Who: A Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter who got her start fronting an obscure Boston band called Piewackit, O’Neil sports a nerd-chic look, winsomely cynical lyrics and a sound that borrows from the folk-pop template of ‘90s female troubadours—think Aimee Mann, Merrie Amsterburg and Jill Sobule, the latter of whom is a frequent O’Neil collaborator and songwriting partner. The six-song “mkULTRA” EP was released this past fall to tide over fans awaiting the release of her third full-length, “Underground,” in early ’09.
What: Once you get past the obvious chick-folk comparisons, O’Neil’s music reveals some deeper and quirkier influences. EP opener “Green Street”—a wistful urban lament about losing touch with friends who move to the suburbs—evokes the jazzy yacht-rock of Steely Dan; “Map” employs subtle, Beck-like electronics and percussion. She even throws in a Randy Newman cover (“Without You”) and a previously unreleased song (“Happy”) co-written by Sobule and Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger. The common denominator throughout is O’Neil’s sweetly girlish vocals and keen melodic sense, which are strong throughout and flat-out stunning on “Map,” the EP’s highlight.
Made for: Anyone who’s ever had a crush on that girl in the horn-rimmed glasses sipping cappuccino and jotting in a notebook at the neighborhood alterna-café…or, for that matter, girls who wear horn-rimmed glasses and frequent alterna-cafés.
X-Factor: The EP’s title is both a play on the singer’s nickname (“MK”) and a reference to Project MK-ULTRA, a covert CIA research program that allegedly used LSD, hypnosis and sensory deprivation on test subjects in the ’50s and ‘60s. – AH
Who: In 2007, a well-publicized Perez Hilton mention forecasted this Vancouver band’s imminent “blowing up,” as well as the gossip blogger becoming the Oprah of the music industry. Neither has happened yet, but Mother Mother is still the same band Hilton deemed “one of the most exciting bands in the Canadian music scene.” We have to agree with his pick here; not so much with Lenka. Remember her?
What: Siblings Ryan and Molly Guldemond support both the powerful harmonies and crafty songwriting on the band’s second album. “O My Heart” skips sonically between the jagged guitar of the Pixies and the layered harmonies used by labelmates Metric. But Mother Mother isn’t that tidy, stylistically. “Burning Pile” shifts 180, replacing gritty guitar with an acoustic, lush arrangements and Molly singing up front. Standout “Body of Years” is familiar in so many ways; maybe it’s the “Debaser” intro or the smoky confidence in the chorus—very Karen O—or the massive synth breakdown at the end that reverts back to Emily Hanes.
Made for: People who are ready for change—with each song on an album. Those not repulsed by all things Perez Hilton.
X-Factor: The video for “O My Heart” is art school curious, with a heavy ode to Tim Burton. – MR
Who: A favorite on the Detroit electro-indie underground for a few years now, Randy “Deastro” Chabot is finally about to break big on a global level. He hooked up with Motor City-based electronic label Ghostly International a few months ago, and they released his epic “Keepers” compilation to instant acclaim. (Or re-acclaim, as it had been floating around for a bit and is essentially a “greatest hits so far” from the 22-year-old who’s been making and self-releasing music for some 10 years.)
What: The usual reference points are the ethereal, shoegaze-y poptronica of M83, recent LCD Soundsystem, and kindred spirits in Baltimore’s burgeoning Wham City scene such as Dan Deacon. But Deastro is more charmingly homebrewed and authentic feeling than the Frenchies and more unguardedly engaging than the East Coast kids. Last month, Ghostly gave us a taste of what Deastro’s been cooking with the digital single “Parallelogram” from his forthcoming LP, “Moondagger.” It seems he’s incorporating full-band instrumentation into the madness, so now all bets are off. Look for that album in early ’09, and look for Deastro to rattle the electro-indie world for years to come.
Made for: Wham City, LCD and M83 fans, surely, but people who like the Killers and ‘80s synth-pop, too; Deastro’s work is catchy enough to have widespread appeal.
X-Factor: Deastro has his own blog, where he posts everything from quotes by famous feminist poets to tour updates, lists of favorite artists, doodles, label news, new music, photos and even his own poetry. – KND