The New Sound

Now that January is about to be behind us and 2008 is well underway, music labels are unveiling the latest projects from their re-vamped rosters. We’ve spotlighted five new albums that are gaining a lot of buzz and defining indie rock’s new sound.

Vampire Weekend

This Ivy League-educated four-piece has quickly become one of the most talked about new bands, drawing praise from some of indie rock’s most elite outlets. (It’s the rare blend of attention that groups like the Arcade Fire or The Strokes gained before they blew up.) And though the buzz and hipster status of the Vampire Weekend is easy to compare to other indie rock mainstays, their music is another story. Critics have taken to labeling their unique (and relatively simple) blend of New York punk, New Wave and upbeat rock, “Afro-pop.” The band members reportedly have tastes for West African pop albums, and you can hear the influence in their breezy sound.

Each of their foot-tapping tunes on their latest self-titled album are carefully weaved together with bouncy keyboards and sunny guitar riffs. The band also maintains a prep school persona (they met while attending Columbia University) that, combined with their summertime pop sound makes them one of the most unique acts to come along in a long time. (You can go here to read more about the band and see RELEVANT’s recent interview with them.)

Gasoline Heart

When Gasoline Heart released their debut You Know Who You Are in 2006, the album opened to solid reviews that praised the mix of alt-country, raw songwriting and Americana-influence rock ‘n’ roll. Unfortunately for the band, a combination of issues at their label and having a sound that doesn’t easily fit into a marketing strategy, led the record to fly under the radar, and it saw only a limit impact in terms of sales. But with their latest release, the aptly titled What Now?, Gasoline Heart is going indie. The new record is a combination of acoustic tracks as well as six new songs recorded with producer Matt Goldman (the mastermind behind tracks from Copeland, Underoath and As Cities Burn), and the two sides of the CD (listed like an old school rock ‘n’ roll album, with a true A-Side and B-Side) offer an interesting juxtaposition.

If the songs sound like the go-for-broke anthems of seasoned industry veterans (think Ryan Adams without all the honky-tonk), it’s because the lineup consists of members of ‘90s-era indie favorites Squad Five-O and Dear Ephesus (though you might not hear it in their sound). You can head over to their MySpace page to check out a couple of tracks, and if you get a chance to see them live, their Foo Fighter-style antics and full-audience sing-a-longs make for a show you don’t want to miss.

The Whigs

The Whigs are the next evolution in the rebirth of ‘70s-rock soul and Southern rock-influenced pop that made the Kings of Leon into a major act. You can almost feel the Deep South heat on the Athens-based band’s latest release Mission Control. The record has been a longtime coming for the Georgia four-piece—back in 2005, Rolling Stone called them one of America’s best unsigned bands (a titled that didn’t last long as they have since been signed to ATO Records).

The guitar-driven tracks on Mission Control are more polished than some of the band’s earlier indie releases, but they still maintain a raw sense of simplicity. And though drummer Julian Doiro occasionally channels Keith Moon-style energy, the jam-out sessions and drum fills never come off the rails.

The Myriad

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Just two months from the release of their sophomore album, With Arrows, With Poise, The Myriad are at an interesting place. The Seattle group is one of the most hyped bands of the moment. They were recently named MTV2’s Breakout Band of the Year, they have a video in regular rotation on MTV, they have a downloadable song on the video game Rock Band and their new album is being released on Koch Records. In an effort to build even more buzz about the release of the album, the group just released a six-song EP, Prelude to Arrows. But with several weeks before the album actually drops, it’s still yet to be seen what the mainstream reaction will be to the project.

The Myriad’s debut, Never Trust a Ladder, was widely praised and offered a cool mix of Euro-flavor (in the vein of Muse and Radiohead) with pop-rock catchiness. The 2005 album (which was released on the smaller Floodgate Records) remained a critical favorite, and that’s what helped the band get picked up by a major label. And this is what will make their upcoming album a success: Despite the hype, The Myriad has been able to let the music stand on its own. Ladder was great album. Even with the MTV buzz and mainstream praise, The Myriad has a unique sound that makes them interesting. Arrows is one of the major albums to be on the look out for in 2008, because even with a killer sound, a little hype never hurt anyone.

What Made Milwaukee Famous

Despite being from the hipster-rock hub of Austin, Texas, as their name implies, the guys from What Made Milwaukee Famous seem to understand something about the appeal of accessibility. More an exercise of power pop attitude than rock experimentation, their debut, What Doesn’t Kill Us, which drops in March, recalls the glory of mid-90s alternative with fuzzy guitars, great hooks and unrelenting sincerity—something too many indie artists seemed to abandon in favor of veiled showmanship and shoe-gazing.

Though the band is has found a home on Seattle’s legendary Barsuk Records (the label which broke artists including Death Cab For Cutie, Menomena and Rilo Kiley), WMMF breaks the mold of gloomy Pacific Northwest outfits. Even though the album recalls some ’70s-era nostalgia, its real endearment is its melodies and straightforward garage-born delivery that reminds us of a time when MTV’s Buzz Bin was laced with artists like Superdrag and Weezer … groups that made indie-rock fun again.

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