With approval for genuinely Southernfied rockers—from Jack White to My Morning Jacket—being so widespread across age groups and genre niches, it's not surprising that Alabama Shakes landed on what seems like every "best in show" list at SXSW this spring. But let's talk about the star of the show. Brittany Howard's voice is not something you hear every day, the kind that digs in deep, doing whatever it is that inspires critics to use the word "gritty," but that can also let everything go and soar to a decidingly un-girtty, immacluate place.
About an hour before writing this post, a coworker* Skyped me an MP3 of a song called "Have You Seen My Son" from some guy named Benjamin Booker. Now here we are. Consider that YouTube clip above my Skype to you, and let's make this kid famous. The recorded version comes with a shoddy drum machine clap to heighten its punked-up charge, putting gospel in the presence of a chugging melody. Elsewhere, in a near-perfect lyrical turn, Booker brings the lazily rolling "I Thought I Heard You Screaming” to a close with the line, “Did you love me, or was it the drugs?" That's how you end a song.
Le Bon's 2012 album CYRK may not be the Welsh songstress' first time at the rodeo, but these are the songs that should put her in the big leagues, if only blog justice was served. Her voice combats its Nico-afflicted detachment with a smokey warmth, her lyrics slyly poke fun at the super serious, her once prim-and-proper acoustic folk now runs into feedback-incited upheaval, all making for an album that's as rooted in current trends as it is in timelessness. (Catch her at Union Pool next Saturday, as her live show also comes highly recommended.)
Aussies seem to have everything figured out. Sydney-based foursome Royal Headache approaches garage rock in line with their nationally accepted, leisured pace of life. Not that they play their songs slow, mind you, but in the way the elements just sort of tumble into place. Frontman Evan Minsker, meanwhile, coos, shouts and wails with every ounce of his being to keep the pieces glued together.
Whatever direction rock music takes, it's comforting to know that bands like Cali punk outfit Terry Malts are in the world. I need to know they exist—that I can one day play my hypothetical kids "Tumble Down," and they won't look at me weird. They'll recognize that the melody is infectious and that it makes them want to eat candy and jump up and down. Their Slumberland debut Killing Time is built upon the American Dream of having nothing to do, with its relentlessly hooky guitar-bass-drum rush providing a choice soundtrack to every Saturday night between the ages of 15 and 35, but also for eating candy and jumping up and down.
The mood that Iceage-offshoot Vår aims to establish is timid and dark—a reckoning between New Order and Joy Division, is the go-to description—but the band pursues it so aggressively and endearingly straight-faced, it throws you for a loop. You forget that it's mostly coming from a group of boys not yet able to legally drink in America, who are maybe still immune to irony. They go all in, so you do too.
Follow Lauren Beck on Twitter @heylaurenbeck.