Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
It's been a good year for South Florida's quirky local indie darling, Rachel Goodrich, what with a glowing shout-out from the New York Times this past November and her official debut appearance at South by Southwest in the spring. It was all well deserved and timed with the October 2008 release of her debut full-length, Tinker Toys. Like the actual Tinkertoys, the album is sophisticated in its simplicity and a whole lot of fun. A real lover of whimsy, Goodrich eschews the typical singer/songwriter guitar in favor of a wider swath of instruments, applying liberal doses of harmonica, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, xylophone, and even kazoo. She toys with her voice as well, shifting from a breathy whisper to an almost bluesy sigh, sort of like Billie Holiday gone twee-pop (just try to imagine it). Rather than insufferably charming, though, the result is mentally indelible. For all her faux-naif trappings, Goodrich is an astonishingly mature crafter of melody, able to cinch clever wordplay and slightly hippied-out narrative into a recognizable pop structure. Occupying a rare creative space between the experimental stylings of acts such as CocoRosie and the polish of VH1 faves such as Sara Bareilles, Goodrich should soon rightfully take her place as South Florida's Next Big Thing.
Almost three years ago, ¡Mayday! released its self-titled debut solo album to serious Internet buzz and positive critical reception. On the strength of that disc's breakout single, "Groundhog Day," which featured Cee-Lo singing the hook, it seemed like ¡Mayday! was ready for national play. But after a couple of years on the grind, founding members Plex Luthor and Bernbiz decided to switch things up and get back on their hometown's radar. As such, they've ditched their earlier, sampler-heavy sound in favor of a more organic, live band approach. They've added four new members, including battle champ MC Wrekonize. The new equation has proven to be alchemy — Luthor, Bernbiz, and company have stepped up their live game, laying down a soulful hip-hop funk with an electric energy. We've heard that at an occasional residency at Jazid, their live jams have inspired people to disrobe. You'll have to see for yourself.
Playing live around town for less than a year, the shadowy character known as Panic Bomber has already developed some minor lore. Legend has it that once upon a time, Richard Haig was a local rock musician who got fed up with the grind of being hustled offstage in time for the night's main event — a DJ. So he turned to dance music himself, supposedly in an act of defiance that's explained, sort of, in a treatise on his website. Whatever. The music he makes, regardless of the reasoning behind it, is slick and dance-friendly. It works up to a funky electro-house groove that's rough enough around the edges to belie its creator's rock roots. And unable to fully relinquish a band's spectacle of performance, Haig has devised a pretty sweet light-up costume. Look out for him at a more discerning — hmmm, some would say "hip" — dance club near you.
To call these guys simply a "rock band" would be woefully leaving out a large chunk of their musical stew. Disco, soul, funk, and a large dose of the Purple One all figure into the sound. Still, it rocks. And though they broke up for a minute a couple of years ago, it didn't last long, and ever since then, they've been stepping up their game, touring and appearing at industry requisite events such as CMJ and South by Southwest. Around here, though, the band remains one of the most universally loved live acts, creating an instant dance party within the first few bars. Here's further proof they're in tune with the cultural Zeitgeist: Not only did they put their recent full-length, Rational Geographic Vol. 1, up for free download on their website, but also they somehow got Blair Waldorf herself — Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester — to record a cover of their song "Birthday." For real. OMG!
Is Poison the Well a surprise pick? No, but it's time to give credit where it is long overdue. Frontman Jeffrey Moreira reps Hialeah (hard), and the rest of the members hail from towns across South Florida. Poison the Well sprang from the same fabled anything-goes, late-'90s South Florida hardcore/punk scene as fellow success stories Shai Hulud and New Found Glory. PTW has reached the same cult level of underground/overground success (even releasing one disc on a major, Atlantic). But unlike its peers, the band never switched its original home base. No, Poison the Well deserves props for relentlessly touring the world, playing to frothing American and European crowds, and then returning home to joltingly sunny South Florida. What's more, PTW puts the same level of balls-to-the-wall energy into its decidedly more intimate hometown gigs, playing for rabid longtime fans at places such as Churchill's Pub. Further, the band has continued a path of out-there musical innovation, melding its hardcore roots into spaced-out, experimental workouts that play as well on a home stereo as at a show. The band's latest album, The Tropic Rot, was released digitally this past May through Ferret Music. The physical release is this summer, and it comes an impressive ten years after the group's debut full-length, The Opposite of December. Happy anniversary, guys.
Here in Miami, there's certainly no lack of talented Latin crooners. Still, the young balladeer known as Jean stands above the rest. This Puerto Rican-raised popster, who's also the younger brother of Latin superstar Luis Fonsi, has been building a solid and loyal following through a unique take on Latin R&B. What makes Jean exceptional is his natural knack for mixing Spanish, English, and even Spanglish (some might say Miami's unofficial language) with homebrewed beats from the finest urban Latin producers in the city. And though Jean has remained a local phenomenon for the past few years, that might soon change with the release of his sophomore album, Out the Box, which is beginning to get airplay on Latin radio.