Sometimes it seems like wishing for a band to be famous is just the most polite way imaginable of wishing for all of its members to lead miserable, unloved, unfulfilling lives. Rest assured that when our writers got together to talk about Phoenix bands who deserve to be famous none of us meant it that way--when we say "famous," we aren't wishing for public meltdowns and twerking against Alan Thicke's son and alienation from all your non-famous friends.
We just mean that it would be cool if more people were listening to their music. (And if they want a verified Twitter account, or something, that'd probably be cool, too.) As the year draws to a close we'll be highlighting lots of bands and artists making a mark on the Valley's music types; here, in no particular order, are eight of them.
We dropped this one in early as a kind of disclaimer about the conceit behind our project--by "should be famous," we are not exactly suggesting we know how theywould
be famous. We're acting as fans, that is, not as agents. Wooden Indianought
to be famous, because if they were we'd get to hear their Jupiter's-atmospheric songs more oftenat venues with really expensive sound systems
Whether that takes a national trend toward more unnerving movie soundtracks, or toward heavy off-kilter pop songs, or even the band landing a major crossover-pop hit with Pink--well, it's not ours to say. But Wooden Indian is the kind of band you hope people who aren't listening to them yet will stumble over. And when you say a band should be famous you're really just hoping for a lot of those moments, one right after the other.
Future Loves Past
Future Loves Past's debut album gave "polish" a good name. "Disco," too. Those weren't the only musical jargon the Tempe natives rehabilitated onAll the Luscious Plants
, but they were the first ones you had to confront when you listened to it. It's a polished, dance-y,slick
-- that's another one -- album.
Everything on the slinky, soulful end of FLP's sound has been turned up over the course of the last year. Sometimes literally: Where the vocals once served as a quiet counterbalance to the steady, forceful rhythm, they're now its swaggering equal. An audible precision escapes through the spacey atmospherics on songs like the stuttering "Lupa."
Future Loves Past is good if you love pop music, and good if you're afraid of pop music. That sounds to us like as good a path as any to national success.
Since coming together in 2008, the soul-driven members of Mergence have been able to uphold what they originally set out to do, at least musically: Create harmonious art based around common song themes, death, love, society, without being typical. And the band accomplishes this by embracing the themes with whimsical, ambitious imagery, meditative lyrics, astral noises, and antique vibes.
Hence the name Mergence, a term that defines the future evolution of their influence on the industry, and their sound, which combines blues, classic and roadhouse rock, folk, and space-rock.
Mergence has defined a popular sound unlike anything on the Top 100 charts. It's where gypsy jams meets what will eventually be called "classic rock"--they've combined the climbing interludes of Led Zeppelin, the reverberating wails of the Black Keys, the attitude of Radiohead, and the atmospheric riffs of Pink Floyd. The band's two albums carry unique characteristics; 2011's Those Vibrant Young People Are Dead was recorded on analog, while the second, Songs For The Humans Part 1 (due out this fall) was recorded in desert isolation in the Superstition Mountains, fueled by an array of instruments and whiskey.
Around Arizona the fans at packed Mergence shows already know the words to most of the songs. Hopefully, soon enough, that can be said for everyone else, too.
Tempe's Robbie Pfeffer has his hand in many pots, including co-founding cassette-tape imprint Rubber Brother Records and editing the spasmodically published zineTempe Starving Artist
, to say nothing of organizing mini-festivals downtown, or hosting underground local shows at house parties and warehouses. (He's also contributed to this blog, in the interest offull comic-plugging disclosure
.) While these projects highlight the DIY underbelly of the Valley music scene, Pfeffer's biggest impact on local music comes from his goofy garage rock outfit, Playboy Manbaby.
The band's live show is something to behold, a frenetic whirlwind of spat sarcasm, food fights, and ska-punk wailing that has, on more than one occasion, been broken up by the cops. Not heavy on substance abuse--but as reckless as some of the best drunken soirees 'round these parts--fans head to Playboy Manbaby shows ready to get wild, and they often don't stop until someone's bleeding.
True to form, Manbaby's songs generally deal with shady, fringe characters, such as the drunk, lazy bum who leaves his wife in the garishly animated "Funeral Pizza" off their latest EP, Obsessive Repulsive. In Manbaby's world, the uncool is cool again, but it isn't quite the ironic snark of other modern acts; in Robbie's playground, every young, misshaped, crooked face is invited to party. Just keep your eyes open or you might catch a Hot Pocket to the face.
Trap House has been on the scene for a while now, and the hard work that he has put in has made him one of the brightest stars currently shining in Phoenix. This was further solidified with a sold-out performance last Friday at Joe's Grotto for his release event for the new record,Ric Flair
His buzz is so strong that Vitamin Water asked him for a tour of the city. Although his music does tend to have a harder edge, he also showed his diversity as well as his concern for local issues with the release of the very controversial "Jheessye." Chronicling the disappearance of the five-year old Jhessye Shockley, the song was covered by local news for the lyrics regarding race and political agendas.
His stage shows are larger than life, oftentimes bringing up fellow members of his team The Black Family and fellow Arizona Hip Hop legends like Hannibal Leq and C-Thug. It's pretty clear that Trap House is ready for the big stage, all the factors are there and as time goes on his star-power will only grow.
Folk's name has been tarnished with modern, watered-down interpretations of the genre, but Tempe's Northern Hustle is the Arizonan full-throated response to all of its shortcomings. Building grand, cinematic songs full of percussion and wonderfully yelping vocals, founders Jonathon Malfabon and Drew Dunlap formed Northern Hustle, launched a popular Kickstarter, and releasedForgether
, an album has all the right notes of a Mike Kinsella or Bad Books release while belying their short time together.
But Northern Hustle takes the common-thread narrative of folk one step further: They're a "concept band," acting as the storytellers for one character and his personal experiences. It's an adventurous approach for a young band, but they pull it off with ease. Forgether flies by, with songs like "Tangled" and "Seeking a Cure" clocking in under the two-minute mark, acting as stepping stones to the next story instead of simple interludes.
The Phoenix community has wholly embraced Northern Hustle, and it shows with the story of their aforementioned Kickstarter. Collecting almost $3100, far surpassing their humble $1800 goal, the band offered a series of gifts that surpass the typical Kickstarter fare, such as custom illustrations, limited-edition EPs, a saddle-stitched book, or even the opportunity to punch Malfabon in the face. That's taking commitment to a whole new level.
With both stateside and UK airplay, it looks like those of us in the Valley aren't the only ones anticipating Northern Hustle's next release or show -- we're just lucky enough to hear it first, see them first, and call them one of our own.
There's not much out there about B.O.T.S., the mysteriously acronymic indie pop act hailing from Mesa. Yes, they're from the other side of the 101, but B.O.T.S. sounds right at home here, bringing lush instrumentation, angular riffing and big harmonies together for a confection that gets stuck in your head.
Coming off of an October residency at Long Wong's in Tempe, B.O.T.S. has been making the rounds since 2010. They keep good company, having played with the likes of Northern Hustle, Avery and The Thin Bloods. Yet for all their local accolades, we're only allowed just four songs online, a Reverbnation page, and a sparsely-updated Facebook. This isn't an issue however -- it just means you'll have to catch the four-piece live.
What we are allowed, however, is wonderful. B.O.T.S. knows how to cover the sonic spectrum, showing off their grip on dynamics on their untitled EP. "Butter Pop" is a prime example of such tonality and texture, opening with an earworm of a riff that would be right at home in a Vampire Weekend hit. "Bruises" slows it down, its hallmark a half-time accentuated chorus layered with percussive interplay that recalls Local Natives going acoustic.
Though they just played a show last week at Tempe Tavern, here's to hoping that B.O.T.S. will move forward into the new year with more material, more shows and a growing fan base. They're the opening act worth showing up early for, all the best parts of technical proficiency and feel-good melodies brought together in our own backyard.
Dry River Yacht Club
There is an aura of mystery surrounding Tempe's Dry River Yacht Club. The band says it's not intentional, but it is certainly there. Most bands trying to establish themselves in any music scene will offer as much background information as possible, accompanied by flashy comparisons to great bands before them. DRYC keeps all this hidden, maybe because there isn't an easy predecessor to compare them to.
Look up their band biography on social media platforms like Facebook and all a would-be researcher will find is an eloquent poem about a group of musicians on a yacht who are caught in a storm and marooned on a dried riverbed made of salt.
To try and pigeonhole DRYC with a specific sound may teeter on impossible--more than that, it's impractical. Neither the band nor the fans are interested in the gratification that may arise from classifying the music they love.
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