Published On: September 9, 2013

20 Artists, Bands and Music You Might Have Missed

Published On: September 9, 2013
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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20 Artists, Bands and Music You Might Have Missed

If you've been struggling to find new music, Mark Smotroff is here to help. He not only lists artists to look into, but also methods and tips that will allow you to find new music all on your own.

20 Artists, Bands and Music You Might Have Missed

  • Mark Smotroff cut his teeth doing PR for Sony and Sharp in the '80s in New York before moving to San Francisco in the '90s to drive a new wave of passion for video games with Sega, Acclaim Entertainment, 3DO, US Gold, and many others. Mark spent much of the first decade of this 21st century spreading the gospel about surround sound technologies for DTS, including the launch of DTS-HD Master Audio.
    His knowledge of music and technology has also been put to good use a music reviewer and feature writer for numerous publications. In the 1990s, Mark wrote for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, and DISCoveries Magazine. More recently, he has contributed to,, Sound+Vision Magazine, and Big Picture Big Sound.

20-new-artists-small.jpgI've ranted about this before, but there are far too many - if I might be kind - "older" folks who themselves rant on like stodgy parents: "There is no good new music anymore!" To that, I say: 'Bah! Humbug! Piffle! And whatever other unprintable expletive you might want to add in here [____ _____!].' 

Additional Resources
• Read more original content like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• Explore more music industry news from
• See reviews in our Digital to Analog Converter Review section.

Seriously, people, there is a lot of great music being made across all genres these days, arguably more than when you were growing up and listening on the radio for the next big hit. The thing is, it is really hard to figure out where and how to find this stuff, especially if you still rely on old-school methods (like listening to the radio) to find out about the music. The truth is, I stopped listening to commercial radio as we know it back in the 1980s. Heck, it was already in decline in the late '70s when Elvis Costello wrote "...the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin' to anesthetize the way that you feel."

So how do I keep up on new music? Well, there are several ways.

I talk about music a lot with my friends. Usually, when two or three people start telling me to check a particular band out, chances are its going to be something I'll like, or at least find interesting. For example, that is exactly how I got turned onto the great Jeff Buckley back in the mid-'90s.

Keep a Keen Ear
I am a city boy at heart and thus I pay attention to what is going on around me. I don't wear ear buds on the street or when I go shopping or in restaurants. So, when visiting favorite music stores, frequently the employees will be playing cool stuff and I listen for it. Sometimes I will hear music playing in a store and will ask about what the music is. Heck, some music I heard in a restaurant ultimately led me to discover Ra Ra Riot (Ra Ra who? Stay tuned, more on them later)

Get An App And Learn To Use It
If you have a modern smart phone, you've got a world of music at your fingertips and you probably don't even know it. Get the free app called Shazam, a great way to find out what a song is that you may be hearing in real time. With this app, you just hold up your phone near the sound source (a speaker or PA system in the store or wherever you may be) and press the Shazam button. Shazam will then search for a sonic "fingerprint" in that music and try to match it up to similar digital marks in its database. Within a few seconds, you'll usually find out who the artist was and what album it came from. Magic! You can usually even buy the track right then and there via iTunes. I don't do that myself, since I'm not into MP3s, but I do check back on my tagged list when I go music shopping the next time 'round. For the most part, Shazam works swimmingly, as long as the music being played is represented in its system (not everything is) and you have some Internet connectivity.

All that said, to make it extra easy for you folks, has asked me to provide a list of newer music that you - seasoned audiophiles and casual music fans alike - might well have not heard of and may want to consider checking out.

Here are some of my suggestions (in no particular order):

Beirut - If you like Tom Waits' tales of woe and heartbreak but can't quite digest his growly vocal style, Beirut's angelic-voiced singer/songwriter Zach Condon may be your answer. Good places to start: The Flying Club Cup, The Riptide, March of the Zapotec.

Beach House - I've only started to listen to their stuff, but what I have heard, I've liked. This is one of those situations where multiple friends have recommended them to me. Their album Bloom is a big lush affair that reminds me of the Cocteau Twins by way of the Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds.

School of Seven Bells - Another group with a bit of Cocteau Twins influence, this music is a bit more dance-oriented. Imagine if late '80s Depeche Mode was fronted by Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins and you have an idea where this is going.

Fleet Foxes - Yearning for the days of multi-part harmony, these guys may be your cuppa. Their album Helplessness Blues is like a meandering extended dose of CSN's "Guinevere" run through Phil Spector's echo chamber. Maybe not all that immediately hook-filled or rocking, Fleet Foxes make a melodious sound that grows on you and warrants repeated listening.

Queens of the Stone Age - Their new album Like Clockwork is perhaps one of the best '90s-styled hard rock album of the 2000s. If you miss early Pearl Jam and Jeff Buckley, this one is worth checking out.

Ra Ra Riot - Innocent lovely vocals and punchy modern dance rhythms meet glitchy eight-bit production sensibilities and cellos! If you like Abba, early Depeche Mode, The Silicon Teens, a touch of '70s soul and ELO, you might like these folks. Fun. Smart. Hook-filled. Get their new album Beta Love for starters.

Toro Y Moi - So called "chillwave" music that uses samples, retro 1970s synthesizers this side of vintage Stevie Wonder and mellow soft vocals to effect a new twist on vintage soul. If you liked '90s releases by Meshell N'Degeocello or Mood Swings, you might dig this cat. I started with his fine, fine album Anything In Return on vinyl.

Per Gessle - The lead dude from the '80s Swedish hit makers Roxette ('member them?) is still going strong and putting out interesting fun solo albums. His Son of a Plumber two-LP collection (on EMI in Europe) is a fab, fun listen that plays like an alternate audio encyclopedia of American AM pop radio tuned in between 1965 and 1975.

Porcupine Tree - This band has been hailed by many as saviors of progressive rock. I wasn't fully buying it until I heard the song "Pure Narcotic" from their 1999 opus Stupid Dream; it was then that I realized that band leader Steven Wilson was a great songwriter and that I needed to listen more intently to his music. Since then, I've been exploring and enjoying the band's music, replete with its heavy metal tendencies and progressive rock leanings blended with the gift of good melody. Recent albums like The Incident have received rave reviews, so I'll be checking them out myself soon. Fear of a Blank Planet is an intense, dense, metal-prog listen. Band leader Wilson has become the patron saint of all things surround sound, so if you like getting immersed in your prog rock, Porcupine Tree should be on your list.

The Futureheads - I heard these guys at a party and they sound a lot like early XTC. I've been exploring their albums since then. Fun stuff if you like angular, spiky punk-pop music that makes you want to jump up and down and bounce around the room.

Read about 10 more artists on Page 2.

Flaming Lips - Okay, so they aren't new. But their music is great and a lot of people I know who are forty and over haven't given the band the time they deserve (if they have even heard of them). Three seminal Lips albums - which play like a chopped up, poppier version of Pink Floyd - are available in high-resolution DVD-Audio 5.1 mixes (The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, At War With The Mystics) and one is out on a 96-kHz, 24-bit high-res PCM stereo DVD (Embryonic). Their latest album, The Terror, came out on really cool silver vinyl and sounds like early '70s German progressive rock this side of Neu.

Dungen - A Swedish prog rock group, I have no idea what these guys are singing about, but the two albums I have sound like they could have been recorded by Pink Floyd in 1968. Manic, wonderful, crazy progressive rock with wonderful over-saturated analog taped drum sounds and a free-fall willingness to explore. The folks at Streetlight Records here in SF turned me onto this group last year. I have their 2004 release Ta det lugnt and 2007's Tio bitar. I hope to pick up their other albums soon.

Tame Impala - Modern harmonic space rock from down under, if you like Flaming Lips circa The Soft Bulletin, Meddle-era Pink Floyd, Small Faces and some Beatles/Lennon influences blended into the brew, you might dig this band. Curiously, I read online somewhere that these guys were influenced by Dungen! Go figure. That over-saturated analog-taped drum sound is abundant here, too.

Polyphonic Spree - Their new album Yes, It's True is a modern rock gem (in the '90s sense of the phrase), yet holds on to just enough of the aesthetic that made the Spree popular in the first place (great choruses, harmonies, inspiring lyrics). This newer material adds a personal twist this side of Violator-era Depeche Mode and more confessional singer/songwriter lyrics, yet with over-the-top instrumental abandon this side of vintage Electric Light Orchestra (cellos! violins! flugelhorn!). Add a lead singer who sounds a lot like Neil Young and you've got quite a heady brew.

Seu Jorge and Almaz - This Brazilian actor/singer came to public view doing an acoustic album of David Bowie covers for the movie The Life Aquatic. Seu Jorge's 2010 album with the group Almaz is a wonderful blend of folk and psychedelic sounds. Imagine Leonard Cohen singing in Portuguese, backed by a group that at once recalls The Ventures and Tom Waits (with dub reggae production textures) and you get the idea where this might be going. Worth it for the stunning covers of Michael Jackson's "I Wanna Rock With You" and Kraftwerk's "The Model." Credit where credit is due: I got turned onto this album while visiting the CES suite of none other than Ray Hall's Music Hall turntables - they were demoing their systems with this album. 'Nuff said.

The Helio Sequence - This group from the Pacific Northwest is what might happen if Unforgettable Fire-era U2 and the Pet Shop Boys had a love child. Fun and heartfelt stuff, their newest album Negotiations is a beautiful, lush and even ambient listen on 180-gram vinyl recorded in the band's warehouse studio.

7 Worlds Collide - This is a wonderful superstar fundraising album that for some reason hasn't gotten a push here in the States. Driven by Crowded House/Split Enz lead singer Neil Finn, their second release The Sun Came Out is a studio creation where luminaries including Johnny Marr (The Smiths), KT Tunstall, Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien (Radiohead) and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) got together to write and record new material in a very short time period. The results are spectacular. The album is worth the price of admission if only for the brilliant opening pop song "Too Blue" featuring Johnny Marr and Neil Finn, which sounds like what you'd expect if the Smiths and Crowded House got together to make some music.

Atoms for Peace - A superstar side project from Radiohead's Thom Yorke, this album is a fun and compelling listen despite its darkly beautiful cover art. Imagine what Radiohead might sound like without all the guitars while run through a food processor and you have an idea where this is going. Glitchy, quirky and propulsive, it is available as a deluxe heavyweight vinyl edition that looks as good as it sounds.

Arcade Fire - This Canadian group works off the Polyphonic Spree concept of many people playing live on stage in the band, with big anthemic rousing choruses, parade drums and more. On their records, the music is driving and compelling, over the top, passionate and even fun at times. Explosive tracks like "Wake Up" from the album Funeral may well be this generation's answer to many of U2's sing-along anthems from the '80s. 2010's The Suburbs was good, but it was the driving, new wave-y fist-pumping pulse of "No Cars Go" from the prior album, Neon Bible, that made me a fan in the first place. And, hey, Bowie likes 'em, so ...

Sigur Ros (and their lead singer Jonsi) - Iceland's Sigur Ros play a sort of atmospheric hybrid of progressive rock and ambient musics that takes you places without noodl-y math rock tendencies that put off some people. Often slow and brooding, the band's sound builds like waves on the Pa-cific; ebbs and tides of treated guitars and unusual instrumentation washing over you. Imagine if Another Green World-era Brian Eno was backed by Joshua Tree-era U2 creating Pink Floyd type soundscapes and you have some idea of the sound. Add lead singer Jonsi's haunting Castrati-like vocalizations (he sounds like a Pixie on a sugar binge) and you have a unique brew. Start with their stunning Blu-ray from the 2005 tour (released in 2009) called Inni (filmed artfully in grainy black and white with a lush 5.1 soundtrack).

Lead singer Jonsi tightens the format for his first solo album into more digestible pop structures (on his brilliant solo album "Go" available on vinyl, CD and download). Replete with fascinating instrumentation (playing a vibraphone with cello bows, a kick drum made out of a suitcase, etc.) and presented in one of the most spectacular stage shows I never got to see (outstanding animations and projections enveloping the band), I can't say enough about this artist and I'm excited to see where he takes it. Next tour I will see him! They have several videos out but a good place to start is the stunning concert from LA's Wiltern Theater available on iTunes. Highly recommended! If you play it via your Apple TV, it even has a 5.1 surround mix. I hope they release this on Blu-ray someday.

Additional Resources
• Read more original content like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• Explore more music industry news from
• See reviews in our Digital to Analog Converter Review section.

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