Like lucky dips at fêtes and fairs where you put your hand into a big container filled usually with sawdust or wood shavings to rummage for and pull out a hidden, unknown prize, my quest to discover new music is often fraught with risks. In a lucky dip, you never know what the prize will be—it could be something amazing; or it could be a total disappointment. But unlike a lucky dip where the prizes are hidden but their number is finite, trying to discover new music can be more complex because the sources are nearly limitless and the number of musicians and bands constantly being spawned is mind-boggling. That makes the chances of discovering true gems infinitely more difficult.
Last week, I scoured several sources, including podcasts that cover new music; sites such as Bandcamp.com and Soundcloud.com, where artists directly release their albums and songs; and several popular music blogs of good repute. I found scores of bands—some good; others just meh. But six of them caught my fancy. Each of the six is from a different genre: There’s a blues band; a jam band; a punk outfit; a modern take on ska and reggae; a noise rock band; and a genre that is known as depressive black metal, or DBM. The only thing common between the six: They are all worth checking out.
PUP. I must admit their name is what first drew me to them (PUP stands for Pathetic Use of Potential!), but this six-year-old hardcore punk band from Toronto, Canada has an untidy, guitar-led sound that harks back to the early days. Yet, unlike punk’s original bad-boy attitude, PUP are a down-to-earth quartet. Their music is raw but very appealing and their lyrics, bereft of pretension, can be catchy. On their latest album, Morbid Stuff, the title song opens with: “I was bored as f*#k/ Sitting around and thinking all this morbid stuff/ Like if anyone I’ve slept with is dead”, but the mood on the album is anything but morbid. PUP make punk that is curiously pleasing and often even upbeat.
Track pick: See You At Your Funeral.
Erja Lyytinen.Blues Magazine called Lyytinen the “Finnish slide goddess”, an apt descriptor for a blues singer who shreds like crazy. Lyytinen, 42, has been around for a while, wowing blues fans in her home country as well as abroad. Since 2002, she has released 11 albums, the latest being this month’s Another World, but it is 2014’s The Sky Is Crying that I got drawn to. On it, besides her version of the classic title song by Elmore James, is another blues standard gem—It Hurts Me Too. Lyytinen’s guitar solos can win over any blues fan, and it doesn’t hurt that her vocals are brilliant.
Album: The Sky Is Crying.
Track pick:It Hurts Me Too.
Ghost Light. The two guitarists on this American jam quintet, Tom Hamilton and Raina Mullen, candidly claim to have dropped LSD twice a week for a few months while they worked on their recently released debut album, Best Kept Secrets. The result is a trippy set of songs that are light and delicate but also intricate and engrossing. Hamilton says each of them is like an abstract painting and he might be right, because each track has a different vibe and an unconventional structure and can transport a listener to unexpected places—just like an acid trip! Besides the guitars, there is electric piano, trumpets and saxophones. For jam band enthusiasts looking for a new band to trip on, Ghost Light could be what the doctor ordered.
Album:Best Kept Secrets.
Track pick:Keep Your Hands To Yourself.
Psychedelic Speed Freaks. I hadn’t heard of this band’s Japanese lead guitarist, Munehiro Narita. Narita’s guitar playing style is so explosive, his riffs so incendiary that you might expect things to blow up at the end of each song. The US-based power trio’s sound is wild and high-energy, characterized by the 60-year-old Narita’s non-stop, high-octane guitar style that works like a jolt of multiple shots of strong caffeine. Narita’s earlier Japanese band, High Rise, was named after a J.G. Ballard novel. Psychedelic Speed Freaks meld jazz-style jamming with psych-rock and noise rock, and Narita and his bandmates are able to achieve that with ease and astonishing talent.
Griefloss. Depressive Black Metal combines two unlikely types of music: metal’s loud abrasiveness and shoegaze’s laid-back introspection. It is a style that San Francisco’s Deafheaven helped popularize. The Virginia-based Griefloss’ sound is filled with angst and agony, but it is also a metal band with a difference. Frontman, singer and guitarist Ben Polson rarely screams much (that may seem odd for a heavy metal outfit!) and that’s what probably makes their sorrowful songs enjoyable. It’s difficult to find Griefloss’ self-titled album on the bigger streaming sites but on Bandcamp you can hear them in their full darkened glory.
Buddahfly. If their name is confusing, their logo with two marijuana leaves clears that up quickly. The seven-member Boston-based band mixes reggae, rock and hip hop and serves it all up in a contemporary style. There’s a dose of political awareness as well, with comments on the present state of the world and the need to work towards a better life. Fans of the short-lived and under-appreciated ska punk band, Sublime, from Long Beach in California, could find in Buddahfly a bit of nostalgia, while reggae enthusiasts will likely appreciate their attempts to revive the Rastafarian spirit.
Album: Ancient Fire.
Track pick: Sunshine.
THE LOUNGE LIST
Five tracks to bookend your week
1. ‘Miracle’ by Erja Lyytinen from ‘Another World’
2. ‘Life Is Too Long’ by Griefloss from ‘Griefloss’
3. ‘No Plans Lady’ by Psychedelic Speed Freaks from ‘Looming Tapes, Vol.1’
4. ‘The Flow Dub’ by Buddahfly from ‘Ancient Fire’
5. ‘Morbid Stuff’ by PUP from ‘Morbid Stuff’
First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.