There are a lot of great releases coming out of bedrooms, local scenes and international music, but it can be hard for an artist to break through with a tough industry and the saturation of the indie world. However, sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud help break down these barriers and offer an accessible way for bands to get their music out there.
Going through something like Bandcamp’s Discover feature or Soundcloud’s Explore leads to a seemingly endless trove of lesser known, quality artists from around the States and the world. In order to give some great acts a well deserved spotlight, we created this list of our favorite smaller releases from the summer as an introduction to the music that’s circulating outside of major distribution channels.
For Fans Of: Bombay Bicycle Club, Foals, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
, the most recent EP from Athens, Ga., act brothers, fits its title well. The release hosts a handful of songs peppered with emotional, soaring vocals from frontman Ryan Grey Moore and catchy guitar hooks. The songs here feel full of life and well labored over, and the production value on the tracks is top notch for a smaller act.
Readily evident in the infectious opening bass line of “Palettes” and the swift, dynamic pace of “Loom,” brothers have a great deal of potential and this work, as well as their prior releases such as the Street Names EP, showcases that talent well. The band has not yet produced a full length LP, but these Athens musicians have proven that a few quality songs can leave plenty of impact on their own.
For Fans Of: Wolf Parade, The Microphones
Full of delicate piano melodies and fuzzy vocals, Contrabox’s Beartown is a rewarding lo-fi recording with catchy pop tracks masked in distortion and effects. Home recorded by La. native Ben Caraway, the album packs some truly lovely synthwork alongside Caraway’s anguished vocals. While the songs are built on upbeat piano and a quick pace, there’s something dark and vulnerable about the album that gives its tracks an added depth.
The ten songs on the album each blend well into each other, but Caraway also demonstrates a strong sense of scope, with two seven minute songs playing out over a variety of sounds and styles expertly. While many beginning artists opt for quick, short songs to keep a listener’s attention rather than risk grow redundant on a long track, Caraway seems to have found a style that embodies both formats well.
Caraway is a member of the Birthday Tape collective, a group of musicians in Mandeville, La., located outside New Orleans. Currently, the only other album out yet is Staircase Anthem, an experimental release by Priima, but the two works show that the collective already has a great deal of potential. Bear Town is available on Bandcamp and iTunes.
Kyle Hall: Feelin’ Weird
For Fans Of: Death Cab for Cutie, Rogue Wave
A young singer-songwriter from Illinois, Kyle Hall recorded this album in his dorm room with the help of some friends. Loaded with tight, acoustic pop, Feelin’ Weird is an endearing album centered around Hall navigating relationships, friendships and growing up.
Hall has a natural knack for crafting catchy, introspective tracks and already demonstrates a willingness to experiment with his songs. Each track on the album feels distinct, but well connected. While the songs are short, with the longest track still under 3 minutes, Hall has already shown that he has a great deal of potential when it comes to churning out quality indie pop and it will be interesting to see what he does next.
For Fans Of: St. Vincent, of Montreal
Israeli band Acollective covers a lot of ground on its album Pangaea. The work features eccentric vocal effects, grinding guitar work and steady piano melodies, all wrapped up into a dozen songs each with their own personality. Acollective offers up energetic rockers like “FINE” and “Breakapart” right alongside slower, more emotional songs like the cathartic “Happiest of All Memorial Days.” The music feels funky, jazzy and soulful, often all at the same time, thanks to driving drum beats, powerful vocals and heavy synth work. Acollective is also not afraid to pull different instrumentation into the mix with lush horn accompaniments and colorful banjo licks.
The seven piece has found rising popularity in Israel thanks to 2011’s Onwards and a strong presence in Tel Aviv’s music scene. Pangaea is a highly refined and highly enjoyable release from the Israelis, and coupled with a tour that will take the band all the way from the UK to South Korea, Acollective may soon find a niche internationally thanks to their dynamic style.
Pangaea is available on Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes.
Bellows: Blue Breath
For Fans Of: Broken Social Scene, Sufjan Stevens
“I am a bird with a wing of stone,” Bellows frontman Oliver Kalb sings out on opening track “For Rock Dove,” setting a tone for the rest of his album with a dark, poetic assertion. The songs feel thematically layered with the tone of the tracks often melancholy but somehow also hopeful. This home recorded album is full of avant garde pop that pulls equally from folk stylings and electronic instrumentation, with the songs tethered together by Kalb’s delicate, personal lyricism. The synth work and samples give the album an ethereal feel, such as on the ambling “Lost in Space”, but the tracks never feel too distant, brought back down to earth by twinkling guitar and clear, powerful vocals.
This bittersweet pop is found on many of the releases from NYC artistic collective The Epoch, of which Kalb is a member alongside bands like Told Slant and Small Wonder, and it appears to be the group’s common ground. Blue Breath is available on both Bandcamp and Spotify.
We Became Owls: There Are Other Animals At The Zoo
For Fans Of: The Avett Brothers, Trampled By Turtles
Oakland, Calif., based folk outfit We Became Owls may only be on their second EP, but they are already well on their way to a refined sound that fits well into the folk scene. The band pulls alt-country, bluegrass, indie rock and pop into these six songs, creating a dynamic release that showcases the band’s range well. The songs have an accessible nature, full of emotional choruses and head bobbing rhythms, but the band keeps things fresh with vivid lyrics and a flexible style.
There Are Other Animals At the Zoo has the band venturing into more electric territory as opposed to the acoustic, self titled EP they released in 2012. While for some folk outfits going electric can result in a songwriter’s voice being bogged down, We Became Owls manages to use electric instrumentation to instead add to the tone of each song and open the band up to a more fast paced Americana sound.