Pyramid - Cyclic Obsession
Pyramid Club
“Stay Behind”

In music, darkness often devours itself. Those who nosedive down into synthpop’s more perverted forms—industrial, coldwave, darkwave, and all subgenres in between—tend to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the shadows. But that’s precisely what draws devotees in, both the machinists and their audience. The deconstruction of humanity into objective parts, autonomous beats, vocals smeared into alien sneers—these were the tools that proto-industrial types like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle employed to separate themselves from the punk rock ego, the explosion of self.

Even in that light, Pyramid Club aren’t just followers of this self-negating cult. Indeed, both members of the clandestine duo have helmed their own projects—Chris Daresta with the cold techno of Anticipation, Matt Weiner with the chrome-clad but buoyant TWINS—and together they run DKA Records, international purveyors of murk. So while “Stay Behind” oozes with all the subversive sludge that devotees to the dark might expect, the Pyramid Club machine burbles and pulses in an uncommonly Technicolor display. The suave gear shift in the middle affirms the expert engineering at work here; Daresta and Weiner may be taking cues from their muses, but they’re clearly spiraling down a tunnel of their own design. – LA

Rose Hotel - Always a Good Reason
Rose Hotel

Is this the modern world? In the alpine air of Rose Hotel’s “Honestly,” you’d never expect to find yourself anywhere near the ATL, let alone before a drag queen musical at Rowdy Dowdy. And yet, there we were a month ago, as Jordan Reynolds serenaded us on Frat Beach with just her guitar and that heavenly voice. Now, even with the gloved touch of a steel guitar and some gorgeously dejected French horns, Rose Hotel still sounds like a room for one, a cottage retreat for the world-weary writer who needs time away from the city to reflect. Which seems uncanny, but I’m reminded now of Molly Burch, the modern-day balladeer from Austin, who did exactly that after breaking up with her boyfriend in Asheville. That’s not a perfect analogue of where “Honestly” takes the enraptured listener — but as with Burch, it’s a slow burn that’s bound to grow once Rose Hotel open their doors later this year. – LA

Royal Thunder - Wick
Royal Thunder
“April Showers”

For a few years now, Royal Thunder have been slogging through the turbid sludge metal waters, attempting to stake a name for themselves on a label (Relapse Records) that never really suited the band’s classic rock meets grunge vibes. So it should be no surprise that after a relatively quiet 2016, the group emerged with a new record and label in tow. “April Showers” is the first single to be revealed off their upcoming Wick LP on Spinefarm Records, and the band’s spacious grooves and brooding menace has never sounded better. Mlny Parsonz has always had a powerhouse voice and here it’s placed front and center, just above the track’s tumultuous backdrop, which frankly, is where it should always stay. All in all, it’s a potent effort and a clear signal that Royal Thunder are poised to remain one of the city’s most compelling purveyors of heavy rock. – GC

Sequoyah - Dream Sequence

With rainmakers and buoyant synths, Sequoyah channels the pure pop fire of so many synthpop greats—the sauciness of Yaz, the levity of Shamir, the gravitas of the Eurythmics—to light their way through darkness. “I wrote this track at a time when I needed to feel uplifted, when I needed to feel comfortable being alone with myself,” Sequoyah wrote on their SoundCloud page. “This song affirms that negative feelings are temporary.” Indeed! And neither can any listener harbor such sadness when “Betta” rolls in. It’s also a testament to Sequoyah’s utterly eclectic songwriting, which has pulled in everything from acid jazz to downtempo grunge to complement that otherworldly voice. – LA

Small Reactions - Notorious
Small Reactions

Small Reactions have always had a knack for merging cathartic hooks with frenetic intensity, and that’s never been truer than it is on “Notorious.” There’s a raw urgency that runs through the track like an electric current, and you can almost hear the air crackle and singe as the band comes barreling through at a hundred miles an hour. Everything feels so tense and wiry and ready to tear apart at the seams, but frontman Scotty Hoffman somehow manages to keep it all together with a gritty, inspired performance. – GC

Sister Sai - Cham Cham
Sister Sai
“Cham Cham”

Though intrinsic to her lush compositions, the mindfulness of Sister Sai’s songwriting is often buried within the atmospheric nature of the tracks. The technical prowess and emotional grace of her songs may be the most immediate aspects of Saira Raza’s art, but these individual facets serve a deeper purpose. They guide the listener alongside Raza on a journey through shifting cultures and an ever-blossoming identity. This holistic intentionality springs from every ecstatic jangle and ethereal line of her new single “Cham Cham.” The song pulses with tradition and community drawn from the very instrument used as the percussive backbone of the track: ankle bells. – RR

StarBenders - Far from Heaven
“Far from Heaven”

When arguably the brightest star in mainstream rock music is the drummer-turned-guitarist from a band that ceased to function two decades ago, you know the genre isn’t in a good place. That’s been the story for years, and StarBenders isn’t going to change that. But there’s a quality to the group’s newest single, “Far From Heaven,” something achingly nostalgic, that makes this rock fan stop caring about the future—if only for a moment. It’s exactly the kind of pseudo-modern take on the slick, soulful songwriting tapped by ’70s icons decades ago that demands full attention. Of course, the throwback would’t be complete without a propulsive hook, and StarBenders deliver an earworm straight out of the Stevie Nicks playbook. Simple and emotive, this is the hook that keeps you in the bar, lost in the moment, far past the time to leave. – Alex Kugaczewski

Swamp - The Cloud Eaters
“The Cloud Eaters”

I’ve seen this place before. I can’t say I’ve cut my hair by the light of a TV screen, mind. But the desolation here, suspense mounded like clothes on an unkept bed for a future that can’t be defined, the cliff’s edge on which that future swings between promising and dire—this all looks familiar. “Look,” I say, because for the wild and wooly Swamp, aching meditations about the mediocre now aren’t the norm. They’re generally the free-wheeling sort, more prone to crumble into entropy like Swell Maps instead of unloading pent-up distress like some darling misfits from Olympia. But here they are, with a gloriously broken outlook that teeters between despair (“this house is just an exit sign”) and hope (“I think something big is going to fall down right on me / and it’s going to be mine”). Yes, I’ve definitely been here before—this is the crossroads between adolescence and adulthood, where potential pushes forward and self-doubt clings at your back. And if I linger too long at this place that “The Cloud Eaters” so vividly renders, I’m going to fucking cry. – LA

TORO - Departure
“Painting with Shadows”

This is not a drill, folks. This is goddamn thunder and fury and something like a hundred combined years of misanthropic rage distilled into four brutal minutes of punishing metal that’s smart enough to both throw us a glimmer of melody in the chorus. Jesus Christ, do I have to spell it out? Press play, jack the volume up to max decibels, and submit yourself to TORO’s pummeling carnage. – AS

Tunabunny - PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland Jr.
“Blackwater Homes”

Tunabunny have yet to discover the outer limits of their left-field pop and rock, and this year’s PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland Jr found the band pushing their songwriting into delightfully unexpected spaces. “Blackwater Homes” is somehow both anxious and exuberant, utilizing gnarled guitars and urgent rhythms to drive Mary Jane Hassell’s pulse-pounding vocals forward. It’s a towering effort full of tension, awe, and wonder, a sterling reminder of everything that makes Tunabunny so vital and necessary. – AS

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