It's not that kids can't be musical geniuses. Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were 22 and 17, respectively, when they became rock legends. Paul McCartney was 22 at the height of Beatlemania. Biggie Smalls was 22 when Ready to Die was released. And then there's Mozart. But these days it seems rarer, and therefore more impressive, to see a band in their teenage years or early 20s that actually has its shit together--they may not be able to rent cars legally, but they're prolific, they can play the hell out of their instruments, and most important, they can write compelling and memorable music.
Here are the country's top seven baby bands--all of whose members are age 23 or under.*
*Certain youngster bands that we would have liked to include, like Surfer Blood, Tame Impala, and Twin Sister, had a stray 24 or 25-year-old who ruined it for the rest of them.
7. Cloud Nothings: Cleveland's Cloud Nothings is the solo project of one Dylan Baldi, who is 19 and dropped out of college to focus on writing scrambling, buzzing, lo-fi pop-punk tunes, many of which were composed and recorded in his parents' basement. Baldi's full-length debut hyperactively clashes sugary melodies with blasting, spazzing guitars and vocals--kind of like a less-bratty Nathan Williams. With tunes this promising, who needs a formal education?
6. Craft Spells: Justin Vallesteros of dance-rock outfit Craft Spells is 23 years old--Craft Spells' full-length, Zodiacs, will be released on March 29, and it's definitely a record to have on your radar. Vallesteros has a towering voice and his tunes are at once moody and joyous, fluid and inescapably catchy. Plus Vallesteros is soon becoming a hometown boy, moving to Seattle in order to be closer to his new rhythm section: bassist Jack Doyle Smith, 19, and drummer Peter Michel, who is all of 17.
5. Avi Buffalo: Avi Zahner-Isenberg's Sub Pop-signed Avi Buffalo is among the more successful and well-known of our baby bands--they released one of 2010's best songs, "What's In It For?", off their super-well-received self-titled debut. Avi Buffalo's songs are introspective and somewhat wise--especially considering that Zahner-Isenberg is only 20 (drummer Sheridan Riley is 18). Their youth still shows in the music's wonder and exuberance, and the fact that they have a song called "Summer Cum."
4. Zola Jesus: Nika Roza Danilova--alias Zola Jesus--is trained in classic opera and accordingly has a stunning, animalistic voice that bespeaks volumes of maturity and realism. Danilova's only 21, though, and she's already released two full-lengths (2009's New Amsterdam and The Spoils) and a smattering of EPs (a third full-length, Stridulum II, will be released this year). Zola Jesus' songs are profound and hugely dramatic (check out her stentorian cover of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love"), but Danilova has the authority as a performer to carry them off. You might be looking at America's own Björk.
3. The Globes: The concept of, or even the word, "sloppy" doesn't exist in the world of the Globes. Besides the fact that their sublime songs are immensely, emphatically compelling, each member of this band brings a level of meticulous proficiency to the stage that often isn't found in musicians twice their age (the Globes range from 20 to 23). The music is masterful, and my God, does it rock hard. The kids know it too--at the Globes' last Seattle show, opening for Say Hi at Neumos late last month, if you tried to fix yourself a position at the front of the stage, you likely got shoved or elbowed aside or nearly asphyxiated. The truth is, the only thing keeping the Globes from topping this list is that they haven't released a full-length album yet--but an LP is coming this April on Barsuk Records; check back then and we might have to rearrange these rankings.
2. Neon Indian: You know that Alan Palomo of Neon Indian is pretty much at the forefront of the chillwave trend, having released the brilliantly psychedelic Psychic Chasms in 2009, which contained such standout tracks as "Deadbeat Summer" and "Should Have Taken Acid With You." You know that he writes and performs lush, rippling music that blows your mind, even when you're sober. But did you know that Palomo is only 22? Dude's got a lengthy and likely thrilling career ahead of him, as long as he takes it easy on the acid.
1. Smith Westerns: Sophistication isn't a word you'd normally associate with a group of 20-year-old boys, but the second record from Chicago's Smith Westerns, last month's Dye It Blonde, proves that polishing and glamorizing garage rock is possible--and fruitful. The aristocratic Dye It Blonde is one of the year's most breathtaking releases. On standouts like "Weekend" and "All Die Young," Max Kakacek's guitar rips and wails with a stately quality that complements frontman Cullen Omari's youthfully sincere vocals--because of his tender age, he can sing things like "Love and lust--how come that is such a must?" and still sound winsome and genuine. Lush and lulling atmospherics, bold guitars that riff grandeur and aplomb, bleeding lyrics about the best years of young lives--somewhere, the ghost of Marc Bolan must be smiling.