I often think/have an existential crisis about exactly how much music is out there. It would be impossible for me to listen to all of it, but it just kills me that there’s so many hidden gems that I’ll most likely never hear. If you’re also tortured by this same fact, I hope to help you out, however slightly, by compiling a list of my favorite “hidden gems.”
1. the animal upstairs – “CHERRY”
The Animal Upstairs (stylized as the animal upstairs) was the solo outlet of former The Academy Is… drummer Andy “The Butcher” Mrotek. An album and an EP of demos was released before the Milwaukee native decided to retire the project. “CHERRY,” off the album Is Anybody Upstairs?, is an intricate sweeping, dreamy track about something close to a hazy love. The instrumentals are beautiful and complex, but I think it’s best described by the artist in the Bandcamp song bio:
“This song was recorded with all REAL instruments, opposed to the MIDI junk everyone uses to record these days. You will hear…
A Glockenspiel (xylophone sound)
Melodica (clarinet/accordion sound)
-BOTH purchased at Urban Outfitters!
A Zither (asian acoustic guitar sound)
and of course a little electric guitar and bass, as well as vocals.
This song also has Nash and I dueling drums.”
2. The Brobecks – “Cluster Hug”
“Cluster Hug” is one of the least known songs by The Brobecks—which is the original project of Panic! At The Disco bassist Dallon Weekes. The Brobecks are currently inactive, but Weekes has consistently reassured fans that it’s not entirely gone. The song, off the Quiet Title EP, is kicked off with a bass slide into a long instrumental that’s light and twinkling. The vocals of the verse sound detached from the instrumentals, like Weekes is far away or the vocals are under a thick blanket. As the song goes on, the vocals are brought to the front and it becomes more rock-driven with the introduction of guitar and my favorite lyric rears its head—“Darling you’re a holy quarantine, shake me like a tambourine.” “Cluster Hug” sounds rose-colored and warm and is a lovely, dynamic jam (with a great use of tambourine).
3. • PUBLIC • – “Honeybee”
Despite having opened for acts like Walk the Moon and Neon Trees, Cincinnati trio PUBLIC doesn’t seem to be very well-known. They hold a special place in my heart, however, since they brought one of my all-time favorite songs into this world: “Honeybee”—a bonus song from their Let’s Remake It! EP. I think the best way to describe the first guitar lick is “charming.” It’s surfy, it’s happy, it’s energizing. Accompanying that is a groovy bass line, and really, who doesn’t love a good bass line? Frontman John Vaughn’s voice is raw and confident, being just smooth enough to flow along with the waves of the song easily. His voice builds and builds in the second verse, leading to something intriguing in his voice with a “Pretty thing? Honeybee?” Some things are too good to describe, but this song makes me feel like my soul is driving along the west coast in a red convertible.
4. Parenthetical Girls – “A Song For Ellie Greenwich”
Parenthetical Girls are an inactive experimental/baroque pop group from Portland. As the brainchild of eccentric vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Zac Pennington, Parenthetical Girls’ music ranges from music box-ish dark love tunes to upbeat pop songs to dramatic, elaborate ballads about childbirth. “A Song For Ellie Greenwich” has its own sound, though—a Sousa-esque march laced with synth, strings, tuba, and broken cymbals. Pennington is my favorite vocalist ever. His voice is smooth, confident, and showcased well with low sweeping verses broken up by higher notes. You know he has chosen the lyrics precisely to convey his message, like musical eye contact. The chaotic bridge is a great contrast to the silkiness of the song. “A Song For Ellie Greenwich” was released in 2008, but it has a different sound, like it’s from a different era. Or maybe just a different realm. I can’t tell if the song is ahead of it’s time or behind it. Check out the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h19KnjDqS5
5. Summer Camp – “Better Off Without You”
Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley make up London alt pop duo Summer Camp. They released their first LP in 2011, entitled Welcome To Condale. There resides “Better Off Without You”: a bouncy, beachy, bitter tune about getting over an ex. “Stop calling me laaaaaate at night…” sets the mood in a large, dramatic way—Sankey’s voice portraying her emotion expertly. “Better Off Without You” has everything that makes a pop song a pop song—catchy chorus, upbeat melody, and a good synth-to-guitar-ratio. Of course, you can’t have a good pop song without a dramatic bridge, and Summer Camp provide that excellently. This song sounds like something out a different decade and you could definitely work out or like, crush hearts to it. For fans of bands like Candy Hearts, The Bangles, Walk The Moon, or even hometown pride Bad Bad Hats, this is the tune for you.