By Tom Lynch and Duke Shin
After releasing a series of EPs since its 1997 inception, Bridgeport band Airiel released its first full-length record at the end of last summer, called “The Battle of Sealand,” named after the micronation. (In fact, for the band’s contribution to the culture of Sealand, rumors have been flying that it will be the first to play on the land. Band founder Jeremy Wrenn notes that “It might happen.”) The band’s shoegazer revivalist sound recalls the work of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride, but perhaps even more ethereal than those acts, if you can imagine that (they even got German electronic artist Ulrich Schnauss to guest on the record). The band’s been through a lineup transformation recently, but Wrenn is still the constant—“It’s not over until I say it’s over,” he quips. Up next, the band plans to tour the West Coast with fellow gazers Film School, followed by a multi-date UK tour. After that, “Work on the new album with the new guys [in the band].”
Potential Stumbles: With the rising tide of shoegazer revivalism, Airiel could be lost in the flood waters.
Ex-Scotland Yard Gospel Choir vocalist and songwriter Matthew Kerstein quit his former gig to launch this act (and took a few other members with him), named after his hometown, and last year’s self-titled EP was one of the best local releases of 2007, straightforward and graceful indie rock, with a Dylanesque sound based in nostalgia and bittersweetness (“Bet You Never Thought,” from the EP, which was a Scotland Yard re-do, still resonates). “The main goal was that we wanted to release something last year, get the name out, have people respond to that and come out to the live shows,” Kerstein says. “We all have our own problems with the EP—we’re working hard on a new record, it’s gonna be a step up.” The new record, tentatively titled “Amateur Lovers,” will be the band’s first full-length. “It’s in the same vein as the EP,” Kerstein says. “Twelve tunes, song-oriented…it’s more cohesive than anything I’ve done.”
Potential Stumbles: Brighton, MA may have a difficult time escaping the shadow of Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, who’s getting more attention these days.
Hip-hop artists Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish have exploded very quickly in the last year or so, after a memorable performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival, an impressive EP in “Totally Flossed Out” and a great single in “Black Mags,” not to mention commercial spots and one of Rolling Stone’s top ten artists to watch in 2008. Also, the duo has had a high-profile opening gig for M.I.A., bringing them around the globe. “It’s where we grew up at or spent most of our time so the slang effects our rhymes and the vibe of the city effects our sound,” the Kids say collectively over email, of Chicago. Later this year the duo releases another EP, “The Bake Sale,” of “all the songs everyone knows,” and then “an album following of new stuff. It’s just more of what you’re used to hearing from us. Solid dope music. We aren’t gonna let anyone down. Trust.”
Potential Stumbles: With the explosion of hip-hop from Chicago in the last few years, will audiences become tired of our Windy City?
Back in 2006, when the DJ duo of J2K and Autobot were named to URB magazine’s “Next 100,” it was difficult to imagine what would follow, but countless sold-out performances, spots at last year’s Coachella festival and Lollapalooza and a mix album for Vice Records as part of Toyota’s Scion CD series have made Flosstradamus a club-kid household name. Last summer, the two went on tour with Chromeo, exposing their emphatic and gyrate-inducing work to the world. At Lollapalooza last August, the crowd went insane for the duo, in the middle of the day, no less. With booking now being handled by the Windish Agency, Flosstradamus will be uncovered to more and more crowds, and with the constant association with artists The Cool Kids and Kid Sister, even more attention will follow. The duo’s currently at work on its debut album, set to be released in summer of 2008.
Potential Stumbles: The duo is near-perfect in a live setting, but what if the record isn’t as powerful?
Any notice from Kanye West doesn’t hurt, and when the hip-hop superstar rhymed over local goddess Kid Sister’s “Pro Nails” on his “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” mixtape, she was shot out of a cannon. (Fool’s Gold released the remix as a single, and West even appeared in the video.) Kid Sister—or, Melissa Young, sister to Flosstradamus’ Josh Young—has already done Coachella, Lollapalooza and Pitchfork without a full-length record. As Flosstradamus’ MC, she’s garnered even more attention, from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, Blender and more. This summer will see the release of “KoKo B. Ware,” her debut full-length, on Downtown Records, and its highly anticipated release should mark a turning point in her career—no longer a DJ duo’s MC, but rather a bona fide hip-hop queen.
Potential Stumbles: In a traditionally male-dominated genre of music, she has to work extra hard to succeed.
Smart-ass, dirty and endlessly charming in a beer-soaked kind of way, last year’s “Fresh Rot” (Flameshovel), Mannequin Men’s second record, featured snot-rocket after snot-rocket, taking many cues from the Wipers and The Stooges. It was unlike anything we’ve heard come out of here in the last few years, and the band’s inescapable enthusiasm was infectious—you could tell this was really fun for them. “I feel like the people that get it really get it and like it, and the people that don’t get it are pretty dismissive,” singer Kevin Richard says of his band. “We made a few top 2007 lists—it was definitely a step up above ‘Showbiz Witch,’” the band’s even grittier debut. Next the band’s recording a single for Horizontal Action’s Todd Killings’ HoZac Records, and then another full-length, on which Richard notes that the band’s songs “have got a little slower. Not slow slow. But they’re really great songs. I’m really happy with the kind of mid-tempo stuff, there’s a lot more vocal harmonies. Well, not harmonies, because we can’t sing, so I’ll say ‘multiple voices.’ We’re not trying to beat up people anymore.”
Potential Stumbles: The dismissive crowds Richard mentions could maintain their ignorance, unfairly labeling the group a throwaway party band.
Santiago & Bushido
Local house duo Santiago & Bushido have been bangin’ out their take on Chicago house since 2001, with DJ sets around town and a handful of releases, remixes and licensed tracks—sometimes deep, sometimes techy, and always on the house tip. But things really picked up for Chris Santiago and Tim Bush after partnering up with local upstart Potty Mouth Music, who showcased their new fidgety, squelch-heavy “For What” EP, which promptly propelled the dance-floor buzz-saw stabs of “Head Trick” to the #1 spot on digital DJ download destination Beatport.com. “I think we always make a conscious effort to do something a little different each time we work in the studio,” explains Santiago. “Our musical tastes have also changed during the years. The ‘fidget’ movement of Switch, Jesse Rose, Trevor Loveys has definitely been a recent influence in our sound however I don’t want to be classified as such. I think some people may say we are riding the tide but honestly this is the music we’ve been feeling as of late. Our main focus in the studio is getting that crowd to get up and move!”
Potential Stumbles: It seems their turn for the harder-edged influence of producers like the UK’s Dubsided crew (Switch, Jesse Rose, Trevor Loveys, etc.) has been their recent formula to success. But will Santiago & Bushido’s focus change on their next releases? And if so, will their newfound commercial success follow?
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir
Elia Einhorn’s Scotland Yard Gospel Choir introduced itself in 2003 with “I Bet You Tell That to All the Boys,” an indie-pop record of the highest order that, if you closed your eyes, you could swear was old Belle and Sebastian (at least with Elia’s songs; the Matthew Kerstein tunes were still more Dylan-like.) After Kerstein left the band it was unclear what the future would hold for the Choir, but Einhorn decided to forge ahead, and last year’s self-titled record, on Bloodshot, bested the band’s debut. “In the last year there’s been a very accelerated motion for us,” Einhorn says. “We signed with Bloodshot, played CMJ, did about a six-week tour all over the country. We got weird news—we are number-one on the singles chart in Belgium. All this stuff that we didn’t think would happen, it’s happening. It’s bizarre. Ben Gibbard cornered me to tell me he loved the record. I mean, nobody’s making a living off it yet, but it’s better than it’s ever been.” This year the band’s got ambitious plans: a new record towards the end of the year (they’re sticking with Bloodshot), a “big tour” in the coming months and, more immediately, Schubas’ monthly Monday night residency in April.
Potential Stumbles: With already the most exposure compared to the other rock acts on this list, has the time when the band could have been “making a living of it” come and gone?
Another band taking notes from MBV and Ride, local three-piece STAR might be the smallest act on this list, but the trio certainly packs a punch. Last year’s “Devastator” (Lovely Rebel) explored the loud, abrasive, distorted guitar techniques of the genre, matched with dutiful bass guitar and progressive, programmed beats. But the real, ahem, star was vocalist Shannon Roberts, whose ethereal and oft-angelic delivery (properly muffled in the mix) drove each song forward with the right balance of precision and dreaminess. “We didn’t expect to get such a good reaction,” Roberts says. “Out of the blue we heard from people. Like, ‘My god, you’re actually listening to our album?’ There was an article where I mentioned Guided by Voices and all of a sudden somebody got in touch with Robert Pollard and he liked our CD. And he’s my idol, so it was like, ‘Oh. My. God.’” STAR’s tendency to craft shorter, sometimes less-than-two-minute songs makes more sense now that Roberts mentions her GBV devotion. This year, Roberts says the band plans to record more material. “There are so many songs we haven’t put out yet. We want to record everything with better equipment. We’re gonna take our time and see how it goes.”
Potential Stumbles: A live drummer always trumps a drum machine; plus, shoegaze revival could be old news by the end of 2008.
Ultra Sonic Edukators
The Chicago Brit-pop outfit released its “Bad Blood” EP on YMA/Bermuda records in October of last year, a smart and infectious collection of psychedelia and snotty but endearing vocal charisma. The band’s month-long residency at Schubas earlier this year was successful, and the band’s now in Los Angeles recording its follow-up with none other than Weezer’s Brian Bell as producer. “He’s been really cool,” singer and guitarist Z-Force says. “He’s in the studio with Weezer right now, doing another song for their new record.” While there’s no set release date for the record-in-progress—“Not exactly,” Z-Force says, “but hopefully sooner than later”—he says the experience recording out there has been a strange one. “We’re all living in a two-room apartment, it’s pretty funny. Flying out here was surreal—I mean, we’ve been out here before but never to record. It’s kind of been a dream for me since I was in high school.”
Potential Stumbles: Will spending too much time in L.A. extract the band’s Midwest sensibilities?