The Band: Washed Out
The Buzz: This entry should really be called "The Phrase." 'Chillwave," people. Learn it, memorize, and forget it in a week when everyone decides they hate it. Like all ridiculous genre tags, 'Chillwave' is tough to define — just think of it as mellow, cooled-out, laid-back beach music. Most of it involves synthesizers. South Carolina's Washed Out are total chillwave. But don't hate them because their genre tag sucks.
Listen If: You play your old OMD records at half-speed, or you burn off afternoons recording synth-pop songs on a busted 4-track. Or you're not put off by the phrase "chillwave."
Key Track: The fantastically mystic "Feel it All Around," a strange vapor of a song, loose and langorous and, well, chill.
The Band: The Kickback
The Buzz: High drama Chicago-based rock band (with at least one very rabid fan) conjures the very best parts of the Veils and the Walkmen and the Killers, writing lean, nervy songs that snarl and snap. Guitarist Billy Yost has a marvelously agonized voice and he wrenches notes from his larynx, hurling himself against the songs' propulsive rhythms.
Listen If: You've got a thing for high drama, or you like songs that move fast and singers that collapse faster.
Key Track: The sneering "Roman Regret," a song boasting a guitar line that snaps and crackles like a cut electrical wire and Yost at his worked-up, Pentecostal best.
The Band: The Smith Westerns
The Buzz: Chicago teenagers are the latest garbage-fi band to make the blog rounds, proving that high-tech recording studios and high-sheen production are — for right now, anyway — a thing of the past. Their album cover is a weird cut-up of Nirvana's Nevermind artwork, and we can't help but think Kurt would have loved their no-frills, un-pro approach to pop music.
Listen If: You think the worse pop music sounds, the better it actually is.
Key Track: The astonishing "Be My Girl," which is precisely the kind of song Marc Bolan would be writing if he was alive right now and hankering for a comeback. Absolutely majestic.