3 Bands You Should Be Listening To: Lukas Nelson, The Walkmen, and Ghostland Observatory

As an experiment for this post, I turned on the radio this morning and hit ‘random search’ three times. Two Katy Perry songs and some Miley Cyrus screeching later, my worst fear was officially confirmed – good music on the radio is dead. What happened to the days of rock and roll stations that actually know what rock and roll is? Or hip hop stations that still realize lyrics should make sense?

The answer? Hell if I know.

However, I do know that while you might not find it on your FM dial, good music in itself is not dead at all – in fact it’s quite alive and thriving in places where music has always sounded its best – off-label recording studios, beat up tour buses, dive bars and local concert halls. You just really have to look (and listen!) to find it.

Don’t have that kind of time?  Good – that’s where I come in with three bands you should be listening to right now. See below and rock on.

LUKAS NELSON AND PROMISE OF THE REAL 

My pops is a good dude – someone I aspire to be like.  He’s been a success professionally, a good husband to my mom and raised two kids with decent manners and zero tribal tattoos. He’s set the bar high, but with his help and a little hard work, I’m confident I won’t tarnish the family name too bad.

Somehow I feel like 23-year-old breakout rock star, Lucas Nelson probably feels the same way about his old man – the one and only Willie Nelson. I mean, come on… it’s Willie Nelson. Do you have any idea how many shots he’d have to take? How many tax collectors he’d have to evade?? How many bowls he’d have to smoke???

While common wisdom and a stricter DEA may suggest he never matches his old man in any of those categories, he is making a name for himself at music festivals, smoky bars and recording studios around the nation alongside his band, Promise of the Real. The group, consisting of Nelson, drummer Anthony LoGerfo, percussionist Tato Melgar and bassist Corey McCormick offer up a roll-down-the-windows-and-gun-it sound complete with a heavy dose of electric guitar and a bluesy swing that would make Stevie Rae Vaughn proud.

Listen to his tunes closely and you won’t be surprised it’s Willie’s kid – their pace and nasal phrasing definitely bear a resemblance – but you sure as hell won’t mistake him for Willie, either, as Lukas and company have crafted a sound all their own.

Their latest album, Wasted, dropped April 3 with some introspective tunes ranging from good ol’ southern rock via “Old Familiar Pain,” to stoner central with the cleverly titled, “The Joint.”  Lukas also makes a few vocal appearances on Willie’s new record, Heroes, due out this month.

Follow them, friend them or let them rock your face off.

THE WALKMEN 

Pop quiz – who was the coolest Muppet EVER?

Kermit? No way, completely piggy whipped. Elmo? The creep asks small kids to tickle him. No! The coolest Muppet ever was Animal – the crazy little guy who played the drums like a madman and rocked out harder than Ron Jeremy on Viagra. If you want to see a flesh and blood incarnation of Animal, then you need to go see the Walkmen – STAT.

While drummer Matt Barrick may leave the talking to frontman Hamilton Leithauser, he is undoubtedly the most fun part of watching the New York City-based band on stage.  I’m guessing he can’t be more than a couple inches over 5’8 and maybe 150 lbs dripping wet, but once he spins his cap around backwards and settles behind his set, he’s pure adrenaline. If you check them out, sit on whichever side his drums are and enjoy.

Can’t go see them in person? No worries – their new album, Heaven, drops May 29. The band claims the release will be “more mature” with tunes that illustrate their growth as both artists and men. So far, so good, as the music world is abuzz over the title track which blends a simple baseline with a delicate balance of tambourine and pleading, yet beautiful lyrics.

We Can’t Be Beat” is another track to give a listen – an acoustic joint that seems particularly applicable to these indie rock darlings who’ve been making solid tunes for more than 10 years and looking to continue their climb toward mainstream culture in 2012 and beyond.

Follow them, friend them or let them rock your face off.

GHOSTLAND OBSERVATORY 

I thought the night I walked in on my roommate dancing by himself on the couch like a sorority girl desperate for attention was going to be super awkward. I blinked to make sure I wasn’t seeing things and made mental wagers with myself about whether someone had laced his protein power with LSD or if he was preparing to audition for Richard Simmons’ next workout video.

“Dude, do you hear that music?” he asked pointing to the TV screen displaying a bizarre concert complete with trippy light show and what looked to be a vampire jamming on the keyboard. “This shit is crazy.”

As much as I tried to fight it, my head started bobbing, my foot started tapping and by the time the second chorus hit, I was dancing like no straight white man ever should. The shopping cart, the water sprinkler and a host of other dance moves only cute when little kids do them overtook my body and left me just as sweaty and creepy as he was.

The electronic funk duo that prompted that bizarre bro bonding moment goes by the moniker of Ghostland Observatory. Hailing from one of America’s greatest music meccas, Austin, Texas,  lead singer Aaron Behrens (the gentleman above resembling Hiawatha) and drummer / synthesizer / Dracula wanna-be Thomas Ross Turner have been helping white guys dance since 2005 when they launched their breakout album, delete.delete.i.eat.meat. No, I have no idea where the title came from. Yes, I do think Jenna Jameson and Jeffrey Dahmer could have been involved.

Success followed quickly for the duo as they hit the festival circuit and visited Conan O’Brien’s set – leaving a slew of dancing fools in their wake with songs like “Sad, Sad City” and “Stranger Lover.” Underground legend status wasn’t far behind as Behrens’ dancing prowess (think Michael Jackson or Prince, seriously) and LASER show (16 light beams that would blow Dr. Evil’s mind) made the group a must see night in and night out. Fans agree to disagree whether their latest album, Codename: Rondo took the band in a bold, new direction – slightly less funk, slightly more rhythmic storytelling and humor – or set them back a step in the fun department. Either way, checking these guys out in person won’t disappoint: They understand entertainment value in a way few other performers do.

Follow them, friend them or let them rock your face off.

 

Related on The Smoking Jacket:
7 Ways to Write Just Like Bill Simmons 
6 Things You Should Know About Groupies 
5 Mistakes Rock Journalists Make 

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