Hip-hop/reggae artist Matisyahu, a.k.a. Matthew Miller, a Pennsylvania native born in 1979, grew up in California and later White Plains, New York. A rebellious youth and not particularly religious, attended Hebrew school spending his teenage years in search of his identity. He found God on a trip to Israel, dropped out of high school, and proceeded to follow Phish on tour. After running out of funds, Miller, "encouraged" by his parents to get it together, enlisted in an Outward Bound-type art school in Oregon and got deep into reggae and hip-hop. He eventually went on to the New School in New York City, where he joined a Hasidic shul. It was there his spirituality caught fire and Miller became Matisyahu (Hebrew for "gift of God"). "I Will Be Light," from the 2008 EP Shattered, is a melodic state of transcendental mind.
Genre: Alternative Hip-Hop
Song: I Will Be Light
Smokey and Miho
Smokey and Miho, founded in New York the late '90s, is the bossa nova twosome of Miho Hatori (of Cibo Matto fame) and guitarist Smokey Hormel. The duo released two EPs during their brief tenure. L.A. native Hormel is known for his extraordinary work with the Blasters and Beck; his collaborations include Mick Jagger, Tom Waits, David Byrne, Bebel Gilberto, and Rick Rubin. Japan-born Miho Hatori has worked with the Beastie Boys, John Zorn, and Sean Lennon, to name a few. The title "Summer Rain," from their combined-works album The Two EPs, is a refreshingly elegant change of pace.
Genre: Bossa Nova
Artist: Smokey and Miho
Song: Summer Rain
Album: The Two EPs
X is a distinguished American punk unit founded in 1977 in Los Angeles. Lead singer Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe met at a poetry reading in L.A., got hitched, formed X, divorcing in the mid-'80s. They've recently toured with original bandmates Billy Zoom (guitar) and DJ Bonebrake (drums). Their rockabilly/hard rock/lyrical punk influence can be heard in droves of new bands. The title "The Unheard Music," from their 1980 release Los Angeles, sings of music that would never find mainstream recognition. Recognize this: X hits the soul.
Song: The Unheard Music
Album: Los Angeles
Blonde Redhead is the New York-based artful rock faction formed by Canadian-Italian twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace (guitars/drums/vocals) and Japanese natives Maki Takahashi (bass) and Kazu Makino (vocals). Takahashi left the band after their first single was released, in 1993. In 1997, Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth produced Blonde Redhead's album Fake Can Be Just as Good. The trio's timbre is hopeful and menacing, an electric invitation to feel something. The title "Dr. Strangeluv," from their 2007 release 23, makes you want to fly.
Artist: Blonde Redhead
Song: Dr. Strangeluv
Scarnella is L.A.-based duo Carla Bozulich, the emotive voice/front woman (on guitar, bass, and keyboards) of The Geraldine Fibbers and Ethyl Meatplow, along with guitar master Nels Cline, who doubles on drums for The Nels Cline Trio and The Fibbers. Cline's collaborations include Mike Watt, Thurston Moore, and Charlie Haden. The sound of Scarnella is absolutely raw peppered in experimental. The title "Death by Northwest," from their first album, 1998's Scarnella, is a smoldering cacophony of gentle punk passion.
Song: Death by Northwest
The Sounds is an electronica-infused punk quintette from Helsingborg, Sweden, founded in 1999 as a high-school band. Members are Maja Ivarsson (vocals), Felix Rodriguez (guitar), Johan Bengtsson (bass), Jesper Anderberg (keys), and Fredrik Nilsson (drums). Their first album earned them a Swedish Grammy in 2002. The Sounds have toured with Foo Fighters and The Strokes. The band notably performed a Fall Out Boy remix in cult thriller Snakes on a Plane in 2006. While the band has tons of stylin', regretless swagger, and energy, their title "Night After Night," from their 2006 release Dying to Say This to You, is a softer side worth a listen.
Genre: Electronic/Dance Punk Rock
Artist: The Sounds
Song: Night After Night
Album: Dying to Say This to You