A "Hobo," a human disco ball and a woman in a cat mask enter a contest ...
Later this month NPR Music will announce the winner of the Tiny Desk Contest, its annual celebration of unsigned musicians.
There have been a lot of fun and diverse surprises out of Northern California this year, so check out this (not at all comprehensive) list of artists to watch well after this year's winner is announced.
Lillian Frances | Davis
From the jump, this entry is nothing but energy. Poppy and lush textures take center stage and are well balanced with her vocals. What really gives me a smile while listening is how Frances' electronic sequences playfully bounce between the ears. Turn this one up loud on your speakers or (carefully) on a nice set of headphones.
Hobo Johnson & The LoveMakers | Sacramento (North Oak Park)
Frank Lopes (aka Hobo Johnson) hides personal fears and desires out in the open on this track, but he's so affable it come across more like a wink to the audience. For me, this is less of a song as it is musical prestidigitation. Between Facebook and YouTube our "stunt puller from birth" is poised to hit over 13 million views before the Tiny Desk Contest winner announcement on April 24.
Makebelief | Sacramento (South Natomas)
Hypnotic loops, warped vocals and irregular time signatures. What draws me to "For Keeps Sake" is the same thing that draws me to music from Dan Deacon, tUnE-yArDs and Animal Collective. I'm holding out hope that Schuyler Petersen's stuffed animal collection is in attendance for all his performances.
limbo | Napa
It's cutesy catchy and on the nose. "sounds" by limbo is a bite-size pop music track that sticks with me. The Napa Valley musician sings about her lack of music theory and songwriting prowess, but it beams through (even if her identity remains a secret).
Chris Cotta | Galt
The setting of this one makes me think Chris Cotta's in a rush to crank the song out before a meeting with his lawyer. "Mine" comes off like early-career Bob Dylan in double time, but it's the command of his voice, guitar and harmonica (plus the speed) that makes this entry stand out.
Brian Maxwell | Sacramento (Midtown)
EDM (like "Electronica" in the 90s) is a divisive term but I'm always impressed with the juggling act a composer/DJ has to do on a track like this. Though one does give the impression Maxwell is curring favor with a certain brew-y sponsor of the competition...
Pat Hull | Chico
It's pretty easy to get lost in a sea of lo-fi, modestly produced acoustic guitar sessions during this contest, making this entry from Chico's Pat Hull all the more notable. There's a haunting warmth in the vocals and instrumentation here I just love.
Hashstronaut | Yuba City
This gives me vibes like artists you'd hear from hip-hop labels like Rhymesayers and DOOMTREE. "To The Top" sounds like a motivational speech to Hashstonaut's neighborhood — a personal guide to life based on his experiences that features tight production and more than a few brags.
Separate Spines | Sacramento (South Sac)
The drawing of a desk under a magnifying glass is a fitting interpretation given the group. Separate Spines crafts soundscapes more than pop music. Comparative pop archetypes are groups like Sigur Ros, Kevin Shields and Mazzy Star. I like that the band eschews easily defined genre (both here and in general).
Cloud Hats | Sacramento (Midtown)
Here we have breezy instrumentation and solid harmonies all wrapped up in feel-good pop. There's joy naturally shining through in this performance. Just watch the band's reaction to the wind picking up at the 2:03 mark and try not to smile, you monster. I only wish is that the vocals were turned up a touch more in the mix.
The Fontaine Classic | Sacramento
While I can't always make out the lyrics, the music stirs imagery of regret and lost opportunity. "Real Success" doesn't stop for a catchy breakdown. It marches like doomed Union infantry into Fredericksburg. There's plenty here if you're a fan of bands like The National or Built To Spill.