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“So cry me a river/ I won’t drown/ And find me a sinner/ I’ve been found,” sings Jesika von Rabbit on “Final Clap Fever,” the first track off Gram Rabbit’s latest release Braised And Confused. Von Rabbit’s announcement that she is perfectly comfortable with whatever comes her way comes as no surprise, since Gram Rabbit, from the beginning of their career, has been a band that defies genres and embraces the natural weirdness that many bands annihilate in order to conform to whatever is trendy. The sonic result of flying the freak flag high is a band that isn’t afraid to experiment, and, as a result, is comfortable in any environment; from playing the hometown music festival Coachella, to L.A. night clubs, to local dive bars, to touring the country with the like-minded  Western band Spindrift, Gram Rabbit exhibits the drive and determination that is necessary to survive in the ever-shifting music world. But this resilience might stem from their hometown– a hot desert that practically necessitates a hard shell and determination to stay afloat.

Hailing from the legendary high-desert town Joshua Tree, California, Gram Rabbit is a proper desert band: from the mysticism, to the strangeness, they’ve got it down. The band’s newest self-released album (their seventh full-length) is a strange combination of Hollywood glam and desert wasteland poured into a huge stew with futuristic electronics added for kicks. While it seems that Gram Rabbit was only in the kitchen for a short while (it’s been just over a year since their last release), Braised and Confused is anything but undercooked. A pun on the 1993 film Dazed and Confused, the album’s title seems like a contradiction: it suggests the band is fully-boiled/prepared/baked  but also undecided, which I disagree with. To me, the band seems focused and mature. After all, the desert is a serene, almost austere place where contemplation and rejuvenation are encouraged. Anyone who has spent time in the desert can admit it is a great place to pause and reflect; the high desert, especially romantic at night, is THE place to catch the mountains pointing upwards at the stars in all their uninterrupted and luminous glory. The union of calm atmosphere and scenic landscapes is notoriously desirable for people needing (or being required to take) a break from lightning days. After all, the desert is home to Betty Ford Center, a rehab facility for the A-list Hollywood stars.

But for someone permanently residing in the desert, on the other hand, the quiet, and almost distraction-less atmosphere, can translate to insane amounts of productivity, as illustrated by Gram Rabbit’s seventh album in nine years, Braised and Confused. Yet Gram Rabbit is not the first band to find the high-desert a bottomless well of inspiration: Both Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys have recorded albums there, and U2 named an album after the city’s eponymous flora, not to mention, Gram Parsons’ tragic morphine overdose in Joshua Tree at 26. In other words, Joshua Tree is a unique and memorable town with a lot to offer.

Joshua Tree’s latest creative output, Braised and Confused, which you can check out on the band’s bandcamp, is seven tracks (five new, original songs, an interlude, and a Blur cover) of pure psychadelic-glam-desert rock perfect for a drive from Joshua Tree through Tinseltown’s gay little sister, Palm Springs. The songs are upbeat, rock numbers that demand to be played loud. The record is an adventure, a journey, and as such, it must be experienced on the road. Moreover, Jesika Von Rabbit is the ultimate spacegirl with sprezzatura to spare, and she shares it on the record. Her cool voice manages to be robotic, sexy and soft-grunge throughout the record and often at the same time: think of a less drug-addled, yet still rebellious Courtney Love, a rougher and edgier Gwen Stefani, now give her a bubble machine and bunny ears and you have Jesika Von Rabbit. Together with multi-instrumentalist Todd Rutherford and guitarist/producer Ethan Allen, Gram Rabbit crafts a unique brand of electro space-rock tinged with desert psychedelia and grunge-glam charm.

      Braised and Confused finds Gram Rabbit primed for superstardom, the question is, how will they get there? Which road will they take? The Cheshire Cat said it best when he found Alice at a fork in the road and answered her question, “Which road should I take?” “Where do you want to go?” he asked. “I don’t know,” she says. To which he replied, “Then it doesn’t matter.” Because the band’s latest offering is sharp, polished, and sophisticated, I don’t think it will be long before major labels coming knocking. Until then, it is evident Gram Rabbit will keep hopping and dancing to the beat of their own drum, with disregard to how others have grooved. They’re from Joshua Tree, for crying out loud; it’s the Wild Wild West out there– there is no formula.

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        When it comes to all-female bands from the Coachella Valley, Las Feas are the first of their kind. Because no other all-girl band has proclaimed the 760 as home turf, Las Feas are a rare and interesting group standing in opposition to the current desert rock lineup and alumni. The noisy band of riot-girls self-released their 4-song demo almost nine months ago, and it is still a favorite here at Forever Twenty Something. The demo consists of upbeat, short (no track exceeds 2.5 minutes), lo-fi surf-punk and the genre’s trademark reverb-washed guitars, which provide lead singer Yesenia Luevano the perfect background for her fuzzy, bratty vocals. The themes of youth and lust complement the sunny tracks most perfectly on the demo’s standout songs “Porn Star Love” and “Night Of The Living Brain Dead.” Together with guitarist Alva Valdez, bassist Perla Martinez, and drummer Béla Fonzarelli, Yesenia and Las Feas create a fun and unique beach-via-desert sound, which you should check out over at their bandcamp page. Peep their music video for “Porn Star Love” below:

If sleek, chilled-out downtempo confessionals are your favorite flavor of tea then VCR Monster wants to take you out for a cup. The LA-based band’s latest single “Coast” is a unique blend of slicked-out pop which finds the group exploring deeper realms of their electronic hedonism with more spacey and ambitious soundscapes than ever before.

The ambitious two piece, Jordan Matthew Kennedy (vocals, guitar) and Andrew Serrato (beats, synth, vocoder), already has one EP, 2010’s “Dangerous”, under their belts and lately the band’s twitter (@vcrmonster)
has been buzzing with activity regarding work on a new album. Finally, after weeks of building up the anticipation, the band’s Facebook page announced a new album “Explosions” and released “Coast,” the new album’s first single.

A much more calm and subtle effort than previous works, “Coast” finds JMK’s voice in top form (confident and defiant) as he quietly addresses a nameless lover in a cool and romantic hush over subtle yet infectious club-y beats. Check it out on the band’s Bandcamp page.

“The Sun and Moon” is the first single from Cursive’s upcoming album I Am Gemini (due 2/21). The new album is supposedly a concept album which at first may seem a little bit alarming but, at the same time, somewhat intriguing considering how Tim Kasher and co. are notorious for releasing lackluster albums. On their previous album, 2009’s Mama I’m Swollen, Tim Kasher seemed to have run out of ideas when he sang about “watching HBO and eating take-out dinners” on “What Have I Done?” Lyrics which at first appear to have been directly culled from a bored, middle-aged man’s twitter stream. Not only were the lyrics fairly questionable, most of the songs on Mama, I’m Swollen seemed to be equally uninspired. “The Sun and Moon”, however, is a solid return to form. This song is 3:58 full of the the razor-sharp riffs and clever lyrics fans of Domestica and Burst and Bloom grew to love. “The Sun and Moon” might be the most overdriven, full on rocker that the band has released in recent memory. If the rest of the songs on I Am Gemini  are just as promising and energetic as “The Sun and Moon”, then, Cursive might have the potential to fade out of the relative obscurity that has eclipsed them for the past few years.

Download: “The Sun and Moon”

10. Summer Camp- Welcome to Condale

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Summer Camp’s bubbly pop songs might have been the “happiest” tracks to have been added to my iPod this year. Dual singers Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey sing twisted lyrics about killing their lovers and mask their intentions coyly by doing it through sweet and infectious melodies. At first it may seem as though they are innocent little pop songs but upon further listen, the dark intentions become illuminated. The lyrics are border-line obsessive and deranged but that’s what makes Welcome to Condale such an adventurous album. Depeche Mode’s and The Cure’s influence is made obvious through extensive use of shimmering synths, drum machines, and extensive reverb. Welcome to Condale feels like an open love letter to classic albums of the 1980s but with a modern touch.
Favorite tracks: “I Want You” “Better off Without You” “Ghost Train”

9. Bass Drum of Death- GB City

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Bass Drum of Death are a young rock ‘n’ roll band with a lot of potential for greatness. I had the chance of catching their fall tour in LA and it was one of the best shows I attended this year. Their debut album, GB CITY, is full of fun little garage tunes that are both spunky and fresh. I think these Mississippi natives may have released the feel good album of the year with its odes to killing time with gravity bongs and parties. Anthemic and raw, GB CITY is an exciting little teaser from a band with unlimited potential. Favorite tracks: “Nerve Jamming” “Get Found”

8. Iceage- New Brigade

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Iceage are one of those bands that literally came out of nowhere for me. No, literally, they came out of nowhere- Copenhagen, Denmark. I’ve never heard any Danish bands but Iceage’s New Brigade completely blew me away. The only Danish person I’ve ever met was this guy I met in an AA meeting; Iceage is far more cooler. New Brigade is 25 minutes of fast, fun, carefree punk songs dipped in a hardcore lacquer. The only way I can describe them is post-post Punk. There are hints of romanticism on songs like “Remember” where the band seems to be vaguely flirting with new-wave sentiments. Some parts on New Brigade remind me of Liars circa Drums Not Dead combined with Joy Division and Fugazi. I really enjoyed this album.
Favorite songs: “Eyes” “Broken Bone” “You’re Blessed”

7. Gang Gang Dance- Eye Contact

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Gang Gang Dance’s new album, Eye Contact, was easily the most interesting, yet challenging album of 2011. Those expecting Eye Contact to sound like their previous effort, Saint Dymphna, are better off putting those hopes aside. The accessibility and listener-friendly sounds of the singles from Saint Dymphna are nowhere to be found on Eye Contact. Eye Contact is the sonic exploration of a band that has always refused to abide by the conventional rules of song structure and it finds Gang Gang Dance further pushing the boundaries of what a band can and should do. Layered with complicated synthesized loops and lacking any real explicit theme or straightforward lyrics, Eye Contact comes off as mostly a free jam. Equally trippy and weird, Eye Contact might take a few listens to resonate with the listener but once a connection is made, it seems impossible to break. Each additional listen provides the listener with a new sound or sample previously undiscovered and that is what makes each spin of Eye Contact so rewarding.The album contains a generous amount of ear candy for anyone with a decent pair of headphones.  While it is especially difficult to categorize Gang Gang Dance or compare them to any other bands, I believe that is what makes them so special. Consequently, that may also affect their pecuniary interests, yet, it seems as though that may be the least of the band’s concerns. If becoming the biggest headliners at the biggest festivals is not on the band’s to-do list, I don’t see any reason why Gang Gang Dance will not continue to put out strange albums like Eye Contact. That’s not a bad thing though.
Favorite tracks: “Mindkilla” “Romance Layers”

6. Cults- Cults

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When Cults first arrived in 2010, they were the hottest new band, yet nobody knew anything about them. They shrouded themselves in mystery by releasing their first songs on bandcamp.com and providing minimal biographical information. Soon after the release of their debut EP, Cults quickly rose to the top of everyone’s “Band to watch” list. With the release of their debut full-length, their mysteriousness faded and behind the veiled act was a phenomenal live band with incredible songwriting chops.  Cults don’t attempt to hide the fact that the album is an obvious throwback to 60s girl groups, in fact, they make it quite apparent. Madeleine’s voice has a fun-bubblegummyness to it which surrender the listener powerless to whatever she wants to sing about. The best songs on this album are absolutely perfect, so brilliant that it seems increasingly difficult to consider where the band can go from here. Having wrapped up an extensive year of touring, it will be exciting to see how some down-time and newfound stardom will affect Cults’ followup to Cults.
Favorite tracks: “Abducted” “You Know What I Mean” “Most Wanted”

5. Lykke Li- Wounded Rhymes

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Wounded Rhymes by Lykke LI arrives three years after her debut album Youth Novels and finds our favorite Swedish songstress more mature and intriguing than ever before. Her new album is even better than the first. Filled with mesmerizing tales of love lost, hedonism, the entire album feels like a grown woman’s announcement of her sexual prowess. The songs are drenched in soul, the whispers of a lonely and beautiful voice grab the listener by the ears and demands their attention as it grows more captivating with each listen.
Favorite tracks: “Unrequited Love” “Sadness is a Blessing” “I Know Places”

4. Blood Orange- Coastal Grooves

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The debut full length form Devonte Hynes (ex- Test Icicles/ Lightspeed Champion) new project might be the sleekest, sexiest album put out this year. Hushed and delicate, Coastal Grooves feels like it was created to set the mood for a walk through a big city at night.  Walking through downtown LA with this album playing through my headphones was the most amazing thing I did this fall. What makes Coastal Grooves even more amazing is the fact that all the songs seem to share some sort of cohesiveness that makes listening to the album without skipping any songs possible and enjoyable. I didn’t find that on any other albums this year. All the tracks seem to blend into one another very smoothly and sensually. Coastal Grooves is a sexy time for sure and the question on everyone’s mind seems to be: Is Devonte Hynes a modern-day Prince?
Favorite tracks: “The Complete Knock” “Sutphin Blvd” “Forget it”

3. St. Vincent- Strange Mercy 

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Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) released Strange Mercy in late 2011 and it was unsurprisingly received with open arms. Fans of her previous album, Actor, were rewarded with an equally interesting and inspiring collection of songs. Strange Mercy finds St. Vincent exploring new experimental avenues: love, politics, the monotony of relationships are all topics that she addresses with ease. Strange Mercy finds Annie Clark at her creative peak thus far. Experimenting with unorthodox time signatures and instrumentation seems like just another day in the life of the best female singer-songwriter of the year.
Favorite Songs: “Surgeon” “Cheerleader” “Cruel”

2. Cold Cave- Cherish the Light Years

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The latest offering by doom-pop band Cold Cave finds songwriter Wesley Eisold at his most creative yet. Assisted by Dominic Furnow the band crafts sweeping, majestic synth-driven tales of betrayal, lust, death, and gloom: every goth’s favorite subjects. What separates Cold Cave from other post-punk contemporaries like The Drums or Cut Copy, is that Cold Cave’s songs sound far more wounded, yet sinister and at the same time passionate. Wesley Eisold’s obsession with all things morbid is further aided by the industrial and synthesized soundscapes on Cherish the Light Years. One obvious difference between CTLY and their previous album Love Comes Close is the beefed up production and song palette. Wes and co. sound much more bigger and cleaner than they did before.The production on this album is phenomenal and without it, the pummeling synth line on “Underworld USA” may have sounded weak and pale in comparison. I was lucky enough to catch Cold Cave’s mid-day Coachella performance where the band didn’t stray from their nightlife wardrobe. Clad in leather jackets and all black clothing the band ripped through all their hits in grandiose fashion leaving all those  unfamiliar with the band spellbound, and all those already in love thirsting for more.
Favorite tracks: “Confetti” “Icons of Summer” “Underworld USA”

1. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

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The most amazing thing about the new album from Girls is how grand the songs sound in comparison to how minimal their composition is. All the songs sound natural and honest and are the love stories of a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Christopher Owens’ voice sounds warm and hushed, fragile and crestfallen. Even on the album’s happiest song “Honey Bunny” one can still hear the loneliness in his voice and it neatly compliments the loneliness he paints with his words.All the songs on the album are laced with dark confessionals of a man who is just trying to find his place in the world. And I believe he may have found it with this album. While some songs are a little sleepy that doesn’t make them any less powerful but it does, however, serve to make the really good songs on the album even better. Songs like “Forgiveness” and “Die” are gut-wrenching rock n roll showcasing Christopher Owens diving deep into his heart and pulling out his most impressive guitar riffs and lyrics. Hardly the sophomore slump, this is the finest collection of songs put out by any artist in 2011.
Favorite tracks: “Vomit” “Alex” “Honey Bunny”

Honorable Mention:
The Horrors- Skying
Unknown Mortal Orchestra- S/T
The Drums- Portamento
M83- Hurry up, We’re Dreaming
Ryan Adams- Ashes & Fire