1. “Fallen” – Gert Taberner. Subtlety is difficult and underappreciated, which makes it pretty unappealing. However, Taberner here masters subtlety. From the careful, gentle strumming to the unadorned, direct vocal performance to the earnest, honest lyrics, every piece here has touches that belie the great amount of work that went into it. Fans of Glen Hansard, Damien Rice, and Passenger will find themselves in love.
2. “Photographs” – Chloe Jane. Chloe Jane’s interpretation of acoustic pop in 2016 is absolutely lovely, incorporating the best of what we’ve come to expect from acoustic pop. Immediate production, catchy melodies in the verse and chorus, glockenspiel, a great arrangement that adds to the quality of the song but doesn’t get in the way, and an overall sense of happiness, even though the song is sad. This is how you do acoustic pop right.
3. “Farewell Teddy” – Patrick Eugene. A quirky, unusual tale of paranoia written in the style of 1920s/1930s comic pop, the sort that descended from old-school burlesque theaters and the like. Adventurous listeners, rejoice.
4. “Any Town” – Joey Salvia. Hollering is the time-tested weapon of the folk protest singer, but Salvia shows here that an incisive set of lyrics and a calm delivery can be just as devastating. This one’s about suburban sprawl and the loss of distinct places in what I like to call “big box America”–but it’s also just a really great sounding song.
5. “Noah Jade” – Dog Mountain. A humble little song: a companion for the road, a friend in time of need, a fragile peace, a warm fire, comfort.
6. “The Northern State” – Jordie Saenz. This tender, intimate eulogy for a lost loved one features tape hiss that provides warmth, but the rest of the instruments are clear and bright. The fingerpicking and free-floating arrangement are reminiscent of early work by Sufjan Stevens and his collaborators.
7. “Exposta” – Johnny Fox. Have you ever heard an Irishman sing in Portuguese? If you click the link, you may have the experience for the first time. The acoustic-based arrangement falls somewhere between the perky-yet-subdued work of Lisa Hannigan and the enthusiastic cultural melange of Beirut.
8. “Hey There Miss” – Eric Smith. A little bit coffeeshop singer/songwriter, a little bit Laurel Canyon alt-country, a little bit Dawes, and a little bit Billy Joel love song results in a song with a whole lot of heart.
9. “Gold Ring” – Redvers Bailey. The oft-goofy, oft-ecstatic Bailey calms his work and produces a lovely acoustic singer/songwriter song anchored by a remarkable falsetto. It’s closer to Brett Dennen than Kimya Dawson, but it still works beautifully.
10. “Better Lands” – When Tomorrow Becomes Yesterday. A delicate, fragile acoustic tune featuring a beautiful trio vocal performance that evokes the uncertainty of climate change in sound and lyric. The kalimba only adds to the fragile otherness of the piece.
11. “Cave” – Matt Millz. Sometimes all you need is a trembling voice, a guitar, and an opening line of “I had a cave / that was three years deep” to suck the listener in.
12. “In Your Name” – Tyson Motsenbocker. Grief, faith, doubt, and politics are all often all wrapped together, and Motsenbocker’s tune balances them all in this moving singer/songwriter tune.
13. “Luna” – Akira Kosemura. Patience–this clip does start out with 20 seconds of silence and the image of birds flying. That enforcing of peace is the essence of the lo-fi piano composition that follows: amid the sound of piano pedals working and Kosemura sighing, a tranquil piano elegy unspools.
14. “Death” – Theo Alexander. This piano piece is anchored by an ostinato mid-range note pattern but not dominated by it–there’s a murky sense of change and uncertainty that course through the piece as the sections change. There’s a touch of John Luther Adams’ emotive clouds at the back half of the piece as well, making this a diverse, intriguing piece over the two and a half minutes of the work.
15. “Black Water” – James McWilliam. A yearning, searching orchestral piece driven by a forlorn violin solo, this composition balances tension through the continuous movement of the orchestra and despair through the soloist.
16. “Take Me In” – Broken Stems. I don’t usually mix my media in these posts, but this song is elegant and the video is haunting. Both are very much worth your time. The video is especially powerful: I can’t watch it without shivers. Don’t multitask this one–dedicate the 3:27. It’s worth it.
1. “kid.” – Arwen & the Mega Reset. Man, I was super-into Braids when Native Speaker came out, so I am predisposed to like any spacious, dreamy, female-fronted indie-rock. Arwen & the Mega Reset (what a rad name, btw) here take a more direct approach to vocals than Raphaelle Standell-Preston, creating a nice tension between the wisping, chiming, processed guitar sounds that form the mood and the powerful vocal lines (a la Lake Street Dive, maybe?). Also, the artwork for this song makes me totally want to try riding down a hill on a mattress held up by skateboards. In short, this is totally rad. Check it out.
2. “Hyaena (Vols. 1-3)” – Naked Waste. This tune has a lot going on, so you’re going to have to prepare yourself. Naked Waste uses mostly just a bass guitar (awesome!) by manipulating the sounds that come out in a wide variety of ways. So it actually doesn’t sound like there’s a bass guitar at all in the song. The vocals here are very idiosyncratic, especially in the verses–but they resolve into a glorious chorus melody that hooked me. There are also three parts to this song, and one of them is a gospel-style chorus of people who sound more traditional than lead vocalist Paul Cumming. It’s a five-minute journey that I highly recommend that the adventurous listener take.
3. “Company” – Pepa Knight. Pepa Knight’s run of infectious singles continues with a tune that meshes huge tom percussion through burbling, low-key electro work to create a carefully-managed tension between electronic and organic sounds. Knight’s vocals fit perfectly over the arrangement.
4. “Bottles” – Bad Pony. Here’s a live band fusing mid-’00s dance-rock enthusiasm with tasteful, accentuating post-dub electronics. Nerdy connection: Anyone remember Head Automatica? I immediately thought of Beating Heart Baby when I heard the tune. This is nothing but a good thing.
5. “Getting Through” – Inspired & the Sleep. Sometimes you just want to hear a stuttery, low-key indie-pop song a la Generationals. Eat it up.
6. “Long Way to the Moon” – Alright Gandhi. Bass guitar, skittering beats, squiggly synths, and commanding female vocals drive this atypical indie-pop song. Totally interesting.
7. “The Wicked” – Ender & Valentine. A careful fusion of acoustic, electro, and pop-rock results in a song that’s a lot of fun but also wistful and resonant. The delicate balance pays off in a fantastic tune.
8. “Always on Fire” – Troup. The aura of Bruce Springsteen floats above this intense, earnest roots-rock tune, but never gets in the way. Instead, the punchy percussion and deft vocal performance take front and center. The engineering work on this pushes the bass way up in the mix, which I love.
9. “A Beautiful Mystery” – Katie Costello. Cars-esque New Wave meet ’00s guitar pop (a la KT Tunstall) for a chipper, perky blast of pop that yet resists being saccharine.
10. “Float” – Silver Liz. Adds scuzzed-out garage rock guitars to feathery female vocals and some woozy synths for a stomping, punchy rock tune.
11. “Who’s Afraid of Sarah Little?” – Tim de Vil and His Imaginary Friends. A manic fever dream of a song, with singer Justin Robbins speak/singing (and then hollering) over an stoic-by-contrast acoustic indie-rock backdrop. It packs more punch in two and a half minutes than many bands can in 10 or 20. There’s some unavoidable Nick Cave comparison to be had, but unhinged modern indie rockers like The Yellow Dress and MeWithoutYou are closer to the core.
12. “Scarecrow” – Apricot Rail. What if The Album Leaf included a clarinet? This freeflowing, wide-eyed, soothing instrumental answers that question.
1. “Bones” – Lowlight. The female vocals here are just dripping with emotion, touring the listener through distinct, evocative spaces. The video is enigmatic but similarly suffused with emotional images. A great example of a tune that clearly has a folk tune soul, even though it’s set up in an electro environment.
2. “Fountain” – Démira. A zeitgest-capturing piece that’s just specific enough to relate to a lot of things going on in the world today. The mantra/hook “My hands are up / my hands are up” seems like direct appropriation of language included in the ongoing policing discussion, but Démira immediately following it with “for both of us” complicates the relationship. (The ongoing refugee crisis seems to be relevant here as well.) Ambiguity, purgatory, and surrender weave their way through the lyrics. The piece is an electro-pop work, but it doesn’t announce itself prominently; it keeps the song flowing, but at times melts away to give the stage to the engaging vocals and lyrics. A fascinating, deeply interesting song. The video gives even more layers of complexity.
3. “Back to Earth” – Jackie Venson. The patter of hollow toms matches the subtle strumming of the rattling electric guitar, creating a feeling of rushing water that Venson’s voice dances over. It’s a dramatic song without going for any of the normal high-drama approaches, and in that way it is spectacular.
4. “WIRES” – SNOWDRIFTS. The heavy, buzzy synths and wavering vocals seem unmoored from the beats, creating the impression of a School of Seven Bells song being played slightly out of phase. It’s an intriguing, enveloping soundscape.
5. “Carry Me” – Heart Years. At its core, this is a dreamy indie-pop tune, but it’s got layers of static, zipping arpeggiators, and other effects that create a mysterious, engaging mood.
6. “[Re]Cycle” – Lunacre. The dusky, too-cool atmosphere of trip-hop is combined with the subtle motion and gentle beats of electro-indie-pop for a lithe, smooth, headbobbing experiene.
7. “Macroburst” – Scaphoid. Post-rock? Prog-rock? Rock? Whatever this winding, twisting, riff-heavy, dramatic piece is, it’s certainly not ambient in the Brian Eno sense of the term. Although, if Eno’s original intent was to create a tint for the room, barely noticed, but changing the feel, this could work, if your room was an tension-ridden action film in a dark, gritty, nighttime urban environment. Semantic quibbles aside, this piece captures the drama that post-rock is often going for by leansing on intricate riffs rather than the soft/wall of sound/soft trope. A fascinating piece.
8. “Molded Ocean” – Candy Cigarettes. The sea shanty is often exaggerated for effect, but here Candy Cigarettes turns the oft-careening form into a gently swaying, carefully-crafted, thoughtful acoustic indie song. Even with the occasional towering percussion line and the giant crescendo ending, this is probably the sweetest sea shanty I’ve ever heard.
9. “Psycho Killer” – Smoke Season. Turns the Talking Heads’ jittery art-rock into an ominous, slow-motion, post-dub electro biopic. There’s a lot of people who want to pull this sort of cover transformation off, but few really take a song and own it the way that Smoke Season does here.
10. “Heathens” – Blondfire. The ominous hip-hop of the Twentyone Pilots original is transmuted into a desperate plea over an acoustic guitar.
11. “Autumn Falls” – Erik Jonasson. There’s a remarkable tenderness all through this tune that sets this folk/electro ballad apart from the pack. The ending goes a bit stadium, and it still sounds intimate. Wow.
12. “Wrapped Up” – Allen Tate. If you’re a fan of The National but think that their theatricality can get a bit out of your depth, this low-slung, unassuming, yet very thoughtfully created indie-rock tune will hit the spot perfectly.
13. “Dissolving the Dream” – Scaphoid. Here’s another side of Scaphoid: this version draws on acoustic sounds, especially flowing Spanish-inspired ones, to create a distinct, unique mood. This one is more “anxiously searching a forest for a downed technology before the enemies find it” in the images it evokes for me.
14. “Henry Green” – John White. Somewhere between between Simon & Garfunkel and Irish folk, this tune sounds like a traditional sea/murder ballad of an imagined country.
15. “You Are Here” – River. Any ballad that includes a harp has a lot of good going for it, de facto. This ballad has more than just harp, but everything flows from that smart inclusion in this piano-led piece.
I’m much slower at getting video posts out than MP3 posts, but that just means the quality is super-high when I get one out. Check out these incredible clips.
Tango? A compelling story? Pitch-perfect set and costuming? A seemingly incongruous set before old people? A great tune? What more could you possibly ask for in an incredible music video? Seriously, this video is almost perfect.
Music videos don’t usually make me cry, but this bildungsroman did. Maybe keep an onion around for plausible deniability. Simply an incredible piece of filmmaking.
How many ways are there to tell the story of a relationship? As many as there are relationships. This one is a beautiful tale gorgeously told, with Mt. Wolf’s hazy, distant electro-acoustic-pop lending the perfect soundtrack.
The clip for Grace Joyner’s “Dreams” tells the aftermath of a relationship (or something equally terrible). The evening unfolds.
Sometimes a video perfectly fits with the mood and topic of the song. I’m not ruining anything in this video for you–just watch it.
Here’s a intricate, moving modern dance interpreting the interpersonal horrors of substance abuse in the midst of a romantic relationship.
This haunting acoustic tune is given visual life by an evocative, mystic, wooded dreamscape.
1. “We’re So Close” – MOON. Heavy doesn’t shock anymore, but it certainly can still make a big bang. As such, the thundering electric guitar entrances in this indie-rock tune are really, really rad. I would love to see this live: I can imagine it would be an impressive experience.
2. “Chaperone” – TOLMAN. I hear electro-indie-pop tunes all the time, and yet some still make me turn my head (and fast; somehow the song makes me know in seconds that it has arrived). This electro jam has some zinging treble synths, sultry female vocals, and squelchy bass synths. The words don’t do it justice–it kicks.
3. “Cold Sunshine” – Dan Webb and the Spiders. Webb usually throws down brash and speedy pop-punk, but this one slows down into a mid-tempo rocker that makes me think as much about The Hold Steady as it does The Gaslight Anthem and other not-quite-pop-punk-but-whatever bands. Webb turns in a great, evocative vocal performance here.
4. “I Can’t Resist” – The Great Escape. Sassy organ, squawking guitars, roaring vocals, stomping percussion; this reads like a mix of The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes.
5. “Show Me Your Facebook Page” – Samantha Echo. This is a wild ride: Echo creates a cabaret/show-tune style piano-pop song about the emotional troubles that Facebook causes. That simple statement can’t encompass the many twists and turns of this song, but it’s the best I got. Just listen to it.
6. “Cigarette” – PANG! feat. Cameron Douglas. Manages, manipulates, and ultimately owns the space between introspective folk and Avicii-style electro-pop-folk. Beautiful, but also catchy and punchy.
7. “Bad Girlfriend” – Keith Monacchio. The downtempo, talking-style singer/songwriter work is immediately arresting. The lyrics are fantastic as well; the sort of simple, “I could have written that but I guess I didn’t” sort of plaintive concern that connects deep.
8. “Evening Light” – Paul Sweeney. This instrumental acoustic piece is the sort that has distinct, robust lead melodies that could have been vocal melodies, had Sweeney so desired. Instead, it’s a highly melodic piece with a lot of body and development.
1. “Papernote” – Tigertown. I had the same reaction to this song as I did the first time I heard The Naked and Famous: “whoa, now that is an electro-pop song.” Big, giddy, skittering all over the place; be still my heart.
2. “The World Is a Gumball” – Heavy Heart. Heavy Heart’s song-a-month project continues with a mid-tempo rock piece that blurs the boundaries between ’90s alt-rock and early ’00s female-fronted emo by dint of some shoegaze-y guitar textures. Hazy, dreamy, and yet oddly propulsive (thanks to the bass).
3. “Basic Instructions” – Gleneagle. Unhinged, permanently-threatening-to-come-apart alt-country is attractive because it always barely manages to stay together: here the vocals threaten to dissolve into an uncoordinated rage, only restrained by the carefully coordinated guitar rock going on behind it. The cathartic/jubilant conclusion is all you hope it will be from the first time you hear Bryden Scott’s vocals.
4. “Only at Night” – Candysound. Somehow strikes a warm, comforting balance between jaunty and subdued, like Bloc Party chilling way out or Vampire Weekend on downers.
5. “Revolution (feat. First Aid Kit)” – Van William. Everything that First Aid Kit lends their voices to immediately becomes 4 times better than it was before. This was a good folk-pop song with charming trumpet before their vocals come in; after their vocals, it’s a great song. Straight up.
6. “Life 101” – Sonoride. Shuffle-snare percussion, walking bass, rolling guitar and wistful vocals come together into an excellent folk tune.
7. “All We Do” – Daniel Trakell. The soaring vocal melody in the chorus of this acoustic-pop song just takes off and pushes this song to a whole new level.
8. “That’s All You Get” – Chaperone Picks. Raw, enthusiastic, lo-fi singer/songwriter with some country overtones. For those days when it seems like no one doesn’t use autotune and maxxed out production values, Chaperone Picks is there for you. Realness.
9. “Runaways” – Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light. I feel an expansiveness in my soul when I listen to this song, not unlike that which I feel during Gregory Alan Isakov’s “The Stable Song.”
10. “Agata” – Sam and the Black Seas. This acoustic tune has serious gravitas and yet remains a floating world of a song, barely over two minutes.
11. “Alstroemeria” – TOLEDO. A dignified, composed, carefully constructed piece of acoustic music that shows off the male vocal tone and the ability to make all the pieces fit together intricately.
12. “I Found a Home” – Brooklyn Doran. The pristine guitar playing features an intriguing bass line. The guitar fits between Doran’s Adele-esque vocals and chord-heavy piano playing, creating a strong pop song.
13. “When We Were Young” – Anna Atkinson. Dramatic high alto/low soprano vocals and fiddle duet for the first chunk of this tune, evoking solitary, yearning mountain folk songs. The introduction of guitar somehow amplifies those feelings instead of diminishing them.
1. “Devil Yellow Sun” – Small Town Glow. If the emotional indie-rock of Frightened Rabbit had been born in the grunge-laden ’90s, it would have been as gloriously slackery, goofy, and relatable as this tune.
2. “Fossil” – Readership. The present or future ghosts of Modest Mouse, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Arcade Fire, and Spoon dance to the beat of this impeccably crafted, relentlessly endearing indie-rock tune. It’s a rare tune that ends way before I wanted it to.
3. “You Know It’s True” – Quinn Devlin & The Bridge Street Kings. Van Morrison has been popping up in my life a lot recently. Whether it’s in essays, songs, or Spotify recommendations, Van the Man is calling my name. Is this a getting older thing? Is this like classical music? Whatever it is, here’s some earthy-yet-ethereal blue-eyed soul that carries that Van torch forward. Also there’s some Hall & Oates in there? I mean that in the most positive way possible. You know what, ignore all that. It’s just a great song.
4. “Be There” – Buddha Trixie. Hectic/loping, quirky/formal, exuberant/laidback, manic/careful; there’s a lot of duality going on in this joyous indie-pop tune.
5. “there’s nothing better” – Eugene Gallagher. A beautiful, tender, herky-jerky love-song that feels like Delicate Steve’s burbling enthusiasms mixed with a male version of Kimya Dawson’s vocals. (I think you’ll forgive the seemingly ridiculous comparisons once you hear it.)
6. “Bow Down” – TD Lind. Protest folk at its vocal belting, harmonica-toting, major-key best.
7. “The Swim” – Case Conrad. One of those alt-country tunes that balances on the edge of so many things (is it a singer/songwriter tune? is it about to go full-on rock? are the vocals about to explode?) that it keeps the listener on her toes the whole way. Surprisingly, it’s deeply satisfying through all the tension. A fantastic tune.
8. “Melting” – Lindy Vopnfjord. Have you ever walked up a forested mountain near dusk? The beauty of the setting sun unveils a sort of ominous beauty, where the unknown is both gorgeous and dangerous. Those tensions are encompassed in this acoustic/electric minor-key folk tune.
9. “Aelia Laelia (Edit)” – Christopher Chaplin. I can give this complex, complicated piece one of my highest compliments: it defied easy conventions, making me ask, “What is this?” Part post-rock, part ambient/industrial electronic, part neo-classical performance, part operatic vocal songcraft, this composition bends the boundaries. Chaplin is really inventive and engaging here.
10. “Bombs” – EDGES. Reverb can serve to obscure, but it can also make things more intimate, as if you’re sitting next to the musician in a huge church. This acoustic tune is the latter, as the patient guitar and gently yearning vocals create a sense of closeness and warmth amid a giant building.
11. “Like a Funeral (Joel Rampage Duet Remake)” – Erik Jonasson. There will be approximately 1,000,000 slow-jam electro ballads released this year, but I would wager that maybe five will make me want to cry. This heartbreaking, expansive tune is one of them.
12. “She Floats” – Van-Anh Nguyen. Ambient by dint of crackles, breaths, and distant noises that run throughout, this delicate, piano-driven piece evokes a seaside boardwalk in the early morning.
Shiloh Hill creates a vibe with their latest release Wildflower that feels like running barefoot through a summer rainstorm, fresh and alive. The eleven-song album combines eclectic instrumentation that embarks on a blend of New Orleans Bourbon Street combined with traditional folk. For the rest of the world that is not in the Greensboro, North Carolina, area where this band blossomed, Shiloh Hillis a treasure that has yet to be unearthed since the album dropped in August.
Supported by regional touring, the band’s current lineup consists of Nick Wes (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Mamie Wilson (lead vocals, mandolin, glockenspiel), Julian Jackson (background vocals, banjo, electric guitar, dobro), Zeke Churchill (background vocals, drums), and Michael Kuehn (bass guitar, piano, organ) with the regulars joined in studio with friends Benjamin Matlack (trumpet & flugelhorn) and Evan Ringel (fiddle).
“The Artist” begins with a simple pizzicato of strings, building a cinematic vibe with vocals in layers from Wes and Wilson. Drifting like a summer breeze with banjo and trumpet accompaniment, the parade that is “Better Fool” begins by clearly marching to a different drum. Admittedly love’s fool, lyrically closing out with a restrained chorus and banjo is brilliant. Creating separation within a song is a challenge that is achieved here with instrumentation and tempo.
Moving it down to to an easy roll, “Mama’s Boy” enhances that Americana quality this album embraces. Juxtaposed with lyrics that bleed anguish, the arrangement is downtempo in a sweetly triumphant way. With horns leading the parade, “Wildflower” is the closest to a pop song on the album. The vocals really shine here, possibly because they are the storytellers, metaphor spreading the seed on the wind. “Seasons” rests roughly halfway along the journey; it’s a traveling song with the anticipation of new things ahead. Mandolin is featured up front in the mix here, and it is a beautiful touch. “Dust” feels like something that bands like The Avett Brothers may have inspired, with banjo and guitar along with the harmonies of Wes and Wilson. Taking the genre in a new direction, horns are added in a subtle way here. The tune pulls out into a solo piano accompanied by a fine bit of banjo work, coming together in a haunted musicality.
“Box of Pine” kicks the album into high gear with an opening that pulls fiddle and banjo to the front of the mix to highlight the roots of North Carolina musical tradition. Relying heavily on the familiar, the song is sweet with dobro and a toe-tapping infectiousness. “Stale” pulls that new folk thing back in with a fiddle squeal. An almost hypnotic piece is tossed on the table here with a dare. Something so fresh can never be considered old. Songs like “Six Months” and “Riverstone” are lyrically based: the things that are not wanted are usually things that are unavailable, smoothed by time to be less resistant to the currents of life. Closing out with “Oh My Love. Oh My Sweet,” Wildflower goes out in the way it came in, on a soft spring breeze: fragrant, brightly colored, and sweet. —Lisa Whealy
Samuel Alty‘s Hammering Nails into the Sky is a folk/singer-songwriter album that draws heavily off a standard flamenco guitar idea: the bass notes play a straight rhythm while the treble plays a speedy, syncopated rhythm over it. Most of the tracks here play off some variation of that theme, creating a unique, energetic feel to the record.
“Be Brave” is the most identifiably flamenco of the tunes: the rhythms are familiar, the tune’s in a major key, and the whole thing makes me want to sway and dance cheerfully. “Guiding Hands” is a minor-key, even ominous flamenco-inspired piece that retains the treble/bass relationship. That relationship diversifies in “Life It Is for Living,” where the stand-up bass plays the ostinato notes and Alty uses the whole rattling guitar as the counterpoint; it’s inverted in “Revolution,” where the treble is the repeated and the bass and vocals go wild. “Travelling Song” is a complicated instrumental ballad where both the bass and the treble are moving around. Alty does an impressive job turning one overacrching idea into a wide array of compelling song structures.
There are a few tunes where Alty breaks from his theme. “Sanction” is a near 7-minute singer/songwriter tune that focuses heavily on his baritone range instead of his guitar work. It’s a spacious, sparse work, not unlike Bonnie Prince Billy in places. “Glory” is even more focused on Alty’s voice, as he multitracks himself singing and beatboxing for a song that’s completely a capella. It has a trip-hop vibe to it, which is a break in the mostly-speedy tempos of the record.
Hammering Nails into the Sky is a fun, intriguing, intricate record that is probably unlike what you’re listening to right now, unless you’re listening to José González or going flamenco dancing. It has charms on first blush and rewards multiple listens. If you’re looking to expanding your musical horizons today, definitely check out Hammering Nails into the Sky.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.