Lately I’ve been following the mantra: “if you think all the music in a genre sounds the same, you haven’t listened to the genre.” Long story short, I was in Atlanta for a couple weeks, and I took the opportunity to listen to some of their local radio stations. The one I ended up sticking with was 99X, their alternative rock station. I think it would be more apt to describe them as the indie rock/indie pop station, but that’s fine, because these are two genres I have very little legitimate exposure to. Ordinarily I’d hear this music and disengage, but for once, I stuck around to listen.
Before I run through some songs that caught my attention, why don’t we address the elephant that walked in the room during paragraph one. What is “indie”? There is the school of thought that claims “indie” exclusively means independent music artists in any genre, which I find to be about as disingenuous a stance in the modern day as claiming dubstep and brostep are different. When it comes to indie, I describe it as a sound; it is music that has the same basic song and chord structure as pop music or mainstream rock, but it uses unconventional instrumentation or vocal styles¹.
For example, the notoriously odd choices of percussion such as the xylophone or tambourine. The frequent use of acoustic guitars (which, in mainstream music, is usually only reserved for the one or two “intimate” tracks on an album). The feminine singing voices. To say there’s some throwback to the 60’s and 70’s would not be too far off. Even if you don’t recognize what I’m describing, you must agree there’s just something about indie music versus standard pop music that enables one to recognize a difference between the two instantly.
The Naked and Famous – Young Blood. If you pay too much attention to what I say on this blog, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of female vocals in rock music (if we want to call this song rock music). That said, I liked this song. It has a devilishly catchy electronic riff that plays throughout, and I enjoy the distorted and otherworldly effect the band members create. Another interesting part is the harmonized prechorus (you can hear it at around 1:16 in). I feel like many artists don’t used harmonized vocals often enough, even though proper use of the technique always pays off. Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” continues to be a long-standing example of what harmony alone can do for a song. As it happens, you’ll see in this post that a lot of indie artists have noticed this fact. I don’t have too much to say about this song, so I’d like to mention two tangentially relevant items. First, Hardwell and DJ Tiësto have a remix of Young Blood that I thought was nicely done. Second, welcome to the era in which you start to wonder how many “audio controller”-ists a band really needs.
MGMT – Kids. I have found a catchier riff than the one in Young Blood, and this is it. This is a fun song, and I guess I don’t encounter those too often, because it really stood out to me when I heard it. Incidentally, I have always heard about MGMT, but this was the first song of theirs I’ve actually listened to. It’s not bad. It’s a great “driving” song, because it’s got a really pumping bassline, it uses the magic four chords (or pretty close; last chord is kind of off), and of course it has a memorable riff. Since I mentioned it about The Naked and Famous, I should mention that MGMT also employs harmonized vocals in this song, so that’s another plus. I went and watched a live performance of the song, and actually was a bit disappointed. I know these guys consider themselves to be hippies, but would it hurt to show some enthusiasm? The crowd was into the show, but it seemed like they weren’t. They even whispered the lyrics, for some reason.
Silversun Pickups – The Pit. This song does a lot of things well. What actually caught my attention was the bass player (comes in full force at the first chorus). She plays a very simple pattern, but I feel like it really lifts the song to a higher level than it would be if she were the usual “play whatever the guitarist is playing but with one string” bassist. If you have any sort of subwoofer, engage it for this song — you’ll see what I mean. The guitar playing is a bit airy at times, but the bass is very grounded. And of course, who can ignore the unforgettable singing voice of the lead vocalist in this band? All in all, the song has a good pace, good sense of motion, and is yet another good driving song. Unfortunately, I’ve found the rest of their material to be a bit hit-or-miss, so I’m not a huge fan at the moment. Fun fact: the riff in Lazy Eye reminds me strongly of The Man Who Sold The World, by Nirvana.
fun. – Some Nights. Oh boy, I knew I was going to have to talk about these guys at some point. I have some positive and some negative things to say about them. To start off, I do not really appreciate “anthem” songs like this one. It makes me feel like the band is begging me to get hyped up and sing along, rather than just listening to the music. Now, here’s the interesting part: fun reminds me of Queen. The vocalist can sound eerily like Freddy Mercury at times, and especially in this song, they’re writing the kind of gaudy material that Queen became famous for. They could go somewhere with this, and I’d be interested to see it happen.
Imagine Dragons – Radioactive. This blog post is essentially about songs that made me immediately check the “Now Playing” display on the dashboard, and after about 30 seconds in to this one, I dare you to tell me you wouldn’t have done the same. This song is either the most gimmicky song I’ve heard lately, or a really well-executed concept. I can’t figure out which, but I will use them to make a point I made a couple of years ago: the dubstep wobble makes a good instrument. Make no mistake, I’ve never been a fan of the Skrillex brand of dubstep, which is about taking decent electronica and ruining it with the sound of a computer retching. Since he and his compadres got popular, though, a lot of artists have taken that dubstep “sound” and employed it less obnoxiously in songs such as this one. As an of exotic take on a regular bassline, it works quite well.
Macklemore didn’t play on the radio station I was listening to, but because I see him smirking at me in my Youtube feed, I’ll make my closing remark about his latest single, Can’t Hold Us. He and Ryan Lewis have a knack for catchy songwriting, it seems. Do I think it’s better than Thrift Shop? No, actually. The intro is better, but effectively, Can’t Hold Us is an anthem, and Thrift Shop was a well-put-together comedy rap song. Can’t Hold Us sounds like exactly the same crap Flo Rida has been doing for years. Thrift Shop was far more memorable, even if it was ridiculous. As an MC, Macklemore still fails to cross the mediocre plane.
¹Far be it from be to imply that this nuance allows people with otherwise ordinary taste in music to claim superiority over others.