THE BLOG

Maybe You've Heard...the Inaugural Edition

06/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I thought to myself, if I read another article on Kings of Leon, I might explode.

Sorry Kings, I do love you. Your sex IS on fire. But we all know you by now, don't we?

They were undiscovered once. They were that band that, well, maybe you'd heard of, or maybe you hadn't (I remember seeing them open for Bob Dylan and saying to my friend, hell, isn't that the band that Liv Tyler keeps talking about in Vogue or whatever?). A few years later and a Drew Barrymore kiss at their concert is no more famous that the band itself.

Thus launched the idea for this column, appearing here regularly, where I'll feature those "maybe" bands -- the underdogs, the eternally touring, or the ones whose name rings a bell (but it ends there). Some are better known than others, some new, some old, some are borrowed and some are blue (or at least bluesy).

While this column isn't about being critical, don't blame me if my opinion seeps in there sometimes. This is the Huffington Post, after all.

Now for this week's edition, a roster of bands you might not know, but should...
Wild Light
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When I started singing the lyrics to Wild Light's anthem, "California on my Mind," at a bar in SoHo, my friends just thought I was venting about my year and a half of living in LA. When I did so the next day on the treadmill at the gym, I just got dirty looks. The lyric in question: "Fuck today / Fuck San Francisco / Fuck California." The real problem is not the kiss-off to Cali but the fact that it's impossibly catchy -- the song, the expletive-laden chorus, the guitars that ring in like a row of cascading dominoes, one by one. It's an insane treat when a rock song gets stuck in your head the same way Beyonce does, when it's so good you ache to see it live and to jump around with a plastic cup of beer in your hand, hoping the guy next to you in a Death Cab for Cutie shirt doesn't see you dancing. But it's not all pomp and circumstance. Sure, their album, Adult Nights, has its share of dramatics (courtesy of the Arcade Fire playbook, whom they toured with) but songs like "Lawless River" have enough strut, eighties groove and guitars to balance the boom.

The Rural Alberta Advantage
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If Pavement discovered strings and the synth, so would be born The Rural Alberta Advantage, my favorite thing to come out of Canada since, well...since Arcade Fire. Canada actually gets a bad rap for only churning out the likes of screeching pop princesses like Avril Lavigne and swooning pop queens like Alanis Morissette -- Rural Alberta Advantage shows that there's um, an advantage of the cold North: which is taking a set of interesting influences (the aforementioned Pavement, a little church gospel, some Broken Social Scene, a bit of Billy Corgan drawl) and mixing them in a vacuum where the rules are few and the outcome more surprising. Songs like "Don't Haunt This Place" and "Sleep All Day" play with quick, flittering drumbeats, organs and dissonant talk-singing laced along lyrical stories of the band's hometown. Look for their album, called, natch, Hometown, re-released on Saddle Creek this summer.

Blind Pilot
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An actual blind pilot will probably get you nowhere but in the ground. Blind Pilot, however, makes music that hovers slowly above your heard and stays there, like a good Belle and Sebastian melody on an acoustic guitar with a forward-moving beat and a singer with just enough Damien Rice-rasp to cut it. Three Rounds and Sound, their newest album, has a bit of raw rootsiness that seems to make sense coming from Portland, Oregon -- relevant but not exactly in the center of the map, low-fi but full, smooth but not sappy. The brainchild of Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski, Blind Pilot mixes misery (as they lament on "Oviedo," "I didn't know / The Way of My Tongue") with just enough harmonies to spare us from being cloying or whiney. It's good rainy-day music, because it sees a break in the weather while helping you appreciate the clouds.

Delta Spirit
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The first time I saw Delta Spirit, they were opening up for the Cold War Kids -- their rock with a strong side of southern soul and clapboard Americana was the perfect partner to the jailed and tarred indie anthems of the Kids. I took to them immediately -- I'm a sucker for a tambourine -- but lead singer Matt Vasquez lead a set of enthusiastic songs that drip into the Delta (as in Mississippi, not the airline) without too much irony and enough melody to transport you to that place where a modern band beats a little bit into the past without sounding completely derivative. Alt-Country is a tough world -- maybe only fair to Ryan Adams, who really does it best recently -- but Delta Spirit mix their "Alt" with the southern side of Highway 61, where the harmonica wails blue-style, not romps with cowboy boots on. As one of the more well-known bands on the list, Delta Spirit has been pushing the same album, Ode to Sunshine, on tour for close to two years. It's a mix of up-tempo stompers and melodic-mouth-harp tunes that deserves to be heard by everyone, not just some.

River City Rebels
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In a recession, bands hurt too, and River City Rebels have essentially been through hell. And not just this year. They've been signed, dropped and screwed over countless times, despite having played with the likes of Jesse Malin and amassing a trusty stable of dedicated fans. What they make is music that flirts with a more bygone era of dirty New York CBGB rock, a certain kind of sound that happens when you mix Springsteen, Desmond Decker and The Ramones with definitely too much booze. I like a band that gets better with age, and I'll say that this is one of them -- earlier albums are genre-hopping, too punk, your litter brother in his ska phase. But like all little brothers that eventually start listening to Pete Seeger and discovering the harmonica, River City Rebels do too. It works best on "Farmhouse Blues," which has enough Clash-era beat and call-and-repeat to keep it cool, and "Cloudy Times," that preserves a few of those rude-boy horns. Surviving on mostly word of mouth these days (an acquaintance who owns two great coffee shops in Brooklyn, Variety and Lucky Shot Espresso, turned me on to them), they self released their newest album In Love/Loveless. Buy it here.

What I'm listening this week that you've already heard of: the new records from Bob Dylan and Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band; Springsteen's The Seeger Sessions; the reissue of Radiohead's OK Computer.