They’re not from Alabama and there aren’t three of them: Alabama 3 describe themselves as ‘sweet pretty country acid house music’, and we couldn’t put it any better. Their best-known track is The Sopranos theme tune ‘Woke Up This Morning’, but it would be hard to say this is typical – there’s nothing typical about anything these guys do. Liz O’Reilly.
Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers
These up-and-coming Canadian indie rockers with a gypsy edge mix accordion, fiddle, piano, guitar and smoky vocals for something totally unique. Part Bob Dylan, part Muddy Waters and part spectacular beards (at least on frontman Ben Caplan), they also have lyrics that mean something a little more than the usual pop song. Jessica Davey-Quantick.
A scuzzy, loud and theatrical outfit, Atlanta-based Black Lips are a punky, bluesy, grungy mishmash. With heavy Rolling Stones influences, what they lack in harmonics and technique they compensate for with unabashed enthusiasm and energy. The shows are anarchic, almost to the point of pastiche, but many of the songs have a resonance that puts them among our favourites. Peter Feely.
Aussie hip-hop trio Hilltop Hoods are well known in their homeland; less so in the rest of the world. Their music is definitely an acquired taste. For Aussies, though, they’re widely considered a national treasure as the first group to make any sort of decent hip-hop from Oz (and with an audible twang). We like the over-the-top accents paired with cheeky lyrics and unique samples, including the clip used in hit ‘The Nosebleed Section’, featuring samples of eerie ’60s folk singer Melanie Safka. Jenny Hewett.
Live, Paul Curreri is a whirlwind of rhythm and rhyme. A shower of finger-picked notes cascade from his guitar as his foot stomps like a prehistoric bluesman, while a surrealist autobiography floats over the music in chatty whispers, almighty bellows and savage moans. On record, he’s a one-man art-rock extravaganza, recording a song a day in his home studio, layering multiple instruments to concoct creative, compelling and often plain weird songs. Hailing from Virginia, Curreri is married to country-folk singer Devon Sproule. Rob Garratt.
The Dresden Dolls
Punk cabaret will set you free – at least so say US duo The Dresden Dolls. Closer to performance artists than your usual rock band, Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione create music worthy of gothic musical theatre or old-school Berlin cabaret, watched over by a Brechtian sense of artifice and display. Grandiose and dramatic rhythms are met by theatrical and farcical lyrics that are sometimes absurd, usually sarcastic but always filled with that gritty, twisted world view that is as comic as it is dark. Penelope Walsh.
US musician Merrill Garbus styles her moniker as the wonderfully garbled ‘tUnE-yArDs’, which hints at the quirky nature of her music: think drum loops layered with ukulele, bass and vocals. She recorded her first album, Bird-Brains, in 2009 using only a handheld voice recorder, then self-released it on recycled cassette tape. Album two, 2011’s Whokill, is a little more conventional, but only just – for a taster, check out 2011 single ‘Bizness’. Rebecca Milford.
A four-piece with a hint of nostalgia for an era of soul long past, Various Cruelties describe their sound as ‘shabby Motown pop’. Add a hint of indie rock reminiscent of early Police and the vocal strain of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, and you start to get a little closer to unravelling the mix of influences. Liam O’Donnell’s silky northern soul-tinged vocals work so well on songs such as ‘Neon Truth’, which comes to life with catchy syncopated drums and asymmetric-sounding guitars. Melanie Smith.