College is among the most important periods of musical exploration and discovery in a person’s life, a chance to differentiate your taste from that of your parents and the like-minded folks you surrounded yourself with in high school. College radio stations can be great for introducing you to new bands whenever they aren’t pumping out the same Green Day and Aerosmith songs over and over again. At the prestigious university I attended, College of DuPage, the radio station was run by professors, and thusly comprised of 90% jazz, with theme nights like reggae, salsa, and blues tossed in here and there.
While I appreciated the introduction to Charles Mingus, I had to learn about bands like Diiv and Smith Westerns through my friends who attended schools with student-run stations. The college rock landscape continues to expand and shift with each incoming freshmen class, with the Internet helping to fill in the cracks left by the 89.1’s and 88.5’s, introducing us to more new artists each week. There’s a lot to take in if you’re a young person just getting past listening to all the songs you heard at prom, so we’re here to help narrow it down for you.
17. Gothic Tropic
Jungle rock isn’t a genre that many bands self-assign these days, but Gothic Tropic tackle the label head-on and do so with a fervor and unique sound that most other bands can’t match. The L.A. trio have put out only a few tracks, but each one has some distinguishing factor from the rest, whether it be one member dominating the track more than others or an entirely different sound from the extremely versatile band. Each member is given their time to show off, but it always works within the greater concept the group is reaching for. Drummer Liv Marsico is often given a chance to shine, and it’s well deserved because she’s an undeniable force behind the kit. Having toured with bigger groups like Cold War Kids in the past, Marsico, and her bandmates Cicelia Della Peruti (Guitar/Vocals) and Daniel Denton (Bassist), seem to have tapped into something special with Gothic Tropic, and it would be wise to keep an eye on this band in the near future as they hopefully prepare to release much more material. –Pat Levy
16. Potty Mouth
Hailing from Northampton, Massachusetts, the four members of Potty Mouth formed the band in 2011 while attending the town’s women’s-only Smith College. Together, they encapsulate the gritty infectiousness of a basement show. Their debut album, Hell Bent, struck the perfect balance between punk and indie rock-minded pop, recalling acts like Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, and other ‘90s big guns. Songs like “The Spins” flail around with rough-edged guitars and clever lyricism from frontwoman Abby Weems, with her distinct and terse delivery. Another highlight is the authenticity anthem “Black and Studs”, which attempts to get to the bottom of rebellion and punk: “What happened to you/ To make me wear black and studs?/ What happened to me/ To wear them just because?” Like fellow Northhamptonites Speedy Ortiz, Potty Mouth are helping make Western Massachusetts one of the brightest spots in the country for well-made guitar rock. –Josh Terry
15. The Lemons
Chicago natives The Lemons have an infectiously happy nature about them, which for some reason feels rare nowadays. The Lemons just want you to cheer up! What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Their charming brand of ’60s flower pop is colorful and inviting, with short snippets of songs that don’t linger, but rather, keep you moving. Their lyrics pop like Hubba Bubba, riding the wave of their jangly and carefree instrumentation, making them downright irresistible to dance to. With tiny jams like the 37-second “Ice Cream Shop” and the sugar high addictiveness of “My Candy Girl”, The Lemons have solidified themselves as one of the most original bands out there. If there’s one thing most college rock bands have in common, it’s originality. Through their live shows and undeniably pleasant nature, they’ve already developed an almost cult-like following of fans and friends, recently finishing off a tour with another of our list toppers, Twin Peaks. Soon enough, we’ll all be Lemon Heads. –Rebecca Bulnes
Earnest power pop is rare. Well, maybe not earnest power pop, but earnest power pop that’s actually good is rare. There’s no sap to Sharpless’s music; it’s unrelenting in its self-awareness and puts that to good use. Think Weezer with less people and more pathos, something you can rely on to make you feel some type of way, in a good way. Mastermind Jack Greenleaf captures a wealth of emotional range within two EP’s worth of lyrics, delivered by him and vocalist Montana Levy. This is the kind of music that I wish I had as a freshmen in college, and if I had, I’m sure I’d be a much more positive person, because that’s what Sharpless does. Their music spans a number of different sounds but is resoundingly steadfast in its intent to make the listener feel good. I don’t leave a Sharpless listening session with a frown, it’s the type of music that restores your faith in a genre. Besides being one of the best up-and-coming power pop groups, Sharpless is a part of The Epoch, an artistic community that has fostered a number of other worthwhile projects, proving that sometimes the best things grow out of a group with similar, but not singular, interests and intents. –Pat Levy
13. Secret Colours
If you didn’t know these guys were from Chicago, you’d assume they’re a bunch of Brits, with their insanely Britpop-influenced sound and their unusual spelling of color, but the Windy City exports manage to capture the soul of the UK in the late ’90s/early ’00s and mix in a good amount of psychedelia for a sound all their own. Ample amounts of fuzz and pop combine to sound something like if The Stone Roses and The Black Angels decided to mate, and their offspring is something to be cherished. A shifting lineup hasn’t altered the band’s unique perspective all too much, and in reality they’re more grounded and focused now than they were four years and a few members ago on their self-titled debut. Their most recent record, Positive Distractions, culls from an even wider array of influences, with the melodic Beatles-y “Mrs. Bell” bleeding all too well into “Heavy & Steady”, which starts with a near-perfect Modest Mouse impression before turning into something entirely different with more of a pop Pink Floyd vibe. All the essentials are here, and Secret Colours are just toying around with them until they find the perfect recipe for success. –Pat Levy
12. Peach Kelli Pop
As tempting as it might be to call the music of Canadian (by way of L.A.) songwriter Allie Hanlon “sugary sweet pop,” it surely isn’t entirely accurate. Indeed, each cutesy doo-wop chord, pop punk hook, and bit of garage rock clatter we hear her spinning around every inch of the beat does sound drenched in a honeyed coo, but there’s enough genre-trotting here to make the music sound more quietly menacing than just plain sugary. Her ability lies in finding the sweetest elements of all those genres, and her tracks power each element like a steam engine: fast and taut.
Peach Kelli Pop songs have a certain type of linear progression and minimal formula, in a Ramones “Rockaway Beach” meets Shonen Knife’s brand of sticky-sweet punk pop sort of way. On her 2010 self-titled debut, she cheekily sings over dreamy guitar plucking, “You’re just like Joey Ramone, and I can be Debbie Harry” with charm and confidence, reinforcing that the gravitas comes with Hanlon’s demeanor and voice. It’s flirtatious enough to take pancaked flatness, like on “No One Else Like Me”, and let it bubble and pop wide open with an intoxicating feminine brew. This music sounds suited for a drive on a sunny day, swerving between seagulls and rolling over soft gravel. Instead of reinforcing all things male and aggressive, “Mindreader”, released in March of this year, is the aesthetic of both garage rock and punk, but now gaining a more chiseled form. It has the gleam and cheerfulness of boldly feminine ‘60s girl groups and is suited for any listener with a short attention span: She fits a good amount of melody into a relatively short amount of time. The drums clap, the chimes smile, and this is a hip band name to drop. –Lior Phillips
We ought to start with the obvious: Tim Beeler’s voice is an elemental, powerful thing. It doesn’t take long for listeners to realize this either. In fact, about 20 seconds into “Habit”, he slices through grunge rock chords with the opening line, “Learn something, something you believe in,” in such a way that it makes you believe in exactly what he’s saying; it makes you trust that this is a new band worth giving every dang bit of “something” towards. It’s here, on their debut LP, More Than Any Other Day, that these Montreal post-punks waste no time establishing a vigorous barrage of bravado and energy. It’s that sarcastic hair-pulling and eye-scrunching vocal style that shuffles somewhere between conversational ranting and rocker howling.
The music of Ought, for all its bombast and groan, preaches in a vocabulary drawn from Montreal punkcore, so animally energetic it feels like a hybrid. They’re too modern for art rock, too quick-witted for punk. “Weather Song” erupts into gigantic sheets of clatter somewhere between The Strokes, Fugazi, and Parquet Courts. The advent of agile drumming and the song’s classic rock nervy signifiers are then delivered with indie rock’s tough gnarl. Their guitars entwine: one plucked, one bowed, one wrenched. You don’t have to be a strict punk rock devotee to realise that even if they’re not political and choose to savor mundane subject matter instead (public transport, night terrors, and the weather), they deliver a homily on the new world of post-punk. They’re both illuminated and repelled by life, as Beeler declares at the end of the album: “I retain the right to be disgusted by life/ I retain the right to be in love with everything in sight.” And it’s those moments that are nothing short of thrilling. –Lior Phillips