The Band: Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
The Buzz: She may play the guitar with instruments as unconventional as a toothbrush and a pen, but the songs 25-year-old Virginian Thao Nguyen writes are sweet as honeycombs, as rich in detail as they are sparse in arrangement. And if that's not appealing enough, she's offering to write a personal song for a lucky fan to benefit the musicians' organization CASH.
Listen If: You always wondered what Cat Power might sound like providing guest vocals for late-period Modest Mouse.
Key Track: "Know Better, Learn Faster," where Nguyn's surprisingly husky voice grounds a skipping guitar line, making the whole song sound like a giddy playground afternoon.
The Band: Cold Cave
The Buzz: The name says it all — this Philly band skews dark and somber. Their debut was released on excellent New York noise imprint Hospital Productions, but they've settled down and cleaned up for their Matador debut, losing all of major player Wesley Eisold's rougher impulses in favor of bleak, brooding dark pop.
Listen If: Your idea of a party record is David Bowie's "Low."
Key Track: "Love Comes Close," with its shadowy throb and spindly guitar riff sounds like what might happen if a gaggle of skeletons tried to cover "Where the Streets Have No Name." That is, until Eisold's grim, Bowie-esque croon comes in. Then all bets are off.
The Band: Knight School
The Buzz: Kevin Alvir channels the sound of ramshackle British bands like the Television Personalities, making sub-lo-fi pop gems that wobble violently before collapsing in a heap.
Listen If: Your idea of "overproduced" means "recorded on anything other than a boom box."
Key Track: We'd start with the raucous "Pregnant Again," where Alvir proves all you need is a good idea and a great hook to make a pop masterpiece.