But what’s in a name, anyway? Well, everything. A dumb name can be the difference between some impressionable teenager checking an album out or dumping it for something that looks cooler patched on their Jansport. But sometimes, just sometimes, a band’s music is so good that they could be called anything—even MouseRat—and still get the love they deserve.
10) Hot Chip
For awhile, the name “Hot Chip” evoked an overworked piece of computer hardware. Considering the band’s decidedly electronic wheelhouse, the meaning made sense. Only later would it hit me that these guys are from the UK, where trucks are lorries, mates are just friends and chips are fries.
Sadly, that’s the kind of chip co-founders Alex Taylor and Joe Goddard had in mind whey coined the phrase as teenagers. Even then, the name’s ridiculous nature was not lost at them: “We liked it because it was kind of pathetic,” Goddard explained in an interview with SPIN. “It’s essentially a stupid image.” At least they get it.
“Don’t Deny Your Heart”
9) Trampled by Turtles
Hundreds of soft turtle feet stamping some poor schlemiel flat is an admittedly hilarious image. And yeah, if you dig deep, it takes on a kind of interesting Appalachian equivalent of “death by a thousand cuts.”
But Trampled by Turtles is also the kind of goofball name that conjures up jamband mush instead of the sorrowful songwriter folk/bluegrass the band does so well. At least it’s not boring, the cardinal sin of a band-naming endeavor and committed by a group on this list that slots much higher than TBT on festival bills. Complaints aside, it’s working for them: today, Trampled by Turtles is one of the most successful crossovers the bluegrass community can claim as their own.
8) Steely Dan
I know what you’re thinking: Bad band, bad name.
I understand. Steely Dan is a love/hate band if there ever was one. I won’t spend too much time trying to convert you, but consider this: in the elevators, car radios and DMV waiting areas of the world, the Dan has floated more obtuse songs at you than any other band in common vernacular. Listen closely to their songs and you’ll find tales of megalomaniac drug dealers, nymphomaniac party girls and the joys of curling up with a nice bowl of heroin —all surreptitiously tucked under the sounds of smooth jazz.
As Stylus Magazine put it, “[Steely Dan] is accessible and subversive at the same time. If that isn’t the definition of great art, what is?”
Oh yeah—and their band was named after a sex toy from William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch.” Go figure.
7) Vampire Weekend
Unless you really got in on the ground level, odds are the buzz around Vampire Weekend hit you before you could give their name an honest appraisal. It never hit you that “Vampire Weekend” sounds more a theater promo for the opening night of a Twilight movie than a buttoned-down indie rock band (Zing!).
The band name comes from the self-same title of frontman Ezra Koenig’s college film project, wherein a man named Walcot has to warn the mayor of Cape Cod of a vampire invasion (probably slated for a Friday or Saturday). Koenig abandoned the project soon after, but came back to the name when he and a few of his fellow Columbia U friends decided to form a band.
Love it or loathe it, Koenig and co have made their band-name bed, and are sleeping in it quite comfortably: their third LP, “Modern Vampires of the City,” is one of the most anticipated records of the year.
“Diane Young,” from “Modern Vampires of the City” (out May 14 via XL)
6) Gnarls Barkley
Finding out that Gnarls Barkley is a play on the Round Mound of Rebound, AKA Charles Barkley, can make it that much more nonsensical or awesome, depending on your sense of humor / feelings about the ’92 Dream Team.
Of course, this is Gnarls Barkley we’re talking about, a group that pays fealty to the gods of wackiness on a show-by-show basis—so what do you expect? But to limit the band to just their elaborate costuming and effervescent singles would ignore the rest of the duo’s song roster, a surprisingly deep catalogue that can be as depressive as it can manic.
“Just a Thought”
5) My Morning Jacket
I remember hearing about My Morning Jacket for the first time on a Wired magazine sampler CD. I was maybe only 13 or 14 years old and deep in the throes of a pop-punk phase, but when I heard “One Big Holiday,” from the excellent, “It Still Moves,” I liked it instantly. But “My Morning Jacket” wasn’t cool enough sounding to be a band I listened to, and just like that, I wrote them off for a decade.
It still isn’t a “cool” name, or even one slightly indicative of the band’s fluency in neck-bruising rock riffage and convalescent acoustic ballads. But as is the case with so many of these examples, the band has reached such a level of prolificacy that their name no longer registers. When people hear “My Morning Jacket,” they don’t picture a windbreaker. Instead, MMJ has become a poly-syllabic representation for their sound, that nebulous swirl of psych- and arena-rock, electronica and folk that I guess might as well be called “My Morning Jacket.” Unless you have a better name for it.
“One Big Holiday”