“Pretty Girl Rock” by Keri Hilson. I feel like I have been a bit biased in these suggestions, typically promoting indie and mostly unheard of bands (unless you listen to that subset of music). I felt like breaking out of my box and recommending this song. Keri Hilson is most well-known for her own full length album, In a Perfect World…, with singles like “Turnin’ Me On” and “Knock You Down“, as well as contributing on the Timbaland track “The Way I Are“. She has vocal chops, and is also part of a writing group that has produced hits for other singers like Britney Spears, Usher, Ciara, etc. What I like about this song is how it promotes female confidence. It’s one of those songs you would put on while getting ready with your girls before a night out. She sings, “All eyes on me when I walk in, no question that this girl’s a ten. Don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful, don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful.” Varied synth beats with piano rock reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis, it’s easy to sink into the song and let the music and vocals encourage a bit of dancing.
“Vanished” by Crystal Castles. This duo, consisting of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass, produce music best described as experimental electronica. This particular track has a repetitive synth beat, overlaid by keyboard and vocals. The lyrics are hard to decipher, but that doesn’t take away from the result. It’s as if Ethan and Alice are extra instruments and their voices help create an airy, dream-like quality. This song is found on their first full length album, self-titled Crystal Castles. (If you like Crystal Castles, you might want to check out Passion Pit for a similar sound.)
“The Day We Started” by This Day & Age. An acquaintance of mine once dubbed this band as “generic indie”. I think what sets this band apart from many other groups that introduced themselves at this song’s debut, is the clear vocals; and though this band is on indefinite hiatus, theirs was one of the best live shows I have ever seen. This Day & Age has an upbeat sound that combines memorable guitar rifts, a great rhythm section, piano and clear vocals. This particular song was one of the first that introduced me to this band, and it has stuck with me ever since. The song discusses love between two people, but looks at it from the view of a person who has simply fallen out of love. He praises his partner by saying “I found truth in you” and then reciprocates by giving the most truthful answer about why it did not work out, “I knew the day we started, that love dies too.” As of September 2006, the band went on permanent hiatus due to losing a member. The remnants of This Day & Age are members of a band called The Reign of Kindo.
“From Where I’m Standing” by Schuyler Fisk. Daughter of Sissy Spacek, Schuyler Fisk is a phenomenal folk pop artist. Outside of her own work, one of her most memorable songs is “Paperweight“, a duet with then boyfriend Joshua Radin (found on The Last Kiss soundtrack and is now also available as a single download). She has a soothing voice, and is one of the most intelligent and honest lyricists. Originally sharing her music on Myspace, Schuyler gained a grassroots following and eventually recorded an album, The Good Stuff. There are two versions of this song, but only one is found online. The acoustic version is on her EP, Songs For Now, which was distributed during her earlier touring. The Good Stuff track has backing drums and guitar, which gives it an almost bluegrass sound. The lyrics tell a story from the girl’s point of view of being at a party and seeing that guy, the guy. Inspiring from start to finish, this is definitely one of my favorite songs by her.
“Skinny Love” by Bon Iver. Beautiful, clever lyrics, and bare bones music, Bon Iver is a favorite of mine in the folk genre. This song held my attention the first time I heard it. It just struck me, and left me speechless. There are moments in the song in which you can feel the raw emotion behind his words. At a particular point he elevates his vocals and sings: “And I told you to be patient, and I told you to be fine, and I told you to be balanced, and I told you to be kind, and in the morning I’ll be with you, but it will be a different kind, and I’ll be holding all the tickets, and you’ll be paying all the fines.” With this song you can appreciate the honesty of his words. The minimal musical background helps emphasize the intensity in what he says. (This song is found on For Emma, Forever Ago, which I also recommend as a full album purchase.)