Bands to Watch 2009: Columbus goes pop

Chris DeVille, Columbus Alive

Columbus has a diverse music scene - cities do by definition, right? - but for the past few years, the most exciting noise in this burg has been quite noisy indeed. The scorched, scathing sounds emanating from sites like Carabar and Cafe Bourbon Street have deservedly earned international acclaim and local notoriety.

Whether it was shitgaze bands like Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit putting melodic tunes through sonic hell, or their cousins at Columbus Discount Records coughing up globs of art-damaged punk and garage, this city's most happening sounds were uniformly abrasive.

The bands that emerged from that scene in the middle of the '00s continue to thrive, and more recent entries like RTFO Bandwagon and Day Creeper show the skuzzy rock underbelly still has promising new contributions to offer. But even those bands signify a shift that can be felt throughout the city's rock underground.

All of the sudden, Columbus is getting poppy again.

Of course, despite media coverage that occasionally fixates on the more obscure corners of indie rock (guilty), accessible music has always been there. But rarely has this punk-rock town seen so many of its best new bands forgoing acidic discord in favor of sweet, unfettered clarity.

These upstarts aren't playing it straight. Each one has carved out a distinct identity in the houses and watering holes that comprise the city's indie-rock scene, from the pep-rally punch of Karate Coyote to the soft-spoken, heartbroken meditations of Our Cat Philip. Super Desserts delve deep into a twee fantasy realm, while The Lost Revival mimics the widescreen scope of Wilco and Arcade Fire.

It would have been possible to assemble a strong Bands to Watch lineup built exclusively on this new wave of pop-centric indie bands. But of course, there is much more going on.

As usual, we tried to use Bands to Watch to showcase a variety of exciting new acts while skewing towards the styles we cover most frequently. It's not a perfect cross-section of what's happening musically. For instance, last year we gorged on hip-hop; this year we fast.

One community we wanted to acknowledge was the bustling under-21 scene, which is where we found The Crimson Armada. The teenage metalheads will follow in the footsteps of peers like Attack Attack and Before We Forget with a big-time record deal and a massive national tour this year.

On the other end of the spectrum, gritty rock 'n' roll veterans The Main Street Gospel are honored here for their impending deal with respected Brooklyn psych-rock label Tee Pee and the potential that comes from having half of The Black Keys record your LP.

Our other three picks fall into this rising pop movement we're so jazzed about, but they show how diverse the trend is. The house-show-bred pop-punk of Tin Armor, the jazzy bluegrass weirdness of Couch Forts and the schizoid orchestral epics of This Is My Suitcase represent Columbus music at its most invigorating.

Each of our five honorees will perform Saturday at our annual Bands to Watch showcase. Skully's will once again host the free show, which starts at 9 p.m. sharp. We implore you: Come and see if you find the latest wave of Columbus bands as infectious as we do.