10 Albums better than Viva La Vida

Ok, I’ve blogged my discontent with Viva La Vida already, but as I delve into new or recent offerings by Indie bands, I can’t help but think that in spite of the lack of name recognition, they’re better than the new Coldplay album.

Perhaps this is the mark of a band that has officially shed it’s “indie-ness” that it can produce music on the basis of its name rather than on the basis of its talent (I can be harsh here because prior to Viva La Vida, I was smitten with the brilliance of Coldplay’s music…especially their last two albums).

So, in that vein here, in no particular order, is my list of Indie albums that are far more worth the $10 or so than Coldplay’s album (You might call this the 10 CDs I wish I would have bought instead of Viva la Vida):

1. Barcelona – Absolutes: I don’t care that this album was released a year ago, it’s only now that it seems they’ve started really marketing it on the Indie circuit. Fantastic album. Haunting harmonies. Singable melodies. And a freshness that defies the copy-cat-dom of mainstream music

2. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs. It’s like they didn’t even miss a beat from Plans. It’s contagious, to say the least.

3. Weezer – Red Album: I know what you’re saying, it doesn’t belong on this list, might even be a slightly different genre of music. Well, not Weezer’s latest. It has incredible depth, both musically and lyrically. Check out “Miss Sweeney”…fantastic emotion for a song.

4. Polyphonic Spree – Fragile Army: I am usually loathe to say anything good about this band, because their style is so overwhelming that it bowls me over and makes me never want to listen to music again. Not this one. It’s diverse…at least, to the extent that Happy-Shiny 60s Power pop can be.

5. Iron & Wine – the Shepherd’s Dog: I’ve already blogged that this album is a major breakthrough. It’s infectious, and it’s better than the coldplay album.

6. The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter – A cheeky pick by me here…but still, not a bad album…

7. Wolf Parade- At Mount Zoomer: I don’t know what it is about Wolf Parade. It might be their spacey tunes mixed with classic Oingo Boingo guitars but I like it.

8. Ferraby Lionheart – Catch the Brass Ring. If you’ve never heard of Ferraby Lionheart, they have a breezy Beatles sound, with a lead singer who has a down to Earth but memorable voice. For a really nice selection of downloads, check them out on music.download.com. “The Ballad of Gus and Sam” is Indie Perfection.

9. A Fine Frenzy – One Cell In the Sea: I’m a sucker for a good piano piece, this one has plenty…and this mention is in spite of the copy-cat “airy” voice she sings with.

10. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible: Yeah, I know this one came out last year, but it’s still one of my favorite Indie albums. I’ve been listening to it for a year, and I’m still not tired of the haunting rhythms, the moving melodies, and the downright perplexing lyrics.

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What’s In a Voice?

I’ve been thinking about this one for quite some time…music, especially Indie music, is about more than just the music. It’s about the words. It’s about the singer. The genius of Indie is that each band has a distinct personality, that evades the normal “Write about the same thing” nonsense you hear on mainstream radio. For me, good music is about a nice combination of instrumentation AND voice work…In fact, I’ll take a good voice with so-so instrumentation over the opposite. If a song has a boring/horrible singer, I just can’t put up with it, no matter how good the music is. So, here’s my list of my favorite recognizable singing voices, in Letterman-esque descending style:

10. Claude, Anything Box: Raw. Emotional. I love how in one second his voice sounds innocent, the next, wild, untamed, and enraged.

9. Matthew Bellamy, Muse: Does anyone else in music express more emotion when singing? I defy you to find one.

8. Tori Amos: One of my all-time favorite voices. Haunting, simply haunting.

7a. Ryan Miller, Guster: His voice is simple and smooth…and easy to sing-along with, or maybe it’s his songs…

7b. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie: Real is the best word I can come up with for Ben’s voice. It’s just plain real. Like you know him. Like he’s talking to you, rather than singing.

6. Harry Connick Jr. : Ok, deservedly, Harry Connick Jr. deserves to be on the top of this list, hands down. But first of all, he’s not Indie, and second of all…well I can’t think of a 2nd of all.

5. Johnny Boyd, Indigo Swing: (see comments for Connick Jr., Harry). Even more so, tragically, Johnny no longer sings for Indigo Swing. Which is odd…how can a band lose a guy commonly referred to as “The Voice”?

4. Rivers Cuomo, Weezer. Don’t know what it is, but I can’t get over the raw clarity and emotion of Rivers’ voice. My favorite example is on a live session their new song Miss Sweeney.

3. Steven Page/Ed Roberts, Barenaked Ladies: Rarely does a band have one good lead singer, let alone two. Ed is the charismatic voice, the accessible voice in a “You could be my best friend” sort of way. Steve is the powerhouse. If you’ve ever been to a BNL concert, you’d know what I’m talking out. He can simply BELT out some powerful melodies.

2. Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo. Yes, I know the Elf Man left singing on the radio for singing…and orchestrating…on the big screen, but his voice is still one of the very best AND most unique in all of music.

1. John Linell, They Might Be Giants: I love John’s voice. It’s raw. It’s even nasally. But it’s unique, and I can’t help but listen everytime I hear it. I love pointing out John Linell’s voice in obscure instances…like the Dunk’n Doughnuts new commercials, and even on PBS Kids in between shows.