Post-The Wire, Baltimore is probably more famous for heroin and corruption than it's alternative music scene, but Dan Deacon's Wham City Collective (of which Future Islands are a part) are putting the city on the map for other reasons. Their 2010 album 'In Evening Air' is one of the records of the year; broody, simmering art-pop that nods to Joy Division and Xiu Xiu, but with a histrionic vocalist that come across like a desperately heartbroken cabaret singer. Brilliantly strange, and UK-bound this month.
Future Islands - Walking Through That Door by snipelondon
NYC folk singer Sam Amidon released an album of timeworn American folk songs this year named "I See The Sign". Appalachian murder ballads, ruminations on life and death and unusual takes on the love song are all present, and in Amidon's hands seem to take on extra dimensions, partly due to some fantastic production and arrangements by Bedroom Community's Valgeir Sigurðsson and US composer Nico Muhly. But, as always with Amidon, there's a gleam in the eye and a spanner in the works - "Relief" turns out to be an R.Kelly cover, plucked out of context and made just as beautiful as the rest.
Sam Amidon - Saro by snipelondon
One of those acts ubiquitous in the blogosphere but pretty much unknown elsewhere, ex-choirboy Pat Grossi creates a rich mixture of 80s-derived synth-pop with shimmering production and live harp and keyboard. But the main event is his voice - a high falsetto that manages to be both camp and other-worldly. His Curtis Lane EP is doing the rounds now, available on MP3 or as a handsome 10" record.
Active Child - She Was a Vision by snipelondon
An underground supergroup of sorts, Former Ghosts consist of Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart, Zola Jesus originator Nika Roza and former This Song Is a Mess But So Am I member Freddy Ruppert. You can probably imagine what it sounds like from that: dark, harrowing, minimal electronic backdrops with a lead vocal that borders on hysterical. Brilliant.
Former Ghosts - In Earth's Palm by snipelondon
Darwin Deez are an implausibly fun NYC indie-pop four-piece fronted by one Darwin Smith - a gangly, good-natured party dude with an ear for a catchy melody and a gift for endearing, simply-crafted pop songs. The debut album seems to consist entirely of potential hits - you want to cheer each time another song begins. Live, the band take breaks to have dance battles and carry out routines to disco classics, making each performance half live and half DJ set. Great stuff, and mainstream-bound.
Darwin Deez - Deep Sea Divers by LuckyNumberMusic
I've been glued to the (as yet unreleased) debut album by our newest siging at Brainlove, Chicago-based Bastardgeist. Spooky chimes float around heavy, pulsing bass, with Midden's spectral falsetto in the foreground. Some songs are built around orchestral loops, but layered up and echoing with live accompaniment to magical effect. He's playing at Iceland Airwaves this year, and hopefully we'll have him heading to the UK soon.
Bastardgeist - COPS by brainlove
Yet another NYC-based band, Fang Island perhaps fill the space left by recently split funcore merchants The Mae Shi, presenting technicolour, anthemic rock-slash-pop fun with electronic squiggles and plenty of breathless shouting and ridiculous harmonized guitar noodling. Euphoric.
Fang Island - Daisy by snipelondon
I wrote about Former Ghosts, but I have to cover Zola Jesus as a solo entity. Mercurial 21-year-old Nika Rosa Danilova sttarted to learn opera singing as a kid, which might go some way to explaining her explosively emotional voice - seeming channeling more than she knows what to do with, Nika paces the stage relentlessly during live performances, barely looking up from beneath her mop of bleach-blonde hair. Her gothy art-pop sounds oddly familiar, like a collection of lost 80s number ones. Entitled Stridulum II, a collection of her newer songs is out now.
Zola Jesus - Night by snipelondon