Press Pass: Holiday Music Guide

Raise your hand if you received an iTunes gift card in your stocking this Christmas? Thought so.presspass_yearlongdisaster.jpg

Before you go spending that found money on Top 40 music you’ll likely purchase anyway, why not use it as an investment in your musical education and snag a song or two from an artist new-to-you? After all, what better way to ring in the New Year than with some new tunes?

“Press Pass” scoured the sonic landscape to unearth a few artists and bands you may enjoy* with your free money and who might open your ears to even wider possibilities down the road.

(*Nota Bene: Before anyone starts complaining that those below are too mainstream, we’re emphasizing listener enjoyment over artist obscurity. As far as we know, the music sounds the same if you are the first person to find it or the last.)

Garrison Starr: There are a lot of sweet-sounding sirens out there these days, but it’s Starr’s rough edges – and her willingness to step outside of the conventional Joni Mitchell mold – that sets her above the coffee-house crowd. On one hand, she can make ’em swoon with candied compositions like “Unchangeable,” a song on par with the more recognized Ingrid Michaelson. However, it’s her ability to belt out some big vocals (a la “Spectacle” off of latest release, The Girl That Killed September) that should earn her a spot in your iTunes rotation.

Rip It: “Understood.” Here’s a song that epitomizes Starr’s best-of-both-worlds talent. Call it music’s version of the salty-sweet flavor combination.

presspass_peter.jpgPeter Bradley Adams: Adams probably could have qualified for the folk category, but there are some strong pop sensibilities in his new album, Leavetaking. He first caught our ear with his debut album, Gather Up. That collection was particularly memorable thanks to “One Foot Down,” his time-for-a-change song of subtle rebellion, delivered with country charm and a holler-out-loud chorus. Now he’s hooked us with a full slate of memorable work, from which it’s hard to pick a favorite.

Rip It: “The Longer I Run.” This tune gets the nod because Adams conveys the life-without-roots lyrics with a wistfulness that emphasizes both the freedom of the road and the sadness of a journeyman without a home.

A.C. Newman: You’re going to have to hold on to that gift money for a few weeks, but the impending album from the New Pornographers frontman will likely be worth the wait. His 2004 debut, Slow Wonder, featured some staggering singles (“Miracle Drug,” “Drink to Me, Babe, Then”) that had you reaching for the “repeat” button right after the final note. New record Get Guilty has already left a similar impression with lead-single “The Palace at 4 A.M.” The full work drops Jan. 20.

Rip It: “Miracle Drug.” We’re assuming you’ll take our advice and pick up Get Guilty on Jan. 20, so until then, why not whet your whistle with this Beatles-esque, retro-rock appetizer?

Year Long Disaster: Remember the first time you heard a real rock song? You know, the kind your parents would instantly ask you to turn down no matter how loud the volume was? This three-piece group, fronted by Daniel Davies, rages with that same vibrant intensity. By rekindling the fuzziness of grunge and its Zeppelin rock ‘n roll roots, Year Long Disaster reminds us that the genre hasn’t entirely softened into studio-backed pseudo rock.

Rip It: “Por Quialche Dollaro In Piu.” Step 1: Make sure your face is a safe distance from the steering wheel or any other obstacles that may damage your skull during possible spontaneous head banging. Step 2: Crank it.

Bonus: If you like what you hear, check out the band’s live gig at The Rock and Roll Hotel on Jan. 14.

Darker My Love: Think “Pink Floyd finds the new Millennium.” The L.A.-based group flashes some similarities with the trippy Brits, but they’ve swapped Floyd’s floaty, spacey sound for a little more crash, bang, boom. It’s still an intoxicating concoction, but one more to be enjoyed with coffee than absinthe.

Rip It: “Two Ways Out.” Not as aggressive as some of their other compositions, this tune serves as a good gateway …. uh … song.