The Essence of Indie: The Raw and Organic

There used to be a time when Indie meant something; when Indie was unknown bands with weird names that you heard on a college campus or sitting in a CD store in the $1 bin. But today, everything is “Indie” and we have more “Indies” than we know what to do with—Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Indie Rap, Low-Fi Indie, etc.. In short, Indie has become a meaningless add-on moniker to gives something credibility, as in “I’m not hipster”.

 I think it’s time to define Indie for what it is and what it means. We can’t use the technical definition–that the band is “independent or unsigned—since recognized indie bands are signed (see Cutie, Death Cab for). No, it’s time to define Indie by its unique lyrical and musical features. In short, what makes Indie, well, Indie, is its sound.

Though there may be many qualities that define the Indie sound, I think the characteristic allure evolving in today’s Indie song is its raw and grainy imperfection mixed with vocal harmonies that challenge the over-produced and orderly smoothness of mainstream music. The Indie sound is organic and challenges mainstream’s mass-produced sound with the feeling that the song could have been recorded anywhere and could change on any given listening. Case in point? The Lumineers’ Stubborn Love produced in a bus.

In essence, the Indie sound removes the barriers between listener and producer, and puts you in the experience of the music itself.  Rather than just singing along with a song, you get the feeling that your singing along adds to the song’s musical quality. (The Lumineers’ “Stubborn Love” is one such song). In short, the essence of Indie is its open-endedness in making music a co-created experience.

Some of my favorite Indie bands that demonstrate this organic edginess:

(Note: Some of these downloads are from Noisetrade, a free download site for promoting Indie bands. I highly recommend making a donation if you like the music.)

 The Lumineers

I have already mentioned the Lumineers, and their meteoric rise in mainstream might classify them as mainstream now, but, popular or not, their raw sound is Indie perfection.  Doubtless you know “Ho Hey” already, from its constant radio presence and last year’s Bing commercial.  My personal favorite is Submarines, but the entire album is worth buying.

Free Download: The Lumineers – Ho Hey; Slow it Down via Indie Rock Cafe

The Oh Hellos

I recently discovered this brother-sister duo on Noisetrade, and have been smitten ever since. Their sound is characterized by what I call an un-edited graininess to their vocal harmonies and musical arrangements. Their music is folksie yet tribal, and every song builds to an emotional avalanche at the end. They are a must-hear. See their track “The Valley” in the free download below:

Free Download: The Oh Hellos – Through The Deep Dark Valley (Album) via Noisetrade

Of Monsters and Men

Another well-recognized band, I’ve chosen this Icelandic marvel because of quirky chants that elicit singing along (as evidenced in numerous road trips in my Indie-mobile with 4 kids). What’s more, OM&M have some of the most intriguing subject matter for their lyrical productions, including Six Weeks, which is a recount of frontiersman Hugh Glass’s 6 week ordeal after a bear attack.

Free Download: Of Monsters and Men – Lake House via Indie Rock Cafe

Great Lake Swimmers

This one comes with a minor disclaimer, that I think their newest album went too mainstream folk/bluegrass (if there is such thing) for my tastes. But their Legion Sessions is a must-own for any Indie Collection. From the lyrical genius of Sill to the haunting undertones of Stealing Tomorrow from Today, this band clearly knows how to grab you emotionally and bury you in the music.

Free Download: The Great Lake Swimmers – The Legion Sessions via NoiseTrade

Other Favorites:

Freelance Whales – Generator 1st Floor

Thad Kopec – The World Was Young 

Sooner the Sunset – All Becaue of You 

The Walkmen – We Can’t Be Beat

Deadman’s Bones – My Body’s a Zombie for You

Ivan and Alyosha – On My Way

Jenny & Tyler – Fear Thou Not, Hold on Hope

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Indie Mash-ups: The Old, the New, the Borrowed, the Blue

The beauty of indie music is that the sphere of creative music is limitless. Indie is the realm of co-creation–where artist and technologically skilled fan can create something entirely new and undeniably original, benefiting both the artist and the fan. The indie sphere truly is interactive, which, I believe, has led to its growth and overwhelming acceptance by the diverse collective of those of us who consider ourselves Indie followers. Case in point: the following mash-up I recently found perusing Indie offerings.

How does the old marriage tradition go? Something old, Something new, Something borrowed, Something blue? Phoenix’s 1901 (the old) set to the rhythmic stylings of the Shins (the borrowed), producing a melancholic revision (something blue) of the original anthem that, in and of itself, is completely different, refreshing, and “something new”.

Download and enjoy.

Free Download: Andy Clockwise – The Casanova

Andy sent me this track today to share with all my favorite Indie readers (ok, it was his management group, not him, but you’re still my favorite Indie readers). Usually, I’m not a big fan of folksy, slow Indie, but this one intrigues me. Take a listen and I’ll tell you why. Here, I’ll wait (click the link to download it):

http://soundcloud.com/asha-1/the-casanova-remember-love

Ok, got it? Yes, it’s got a sappy, sad-sack tone to it. And yes, his voice drones a little, almost as if he’s halfway between sleep and consciousness. But there’s something about this that I really like. I find it extremely moving. I even like the palindrome-type cliche that the chorus brings (I remember love – but love don’t remember me), even though that usually turns me off. It’s moving because it’s more than just a rusty old guitar and a voice. It’s the violins that get me. They add a nice bit of orchestration the piece. Sure, it’s amazingly simple, but a good violin track in a song can make all the difference. Take Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on serious depressants, mix in with some My Morning Jacket and Mountain Goats (without the high voice), throw in some violins and you’ve got a really haunting song. It’s like a campfire ghost story, with the raspiness of the hardened campfire veteran telling it. You can almost feel the chill of the night air, can’t you?

Pass me a s’more and let me know if you like it.

Name That Indie Song: America’s Got Talent

Not that I was actually WATCHING America’s Got Talent tonight (ok, I was)…but for those of you who thought the song at the end of the show, when the night’s official “feel-good” performer came out, here’s the song that was playing:

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova: Falling Slowly (from OST Once)

And here’s the download (a live version). (Yep, who do you love?)

Spinner Interface: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

Here come the Olympians: Everything You Need to Know About Percy

Another book series headed for Hollywood. It’s almost as if Hollywood doesn’t know how to write a good story anymore…but I digress. Following the strong showings from Potter, and that chick who can’t decide between a vampire and a werewolf, we have a newcomer: some kid who claims to be a son of the Greek Gods. As Percy Jackson hits the big screen in the Lightning Thief, undoubtedly, the America that doesn’t read before they rush to the theater, and those who are pondering reading the series now that it has some legitimacy, need to know a few things about Percy and his friends.

1. Yes, the story is eerily familiar. Ever heard this one before? A boy who comes from  humble beginnings, finds out he has a magical history he knew nothing about, ends up having to go a magical school where he learns to use his power, makes friends who help him on endless quests that involve the return of one of the most powerful nemeses to all that is good. Oh, and don’t forget the prophecy that foretells that Percy, alone, will be the one to destroy him, thereby saving the world.

Percy and Harry –  Separated at Birth?

2. And yet, it isn’t Potter. For one, the story is relatively flat. Ok, there will be those who cry foul here and say, “What about the understories of the search for Pan? The lessons of the oracle? All those cool Greek Mythological creatures?” To them I say: flat. Flat, flat, flat, flat, flat. The reason? They add little depth to the story, and little depth of sympathy for the characters. In fact, my biggest beef with the Percy series is that so many of the adventures have nothing to do with the plotline. It’s as if Riordan simply thought of every possible Greek Myth he could put into the modern day and then wrote about it. It becomes incredibly predictable and quite inane after a while, ESPECIALLY in the Lightning Thief book (and the Sea of Monsters). Also, the writing in the books is very juvenile…In fact, I don’t think they’re written that well at all. Look Rick, I get it, you’re trying to simulate the teenage experience, and the dialogue that accompanies the teenage drama, blah, blah, blah, but I find the dialogue to be, well…flat. Of course, it could’ve been worse, at least it’s not James Patterson’s Maximum Ride books!

3. Ok, Percy’s world isn’t ALL flat… There is one exception to the flatness of this story: Nico D’Angelo. I have to say,  understory. I think Nico’s inner turmoil and role in the last few books quite literally “make” the story. It’s just too bad that it took 3 books to get Nico’s character, and the incredible depth he adds, into the story…especially since he makes a cameo in book one.

4. The bottom-line. If you start the books, you’ll most likely find yourself in the same position I’ve been in the last few years: finishing the book just to see what happens. And, if nothing else, that’s what makes the stories worth your entertainment dollar: in spite of the eery similarity to that other kid with mystical powers who found himself in a long book series, the overall story does grab you in a sort of “curiosity killed the cat” sort of way…and, if you are like me and are stuck just trying to finish the story for finishing the story’s sake…well…

At least Percy doesn’t wear glasses.

New Music Spotlight: Chief

Chief just released a two-song single (can that even be called a single? Maybe we should be calling it a duo). To be honest, I had never heard of Chief…and got my first glimpse from the Indie Spotlight podcast.  At it’s foundation, it’s Bob Dylan with an amp. It’s even a little bit Allman Brothers meets Blind Melon, with a little Grant Lee Buffalo thrown in. At the very least, it’s Indie Rock with emotion.

Here, try it out for yourself:

http://www.thefader.com/2009/11/20/chief-mighty-proud-mp3/

New Music Spotlight: Slow Club

A little bit Mamas and Papas, a little bit Magic Numbers, and a whole heck lot of happy, shiny fun – Those are the best words I can find to describe Slow Club, a Brit outfit that seems to be on the cusp of making a full-fledged indie splash in the U.S.

Here’s a playlist that indie-friend Super Mike’s wife put together with some choice tunes from Slow Club.

You’ll recognize “Sinking, Drinking, Thinking, Feeling” from a Lays Ad…but frankly, these guys are more than just a one-commercial song-hit wonder (Listen Up Ting Tings and The Submarines). They’ve got a frantic folkiness and a pop poppiness that you can’t help but tap a toe to. In fact, think bouncing BP Commercial babies in a smiley, slappy cartoon world.

Their albums are all on import (read: Too expensive) but you can get some on the cheap at Amazon (though word is if you get their Let’s Fall Back in Love EP featuring the Lays Ad song…that the song actually isn’t included. Can someone verify that?).

You can download a free Slow Club Song here and here and here.

Oh…and a big shout out to Dejah (Super Mike’s wife) for clueing me into the band. Here’s her post from one of the shows.

Indie Bands You May Not Know About but Should: Great Northern

Haunting. Moving. Great Northern’s sounds are entrancing…like waking Love and Rockets from the dead. Great melodies and stirring guitar riffs. I first caught wind of this band on the IndieFeed: Alternative Rock Podcast.

Check them out on their site

Download two of their songs:

Great Northern – Story

Great Northern – Houses