It's a common question: What does the Phoenix area sound like? The answer — a resounding and emphatic "who knows?" — is upsetting only to the kind of people who want easy, tidy answers to questions like that. The truth is, Phoenix sounds like a lot of things, and if you go looking under BandCamp rocks and digging in the fertile soil of Facebook, you're likely to come across a wealth of music. Bands are creating meaningful music in Phoenix, but an open ear and keen eye is sometimes required to find it.
This list isn't one about the best bands in Phoenix, nor does it claim to be anything comprehensive. It's a tasting menu comprising bands that have turned our heads, bands that are doing cool, interesting things, making vital musical statements in the Valley of the Sun. These are the 10 Valley bands you should be listening to this summer.
City in the Sea Scottsdale
Hardcore tends to breed fierce loyalty to the "underground" scene, and Scottsdale-based metalcore band City in the Sea is no exception. Their raw, brutal passion stems from gritty basement shows, where the acrid air is thick with swampy humidity. Its five members — all between the ages of 18 and 21 — have performed with genre standard-bearers like The Word Alive and Greeley Estates since forming in 2009, and they bring a heavy dose of pure metal energy to their melodic post-hardcore sound. Tattooed and sweaty, the band plays to the kind of fans who are almost as much fun to watch as the show, clawing over each others' backs and running up on stage. The band's debut EP, The Long Lost, is available on iTunes, but new tunes from their forthcoming LP demonstrate that the band's initial bursts of glory are far from their last. — Lauren Wise
New Times music feature
The seven songs featured on Throw Me a Ten, the debut EP from Mesa-based indie-pop band DINERS, are sparkling, boasting ebullient vocals and harmonies, chiming guitars, and sprightly snare pops. It's not the first we've heard from 19-year-old songwriter Tyler Broderick, but it's the best, and it's the most intentional. When his former group, Hello the Mind Control, splintered, he took to AudioConfusion studios and mostly was left to his own devices by studio wizard Jalipaz. "I started out with a vision of wanting it to be really lo-fi bedroom-pop songs," Broderick says. "Then I was, like, that's a stupid idea. I should just have it be good quality and not try and hide." Songs like "Good Friends" and "The First Time" don't trade bedroom sincerity for quality. Instead, they efficiently combine both worlds, crafting an album that thematically centers around the idea of going out to local shows. "I live for these nights," Broderick sings, and it's easy to see why fans around town will one day sing the same thing about DINERS' shows. — Jason P. Woodbury
Fifteen-year-old high school junior Will Neibergall, known to Internet art purveyors as the blossoming brain behind avant-rap entity Glass Popcorn, doesn't make one-note joke rap to amuse the YouTube masses. His bizarre yet competent style reads like a Tumblr scroll, earning him accolades from outsider art publications and production help from up-and-comer Clams Casino. What is so surprising about his repetitive, brand-name-dropping rhymes is the level of straight-faced severity he conveys. Whether performing at the MoMA in Manhattan or on the tiny stage at Trunk Space, Neibergall doesn't smirk when rhyming about pop culture flotsam like energy drinks or Ed Hardy. Laugh, scoff, or shrug in disbelief, but Glass Popcorn challenges the basic preconceptions of rap music, brand identity, and the aesthetic sophistication of the Twitter generation. — Chase Kamp
Tommy Ash Band
No genre takes as much critical beating as contemporary country music. You've heard the complaints: Red Solo cups and pouty blondes singing about hanging out on the bleachers can't compare to the rough-around-the-edges sounds defined by the genre's greats — Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, and Loretta Lynn. But the Tommy Ash Band draws on enough modern sass and classic freight train beats to appeal to fans of both words. Her name sounds tomboyish, but Tommy Ash has the kind of front-page good looks that earn folks American Idol deals and a voice that's big and boastful enough to command the fierce Western band behind her. Ask the band who inspires them, and they're as likely to say ZZ Top and Katy Perry as the Man in Black or Miranda Lambert. That diversity pushes Tommy Ash Band onward, as they blend rock and country, hinting at rockabilly and Southern rock, creating a unique sound that will please both country diehards and folks who associate country with red Solo cups and songs about trucks. — Melissa Fossum
Gilbert-based singer/songwriter Sareena Dominguez's early work found her working easily within the acoustic indie-folk mold, but she's changed things up lately. Leaks from her upcoming album, Moonbeams, indicate an expanded, well-produced sound, apparent on "Unwoven," which features soft, tinkling piano and a gentle, drowsy beat that brings to mind whispy breezes of tropicalia. Dominguez's voice hasn't changed, however — it's still a soothing, dreamy tranquilizer invoking Ingrid Michaelson or Rachael Yamagata. At just 19, Dominguez has done a lot in the mere months she's been attached to River Jones Music Label, including a trip to Austin's SxSW festival, and has a busy schedule ahead of her this summer. All signs point to her looking to stray even further from the indie-songstress path; her Facebook lists "I have no clue dude" as her genre. — Troy Farah
Being Cool Is Lonely
In the late '80s, Keith Walker was rocking it (and a sweet orange-toned mullet) with Power of Dreams, an Irish pop rock band that British taste-making magazine NME once named as one of its "stars of tomorrow." Power of Dreams' chiming pop melodies were a far cry from the dark, synth-ridden sex party that was taking place in London's seedy underground, where Depeche Mode and New Order were mastering the delicate concoction of leather and drum machines. Decades later, Walker, now drumming for Tempe indie rockers Sister Cities, was downing a bottle of Jameson with Andy Rourke of The Smiths and William "Fucking" Reed, the hipster DJ king of Phoenix, celebrating a successful guest appearance at Reed's weekly dance night Sticky Fingers. His future girlfriend and musical partner, fashionista Tiffe Fermaint, was just seats away. It was the night that sparked a relationship, both musically and romantically (Rourke and Reed excluded from the later). The pair formed Being Cool Is Lonely, which skillfully combines the sounds of '80s synth pop with sexual shades of nu disco and electronica, with songs like the tingly-in-the-pants, moaning epic "Your Love" and "Find You," a meant-to-be ditty that would be too sweet if it didn't have a healthy dose of "fuck you," too. — Christina Caldwell
The name may set up high expectations, but if the flows of The Sh!t are any indication, MCs Nate Sourpuss and Ian Influence want to prove themselves right. Their track on Arizona hip-hop collective Earsweat Records' latest mixtape, Ass Dro Not, is a perfect extraterrestrial summer jam: Minimal sci-fi synths are cut with Wu-Tang trash snares while The Sh!t talk sharp-tongued trash in the cosmos. The rhymes burst with Beasties attitude, but it's also got the funky smoothness of Beauty and the Beat-era Edan while harnessing the playful quantum force of Deltron 3030. The Sh!t should play nicely with '90s hip-hop heads, good-time backpackers, and too-faded aliens. — Chase Kamp
"Godard said film won't be a valid art form until film is as cheap as paper," says J.S. Aurelius of Tempe-based swamp-disco combo Marshstepper (Aurelius, N. Nappa, and D. Pupillo). Aurelius would know — his artistic output is defined by paper (he's written a couple-dozen zines' worth of poetry released by Ascetic House), and Marshstepper has yet to release music in physical or even MP3 format. Only grainy, spectral films of the band's live performances of pulsing EBM meditations are available online. Despite the varied formats, each aspect — music, print, video — is part of a grander statement. "[Marshstepper] is, in a lot of ways, a continuation of what we've been doing," Aurelius says. "It's weird — for me at least — putting names on bands, because it all comes from the same place, regardless of sound. Marshstepper is a little bit weirder and little bit more eccentric than some of the bands we do [like Desert Vibrations, Avon Ladies, and the controversially named Tempe SS]. They're all different in sound, but they all come from the same place." The goal is less about entertainment and more about admittedly "philosophical or New Agey" aims: "It's all done with as much humor as an aggressive pointed attack on anything," Aurelius says, "but it's all a means to an end, trying to transcend the bullshit." — Jason P. Woodbury
Experimental hip-hopper Youceff Kabal, better known around Phoenix simply as the performing/recording artist YUS, has a knack for melding electronic bleeps, blops, and whirls into a pleasing concoction of chill-out music that's more groovy than it is ambient. Establishing his penchant for slinky synth strokes with his 2010 debut, Palms, YUS has since gone on to release a B-sides compilation that builds on the musician's willingness to toss around off-tempo beats and trippy samples while also being so bold as to venture into providing some of his favorite songs with the YUS treatment. So far he's extended his touch to tracks by Animal Collective, Crystal Castles, How to Dress Well, and James Blake. — Anthony Sandoval
Whatever you do, please don't refer to the team of Ben Anderson and Eric Hoss as mere DJs. Not only is it vaguely insulting, but it's also entirely inaccurate. After all, the duo known collectively as TABS does far more than the sort of rank-and-file selectas or mixer monkeys working the local club circuit. Anderson (better known as by his moniker Swookie Monster) and Hoss (who goes by the stage name Speedy Graffiti) specialize in producing bombastic electro dance tracks that go beyond the usual club banger swagger and are alive with an infectious energy and riotous verve. Stylish electronic flourishes are added with aplomb to produce unique audioscapes that get the listener's adrenaline pumping into the stratosphere. Their adroit remixes of indie artists like Gossip and Foster the People, not to mention of the works of such EDM superstars as Sander Van Doorn, have earned laudings from the dance music blogosphere, and cause dancers to lose their shit whenever TABS performs at club gigs. — Benjamin Leatherman
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