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

Intimate Indie, or Tweeting with your friendly neighborhood Indie Band

I’m not the first to claim that the last decade has been the Indie decade. And it’s not just because companies are increasingly using Indie songs in their commercials. Nor is it the Indie sound (though both are arguably driving forces). No, the hallmark of the rise of Indie is the connection. Call me sappy, but Indie bands know that their popularity starts with their audience. It’s the intimacy of the small venue that puts them on the level with their fans. However, until the last 5-10 years, that intimacy was limited to the the small venue, the record store, or the zealous band member who builds popularity one fan at a time.

Where am I going with this? (There is a point, promise). If intimacy with its fans drives Indie, then the rise of Indie should be attributed to the ever-incrasing opportunity digital media provides for the fan-band connection. I had one such experience this weekend. A band with sounds similar to the ones I commonly laud on Twitter named “Pawns or Kings” reached out to me and offered me their music for my personal delectation and critique. Sure, this is similar to basic media relations, but this was anything but the basic press package one would expect. No, It was selective and personal. It was a conversation, and one that turned me on to their music:

Now, one Twitter contact won’t build anyone a fan base, but knowing HOW to use social media will. And Pawns or Kings is only the latest in a line of Indie bands I’ve interacted with that take advantage of social media to show their fans of their fans, including Sugar and the Hi-LowsTen Out of Tenn, Vinyl Thief, Nick Waterhouse, and Pepper Rabbit.

And you know what helps? That their music is innovative and enjoyable. And to their credit, Pawns or Kings’ music is just that. At times frivolous and others deeply meaningful and moving, I’ve quite taken to their music. I’m particularly smitten with “Sister of the Sun”.

So, check out Pawns or Kings, and then Tweet your favorite Indie Band and see how they do in building a connection with you.

Defining the Essence of Indie

Maybe you’re like me. Whenever I say I’m an Indie music fan, or I announce my favorite bands include Mates of State, The Great Lake Swimmers, and Freelance Whales, I am usually met with a confused expression. I have even met the occasional inculto who denounces Indie music as boring, low-fi dribble that is hardly listenable. Maybe Indie is an acquired taste, or maybe, most people just haven’t been properly educated beyond the Nick and Norah’s Playlists of Hollywood or the occasional television commercial:

Or maybe, most people have been brainwashed by the catchiness of the otherwise monotonous melodies and lyrical dribble of the so-called “radio playable” mainstream.

Of course, Indie-lovers will disagree with the mainstream mumbo jumbo that Indie is just low-fi boredom. But the problem of Indie may be even more complex for us aficionados. After all, ask 100 Indie fans what Indie is, and you’ll get 100 answers. Heck, ask one Indie fan what Indie and you’ll get 100 answers, or 100 bands, whichever comes first. Either way, none of the above helps anyone answer the question: How does one know if one is listening to Indie.

Strictly speaking, Indie music is music developed and produced by Independent artists (those either unsigned or represented by an Independent label). This definition presents a further problem: What if an Indie band is signed by a non-independent record label. Does said band thus forfeit its right to be Indie?

Of course, that’s ludicrous. So the only other answer is that there must be an Indie-ness to Indie Music—an essence that qualifies it as Indie. After all, Indie is neither Alternative Rock nor Bubble Gum Pop, but yet there is Indie Rock and Indie Pop.

Clearly, there is a need to conceptualize “Indie”. And, of course, it has to be more than whether the music was featured on the Juno Soundtrack or whether the band’s name looks like it was derived from random Wikipedia pages (i.e. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Ha Ha Tonka, and Architecture in Helsinki).

The heart of Indie may be in its rejection of the mainstream mundane, and though this has led to numerous permutations of what could be considered Indie, in this wake of musical revolution, some hallmarks of Indie may be notable, including its vocal variety, fusion of musical styles, instrumental innovation, and lyrical superiority to mainstream radio-playability.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be devoting this blog space to building a case for what constitutes Indie-ness, complete with legally FREE DOWNLOADS, which is also a hallmark of Indie. Stay tuned.

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.

Indie Music not for Jocks or Pretty Girls?

I always like to get your opinions on what Indie Music is and means to you…but, it’s nice to get opinions from the trenches, the people that are defining this new music revolution. I asked Andy Clockwise, whose free download I featured a few weeks ago,  on what Indie means to him, and  here’s what he told me:

1. What does Indie mean to you and where do you see yourself in the evolution of this amazing musical revolution?
Well I suppose it means everything. People finally don’t have to tow the line of the phenomenon of whats happening now, they can create whatever. Anarchy in art is to be embraced and rules are meant to be shunned….. I mean, I can see that sometimes the essence of the term could be bastardized by the powers that be, but the brilliance of the situation is that someone can come along and break it all down once again, thats the beauty of it, we have the tools, the means, the time, the avenues of which people can finally hear something that relates to them, not something that makes the jock or the pretty girls at school feel good on a Friday night. I also love that indie bands are covering such a huge musical and lyrical landscape…. they’re  doing everything that they want to hear…… & it rules!!!!

2. How do you define Indie music and your place in the “Indie sphere.”

Well I think we are delving deep into the arbitrary idea of indie music maybe in the way that they hijacked the term “alternative” in the 90’s. I mean, I suppose what indie has been defined to me over the years reflects me at 13 yrs old, lining up at Waterfront Records in Sydney before it opened trying to get a limited pressing of a 12 inch by some unknown hardcore band. Or sneaking out to festivals, dying my hair that morning and having blue hair dye all over my face. I suppose what we are trying to define is somewhat already done– a DIY attitude to what you are doing, not an obsession with the normal musical landscape but not an entire rejection of it either. Take a pinch of rejection and social awkwardness mix it with some honesty, add a half a cup of irony and sarcasm and mix it around in a bowl of amazing awesomeness…..I’m not sure if I am trying to make a recipe for us all, so we all know what the fuck we are doing!!!?

to the the posed question of where I think I fit in the indie sphere I would have to say I’ve never been much of a sphere guy i’m more into cubist stuff or even a dodechahedranist. 🙂



Good stuff, Andy, you make dodechahedranists everywhere proud!

A Suburban Deal!

Welcome to the show. I’m your Indie Network Shopping host. You know why you’re here. You want good music that’s cheap. You want good music that’s free. You want good music that I’ll pay you to listen to!!!

Well friends, up on today’s Wheel of Fish is an Indie band you know and love. No, they’re not just a good Indie Band, they’re a GREAT Indie Band. And what’s more, they hail from the Great White North, the same wonderful country that brought us Rick Moranis and Michael J. Fox! The same nation that brought us Bullwinkle J. Moose and Dudley Do-Right (and not to mention, one in a long line of forgettable movies featuring Brendan Fraser)! They are Arcade Fire! And their latest album, the Suburbs, a masterful work of the type of Indie mellowdrama that you have come to cherish, has just been released. More than just another set of Indie songs you know your Ipod wants, this album is incredibly deep, with tunes that border “radio-friendliness” (The Suburbs), lyrics that mix themes in modern warfare with suburban innocence, and tunes that even feature roman numerals! This, my friends, is an album that you’ll leave playing all day–at work, at school, in your house while the kiddies play!

Now, friends, how much would you pay for this delectable dish of divine indie…delectability? $19.99? $15.99? $9.99?

How about: $7.99?

That’s right friends, Arcade Fire’s newest album is $7.99 at Target* (o.k., at least it is in the Houston area).

*No, this is not a commercial for target. No Target is not paying me to endorse their sale. Yes, I would like it if they would.

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

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/

Take up the Indie cause – It’s for the children!

We the Indie Music fans of the world have a duty.  The world we’re leaving for our children is in terrible peril! While the media has pumped us full of Save he Whales, Save the O-Zone, and Save the world from the likes of John and Kate, there is a much more threatening evil on our doorstep.

Yes Indie Citizens…I’m talking about carbon copy, teeny-bop, pop.

I’m talking about the Jonas Brothers. I’m talking about Hannah Montana…or Miley Cyrus…or Hannah Montana…oh whatever. I’m talking about The Cheetah Girls! Yes. It’s horrible. And it’s threatening to lead our children down the path of musical starvation, turning them into Star whatever point whatever and KIIS FM  zombies who won’t know the difference between a good song and a radio jingle!

In the same way that my father saved me from Debbie Gibson, Maddonna, Tiffany, Milli Vanilli, and Vanilla Ice with the Beatles…I believe we should all fight the mainstream music maleficence take and introduce our kids to good music. Music that doesn’t feature just 3 power chords. Music that doesn’t feature “jaded” in the lyrics . Yes, music that doesn’t suck.

Let me help get you started. Here are some songs that have gone over like the Berlin Wall on my kids:

  • Mates of State – My Only Offer. My kids love this song. EVERY one of them, ranging from 8 years old to 4, even the 6 month old likes it.
  • Architecture in Helsinki: That Beep: This song has been so requested at our house that I’ve almost had to hide the CD.
  • Of Montreal: Brush, Brush, Brush. Ok, I don’t care that this song is off the soundtrack for the weirdest kids show on TV. Yo Gabba Gabba has the Teletubbies and Poobah beat for psychotic mental trip, and truth be told, I really can’t stomache the show, but this song is cool. And Of Montreal is one of the indie-est Indie bands on the planet.
  • They Might Be Giants. (see video below). You can pick just about anything from John and John. Their music is fun and wacky, and they even do kid music. I’ve actually been listening to their kid stuff for years with my kids, and let me tell you: they sure beat Raffi! In fact, you don’t even have to buy a CD to get your kids started. Go right over to Itunes and subscribe to the Friday Night Family Podcast (or click here to watch it in “syndicate”). Other great TMBG hits your kids will love: “Experimental Film,” “The Mesopotamians,” “Man It’s So Loud in Here,” and even the classic “Birdhouse in Your Soul”. Below is a ditty from their new Kiddie Album.
  • Dan Zane and Friends – Hello. Ok, this guy really IS a kiddie musician, but this song was featured in a recent Coke Ad, and it’s very cool. (sorry, no download link).
  • Dogs Die in Hot Cars – Godhopping. Just a cool song all around. Fast paced, and it talks about children in poor countries…so bonus points for teaching kids social responsibility.
  • 8 1/2 Souvenirs – Happy Feet. This is a great swing outfit. Their stuff is…well…happy.
  • Forro in the Dark – Asa Branca (Featuring David Byrne). Brillian brazilian beats. Used to be a legit free download on music.download.com, I’m sure it still is somewhere.
  • Guster – Amsterdam. Pretty much anything of this album (Let’s Keep it Together), is great. In fact, I think this album is one of the best (if not THE best) indie albums of all time. Yes. I just said that.
  • Oingo Boingo – We Close Our Eyes. Come on, it’s Halloween. I had to include something from Boingo.

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.