When it first made a name for itself nine years ago, Iron and Wine was just another way of saying "Sam Beam" — as in, the majestically bearded bedroom folksinger whose stark, fatalistic musings were offset by soft-voiced, solo-acoustic arrangements. These days, Iron and Wine is a full band whose sound is elastic enough to feature guitar solos, backup singers and even a saxophone.
Girls, the San Francisco indie-pop duo of Christopher Owens and Chet "JR" White, is one of the blogosphere's most beloved bands. The duo's 2009 debut album, titled Album, is a Polaroid of twentysomething existentialism, bookended by the joyful "Lust for Life" and devastating "Hellhole Ratrace."
Though my cold, black heart rarely stirs for the work of singer-songwriters, the voice of Sharon Van Etten always turns me into a weepy, vulnerable heap. If you listen closely to this gorgeous Tiny Desk performance she gave with her musical partner, Cat Martino, you can hear the sound of my eyelashes fluttering with misty delight.
Los Lobos has proven time and again that a universal shared experience will always trump culture and language. The group writes music that speaks to all of us as individuals, yet can make us feel connected when we pack ourselves into a club to watch them perform.