I recently joined SubmitHub, a site where artists pay a small fee to send songs to reviewers, labels, bloggers and radio stations. I’m trying it out to see if I like it. But based on the response — more than 250 people have already sent me tunes — I won’t run out of options anytime soon. And honestly, nearly everything I’ve come across so far has been pretty decent. Here’s what I listened to today. And if you’d like to add to my SubmitHub list, click here.
1 The Maybe Next Years
First impressions are important. And this Tempe trio make an unforgettable one with their killer debut single. The Maybe Next Years’ Drown is a short, sharp shot of scrappy punk angst and anger that’s as pointed as a dart and twice as piercing. They claim it’s “an interpretation of a section of T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland, filtered through Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland.” I don’t know about all that. I just know it opens intriguingly, with a wiry two-fingered guitar line that drills into your brain, an insistently driving beat that pulls you forward and increasingly desperate vocals that grab you by the collar — and then the whole song explodes like a grenade with a chorus yin-yanged by chugging buzzsaw guitars and sweet backup vocals, topped by primal-scream refrain that goes, “I hope you fucking DROWWWNNN!” After just a couple of listens, it’s lodged so firmly in my noggin that I’ll be involuntarily singing it for days — and getting strange looks from passersby. So much for first impressions. Bottom line: Forget next year. You need to hear this right now.
There is such a thing as too much information. But to their credit, Starwolf know the value of a little mystery. The trio offer up zero detail about their music or themselves on their SubmitHub page — it took an online search to find that they’re from St. Louis and recently released their debut album Ti Amo, Stargazer. That leaves their single Heartbreak Woman to speak for itself. Fortunately, it makes its point eloquently and seductively. Quite simply, that point is: Starwolf heart the ’80s. Or at least the smooth, supple synth-pop of those shoulder-padded days. Those retro sounds form the pastel-coloured backbone of this polished, gliding groove. And they stylishly frame and support the rest of their vivid vintage disco outfit, which blends pillowy synth-pad percussion, pulsating pointillist synths that glisten like a glitter ball, and post-coital falsetto vocals that swirl around like dry ice clouds on the dance floor. And by the time it’s over, you’ll feel simultaneously soothed and hungry for more. And with that, these dapper dudes tell you everything you really need to know.
3 Alex Cuba feat. Silvana Estrada
Birds of a feather, etc., etc. Especially in Alex Cuba‘s world these days. The award-winning Cuban-Canadian singer-songwriter’s upcoming seventh album features half a dozen duets with various Latin artists — including this single co-starring rising Mexican star Silvana Estrada. That collaborative bent might make the title Dividido (no-duh translation: Divided) seem somewhat ironic. Fortunately, it doesn’t interfere with the duo’s ability to seamlessly and effortlessly merge their voices over a understated, gradually building backdrop of jaunty acoustic guitars, hand percussion and hip-swivelling bass. It all comes together as gracefully and naturally as birds in flight.
4 Bengal Lancers
Pop music doesn’t have to be vapid. Shake hands with Bengal Lancers, a young London quartet who make it clear they know how to blend style and substance with their latest single The Shakes — which is not their first release, but is apparently the first song they ever wrote together. If you pay attention to lyrics, you’ll be drawn into the tale of someone trying to help a night out on the town that turns into a dark night of the soul. If you don’t, you’ll enjoy a song that creatively bridges post-punk and indie-pop by melding a gritty driving bassline, urgent vocals and clanging guitars with hooky melodies, a bouncy groove and handclaps. Whichever direction you come at it from, it offers the best of both worlds. And makes a fine introduction to a band that seems driven to raise the pop-music bar.
5 Chow Mane & Oksami
Some people believe you should never apologize for anything. San Jose rapper Chow Mane and producer Oksami are clearly not down with that philosophy. The duo’s latest single Sorry tackles what may be the most common act of contrition in history: Regret over romantic misadventures that caused the premature, ill-timed end of a new relationship. It’s a tale often told. But to his credit, Chow Mane voices it with a humility and openness that make a refreshing change from the macho-man posturing and testosterone-overload that poisons so much contemporary rap. The creaky-voiced rhymer’s fittingly restrained delivery and gentle melodic flow — engagingly underpinned by a low-impact funk groove and cascading electric pianos vaguely reminiscent of The Doors‘ Riders on the Storm — bring home the message with enough warmth that everyone goes away happy. They’ve done nothing to apologize for here.