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