• 101011-bear-in-heaven.jpg

    Breaking Out: Bear in Heaven

    Three years ago Adam Wills was working as a motion graphics artist for a film company and wondering how to kick-start his music career. Looking for some kind of guidance, he contacted a shaman to lead him through a sweat lodge ceremony in upstate New York. "I went two weekends in a row to a teepee, and it was like a one-way ticket through 20 years' worth of meditation," he says. "It was really beautiful. Then, a few weeks later, I got fired." Which allowed him to focus on a better gig: playing guitar in Brooklyn-based electronic rock trio Bear in Heaven. Originally the solo project of singer/multi-instrumentalist Jon Philpot, who had previously worked in postproduction at an Atlanta film company with Wills, the band released their debut album, Red Bloom of the Boom, in 2007.

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    Breaking Out: First Aid Kit

    For Swedish siblings Johanna and Klara Söderberg, singing is in the blood. "We love the Louvin Brothers and the Carter Family," gushes Klara, 17, a wide-eyed beauty who's two years younger than her sister. "There's something very special about families singing music that's passed down through the generations." Ever since they can remember, the fresh-faced duo behind First Aid Kit have sung together while their musician father recorded them at the family home outside Stockholm. Last year, keyboardist Johanna and guitarist Klara uploaded a YouTube clip of themselves covering Fleet Foxes' pastoral, harmony-laden "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" in the woods near their house. Wearing flannel shirts and no makeup, they sang with heartbreaking simplicity under the trees and sky. "We just loved the song," Klara insists.

  • 1008-wavves.jpg

    Wavves' Nathan Williams Finds Some Sunshine

    Wavves' self-immolating wunderkind and indie-rock scourge Nathan Williams may be better known for one onstage disaster than for his hazy surf punk. This is about to change -- if he can just stay out of his own way. [Full Story] Looking at Nathan Williams, it's easy to think, Here comes trouble. Maybe it's just the way he's dressed: white Wayfarer-style shades with a Mickey Mouse decal over each lens -- a gift from his girlfriend, Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast -- and a T-shirt of Bart Simpson smoking a fatty. And he's drinking a beer on a Brooklyn street on a Tuesday afternoon, open-container laws be damned. Or maybe his reputation just precedes him. "I know you want to talk about the meltdown," says Williams, a.k.a. Wavves. He takes a final swig, stashing the bottle behind a doorstep.

  • joy-formidable-spin.jpg

    Breaking Out: The Joy Formidable

    Every band hopes people will get off on their music. But the Joy Formidable found itself in the strange position of fans literally doing just that. Two years ago, an anonymous supporter of the London-based, Welsh-raised dream-poppers created a video for their single "Austere," featuring close-ups of people's faces -- apparently while masturbating (watch it below). Destined for NSFW notoriety, the unofficial video quickly became a hit, racking up 250,000 YouTube views before the site yanked it for being too suggestive. All of which left the band feeling ambivalent about their reputation. "We do have other fan-made videos," says singer-guitarist Ritzy Bryan, 26. "There was one with singing koalas.

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    Breaking Out: Best Coast

    Best Coast singer-guitarist Bethany Cosentino might be the only indie rocker who had an epiphany on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In 2005 her father, who drummed with '70s funk rockers War, landed her a gig on the program as a backup singer for singer-songwriter Ellie Lawson. This wasn't Cosentino's first break -- a former child actress who'd appeared in commercials for Little Caesars and Pepsi, she'd been writing pop songs since she was 15 and had been approached by major-label A&R scouts -- but the moment was still memorable. "[Paris Hilton] was a guest on the show," recalls the now 23-year-old Los Angeles native. "I was outside smoking, and she came and asked me for a lighter. I remember thinking, 'My life is so cool right now!'?" The feeling didn't last. "I didn't want to be in the spotlight every night," Cosentino says of her days on the tween grind.

  • She & Him, 'Volume Two' (Merge)

    If Zooey Deschanel didn't exist, indie rock would've invented her. A life-size Kewpie doll in a vintage granny dress who belted out Christmas carols in Elf, she is the living embodiment of twee -- which is apparently her cross to bear. Last year, blogs declared a backlash against the singer-actress' "unbearable quirkiness": Offenses included baking gingerbread, knitting scarves, and playing the ukulele because "I just think it's cute." Avengers of adorableness should avoid Volume Two, her second collaboration with singer-songwriter M. Ward, since it's loaded with catchy odes to sunshine and hand-holding and learning to "be kind to yourself." But fans of '70s AM Gold will sip this stuff down like so much well-aged chardonnay.

  • Quasi, 'American Gong' (Kill Rock Stars)

    As a great blues-fueled rock band/formerlymarried couple, Quasi have been called the indie Fleetwood Mac. But while these Portlanders clearly love '70s rock, they'vealways shunned its excesses, happily flooding tiny clubs with the magnificent buzz of their Rocksichord organ. Now, with new bassist Joanna Bolme, frontman Sam Coomes and drummer Janet Weiss crank up that small-band-big-noisedynamic to power-trio scale, with longhair Neil Young roar ("Rockabilly Party") and amp-boiling reverb ("Repulsion"). BUY: Amazon

  • Spoon, 'Transference' (Merge)

    If Spoon had been meant to ride a comet out of the collegiate airwaves into modern-rock radio ubiquity, they'd be kickin' it with Jack White by now. True, the Austin, Texas band has already reached some checkpoints along that arc: getting signed to (and dropped from) a major label, scoring their first Billboard Top 10 debut with 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, watching frontman Britt Daniel defect to Portland, Oregon, where Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie are living out their second acts. But unlike those bands, Spoon never have enjoyed a gold-record breakthrough. So, on their seventh album, they re-embrace indie-ness, reviving the live-in-the-studio sound of their early albums.

  • Beach House, 'Teen Dream' (Sub Pop)

    Jonathan Richman once said the Velvet Underground didn't make music, they made atmosphere. That's also true for this Baltimore dream-pop duo, whose dense-fog organs, reverb-y slide guitars, and nodding harmonies feel as lush as a midnight walk in a wet garden. On their third album, those feelings now sound like actual songs, with swelling choruses and an all-encompassing ache. Singer Victoria Legrand holds vowels in her mouth like smoke rings on "Matter of Time," moaning "more, you want mooore." Yes, please. BUY: Amazon

  • Florence and the Machine, 'Lungs' (Universal/Island)

    Calling all crazy ex-girlfriends: If you're gonna keep up with Florence Welch, you might need stronger meds. In the U.K., where Lungs has become 2009's best-selling debut, this London based siren is already infamous for "Kiss With a Fist," a fizzy punk stiletto-stomper on which she breaks her boyfriend's jaw and sets his bed on fire. Elsewhere, she cuts out a girl's eye and even gobbles up some poor guy, savoring his texture and flavor like a nice pinot noir. ("The fabric of your flesh / Pure as a wedding dress," she raves. Yum!) Consumption is a fitting metaphor for Welch, who has never felt an emotion she couldn't crank into the red. From the way she sings, in big gulps and Teen Wolf growls, to the mystical art-rock ballads she bedazzles with sleigh bells, harps, and choirs, there's enough drama here for a Broadway musical. But her delivery is so raw that every mess feels genuine.

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