Rhye and more...
Originally conceived by Mkie Milosh and Robin Hannibal while the two were working on a Quadron remix, Rhye didn’t need the aura of mystery around which it was shrouded for it to work. Yet that mystery, coupled with the sensuality of their debut Woman, is what ultimately makes the duo so alluring. The two demonstrated their gifts for songwriting with “Open” and “The Fall” in late 2012, and Woman showed them to be the full package in terms of arranging songs, as they found that seductive use of empty space that the xx only came somewhat close to achieving. Couple that with Milosh’s striking voice, and the end result is one of the most unique new groups to come around in a long, long time. While mainstream pop seemed obsessed with the idea of heading to the disco, Rhye successfully showed that the bedroom could be just as inviting of a musical inspiration. Kevin Korber
There’s a power in Jenny Beth’s raw croon and in Savages’ crunching chords that irrevocably pulls the listener in. The band’s debut LP, Silence Yourself, is full of potential energy and liquid fire, the musical equivalent of the inside of a volcano. The band’s strong point of view, both sonically and philosophically, shines through it. In the opening of the short film released for “Shut Up”, Beth gives the band’s manifesto, opining on the ephemeral nature of modernity and ending with, “Perhaps, having deconstructed everything, we should be thinking about putting everything back together. Silence yourself.” This is what Savages has to add to the world of art. They didn’t just make an album full of ghostly, yearning post-punk. They made a statement. Adam Finley
Speedy Ortiz landed in 2013 carrying the baggage of any ‘90s indie rock band worth a damn on their shoulders, like the saviours Yuck couldn’t be, or the natural conclusion to jangle pop’s slow dissolve from the internet’s collective memory. They were a punk band trapped in with thankless comparisons to the slackers, or the pioneers; Pavement before they cleaned up, the guitar of Sonic Youth, and the poetic, singular songwriting of Liz Phair. The best part: to hold your hands up and walk away from these namedrops was itself a fallacy. Sadie Dupuis, the band’s primary songwriter, holds a genuine reverence for these bands. She has strong ties with Stephen Malkmus’ songwriting, having covered his songs before she assembled Speedy Ortiz, and she talked to Pitchfork about her love for Phair. If you listen to these songs, you can hear a genuine affection for the ‘90s, rather than just see how there might be a few think-pieces living like a growth off the back of them. Dupuis said it herself: these bands had “personality”, and that’s what her music shares in. It’s venomous, and it hits home at the very summit of its ascension. “MKVI”, the seven-minute closer of this year’s Major Arcana, is the ultimate case study, showing off a love for a strand of indie rock that gets bent into noise rock’s sinister shape. Those who dwell on music criticism stand to be both informed and misled about Speedy Ortiz at the same time. Their sound existed a good 20 years ago, but this is tenacious, self-reliant punk rock at heart, and that doesn’t have renewed currency. It simply goes on. Robin Smith
Brooklyn-based, South Africa native Jean-Philip Grobler and his synth-pop band St. Lucia appear to be destined for bigger things. From touring with Ellie Goulding and Two Door Cinema Club, producing New York indie pop group Haerts first EP and collaborating with the Knocks on one of the summer’s dancefloor hits “Modern Hearts”, the band has slowly been building buzz since their self-titled EP in March of 2012. When the Night, their flawlessly constructed debut album, should catapult them into the mainstream if there is any justice out there. Far from mere ‘80s synthpop homage, the band cleverly pays tribute to a myriad of influences, (Toto, Phil Collins, Simply Red, and Paul Simon), yet brings a modern sensibility to it all through exquisite, inventive production and impressive songwriting chops. There are a lot of bands out there who sound like inept ‘80s cover bands, but St. Lucia are anything but pale imitators. With the right amount of cross-promotional exposure, the tropical-kissed songs of When The Night could easily spill over into the collective conscious. The critical acclaim and successful collaborations of the year should seal the deal in 2014, if the stars are aligned. It appears they just might be. Ryan Lathan
Waxahatchee had an understated critic’s favorite in 2012’s American Weekend, a solo release that ex-P.S. Eliot frontwoman Katie Crutchfield recorded with just an acoustic guitar, a mic, and an old eight-track. If the songs’ timeless quality owed something to those basic tools, their intimacy was all Crutchfield. Nearly all of her songs had two characters, me and you, and she sang softly but firmly, as if she were sitting right across the table. In 2013, Crutchfield caught more ears with an electric, fleshed-out approach on Cerulean Salt, but didn’t sacrifice any immediacy, even as her one-sided conversations became more oblique. These songs are just as no-frills as their counterparts on American Weekend, but arranged so that Crutchfield can make the most of the wider palette of drums, electric guitar, and bass. The “me"s get their chance to yell at some of those deserving “you"s on indie rock anthems like “Peace and Quiet” and “Misery Over Dispute”, but they also reflect on self-deception over bright pop on “Swan Dive” and get drunk over a bouncy shuffle on “Lips and Limbs”. And just as Crutchfield and her collaborators use the limits of bare-bones instrumentation to find endlessly inventive ways of getting her songs across, she uses the limits of her vocal range to reach an emotional expressiveness that eludes more technically skilled singers. David Bloom