International festival season is well under way, and Spain is bringing its A-game. In fact, the great city of Barcelona offers not one, but two incredible, go-broke-worthy music festivals this spring: last month’s Primavera Sound, and this week’s Sónar. Although both festivals are a hub for Anglophone heroes old and new, from New York City dreamboats The Strokes to London trailblazer FKA twigs, they’re also prime opportunities to get a real taste of Spanish indie music. Although, of course, we may have missed a few favorites (or dozens), the following 10 bands highlight the untapped brilliance of Spanish musicians.
Sevilla-born singer-songwriter Antonio Luque can be best described as the Cool Dad of Spanish indie as we know it. Through his project Sr. Chinarro, he and his rotating cast of backing musicians have been romancing audiences since 1990. His smoky murmurs rest gently upon mountains of organs, strings and other wonky, dissonant orchestral sounds. His voice has only grown more rich and sonorous throughout the years, but his wordplays remain as sharp as ever. If we’re being totally honest here, Sr. Chinarro belonged no other place than number 1 on this list—lest the multiple generations of his superfans take serious offense.
The Suicide Of Western Culture
Gritty, industrial clamor meets a glossy, techno sheen in the latest single by Barcelona duo The Suicide Of Western Culture. Their contentious (and possibly aspirational) name aside, they add a unique touch of serenity to their seething, electronic ruminations. The theory’s just as present in their cinematic sounds, as it is spelled out in vaguely anarcho-nihilist song titles like “Love Your Friends, Hate Politicians,” “Hope Only Brings Pain” and more recently,“Still Breathing But Already Dead.” There is no doubt they’ll continue to kill it in their forthcoming LP, due later this year via Primavera Sound’s new imprint, El Segell del Primavera.
Actually, to call Ferran Palau “Spanish” would be a total misnomer. Originating in the bucolic mountain town of Collbató, in the autonomous community of Catalonia, Palau sings strictly in Catalan. He first garnered attention as the frontman of gothic chamber pop outfit, Anímic. (Yes, it’s just as curious as it sounds.) In 2011, he decided to take a stab at a solo project, which led him down an earthier path, venturing quietly into the valley between dream pop and American folk music.
Dulce Pájara de Juventud
Reportedly friends since their days in Catholic kindergarten, the members of Dulce Pájara de Juventud color their indie rock with a next-level piety unseen in most other bands of their ilk. Their latest album, Triumph, sees the Sweet Birds of Youth caught somewhere in the liminal space between starry-eyed psychedelia and sulky, shoegazing splendor. (To sum it up neatly: think The Cure meets Spiritualized meets Yo La Tengo.) Frontman Ricard Izquierdo makes spectacular vocal climbs well throughout the album, but the standout track is “Manantial,” a sobering but punchy indictment of a toxic lover.
Clad in tuxedos, hair pulled back in ponytails—only to be shaken off halfway through their set—the Barcelonian noise pop squad took over the Pitchfork stage at Primavera Sound this year, seamlessly tearing through song after song with not a f*ck to be given. Executed with a husky candor comparable to PJ Harvey and the jangly angst of Sebadoh, Mourn’s 2014 self-titled debut caught the eyes and ears of US-based label Captured Tracks. Their latest single, “Gertrudis, Get Through This!” sees the band adopt a fierce composure—even as they’re totally wiling out.
Oh god no, not another Girl Band! But really, there are no actual mujeres to be found here. Nevertheless, this grimy foursome serves a combo platter of rowdy pop punk and slovenly, off-kilter surf rock in their 2015 release, Marathon. If it seems like the most superior drinking music, that’s because it really is.
El Columpio Asesino
The Pamplona five-piece have spanned a multitude of sounds and genres since their inception in 1999, but their sound is more polished and spectral than ever. The dusky title-track of their 2014 album, Ballenas Muertas en San Sebastián, recently got a punchier, electro-punk rework by Madrid-based producer David Kano. It suits them well.
Rombo (or, Rhombus in English) puts on a very angular front. But in the fashion of many Sarah Records staple acts, the Barcelona quartet crafts twee pop so plush, you’ll want to give it a great, big hug. Accentuated by quirky little synth lines, their bare-bones instrumentals make for light, carefree listening, best done in the company of your more arty, mohair sweater-clad friends, or perhaps at a tea party starring all your favorite stuffed animals from childhood.
Valencia trio Jupiter Lion are guaranteed to hold you captive with their intricate collage of progressive rock, synthy post-punk and noise in their latest album, Brighter. They have a knack for formulating sonic tessellations that wind and bend in mesmerizing synchronicity. Be sure to catch them at this year’s Sónar, if you should be so lucky!
Is this real life? Is my head really swimming in gelatin? Barna’s Ocellot have taken their dizzying experimental pop act across the Atlantic several times over, and even scored a spot at this year’s SXSW as one of its Showcasing Artists. Fans of Panda Bear, Atlas Sound and Silver Apples may be most tickled by their Jelly Beat LP.