NXNE at various venues from Thursday to Sunday (June 19 to 22). NXNE Music, NXNE Comedy, NXNE Art run to June 22, NXNE Interactive to June 21. NXNE Film June 22. For ticket and wristband info, see nxne.com/tickets.
at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Thursday (June 19), 10 pm. NXNE wristband or $30.
Sometimes the best way to follow up a critically acclaimed album is to ditch everything you know and start from scratch.
"I didn't want to write the same stuff I had before," explains Merrill Garbus over the phone from Annapolis, Maryland. "In other words, I was dipping my toes into every pool I possibly could."
For the frontwoman of avant-pop project tUnE-yArDs, that meant retiring the looping pedal as a writing tool and demoting the ukulele from principal instrument to accessory. Garbus also studied Haitian drumming, which she compares to "learning another language of rhythm," and found vocal inspiration in Mali's queen of the desert blues, Khaira Arby.
The result of these explorations is Nikki Nack, tUnE-yArDs' excellent third album, rife with toe-tapping Afrobeats, vocal acrobatics and gritty synth grooves courtesy of long-time collaborator Nate Brenner.
It's a smooth transition from 2011's Whokill, which put Garbus on countless best-of lists that year. Despite the continued praise, the New York-based artist is careful not to become overconfident.
"A lot of the time, people are telling you how good you are," she says. "To me, it's the self-examined human, let alone the self-examined artist, that grows. And that's what I intend to keep doing."
Onstage, Garbus is still getting used to some of the new songs, like Wait For A Minute, a quiet number featuring her childhood Casio.
"It's kind of like when you've worn black your whole life and all of a sudden you're like, ‘I think I want to wear chartreuse,'" she says.
But chartreuse suits her. Infectiously groovy Nikki Nack will help you discover your untouched rhythmic prowess.
"That's the ideal," she says. "Having people dance to your music."
at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (June 21), 1 am. NXNE wristband or $20; and Yonge-Dundas Square, Sunday (June 22), 7 pm. Free. nxne.com.
New York post-hip-hop trio Ratking released their debut album, So It Goes, in April and it's not surprising that the precocious collective have embraced a Kurt Vonnegut catchphrase: like the famed American writer, they are strong voices of the counterculture.
Uninterested in anything mainstream, corporate or predictable, emcees Wiki and Hak, plus producer Sporting Life, bring cold, anti-authoritarian realism to raps about their home city. They add a punk sensibility to mellow throwback boom-bap stylings, patient instrumentals, drum 'n' bass interludes and weirdo old TV samples. They're courting the underground and have little in common with other trendy NYC rap collectives in their age range (hovering around 20).
More proof they're super-avant, with cred to boot? The trio have collaborated with fellow deep thinker, crooner King Krule as well as experimental trip-hop genre-blender Princess Nokia.
3. Golden Teacher
at Yonge-Dundas Square, Thursday (June 19), 6:30 pm. Free; and at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (June 20), 11 pm. NXNE wristband or $20. nxne.com.
There aren't many dance music studio projects that get as much praise for their delightfully unhinged shows as Glasgow's Golden Teacher. It probably helps their transition to the stage that their recordings have been loose live-to-tape jam sessions instead of the heavily edited laptop constructions most club music comes from.
Bringing together members of Scottish noise rockers Ultimate Thrush and house music duo Silk Cut, Golden Teacher found the perfect home for their eclectic sound on JD Twitch's Optimo Music label. Proto-house, Italo-disco, punk-funk, industrial dance and Afrobeat collide to create a hypnotic trance-inducing groove. Golden Teacher sound like the kind of forgotten experimental disco band that vintage vinyl collectors fantasize about discovering when they go crate-digging.
4. Danny Brown
at Yonge-Dundas Square, Thursday (June 19), 7:40 pm. Free; and Virgin Mobile Mod Club (722 College), Friday (June 20), midnight. NXNE wristband or $20. nxne.com.
Danny Brown is one of music's most fascinating figures.
The Detroit emcee found fame later than most - releasing his debut album, The Hybrid, in 2010 on his 29th birthday. Before that came a slew of EPs and mixtapes, including his Detroit State Of Mind mixtapes volumes 1 through 4.
The success of songs like Grown Up in 2012 - paired with his shaved head/afro, missing front tooth and outlandish fashion - landed him splashy spreads in glossy magazines like GQ.
Then there was the time he caused a huge internet stir after receiving unsolicited oral sex onstage. (Tourmate Kitty Pryde wrote an essay for VICE describing it as sexual assault; Brown later disagreed.)
That's a lot of life experience. In 2013, Brown channelled it into Old (Fool's Gold), his mature, introspective but still very Danny Brown (there's a song called Kush Coma, after all) third album, which also continued his tradition of cross-genre collaborations - with Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring, for example.
Even though he grew up a stone's throw from Canada, it's still an event when Brown makes it across the border. And it's always a party when he gets here.
5. Courtney Barnett
at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Friday (June 20), midnight; Saturday (June 21), midnight; and Sunday (June 22), 10 pm. NXNE wristband or $15. nxne.com.
Melbourne's Courtney Barnett is hilarious. Not laugh-out-loud funny but delightfully deadpan chuckle-inducing.
Take a gander at her tennis-loving video for Avant Gardener. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more idiosyncratically croaky and cool voice, let alone one verbosely going on about having an asthma attack during an Australian heat wave.
The songwriter/guitarist says most of her lyrics come out of journaling, whether she's bitching about condescending older guys (Out Of The Woodwork) or dropping references to the Stones and the Triffids on a drunken, meandering grunge ramble (History Eraser).
Barnett's self-released EPs I've Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris and How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose have been combined into The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas by House Anxiety/Marathon Artists. She's also working on a new album.
5 more acts that march to their own beat
Montreal one-man band Bloodshot Bill brings unique, wild-eyed intensity to his version of high-octane rockabilly madness.
Thursday (June 19) on the MiO Squirtcar and at Lee's Palace and Friday (June 20) at M for 159 Manning.
The former Deadly Snakes frontman has traded rowdy garage for laid-back folk rock, 70s singer/songwriter vibes and an old-school newsboy cap.
Thursday (June 19) at Smiling Buddha.
This openly gay Manhattan rapper/producer is likely one of the few figures in hip-hop who can boast that he also has a degree in modern dance.
Thursday (June 19) at Vice Island and Friday (June 20) at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club and Edward Day Gallery.
Unwilling to compromise for a label, the New York City band started their own, Mystery Buildings. They make lushly arranged, carefully orchestrated Brooklyn indie pop that gently swirls around your head.
Friday (June 20) at St. James Gazebo and Saturday (June 21) at the Garrison.
The Brooklyn band pairs garage punk primitivism with jagged art-rock dissonance.
Thursday (June 19) at the Garrison.