My thing for this band is very, very inexplicable for many reasons. Sparks has been around for almost 50 years and released 22 albums, including a musical album about the classic Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. The band is composed of two brothers: Russell, the frontman who favors a more glam rock look and Ron, who was once described by John Lennon as “Hitler playing the piano” due to his main mode being scowling. They’ve tried their hand at every genre in 50 years, from rock to disco to experimental, and through it all, they’ve maintained the consistent purpose of screwing with the audience. Which is, ultimately, their main appeal.
2. Joanna Newsom
It’s cool that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature and all, but has the Nobel Prize committee ever heard a Joanna Newsom song? With her longest song clocking in at almost 17 minutes, Newsom creates song that are so intricate, it would take me 10 pages to even unravel the edge of one here. Her songs contain more allusions than T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and are written so beautifully that the lyrics alone could make you weep. For example, when she describes someone skipping stones across a river she writes of how they “slipped under forever / in a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky’d been breathing on a mirror.” If this weren’t enough, she’s also an insanely gifted musician who plays the harp by spidering her hands across the strings faster than the eye can register.
Sleater-Kinney is a band very dear to me that started in the ‘90s and just released a new album in 2014 (their first in nine years). I had a teacher who nicknamed me “Sleater-Kinney” because of the hyphenate nature of my own name, but I didn’t start listening to them until about a year later. Their most recent album, “No Cities To Love,” is classic indie rock at its best and shows that the band’s years apart have not slowed them down an inch. Also, if you like “Portlandia,” this is Carrie Brownstein’s original gig.
4. EL VY
If you’re a fan of everyone’s favorite depressed-dad-on-Prozac band The National, you’ll be glad to know that both bands share frontman Matt Berninger. While the words “side project” usually elicit a feeling of dread in the musically-inclined, EL VY is genuinely good. With more of a pop sentiment than The National, EL VY’s album “Return to the Moon” is fun without being mindless.
5. Belle and Sebastian
If you didn’t realize that I’m pretty much hipster trash until now, then this certainly will confirm it. While I’m not entirely sure if this bands counts as “underground,” I don’t care because I love me some Scottish pop music. Belle and Sebastian combine the pop aesthetic with pathos in a way that no other band can. Some may write them off as twee, but Wes Anderson still makes good movies in spite of his twee nature, and this is still good music.