5. Surfer Blood
Hometown: West Palm Beach, Fla.
Album: Astro Coast
Members: Brian Black (bass), Thomas Fekete (guitar), Marcos Marchesani (percussion), John Paul Pitts (vocals, guitar), Tyler Schwarz (drums)
For Fans Of: Weezer, Pavement, The Shins
When Surfer Blood released its debut album, Astro Coast, in January 2010, most of the coverage focused has focused on the most novel aspect of the band's biography: their roots in West Palm Beach, Fla., a city known more for its warm white sands than rock 'n' roll.
“Everyone who reviewed us had to make some sort of remark about fun in the sun,” says frontman John Paul Pitts. “Critics started labeling us as 'surf rock.' At first I was peeved about the term, but then I thought about it. We do have jangly guitars and a certain pep to the beat. I just always thought of ourselves more like a Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. guitar-fetish band. Those are my favorite bands, but I suppose calling us surf rock is just a little easier.”
Despite the annoyance of pigeonholing, it's hard to imagine the warm, easy guitar riffs and oceanic imagery of the album having been born out of, say, Minnesota. Astro Coast was recorded just as the bandmates neared the end of college, and it hinges on an underlying angst culled from the guitar-heavy indie-rock of the late 1990s—half nostalgic, half anxious. “Parts of these songs definitely deal with that stage of your life where you're thrown into the world, but you're not sure how to do anything yet,” Pitts says. “It's the time of your life where people you grew up with are moving all over the world, and you're feeling that separation.”
Astro Coast is distinguished by a keen sense of place, but ultimately the Florida setting is incidental to the album's themes. Pitts doesn't romanticize West Palm Beach because it's sunny, or even because he particularly likes it there; he clings to it because it's home, a source of familiarity at a time in life when little else is stable. “Maybe in a way we couldn't help but draw on our surroundings as a muse,” Pitts concedes. “I don't go to the beach that often, and I haven't surfed since I was 18 years old. But in Florida, you take a lot of stuff for granted. People take pictures of you and it's only when you look at them later that you realize you're surrounded by blue skies and palm trees.”—Evan Rytlewski
4. Freelance Whales
Band Members: Judah Dadone (vocals), Doris Cellar, Chuck Criss, Jake Hyman, Kevin Read (all multi-instrumentalists)
For Fans Of: The Postal Service, Sufjan Stevens, Passion Pit
When Freelance Whales frontman Judah Dadone was growing up on 20 acres of woods outside Wilmington, Del., his part-Cherokee nanny told him that horses and dogs—and sometimes kids—could see spirits. By age six, he began to make room for the ghost of a young girl he sensed living in his house. These memories, along with bits of dream journaling, weave their way loosely through Weathervanes, Freelance Whales' debut LP on Frenchkiss Records.
“For me, the record is a sort of pre-adolescent love story between a young boy and his imaginary friend, or an actual ghost,” Dardone says. “Because he interacts with her mostly in his dreams, the logic of the lyrics undergoes a sort of distortion, or they tend towards the magically realistic.”
A few years ago, Brooklyn-based Dadone began gathering Weathervanes' odd collection of instruments—a banjo from his stepfather, a harmonium from India, a water phone from the Lower East Side—and then used Craigslist to find bandmates from across the city to play them all.
The album captures that same whimsy with enough layers of peculiar instrumentation to make Sufjan Stevens jealous. And thanks again to Craigslist, Freelance Whales will be adding to that roster of strange instruments very soon. “Kevin Read and myself decided recently that we wanted to make an instrument that sounded like a chorus of Japanese flutes, which are typically made from bamboo,” Dadone says. “We looked on Craigslist and found an Amish family in Lancaster, Penn., who allowed us to come work on their farm for a few days, help them with their bamboo harvest, and keep a load of it for ourselves. If we're not paralyzed by the irony of the Amish using Craigslist, and if our hand-craftiness doesn't fail us, we may have a bamboo pipe organ by mid 2010.”—Josh Jackson
Album: Wild Smile
Members: Quinn Walker, Austin Fisher, Pan, Brian Aiken (all multi-instrumentalists)
For Fans Of: Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors, TV On the Radio
Between their 2009 self-titled EP and full-length debut Wild Smile, Brooklyn's Suckers officially have released fewer than 20 songs. But the band has a wealth of material nobody has heard yet: They write about one song per practice and record almost everything as they go. “If we went through that digital recorder and went back throughout our writing history,” says multi-instrumentalist Quinn Walker, “I'd guess we have about 60 to 70 songs.”
Walker was understandably happy to finally see the release of Suckers' first LP; it was long overdue for the band, who all met while growing up in Connecticut years ago. Cousins Walker and Austin Fisher grew up down the street from one another and started playing music together when they were seven years old. “We were fiddling around on keyboards and making bizarre children's music,” Walker remembers. The four bandmates all moved to New York separately, then reconnected and started making the sweeping, anthemic pop music that graced their debut EP. The guys sing in chaotic harmony, each track features a variety of percussion and there's a myriad of synthesizers, horns and guitars; the melodic, layered composition makes it hard to tell who's doing what.
And now, with a new album under his belt, what does Walker want to do? “I'd like to be in the studio right now recording another album, to tell you the truth,” he says, noting that he prefers studio recording to playing live. He'd like the band to release four albums a year instead of taking what he calls “the more tasteful approach.”
“There's definitely a certain energy and adrenaline rush playing live that you don't get being in the studio,” Walker says. “But then there's also this maddening joy when you've created something from scratch. The creative process is my favorite part about playing music.”—Evan Minsker
2. Sleigh Bells
Band Members: Alexis Krauss (vocals), Derek Miller (guitar)
For Fans Of: The Pipettes, Funkadelic, Swizz Beatz
The first 23 seconds of Sleigh Bells' “Crown On the Ground” are beset by violent guitar squeals and lusty “ahhs”; then comes 22 seconds of brutally abrasive noise rounded out by three minutes of slick, sweet vocals, loud chants, foot-stomping percussion and a hundred other glorious things. It might be the best pop song of 2010.
In fall of last year, this Brooklyn duo's handful of demos and slightly-larger handful of CMJ shows got the music world talking, and for good reason. Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller have expertly wedded screeching low-end distortion (Miller was in the hardcore band Poison the Well) to sweet pop vocals (in her youth, Krauss was in a manufactured teen-pop group called RubyBlue). They sound like My Bloody Valentine covering LL Cool J. And with this year's release their debut LP Treats, the world will have to reckon with their fierceness.
“The sound was not and is not an aesthetic choice but a lack of resources which sometimes works to your advantage,” Miller told Paste via e-mail. Some artists might not consider any kind of lack as a good thing, but Sleigh Bells have done a lot with very little. Though the new album will have a cameo from a horn section (“heavily processed,” Miller promises), “we are going to remain a two-piece,” he says. “It makes more sense financially, and we like keeping it simple.”—Mark Krotov