Working as waitress at the start of 2008, soul-pop singer Sharon Little was suddenly the opening act for big-name stars Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, and T-Bone Burnett in their national Raising Sand tour. Though she could be called an overnight sensation, Little has been honing her distinctive, bluesy style for years.
Emerging from the collaborative efforts of Baltimore school friends David "Avey Tare" Portner, Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox, Josh "Deakin" Dibb and Brian "Geologist" Weitz, Animal Collective is rooted in experimental music. Pinpointing the Collective's style in terms of genre is a difficult task; with a track record of nine studio albums, they've spread themselves across a eclectic board of psych, folk, rock, noise, and more.
The Irish pop rock band Bell X1, originally known as Juniper, have experienced a multitude of changes on the path to the successful spot they currently hold. Though they were lead by popular vocalist Damien Rice, Rice ended up leaving Jupiter and was replaced by drummer Paul Noonan. Soon after the group changed their name and became Bell X1. Of their three studio-recorded albums, Flock, released February of 2008, has proven to be the most successful. The album reached #1 in Ireland and gained a huge following throughout the U.K.
If there's any chance of James Brown's reincarnation, Black Joe Lewis would be a prime candidate. This twenty-something soul singer hails from Texas with his new band The Honeybears - comprised of blues-rockers with names like Sleepy, Sugarfoot, Rooster, Big Show, Wild Bill, and Slyder McKnight the Night Train. With a tight horn section, blazing guitar licks, and Lewis' raw vocals, the group and its frontman are quickly taking over the Austin garage rock scene and moving onto the rest of the country.
Upon first listen, the Brooklyn experimental pop/folk band Grizzly Bear grabs and doesn't let go. Here is real, accessible emotion and more than enough astounding talent to convey it. The group's spare acoustic melodies over plaintive piano figures and dusty strings with pop elements carry immense power.
Listening to Boston's Passion Pit is a lot like going out dancing. It's easy to get caught up in the music and lose yourself. But the group has more to offer than simply catchy hooks. Their brand of shiny electro-pop combines bright, danceable aesthetics with emotionally-charged lyrics that makes Passion Pit an irresistible treat.
Breakups are never easy. But often times the emotions found in the aftermath can lead to a new level of artistic expression. Few understand this better than the Philadelphia quintet East Hundred. Through the ashes of the breakup between two band members came the group's remarkable debut album, Passenger.
They're a big outfit as most indie bands go, but the 13-piece Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have created quite a buzz in L.A. and in the indie world. Making excellent '60s-style folk rock that could just be called revivalist, with their convert school/tour bus, their back porch acoustics, and their almost communal air, this is one band not to miss.
When most people think of the best of jazz and soul, a skinny white kid from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But Mayer Hawthorne (Andrew Mayer Cohen) is well on his way to changing that. With influences like Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, and the collaboration of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Eddie Holland Jr, Mayer has a retro sound that bespeaks a seasoned yet refreshing soul.
Cory Chisel is one of those rare, contemporary folk artists whose authenticity is indubitable. No matter how you define authentic, you'd be hard pressed to put a finger on anything not-so when listening. From the emotion to the influences to the background, Chisel doesn't let one iota of insincerity into his work. For this reason (and because of his undeniable talent) XPN is choosing him as the Artist to Watch for October 2009.