A word of explanation: In addition to classical, jazz, and world music, my favorite styles are best described as something like alternative, folk, alt-folk, alt-rock. I don’t care much for “pop music,” but rather have a penchant for discovering amazingly talented bands that few have heard of. Finding such music excites me as much as detectorists like finding lost treasure. So here are some of the jewels I have come across in my journey. They are better when shared with others. Enjoy!
Probably my current favorite band in the world, Darlingside, is easily one of the most sublime and beautiful bands working today. All of their songs are good. All. Of. Them. And this video is simply gorgeous, isn’t it?
Darlingside’s rapport on and off stage is inspiring. If you ever have the chance to see them live, treat yourself to a truly beautiful experience.
THE WAR ON DRUGS
The War on Drugs is starting to get well-deserved recognition. Great band and very artistic video. Saw them twice live. They totally jam! Check out all of their music (except their obscure first album, which is hard to find). This video captures the artistic nature of their work.
Midlake is/ was one of those special happenings until the lead singer/ songwriter left to pursue his own work. This entire album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, is one of the best I’ve ever heard. The video is great too.
BAND OF HORSES
Band of Horses. One of my favorite radio performances of theirs. Saw them live. They were great. Extremely loud– but great.
CAMERA OBSCURA/ TRACYANNE CAMPBELL
Camera Obscura is one of my favorite bands of all time. Saw them twice live. The first time was in a bar and when a few really drunk people were being obnoxious at the front of the stage, Tracyanne yelled, “Shut the **** up.” Whoa! Sadly, Carey Lander, their beloved keyboardist died recently of cancer. They may never recover as a band. However…
Tracyanne and her next best friend and fellow Scot, Danny Coughlin have just paired up for a full-length album, appropriately named Tracyanne & Danny. This is a kicky track in memory of Carey Lander. I just saw them live in Toronto. They had a good rapport.
FRONTIER RUCKUS/ ANNA BURCH
Frontier Ruckus. Anna Burch is starting a solo career with some terrific pop songs.
Anna Burch of midwest-based Frontier Ruckus. Check out her other great track “2 Cool 2 Care.” I saw her live in Madison, Wisconsin.
Julia Othmer. A friend of mine knows her. Such a catchy song with an Annie Lennox feel. Why doesn’t the world know of such talents?
Is this not one of the best songs you’ve never heard before? The Ragbirds are awesome. Saw them in Buffalo, where Erin lived when she was younger. The ratio of talent to fame is inversely proportional here.
We say this a lot, but the great Jess Klein, who I saw live when she returned to our mutual hometown, is perhaps the single most under-rated singer-songwriting talent I know. She is prolific and wonderful. But no one seems to have ever heard of her. Check her out!
Lord Huron is terrific. Check out some of their other songs and albums. This video is wonderfully entertaining.
The band Lucius is a knockout. Listen and behold the awesomeness! Such power and poetry. I’m impressed by how artistic “popular” (?) music like this can be.
Rose Melberg has such a sweet and yet deep sound. This is as lovely as the last warm day before the winter. It’s hard to imagine she started in a cool girl pop-punk band called Tiger Trap. They did one album. She did a stint in a little group called The Softies (which I also recommend) in between Tiger Trap and solo. I just picked up a CD from one of her more recent brief bands called Knife Pleats. It’s hard to find, but has a nice sound to it.
TRASH CAN SINATRAS
Don’t let the name fool you, the Trashcan Sinatras write and perform fantastic songs. Again, came to my hometown from Scotland. Ah, Scottish bands.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
Speaking of Scotland, hipsters (especially Scottish ones) will know Belle and Sebastian. If you don’t, you may want to try them out. Their lyrics are literature. Their tunes are so catchy. Their great songs are truly great.
Guster. My brother-in-law hung with them in the local radio studio before they got to be pretty big in the alt world. Such a great acoustic song. Keep it Together is easily one of my favorite CDs.
I DRAW SLOW
Awesome folk band from Ireland! Awesome. Truly. This is a fun ditty.
I Draw Slow is so awesome I had to include this too. Now tell me this does not deserve to be among the all-time great folk songs?
The Owls is a very eclectic band with a neat story. Husband and wife +1. They did a spinoff group or two. I like “Into the Clouds” by The Starfolk. None of these groups are ones you have heard before, I’m sure.
Eilen Jewell is old school with some great chops. This song is so solid it hurts going down. A friend of mine saw her open for Los Straightjackets (whose one member is from my hometown).
Rogue Wave is really groovy, a lovely pop sound without the high profile airs. Solid work.
She’s the real deal. Check out this scintillating version of Prince’s When Doves Cry. And her songwriting talent rivals her performance talent.
This is a neat group from Sweden called The Concretes. (Almost) every track on their album “In Living Colour” is a gem. This is a fun video. Victoria Bergsman, the lead, formed a group called “Taken by Trees,” which gets the award for best band name. There’s a bit of an affiliation with this group and Camera Obscura.
Isn’t this groove from Rubblebucket infectious? They have a neat song called “Came out of Lady.” Yep. Saw ’em live.
THIS IS THE KIT
So much talent, so little recognition. This Is The Kit is essentially British alt-folk artist Kate Stables and her band. Such beautiful articulation, poetry, and musicality. It’s lovely to behold. And check out that glorious and infectious groove.
Ok, maybe you’ve heard of The Decemberists. If you haven’t, enjoy exploring. This album, “The King is Dead” is a favorite of mine.
Arguably Wilco is the most well-known of the bands on this list, but maybe you haven’t heard of them. This CD, “Sky Blue Sky” is a gorgeous work of art. The guitar solo on this song, “Impossible Germany” actually brings me to tears sometimes.
Never heard of Other Lives? Most have not. One of the best bands of all time? Probably not, but this song is infectious. Neat video too.
DEEP SEA DIVER
Deep Sea Diver has a definite New Wave feel, but it has its own solid alt-rock sound as well. Jessica Dobson played with Beck for years and one can hear a resonance with that artist. So groovy. (Just thought I’d say I saw Beck live when he opened for U2 in 2017 and liked him even better live than in recorded form.)
Warpaint is… well, how would you describe this? Oh, who needs words? I just like it in all its strangeness.
Aberfeldy is another Scottish band favorite of mine and pretty obscure. Here’s a fun song called “Tom Weir.”
Marisa Monte (from Brazil). I used to play this CD every night at bed-time for my baby daughter. It worked out well.
The War on Drugs performing a little concert on KEXP. Check out the last 15 minutes to see how they jam. I looove jam bands.
Another concert via KEXP. This one is Lucius. Listen to those harmonies– not something one hears much in pop music. anymore Actual singing and original artistry– imagine that!
This is such a fantastic intimate concert by probably my favorite band, Darlingside. Their collaboration with Heather Maloney creates a kind of frisson in me. I saw them live in Saratoga Springs and they created one of the most beautiful evenings ever. See them live if you can. On this video check out there rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” Can I say that it’s even better than the original?