99: 5 Underrated Bands
Updated: Jun 12
Howdy! I'm not on the up & up with pop culture. I don't have cable TV, and with the exception of whatever entertainment comes with my Amazon Prime account (Yes, Amazon is unethical. But as a non-driver whose relatives live many states away, I justify having it for the free-ish shipping, during the Christmas season. Vote with your wallet within the realm of reason.), I'm not subscribed to any streaming services. The only radio I hear is at the grocery store or our car when my husband doesn't feel like listening to whatever tracks are saved to his phone. All that to say, my idea of "popular" music largely stems for TikTok. Maybe these bands are super trendy, but that's not the vibe I've gotten.
Back in 2019ish, I was prepping for Inktober & NaNoWriMo by putting together a playlist of spooky-adventure music. Having worked at Party City and a tattoo parlor back in the day, I'm well aware of the Halloween music corporations blast in October, and find those songs annoying. Searching Spotify for Inktober prompt terms, I gave loads of unfamiliar bands a listen, compiling the best of the bunch into a playlist.
I loved that playlist, and those bands so much, that I still use this method to discover new music. When Spotify Wrapped lists drop every year, I also peruse those, looking for bands I know and like. Finding them, I check out the other bands in that list, because the user appears to share my taste in music.
What music do I like? I'm all over the place. I've got a bunch of pop (Fun. & Cher, etc), alternative rock (Harvey Danger & CAKE, etc), emo (The Matches & Brand New, etc) , bluegrass (Blues Traveler & The Dead South, etc), electronica (Clean Bandit & MGMT,), entire broadway soundtracks (Chess: The Musical in concert & Next to Normal, etc), alt pop (Florence & The Machine, Billie Eilish, etc), and folk (Bob Dylan & The Decemberists, etc), etc. Lately I'm leaning into music that tells a story or has a finger on the pulse of today's mass demoralization. Most of what I'm adding, are folk.
As I don't come across music from these bands in my limited wild often, I want to share them.
Radical Face: This is a one-man band. Ben Cooper records himself playing each instrument as well as the vocals, separately, then compiles those sounds into a song. When he tours, he hires band members and teaches them the music. I discovered him while making that first Halloween-themed October playlist. Much of his older music focuses on the other-worldy, and the suffering, loneliness, and anger of invented figures from the pre-industrial past. His more recent music touches on mental health and his life. The lyrics are poetic, and the songs themselves, chill, but eerie or heart breaking. My favorite of his songs are Kin and the Dead Waltz. He also has a non-lyrical album called, "Missing Film," which I love for when I'm writing.
Noah & The Whale: I love this folk band. They're like if you took the grounded subject matter of The Mountain Goats but brought in the sound of The Lumineers, sans clapping & stomping. L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. is a great, relatable song for anybody who feels like they're wandering with no purpose. Jocasta and Wild Thing are also wonderful, evocative songs, with a darker edge, if you wanted an introduction to their discography. Unfortunately, they did break up after putting out a bunch of consistently good music. However, former members formed the band, Orphan Colours and joined Gang Of Youths, so if you like their sound, these bands are worth checking out.
AJJ: This is one of my more recent finds and maybe they're more popular than I know, because sometimes I stumble upon their songs on TikTok. I'm pretty sure I first came across their music after mis-typing AJR. They remind me of The Mountain Goats, but with a touch more existential angst. Some songs touch on mental health struggles, while others emphasize that the over-arching system is at fault. Golden Eagle is a winner, but I believe they're known for their Body Terror Song.
My First Tooth: I found this band while putting together a winter themed playlist directly after NaNoWriMo of 2019. Though, it was their song The Cutty Sark that caught my attention. Cutty Sark is ship, I guess, but it's also a that scotch that comes up in Haruki Murakami's books. My only real complaint is their band name makes their songs difficult to find (especially!) since their breakup. Many children's songs and videos share that title. They're a folk band with a sound similar to Of Monsters And Men, but more earnest, less whimsical. They link their Bandcamp page from their Facebook, but much more of their discography is on Spotify. Monsters is a good introduction to their sound. A former member joined a band called Great Defeat, but they haven't been super active since 2020.
The Protomen: My husband introduced me to this band when we were in college. They're technically a filk band but ain't nobody familiar with that typo-looking genre, so call them arena-rock, dropping rock-opera albums. Cool? They have a multi-album story that's about Mega Man. Acts 1 & 2 are complete and available online. I believe they released some songs from Act 3 but then began rewriting the entire album, so that's not out yet. Now, I've never played that game and I still really enjoy the story, characters, and the music. If you enjoy the more rock-centric Broadway shows, I implore you to give this band a chance. They wont let you down. A solid introduction song is Light Up The Night.
If these bands are your jam, awesome! If you can think of any similar artists, definitely feel free to send their info my way. I'm always sprucing up my Spotify and Youtube playlists. One of these days, I plan to find a new music app, but I have over a thousand songs saved, and that's a lot to move, if the app doesn't have any tools to aid that transition. Thanks for stopping by! I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!