The "Not Top-20"

Discover new artists who don’t get enough attention from the mainstream

By MAX CRINNIN
On December 3, 2013

If you have a hipster friend, you know the pains of trying to enjoy your favorite popular "Top 20" tunes in their presence.

"So mainstream," they say as they sneer at you in the car, pouncing on the radio dial in a violent rush to safety on the NPR station. Or even worse, they keep their favorite mix-CD - full of no-name, emo stuff - on-deck for emergencies like this.

You shouldn't feel guilty about getting your groove on to contemporary popular music, but you also need to have a way to respond to this abuse by proving that you're just as hip, if not hipper, than the rest.

There's nothing wrong with vibing to some Mumford & Sons, but have you listened to Cass McCombs' new album?

Yes, Eminem is back with some tasty beats, and it's hard not to get amped on him releasing a new album, but have you been listening to Action Bronson?

It's worth getting to know these more "underground" artists, not only as ammunition for when your hipster kin call you out, but because they're making some of the most exciting, new music that you definitely won't be hearing on your local pop radio stations.

Today, mainstream radio is often frowned upon, and rightfully so, for a lack of quality in the music; but this trend has unfortunately made it uncool to like anything popular, whether it sounds good or not.

In an effort to enlighten you with new musical discoveries, while providing you with ammunition against attacks from your hipster friends, here's a list of rising or lesser-known artists that you should be listening to alongside your chart-topping heroes.

You may be surprised to hear how similar they are to some of your more popular favorites.

Artist: Dinosaur Jr.

Sounds like: Nirvana, your cooler older brother's garage band

Best album: Green Mind (1991)

Die-hard fans of the true "indie" scene that blossomed in the '90s behind the scenes of the soaring popularity of alternative rock groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam hold Dinosaur Jr. up as royalty, but a great deal of music lovers scratch their heads at any mention of the bands name. Dinosaur Jr. still gets a lot of play on smalltime, local college radio stations, but since the group formed in the mid '80s they've received very little serious attention from major media sources. Their album Green Mind is a perfect addition to any party playlist, especially with a '90s theme. The songs are very guitar heavy and filled with memorable hooks and lyrics. Green Mind is filled with amazing song titles like "Puke And Cry," "I Live For That Look" and "Hot Burrito #2." If you need any convincing beyond that, listen to "Start Choppin'" and it's unlikely you'll be able to resist the underrated tastiness that is Dinosaur Jr.

Artist: Jake Bugg

Sounds like: Oasis, Jack White

Best album: Shangri La (2013)

Jake Bugg is currently being held up as the next savior of Brit-pop and it's unlikely he'll be out of the mainstream for very long. Everyone is chirping about the 19-year-old's virtuoso guitar playing and catchy blues-infused pop songs. Americans have long loved the rock influence of the Brit's on their culture ever since groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came in waves during the '60s. Groups like The Smiths, Radiohead, and Coldplay have drifted in and out of the spotlight, keeping a strong British Invasion of excellent music present on American airwaves and Bugg is next in line to capture the hearts of fan girls and boys alike in the U.S. of A.

Artist: Cass McCombs

Sounds like: Lou Reed, Neil Young

Best album: Big Wheel and Others (2013)

It's hard to say whether Cass McCombs' twangy, driving guitar rhythms are more captivating for listeners to enjoy than his hauntingly mysterious lyrics, so head straight to his most recent album, Big Wheel and Others, to decide for yourself. McCombs is a reclusive shadow-dweller who has consistently received praise from sources like NPR and Pitchfork, who pay attention to more alternative artists, while staying entirely out of the spotlight. If you have a soft spot for the unique songwriting of an artist like Lou Reed and/or Neil Young's style of country music, McCombs belongs on your list of artists to check out. On "Morning Star" he sings, "Leave your husband and come with me/ Said the Blackjack Gypsy Davey/ Morning Star, tell no lie/ While the goose is hanging high/ Wring my neck under your thighs."

Artist: Mutual Benefit

Sounds like: Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective, the wind chimes in your backyard

Best album: Love's Crushing Diamond (2013)

Love's Crushing Diamond sounds like the feeling you get when you greet the day on a beautiful winter's morning - something rare in Buffalo. You walk outside, the sun is rising on the horizon and blasting onto your furry brow beneath five layers of wool and North Face. You're chilly, but the sense of peaceful solitude replaces all sensations with something warmer than the Peppermint Hot Chocolate awaiting you at Starbucks while everyone else in town is still cozied up in bed - you know the feeling. There is hope in Mutual Benefit's sound, and it's something we can all benefit from by giving a listen. The songs are spacey, slow and drawn out at times, but they always manage to churn into something beautiful and worthy of serious sonic attention. The album is best enjoyed as a whole, but "Advanced Falconry" is by far the best song of the bunch - it captures listeners with lyrics like, "And oh the way she moves/ Always on the run/ And to look into her eyes/ Will make a fool of anyone/ And she talks softly/ Sees through me/ Says something/ I can't hear it/ But I won't forget/ The way she flies."

Artist: Haim

Sounds like: Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, Madonna

Best album: Days Are Gone (2013)

Like Jake Bugg, it's probably only a matter of time before Haim explodes with popularity and hits the mainstream. The group consists mainly of three sisters who grew up performing in a traveling band with their parents doing Fleetwood Mac covers, but with a recent performance on Letterman and serious praise and attention coming from major and underground media sources, Haim's pop sound is something that everyone is starting to pay attention to. Their lyrics show maturity and independence, and their sound demands you dance whether you're in the car or in the club. Their best songs include "Falling," "Don't Save Me" and "Honey & I," but Days Are Gone is solid as a whole album with listening pleasure that lasts after several plays.

Artist: Action Bronson

Sounds like: Wu-Tang Clan, Mac Miller

Best album: Blue Chips 2 (featuring Party Supplies)

Action Bronson reps Queens hard, he is a chef, he drops names from all corners of pop culture obscurity and his beats are as rare as the steaks he rhymes about devouring. Bronson drops jaws with his lyrical abilities that sound fresh yet familiar to the sounds that true fans of the underground will appreciate. Bronson raps about cooking a lot because he's a skilled cook - he even has a food show on Vice magazine's online video website. His lyrics are incredibly unique and culturally on target with what's going on now in America's pockets of urban youth culture. Bronson leaves you smiling, laughing and often confused but only in a good way. XXL magazine published an article titled "The 15 Most Absurd Lyrics On Action Bronson's 'Saaab Stories,'" which is definitely worth exploring as you explore Bronson's mixtape library of excellence.

 

email: arts@ubspectrum.com


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