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.

Mates of State in Houston

The Indie Girl and I went to see Mates of State a few weeks ago in Houston. Frequenters of this Indie life will know of this blogger’s extreme bias for Mates of State. Fantastic band. They’ve got such a fresh sound. And, frankly, their release in 2007: Re-arrange Us, is probably one of the best Indie Albums of the Indie Age (ahem, since the year 2000 or thereabouts). The concert did not disappoint. First, the venue, The Warehouse, is such an intimate setting. You really are THIS close to the band:

In their set, they played a good mix of old stuff (stuff from Team Boo even), as well as their newest stuff from their Crushes cover album (which, is quite the nice addition to your indie collection, if you haven’t purchased it yet)  and even new, new stuff, slated to come out later.

I’ll post a few videos soon: Apparently the file format (AVI) isn’t supported on WordPress, which I find is odd.

Stay tuned.

Introducing the Nine

One thing I hate about top 10 lists, is that there’s always that one item on the top 10 that you can tell was simply a place-holder, a stupid and less than original point that they used because they couldn’t find anything better to say. For example,Top 10 Reasons to Wear Clean Underwear:

10. Because your mom said so (because, you know, you could be injured and may need it).

Either that or the grand master list makers just threw it in there to make someone happy. For example, Top 10 Reasons to Wear Clean Underwear:

10. Because your mom said so (because, you know, you could be injured and may need it) (don’t forget to call the Law offices of Mather and Mather if you’re injured!).

So, I’m putting my foot down on top 10 lists. No more TOP 10! It’s time to seize power from these faceless list makers and give it to those who deserve it: ME…ok, and you can have some too. Let’s share: I’ll take the top 9, you add one to make it an even 10.

Behold, the Nine.

First up: 9 Bands You May Not Know Now (but you should).

1. Rogue Wave: After years of fringe popularity, including a few song cameos on one of those over-dramatized teenage life TV dramas based somewhere in Southern California, it is now time to give Zach Rogue his due. Forget for a moment that he has had incredible odds to overcome, including tragic losses and even a doctor warning that playing music would lead to paralysis…Rogue Wave’s latest album is pure brilliance on its own merit. Chris and the gang have effectively seized the classic R.E.M. sound (that Stipe and the boys left behind in 1994) and merged it with an uncharacteristic catchiness that often escapes Indie music. With a forthcoming marquee at Lollapalooza, Rogue Wave will not suffer Indie obscurity for long. Album: Permalight. Song: Solitary Gun.

2. Mates of State: Frequenters of this blog will know my personal bias for Mates of State. And I believe, by now, they have a big enough following that you may already know them. But if you don’t, get on the proverbial train. The best girl-guy mixed band since X and The Goodwin Club. Their music has already infiltrated TV commercials (Carnival Cruise)…which is step 1 in securing Indie greatness. Bonus points for raising a family while touring and blogging about it! Their latest album is one of the best of the last 10 years. Album: Re-Arrange Us. Song: Re-Arranger

3. Slow Club. Odd name considering there’s nothing slow about this band. Probably the most uppity, can’t help but play along band I’ve ever heard. They merge an infectious immaturity with the attitude of a one-hit wonder. Album: Yeah So. Song: It Doesn’t Have to be Beautiful

4. Rodrigo and Gabriela. Yes, I’ve hyped them before, but good Spanish Flamenco with an Indie edge to it? It’s a hard combination to ignore. The astute observer will recognize their song “Tamacun” which is played every 15 minutes in the Hispanic Heart of Disney’s California Adventure (see: Tortilla Factory). Album: 11:11, Song: Hanuman.

5. The Annuals. Young and raw, not to mention un-contaminated by the glitzy world of pop and un-tantalized by the lure of grunge (but mixing the best of both those worlds), the Annuals have a sound that I can only describe as a mountain fresh air with a hint of gritty twang and raw exuberance. Love everything about them. Album: Such Fun. Song: Wake.

6. Iron and Wine. I may be 2 weeks too late in declaring this one. Iron and Wine fans will have caught the song cameo in NBC’s Parenthood a few weeks ago (see: baseball scene), which followed up a highlight in an M&Ms commercial (see: Cover, Such Great Heights). Others may just mistake Iron and Wine for Sufjan Stevens. But that would be a mistake. Stevens is melancholy to Iron and Wine’s infinite rhythm.

7.Great Northern. It only took one song to sell me on this band (see recommended song at end of paragraph). The power of Paramore without the teenage angst (or punk princess tantrums for that matter).  Album: Remind me where the light is. Song: Story

8. Matt Pond PA. Mix the mystery of Iron and Wine with the groove of Matthew Sweet, and you have Austin’s favorite son: Matt Pond. Only a matter of time before he’s featured in some sappy prime time hospital drama. Album: The Dark Leaves. Song: Stranger.

9. April Smith and the Great Picture Show: Sultry voice, rythmic entrancement, incredible beef to pick with any guy who has ever crossed her. Throw in the fun of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Perfect indie equation. Album: Songs for a Sinking Ship. Song: Terrible Things.

10. [Input Band Name Here]: Now, it’s your turn. Fill in the blank.

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.