Happy 4th July! God Bless America (GBA).
It’s Independence Day, so to celebrate and mark the occasion, today’s focus is on Great American Bands (GAB).
I’ve said before that the vast majority of my favourite bands hail from the North American Continent, and leaving the Canadian contingent aside just for today, here’s my ten of the best from the US of A.
No surprise there if you’ve read the previous post. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, a simply brilliant band who make intelligent, beautiful music.
Finest Hour: The Hazards of Love, though Picaresque and The Crane Wife run it close
The Hold Steady
Feted by many as ‘The World’s Greatest Bar Band’ and often compared to Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, this bunch originally formed in Minneapolis but are currently based in New York. I would love to see them live more than just about any other band.
Finest hour: Boys and Girls in America, but last year’s Stay Positive is also excellent.
I was a bit late discovering Wilco, often described as ‘The American Radiohead’ but I’m very glad that I caught up. Am enjoying working my way through their back catalogue, and very impressed by their latest album which I’ve listened to for the past two days on Spotify and will be buying soon. As well as sounding great, the cover features a photograph of a camel in a party hat. You just don’t see that often enough.
Finest hour: Wilco [the album], their latest, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Sky Blue Sky are also very good.
Sadly no more, but singer songwriter Conor Oberst has moved on to join forces with his new Mystic Valley Band. His vocal stylings are musical Marmite, but he sure has a way with words and writes fine tunes to match.
From Denton, Texas, this band are nowhere near as well-known or popular as their music deserves. They’ve only made two albums in almost ten years together, but the most recent of which, recorded in 2006 is a rare gem: one of those albums you play again and again and never get tired of. For me, its mellow sounds will forever be associated with happy memories of driving through the Rocky Mountain National Park in Sept 2007.
New album should be released later this year.
Finest hour: The Trials of Van Occupanther – classic album, genius cover.
I first saw these New York rockers on TV, playing Glastonbury in 2005, and they really blew me away. Sometimes overshadowed by fellow NYC band The Strokes, I reckon this lot deserve much wider acclaim. I harbour a fond dream of seeing them play live in New York one day – they’ve never been touring whenever I’ve been there.
Finest hour: Antics will always be my favourite album, but Our Love To Admire is also well worth a listen.
Kings of Leon
Finally this year, people in the USA have realised what a great band these guys are. I remember excitedly showing their first album to some American friends in 2005 and asking them what they thought – they’d never heard of the band and I was really surprised. It soon became apparent that they were much better known in the UK, something they celebrated in the song ‘Fans’ on their third album ‘Because of The Times’. Thanks to the huge success of their fourth, Only By The Night, America has now caught up.
Finest hour: Youth and Young Manhood – the first and the best. Only By The Night has some great songs, but has suffered from radio overkill.
Another Texan band, and another group who deserve much more acclaim and success. Six albums in, and they’re not anywhere near as well known as many of the others listed here, particularly outside the States.
Finest hour: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, album number six, released in 2007 and well worth checking out if you’ve yet to discover them.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Back to New York, and the only band in my top ten to feature a female singer. But what a singer. Karen O is quite a force of nature, particularly live, and clearly born to lead a band. Have reaped rave reviews for their latest album, and rightly so, it’s a real humdinger and one of the best this year so far.
Finest hour: It’s Blitz! But also worth checking out Fever To Tell.
The youngest and newest band on the list, they also hail from New York, having formed whilst at Columbia University. OK, so they’ve only made one album so far, their self-titled debut in 2007, but what an album. Mixing intelligent indie rock with African musical styles, it’s a happy, upbeat celebration and was one of my favourite albums of last year.
Finest hour: Vampire Weekend
Well, that’s my ten. I’m sure you’ll have your own opinions, and be flabbergasted that I missed out whoever. Feel free to let me know via the comments facility. And if you discover just one of these great bands for the first time after reading this, I’ll be delighted.