Asheville, NC • Indie/Americana/Rock
This North Carolina-based quintet is hard to describe with a quick and easy genre tag thanks to having three prominent songwriters that each craft songs in different styles and bring them to the others for expansion and tinkering. The three writers have been pals since middle school, working on four-track recordings and learning about music together, so the end result of these seeming disparate elements — everything from traditional Americana to modern Indie Pop — sounds rich, layered, lively and, most surprisingly, cohesive.
Dig It: A mix tape with Simon & Garfunkel, Elliott Smith, The Beach Boys, Ben Folds and old Folk field recordings. (MB)
9:15 p.m. Friday at Arnold's Bar & Grill
Unicycle Loves You
Chicago, IL • Indie Rock
If Robert Pollard had been obsessed with The Cure instead of The Who, Guided by Voices might have wound up sounding a lot like Unicycle Loves You. For all of the gushing press draped on Vampire Weekend, Phoenix and the like, the Chicago trio’s psychedelic, vaudeville Space Pop makes those bands all seem like junior high exercises in neighborhood basement jam experimentation by comparison. Sophisticated, simple, insanely catchy and infinitely fun, Unicycle Loves You twists modern Pop like balloon animals into amazing new shapes.
Dig it: Robert Smith and Carl Newman trade places in The Cure and The New Pornographers and go out on a package tour together. (BB)
11:30 p.m. Friday at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club
Iowa City, IA • Jazz/Funk/Hip Hop
MC Animosity sets thick lyricism against a Jazz-infused, Hip Hop backdrop, also known as the air-tight stylings of his fellow Uniphonics. Shaking the Midwest and beyond, the group’s jam sensibilities always command a dance party — and perhaps some lighter-raising, anthemic fist-pumping and Iowa City pride. Take Animosity’s rhymes from the cut named after the group’s hometown: “Iowa City is the city that never sleep/Black and gold and we roll on our enemies” or, better yet, “Nobody wants to hear about Arizona, Cali, Texas, you know it’s over ... they love the heartland because the stronger men do it harder.” That’s on The Uniphonics’ Truth Be Told album, but the MC’s genius gets a sequel on the full-length Crawl, due out this month.
Dig it: The Roots smoking up with Phish. (Rich Shivener)
10 p.m. Friday at Mainstay Rock Bar
Tulsa, OK • Indie Rock
Unwed Sailor moves with almost the same frequency that it tours, having called seven cities home in the past dozen years (Tulsa is its current base of operations). But it almost doesn’t matter where Unwed Sailor stows its gear because the instrumental quartet has been evolving and shifting, transcending the constraints of place and time. Combining atmospheric Indie Pop with traces of Emo and Math Rock, Unwed Sailor create an evocative and cinematic soundtrack that is both compellingly visceral and soothingly contemplative. Shake your ass, nod your head, groove to the universe — it’s all the same to Unwed Sailor.
Dig it: R.E.M. and Pavement collaborate on a documentary about healing volcanos with meditation while Michael Stipe and Stephen Malkmus play chess under the Cone of Silence. (BB)
11:15 p.m. Saturday at Inner Peace Center
Monterrey, Mexico • ElectroPop
A trippy quartet formed five years ago, uni.lov makes progressive Dream Pop with electronic beats and hovering, layered vocals (yes, sung in Spanish), balancing the digital elements with passion and grace. The band has built a following in the Mexican Indie scene and received airplay from there homeland all the way to Spain. But I like how they describe their music best — “Pop from outer space, stories about people in bunny suits, squirrels under your bed and ducks jumping over the pond.”
Dig it: What The Mars Volta is to Hard Rock, avi.lov is to Dream Pop. (MB)
9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Contemporary Art Center
Van Dyke Parks
Pasadena, CA • Pop
Van Dyke Parks has had an extraordinary career. Starting out as a child actor before signing a record deal in the mid-’60s, Parks eventually became an in-demand session musician, arranger and songwriter. Parks became a cult legend through his work with Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Wilson and Parks finally completed the legendarily “lost” Beach Boys album Smile and re-recorded the project, which was released in the ’00s. It’s easy to see why Wilson was drawn to Parks’ artful approach — his solo albums were imaginatively arranged and orchestrated with an ever-present twinge of off-centeredness, but always strongly informed by the classics. Parks’ solo work has a Classical undercurrent, but he uses and molds elements of innumerable other genres into a quirky, almost avant garde Pop sound. Parks has remained a popular collaborator, lending orchestral arrangements most recently to artists like Joanna Newsom, Danger Mouse and Silverchair (he’s previously collaborated with everyone from Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and The Everly Brothers to U2, Scissor Sisters and Frank Black). Performances by Parks have been rare, but he’s recently returned to the concert stage, playing songs from throughout his career and leaving critics sometimes confused but often impressed with his wide-canvas, endlessly creative offerings.
Dig it: Eccentric and trippy but flawlessly executed reimaginings of Randy Newman songs, Broadway musicals, American music standards and Disney movie soundtracks. (Mike Breen)
10:30 p.m. Thursday at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club
New York, NY • Indie/Pop
In New York City, the chances of finding someone actually born in the city is harder than finding a strip club in Times Square nowadays. That “melting pot” nature was vital to the very existence of poppy four-piece The Vanguard, which features members from Virginia, Poland, Serbia and Argentina. But there’s nothing scattered about the group’s sound, an airy, catchy, mellow take on contemporary Indie Pop. The band has notched kudos from Spin and influential radio DJ Matt Pinfield, toured globally and been invited to several festivals across the U.S
Dig It: The Killers, Tahiti 80 and The Shins take a beach vacation together and accidentally write an album. (MB)
11:30 p.m. Friday at Below Zero Lounge
Chicago, IL • Electroacoustic/Folk
At first, through hitting clubs solo, singer/guitarist Tania Bowers created a strong Chicago fan base. Since then, an international following has exploded and MTV labeled Bowers “an absolute gem.” Her Indie debut, Moon Sweet Moon, was co-produced by Craig Ross (known for work with Spoon and Emmylou Harris). Originally from Sydney, Australia, Bowers delivers a sweet batch of sexy muscle — carefully planned, catchy songs coated with strangeness. Heavily layered with curious sounds, she embraces the “outsider” role; the result is smart as hell, an otherworldly, dreamy soundscape that’s anything but wimpy.
Dig it: The “less-E.T.” Bjork days. (CAM)
10:30 p.m. Thursday at Segway of Cincinnati
Dublin, Ireland • Indie/Folk
Singer/songwriter Conor J. O’Brien’s group Villagers make majestic, richly orchestrated and arranged Folk Rock that sounds like the creation of someone with several lifetimes’ worth of experiences and not a young lad from suburban Dublin. O’Brien’s brilliant poetics and singular, exquisite compositional skills caught the attention of revered and globally successful indie label Domino Recording Company, home to an astonishing array of brilliantly original artists (The Kills, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective) and Villagers debut album for the label, Becoming a Jackal, was shortlisted for this year’s Mercury Prize.
Dig it: Bright Eyes, Radiohead goes Folk, Nick Drake goes Radiohead (MB)
10:15 p.m. Saturday at Media Bridges
Cincinnati • Jazz
Wade Baker represents the best possible confluence of Jazz potential in a single player. He possesses the energetic passion expected of his youthful years and he plays with the intuition, skill and maturity of someone who has lived three times as long and seen 10 times as much. In just over a year, Baker and his Jazz Collective have become exciting and innovative fixtures of Cincinnati’s music scene with their singular vision of traditional Jazz fused with Funk, Hip Hop and Rock, defying convention and creating a groove that measures up to the legendary standards associated with the best that this city has ever offered. Wade Baker just might be the future of Cincinnati Jazz.
Dig it: Jazz with an attitude and the skills to pay the bills. (BB)
9:30 p.m. Saturday at Mr. Pitiful's
Indianapolis, IN • Indie Folk
The “About” section on The Wah Wahs’ MySpace page isn’t too terribly enticing: “My name is Sarah Patty and I have a ukulele. Enjoy.” Though there isn’t any other information on the site, there thankfully are several songs and they are exactly as advertised (Patty’s vocals and uke playing). And they are mesmerizing — stark lullabies delivered in Patty’s siren-esque, honey-dripped voice. You know how they say some master thespian’s voice is so captivating, you could listen to them read the phone book and it would be amazing? That’s what Sarah Patty is like — her voice and songwriting is bewitching enough that she could sit in front of you with just her voice and a few ukulele plucks and you’d feel like you’d owe her $49 (plus service fees) for the concert ticket.
Dig It: Beth Orton singing in your ear on a relaxing Sunday morning with a great cup of tea, a warm bath and not a care in the world. (MB)
9 p.m. Thursday at Below Zero Lounge
Waiting on Ben
Cincinnati • Pop/Rock
Cincy singer/songwriter Ben Alexander jokingly calls his band’s music “flex rock,” a reference to the revolving-door membership (basically, whoever’s available shows up for the gig, ranging from saxophonists to keyboardists). Alexander is one of the hardest working performers in the area, playing multiple shows weekly (both with the band and solo). He’s independently released four albums that showcase his bubbly, playful brand of acoustic Pop songwriting.
Dig It: Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Dave Matthews. (MB)
8:30 p.m. Thursday at Mixx Ultra Lounge
Walk the Moon
Cincinnati • Indie/Pop
This Cincy-based crew formed in college over a mutual love of Talking Heads and twisted, inventive Pop. The resulting band reflects those two elements beautifully —Walk the Moon makes fascinating, danceable Art Pop laced with vintage synth riffs, funky guitar lines, skittish, creative rhythms and huge, layered vocals and harmonies. The band’s debut EP The Anthem, earned Walk the Moon some deserved notice outside of its local fanbase and helped the group earn a slot at a showcase concert in London (they were the only U.S. band chosen to perform). And the band’s captivating live show has grown its fanbase thanks to regular tour dates in NYC and beyond. This fall’s i want i want EP should rocket them even further.
Dig It: The Killers on an Art Pop kick, Talking Heads. (MB)
10 p.m. Thursday at Jack Potts Tavern
Cincinnati • Noise Punk
With a crackling lo-fi aesthetic akin to Times New Viking and the Noise Pop rush of fellow MPMFers Male Bonding, this Cincinnati squad sounds like they are on fire when they perform, seething a rawer-than-raw abrasiveness that takes Punk nihilism.to punishing extremes. The trio has a debut album you can grab for free online, but if you want a cassette, you can order that as well.
Dig it: Fucked Up, Vivian Girls, a primal scream therapy session recorded on to 12-inch vinyl and played at 78 RPM. (MB)
10:15 p.m. Saturday at Courtyard Cafe
Cincinnati • Indie/Rock
This new Cincy foursome released its debut, self-titled EP this spring, showcasing its versatile approach, which spans textural tapestries of sound to more direct, spunky rockers. Singer Leigh Ann Shivener fronts the band with expressive, sassy vocals, while Rich Shivener (guitar), Ben Jones (bass) and Dave Tennant (drums) concoct crafty soundscapes that can be chiming and ambient one minute and Garage Rock-direct the next.
Dig It: The Walkmen, Camera Obscura, Guided By Voices and Gwen Stefani form a supergroup. (MB)
10 p.m. Thursday at Washington Platform
The Wet Darlings
Columbus, OH • Indie Rock
In the space of two short years, Jennifer Lute went from singing and playing piano in a smalltown Ohio church — an experience so insular that she’d never heard The Beatles — to fronting The Wet Darlings, claiming influences like Jeff Buckley, Fiona Apple, Radiohead, single malt scotch and, yes, those Beatles. The Darlings just released their debut EP, X, to enthusiastic reviews and heavy rotation for its timely track “Vampires.” Further proof that it’s so good when church girls go bad.
Dig it: Karin Bergquist fronts Queen as the houseband for the Radiohead luau. (BB)
8:15 p.m. Thursday at Inner Peace Center
Bentonville, AR • Prog Folk/Rock
It’s easy to write down an endless string of influences. It’s a completely different matter to live up to them. A quick peek at Where’s Lawrence?’s MySpace page reveals a grocery list of inspirations — Bruce Springsteen, the Arcade Fire, Johnny Cash, Radiohead, Wolf Parade and Elf Power among them — and, amazingly, it’s not difficult to pick all of them out of the band’s expansive and sophisticated sound. The band’s debut, The Boy in the Well, is an ambitious concept album two years in the making and an impressive start.
Dig it: Prog Rock in the foothills of the Ozarks, Clap Your Hands Say Y’all, Neutral Milk Roadhouse. (BB)
10:15 p.m. Friday at Media Bridges
Where They Landed
Cincinnati • Jazz/Experimental
Where They Landed has earned the right to take its time venturing to wherever the members please. This Cincy seven-piece concocts slithering, slow-burn expanses that move from orbit to orbit, leaving a trail of flourishes behind in the process. (The trumpet and guitars are particularly stunning.) Expect an inundation of mind-bending instrumental sounds concocted by players far too talented to come down any time soon.
Dig it: Explosions in the Sky beefing up its instrumentation and being forced to score a film noir at gunpoint (then said film noir’s climax shows a city collapsing in on itself). (RA)
8:30 p.m. Saturday at The Original Tax Place
Wolf Ram Heart
Columbus, OH • Indie Rock
According to Wolf Ram Heart’s MySpace page, The Beatles and Brian Eno are their friends and, oddly enough, you can hear that in the Columbus quartet’s deceptively complex songs. Frontman David James and percussionist Eric Buford had previously done time with The Black Canary, which was depleted by half with the loss of two members; they chose to soldier on after adding guitarist Sawyer Shepard and bassist Jessica Barnes, but had to change the name when DC Comics issued a cease-and-desist due to its same-named superheroine. Wolf Ram Heart it is. The band’s debut full-length, Betrayal of Hearts, is in the works, chock full of WRH’s “retro futuristic” sonic voodoo and vintage instrumentation.
Dig it: Rufus Wainwright ditches operatic Pop for Space Carnival Chamber Pop and gets Brian Eno to produce and be obliquely strategic. (BB)
10:30 p.m. Saturday at the Contemporary Art Center
Cincinnati • Indie/Singer/Songwriter
This singer/songwriter studied art in Chicago and spent time in the Windy City and L.A. art and music scenes before giving up the “starving artist” lifestyle and moving to the more welcoming confines of Cincinnati (he calls himself an “economic refugee”). A devoted home-recorder, Perry performs his “cross-genre” music live with loops and effects or solo acoustic.
Dig It: Lou Reed asking Bob Pollard to produce a lo-fi solo album. (MB)
9:15 p.m. Friday at Courtyard Cafe
Cincinnati • Indie/Rock
The future just keeps getting shades brighter for Wussy. Over the past year and a half, the foursome put out its eponymous third album (to a four-star Rolling Stone review), saw its first two albums make an appearance on Robert Christgau’s “Albums of the Decade” list (the notoriously tough critic has given unabashed “A”s to all three Wussy albums) and the group turned out the excellent “Breakfast in Bed” 7-inch for Shake It’s Eddie Hinton tribute series, as well as a split 45 with Louisville’s The Fervor. And how about that great profile piece in Cincinnati Magazine, “Happiness Bleeds” making NPR’s “Song of the Day” and New York falling at their feet during several appearances in the Big Apple. It’s hard not to think of the tweet that appeared about midway into Wussy’s MidPoint set at Know Theatre last year: “MPMF is Wussy’s bitch.” You’re next, world.
Dig it: Yo La Tengo and X start a couples therapy/Rock & Roll band camp. (BB)
7:30 p.m. Thursday at Grammer's
The Yes Way
Brooklyn, NY • Indie Rock/Pop
This Brooklyn quintet makes Pop music that gracefully moves from jaunty and spry (“When It Breaks”) to gritty and punchy (“Mets”) to expansive and ethereal (“Where Was I”), crafting a sound that is refreshingly versatile and loaded with clever dynamics and melodies. The band’s self-proclaimed influences range from Led Zeppelin to Grizzly Bear to Beck, but they end up with something wholly unique.
Dig It: Spacious, artfully-crafted Indie Rock heavy on off-kilter melodies and light on trend-chasing. (MB)
9:30 p.m. Friday at Below Zero Lounge
You, You’re Awesome
Cincinnati • Electronic Rock
Synth Pop wasn’t always boring, droning dance beats blipped out in predictably head-nodding patterns. Once upon a time, it was made by honest-to-God humans, playing keys and samples with a freewheeling giddiness and drums with a visceral and sloppy abandon. You, You’re Awesome may not remember those times but they’ll jog the memories of everyone who does and blow the minds of anyone hearing the concept for the first time.
Dig it: Brian Eno and Daft Punk tag-team producing the Space Invaders 2010 soundtrack. (BB)
10:30 p.m. Thursday at The Cincinnati Club
The Young Republic
Nashville, TN • Progressive/Indie/Pop
The members of The Young Republic were trained at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but their music doesn’t come off like the work of uptight, meticulous technicians. The sound is colorful, adventurous and energetic, with multidimensional song structures and cool, unexpected additives (horn riffs here, lush strings there). The only hint that the members are “classically-trained” is in the winding songwriting, which comes off as part Pop and part Classical composition. England has already fallen in love with The Young Republic — what are you waiting for, America?
Dig It: Wilco, Hot Hot Heat and The Walkmen work on a new album arranged by Van Dyke Parks. (MB)
10 p.m. Friday at Artworks