Who: A fragile San Francisco indie rock act founded by ex-Children of God cult member Christopher Owens.
Sounds like: A patchwork of influences—psych-pop, jangle-rock, surf-garage, lo-fi-folk, Wall of Sound rhythms—filtered through a haze of drugs and soul mining.
On Matador: 2009’s diverse, fractured Album.
Spin it: “Laura”
Who: Bluesy, female-fronted, Boston-based quartet (singer Thalia Zedek, guitarist Chris Brokaw, bassist Sean O'Brien and drummer Arthur Johnson); active 1990-2001.
On Matador: Start to finish, releasing four albums on the label.
Spin it: “Submerge”
THE JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION
Who: New York punk-blues trio led by one-time Pussy Galore frontman Jon Spencer. The band’s unchanged lineup—Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins—took a break in the mid-2000s before returning to the road in 2008.
Why they matter: For reminding us gritty rock ’n’ roll still has a place in the world—and for keeping the spirit of Elvis alive outside Las Vegas.
On Matador: For five albums between 1993 and 2002. The band’s back-catalog is currently being reissued by Shout Factory Records.
Spin it: “Bellbottoms”
Who: Seattle confessional songwriter Mike Hadreas.
Sounds like: Twilight-of-life diary entries matched with ghostly piano and hymn-like arrangements and tempos.
On Matador: This year’s Xiu Xiu-ish full-length Learning.
Spin it: “Learning”
Who: The stage name for doe-eyed singer-songwriter Chan Marshall. The musical descendent of Nico and Joni Mitchell, and the luminous inspiration for artists such as Joanna Newsom.
Why she matters: Cat Power’s bedroom-intimate music and sparse guitar performances speak to those fumbling through life. Whether she’s unburdening her own heart or interpreting the lyrics of others in her smoky, foggy alto, Marshall is larger-than-life.
On Matador: From 1996’s What Would the Community Think through 2008 cover-song tour de forces Jukebox and Dark End of the Street. 2003’s emotional bloodletting You Are Free is considered her best; 2006’s soul-soaked The Greatest is also, well, great.
Spin it: “He War”
Who: Veteran North Carolina rockers, admired for their independent spirit and musical dependability. The quartet—singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan, guitarist Jim Wilbur, bassist Laura Ballance and drummer Jon Wurster—recently returned to full activity, releasing its first album in nine years, Majesty Shredding, last month.
Why they matter: You have heard “Slack Motherfucker,” haven’t you?
On Matador: The band released its first three LPs on Matador, before moving to the McCaughan- and Ballance-founded Merge Records, Superchunk’s home to this day.
Spin it: “Throwing Things”
Who: One of the most popular indie-rock acts around today, bred in Austin and now based in Portland.
Why they matter: Over the last decade, the band—formed by singer/guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno—has made it fashionable to cite Joe Jackson/Elvis Costello-style mod-pop and dapper soul-rock as influences, without sounding like a kitschy retro act.
On Matador: Their 1996 debut LP, Telephono, and the following year’s Soft Effects EP.
Spin it: “Don’t You Evah”
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
Who: A winsome, wintry indie-pop troupe from Glasgow, Scotland, fronted by elfin vocalist Stuart Murdoch. The patron saints of prim librarians, awkward grad students and bookish misfits.
Why they matter: The group updated Nick Drake’s breathy folk, the literate loneliness of The Smiths and (later) swinging ’60s soul for a new generation.
On Matador: For much of their 14-year career, including 1996’s essential If You’re Feeling Sinister.
Spin it: “Step Into My Office, Baby”
ESBEN AND THE WITCH
Who: A haunted noise-goth trio from Brighton, U.K.
Sounds like: PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux in a doomed love triangle with Nick Cave.
On Matador: The howling, zombie-girl-group single “Marching Song” is out October 12. A long-player is scheduled for 2011.
Spin it: “Marching Song”
Who: An electro troupe founded by hardcore scene vet Wes Eisold.
Sounds like: Teutonic industrial synth-pop with nods to Depeche Mode, Visage and early Human League.
On Matador: Icy, danceable 2009 debut, Love Comes Close.
Spin it: “Love Comes Close”
Who: Washington, D.C., psych-rock trio, active since 1998.
Whey they matter: For heavy-but-hooky slabs of sound, it doesn’t get much better.
On Matador: For three albums, from 2003-2008.
Spin it: “What Needs Must Be”