and the Machine were a huge hit at SXSW recently (rated NME's #1 gig), and you can bet that her 'unsigned' status won't last long. 2007 was the year for brit girls Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen and Kate Nash...and with a rack of upcoming festival appearances this summer - including Glastonbury - don't be surprised if 2008 is the year for Florence and the Machine.

Favorite song: Kiss with a Fist


More views:

A Place to Bury Strangers
From: Brooklyn, NY

Oliver Ackermann - Guitars & vocals
JSpace - Drums
Jono MOFO - Bass

Sounds like...all the amps go to 11.

Heavy Jesus and Mary Chain-style distortion, with layers and layers of noise, rhythmic and powerful at the same time. So many familiar sounds, from Joy Division rhythms to the fuzz of early Sonic Youth, but so many completely WTF sounds as well...I've been told Oliver's 'day job' is building custom guitar pedals, and from the crazy variety of sounds he pulls it's clear that he's kept a few for himself. Live, they'll simply melt your brain.

Favorite song: To Fix the Gash in Your Head

LISTEN | BUY (+ free downloads)

Sam Barrett
From: Leeds, UK

Sam Barrett - guitar, vocals.

Sounds like: Damn fine down-home Delta Blues.

Think Robert Johnson. Sam plays American folk tunes, English country songs, old spirituals and original songs in the style. It's easy to forget how connected various musical genres are, but of course the American folk tradition came out of the English countryside, and it's great to hear them all played together. And when's the last time you heard a 12-string played right?

Favorite song: Tongue Tied Blues


The Old Romantic Killer Band
From: Leeds, UK

Sounds like...a massive amount of noise out of a two piece band.

Greg - Drums
Harry - Guitar, vocals

Dirty, distortion-fueled blues guitar, more upbeat than the White Stripes and less psychedelic than Jimi Hendrix, but not unworthy of either comparison. Great dynamics, solid, catchy songwriting, and blistering guitar work add up to a duo that won't be confined to Leeds for long. This is one of those bands that you'll be able to say, "I knew them when..." And do not miss them live.

Favorite song: Lovers Pass

Video: You Don't Know How to Love