Judging from the chalky sketch of two undead skeletons on the cover of Reward You Grace, these guys aren't particularly interested in conveying feelings of love. Moroseness, maybe. But not love. It comes as a surprise then, that by the second track, the melancholic fog has lifted to reveal a forceful garage-rock blend of 60s psych and blues. Under the lead of Frenchman Guillaume Marietta's quaking vocals, they rest of the album pulls between hypnotic, shoegazey spells and almost anthems. There's a Thee-Oh-Sees-covering-Echo-and-the-Bunnymen feel to it, anchored by that sinister sweetness—like titling the last track "I Want to Be the Last Song You Hear Before You Die."
Literature's consistent use of helvetica typeface on album art tips you off to the fact that they're a pop band. A really good one, it turns out. They take full advantage of the magenta-bright melodies and crystal-clear production that make songs jump off the page. There are lots of bands occupying this space in 2013—from veterans Saturday Looks Good to Me to newbies Ski Lodge— but few ease off the preciousness enough to sound like they could beat up Stuart Murdoch in a fight if they had to (it would still end in a hug, though) or are casually cool enough to pull off a curse word amidst a string of whip-smart lyrics. Though their debut LP Arab Spring was technically released last year, a remastered version has hit the web after the initial printing sold out. According to the band's Facebook page, it's again going quickly. (Because it's really good.)
The album opens with frontman Ryan Spencer drawing a fair assessment of the situation he found himself in: "You took my heart, and I just sat there drinking water." He's not joking, as Wormfood will prove over and over again, but his deadpanned detachment makes you wonder for a moment. (They are, after all, the type of band who sells marijuana-leafed pentagram t-shirts at their shows.) As Jeff Klingman pointed out, their smirk-on-top-of sincerity could make them, somewhat weirdly, kindred spirits with early-aughts oddballs The Unicorns. There's a facination with hip-hop too (Th' Corn Gangg, anyone?), in the form of consistent, clipped beats running throughout the record while they stay resolutely loyal to the decades of pop that came before them. Everything about it is good: the lyrics, melodies, production, and inclination to sound new yet familiar. Catch them live at 285 Kent on July 18—tickets are only $8!—, and let's make them a Big Deal.
To say no one's been talking about young British troubadour Jake Bugg would be a drastic understatement; his self-titled debut landed at the top of the UK charts when it was released last year. It seems here in the U.S., where it's only been available since spring, the indie sect has been hesitate to embrace it, though. His approach is a shier, less-done-up one than the arena-fitted strain of folk that has swollen in popularity in recent years, giving respite to anyone needing to pretend they hate Mumford & Sons when wanting to hear something from the genre. "Trouble Town" sounds like a one-man Beatles B-side; "Seen It All" could be a track from Conor Oberst's time with the Mystic Valley Band. It's the guileless vulnerability of songs like "Simple as This" and "Country Song" that make Bugg something special though. His guileless vulnerability cuts through everything else.
Follow Lauren Beck on Twitter @heylaurenbeck.