In the States, it's easy to be stuck in the bubble of our domestic music. Sadly, many European artists have a difficult time breaking into the North American market. Often, this stems from the language barrier, but it can also be due to the straight-up oddball nature of their musical expression. On the bright side, in this modern age of technology and instantaneous communication, it is easier than ever to find groundbreaking musicians from across the globe. Here are ten acts who are pushing sonic boundaries in their individual ways, so give them a listen and hear what you might have been missing.
10. Crystal Fighters – “At Home“
British/Spanish project Crystal Fighters makes a very unlikely sound: '80s-influenced synth-pop that incorporates traditional Basque instrumentation and Iberian rhythms. Sounding like a slightly intoxicated holiday in Ibiza, the group veers from chillout room to galloping, percussion-heavy electro. “At Home” would be just that on a mix CD with Beach House, Sleigh Bells and whichever indie-electro you happened to have fallen in love with in the past two years. And why not? The weather is warming up; we all need some summer soundtracks.
9. Codes – “Guided by Ghosts“
Irish pop pretty boys Codes have toured with Keane, and they are in a similar vein, but with an added electronic edge and vigor that sets them apart. “Guided by Ghosts” finds the lads rocking out harder than most of their Radiohead- and Travis-influenced compatriots, with Daragh Anderson's falsetto sounding, well, ghostly. It's a well-worn style, but Codes manage to infuse the proceedings with a fresh, ethereal vibe that should silence the doubters.
8. Wir sind Helden – “Was Uns Beiden Gehört”
Led by adorable indie siren Judith Holofernes (not her real name, sadly), Wir sind Helden (“We Are Heroes”) have been honing their unique brand of tuneful pop-rock in their native Germany for the past ten years. In that time, they've signed to a major label (EMI), released four albums, toured the UK and been featured on MTV Europe. Pretty much everything a Continental European band can do except break through to the United States. Here's hoping that happens soon.
7. Rohff – “Dans Ma Werss“
Comoros-born, Paris-raised rapper Rohff has been active in the French scene for a while and is one of the best examples of the world's second-biggest hip-hop market. “Dans Ma Werss” rides a beat that sounds like it could have been on JT's FutureSex/LoveSounds. Rohff toes the line between gruff aggression and R&B enticement, and his guttural patois makes for a enjoyably dissonant noise. Blast this at your next party and you'll have at least five people ask, “Who is this?”
6. The Bell – “I Am History“
Another Swedish act, the Bell sound more like they hail from Manchester in 1981 (or Brooklyn from 2001). They take a tuneful slant on post-punk and dance-rock darkness, like Interpol with tambourines and a 'script for Zoloft. Spread across two cities, the group employed hard disk recording, Skype and e-mail to complete their second album, due out this week in the U.S. “I Am History” makes their case perfectly: it wouldn't have been out of place on modern rock radio in the Noughties, with pretty-sad vocals, icy synth runs and rumbling basslines. For those who still groove to all the best pale, goth-y artists of the past 30 years, this will be like clove-scented catnip.
5. Findlay Brown – “Love Will Find You“
Have you ever found yourself wishing that Roy Orbison was reincarnated as a handsome young Brit with a pompadour? OK, maybe that was just me, but that doesn't make him any less great. A melodramatic pre-Beatles pop song that sounds straight out of the Kennedy administration, “Love Will Find You” slays the jaded musical cynic in you and sweeps along on an orchestral tide that doesn't let up. Even the single will be reminded of someone special.
4. El Perro del Mar – “God Knows“
There must be something in the water in Sweden that helps to breed bittersweet folk-rock artists. El Perro del Mar is the nom de rock of Sarah Assbring, the latest Nordic pop wunderkind to warm the cold hearts of hipsters and music freaks everywhere. In style, she most closely resembles fellow Gothenburg product Jens Lekman, with whom she split a single on Secretly Canadian. “God Knows” is perhaps the sweetest example of her vibe: gentle but upbeat, skipping along on a light melody buoyed by some of the catchiest backing vocals you'll ever hear.
3. Kaizers Orchestra – “Maestro“
Norwegian rock weirdos Kaizers Orchestra throw just about everything into their mix: indie rock, gypsy music, skronking jazz horns and skittering, electro-inflected beats. Perhaps the best representation on our list of how Euros can take inspiration from anything and everything, “Maestro” bursts with restless energy and a hyperactive melody that will stick in your head for days. And really, don't more artists need some hard rock accordion?
2. Micachu & the Shapes – “Golden Phone“
You might have caught Surrey, England's Micachu & the Shapes' music on various blogs and in magazines upon the release of their debut album Jewellery in 2009, or possibly seen Mica Levi's crazy DJ set at the Echo (dub treasures sandwiched around Enya). In case you didn't, “Golden Phone” is a textbook example of Micachu's postmodern aesthetic: cut-up beats, angular riffs and vocals that land somewhere between indie apathy and metronomic chants. It's the sonic equivalent of outsider art made from shit lying around the yard, and it's brilliant.
1. El Guincho – “Bombay“
Spanish pop music eclectic Pablo Díaz-Reixa has played in punk and indie rock bands, composed music for movies like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and even attempted a career in sports. Fortunately, he has hit upon a truly remarkable incarnation with El Guincho. The 27-year-old mixes dubby rhythms with Tropicalia and Caribbean influences to make a thoroughly modern, international mélange. This video for “Bombay” should be getting him some major publicity, if nothing else.