Not all great bands are household names. Here are five that you might never have heard before. Look down your nose at your ‘mainstream’ friends and get listening to some brilliant sounds.
Australia exported its fair share of brazen macho rock in the 1970s and 80s, but The Go-Betweens were entirely different – literate, intelligent and sensitive: think an Antipodean Smiths with better songs and none (well, maybe a little) of the attitude of Morrissey. Based on the songs of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, they made six highly acclaimed albums in the 1980s before splitting. They reformed in 2000 and made three more albums that only enhanced their reputation before the untimely death of McLennan in 2006. The Go-Betweens – Head Full of Steam:
One of New Zealand’s most influential bands, The Clean split up in 1982, unaware of how their music would go on to inspire groups including Pavement and Yo La Tengo. In 1989, they reformed to make an album and tour Europe, where they were surprised to find they had a small but discerning audience. Since then they have reformed every two or three years, mostly for concerts in their homeland or the US, and made five memorable albums, all of them boasting some incredible songs. They’ve also released two live albums – they’re a formidable prospect in concert. But it’s their early singles and EPs that still resonate most – short, sharp bursts of jangle-pop perfection and gleeful noisemaking that helped found one of the world’s best independent record labels, Flying Nun. Here’s a starting point.
Neutral Milk Hotel:
In 1998, an obscure US indie band released a strange concept album that married Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl to a gifted lyricist’s meditations on life, love, sex, death and everything in between. After a year or so touring, singer-songwriter Jeff Mangum disbanded the group and disappeared, making only two or three public appearances in more than a decade. It took several years to achieve cult status, but eventually In The Aeroplane Over The Sea became something like the Catcher in The Rye of rock – a masterpiece by a recluse, unlikely ever to be repeated. Then in 2013 Mangum reformed the band to play live, and they toured for nearly two years before calling time again in spring 2015. There’s no sign of any new material from them as yet, and it seems doubtful there ever will be. Perhaps In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is too big a legacy to live up to.
Italy has an incredible tradition of atmospheric instrumental music – legendary film composer Ennio Morricone is the undisputed master of the art. Sacri Cuori (Sacred Hearts) are worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the maestro. Formed by guitarist and composer Antonio Gramentieri in 2006, the band also consists of drummer and percussionist Diego Sapignoli and bassist Francesco Giampaoli, along with a long list collaborators from Italy and abroad. Their music spans genres effortlessly, from lounge to surf, country, psychedelia and spaghetti western, but always has sheen of sophistication – as you’d expect from a group who describe themselves as “the bastard sons of Federico Fellini”. An excellent starting point is Sacri Cuori’s 2015 album Delone or 2012’s Rosario – here’s a song from the latter:
San Francisco-based musician Kelley Stoltz has made six consistently excellent albums since 1999, and while he’s met with his fair share of critical acclaim (he’s a favourite of Mojo magazine’s) he still has to work in a record store to make ends meet. (Grooves in Market Street, San Francisco is one of the world’s great record stores, by the way.) Effortlessly melodic and more than a little psychedelic, Stoltz’s songs draw on classicists from the Velvet Underground to Leonard Cohen (at his most jovial) and Brian Wilson, but retain a character all their own. Stoltz has a new album due out in autumn 2015 – expect more excellence.