Unless you follow independent rock fervently, the following bands may seem like nobodies to you. You know something? You’re right, they are nobodies. That’s the beautiful thing about independent or “indie” music; there are very few bands signed to a record label and pushed headlong into super-stardom. Most gain a small-yet-devoted following in their hometowns, tour the country relentlessly in vans, and eventually either peter out or ink a deal with a small recording company.
Indie music has grown exponentially in the past 25 years, beginning with roots in the dingy clubs of cities like New York and San Francisco. Punk, the de facto catalyst for the music scene’s success, paved the way with bands such as Minor Threat, the Ramones and Black Flag playing house parties and fly-by-night clubs. But it’s a whole different animal now. Bands that were the toast of Omaha, Nebraska can now sell out large venues in London; a record from an obscure Montreal quintet can sell upwards of 200,000 records on a small-town independent press.
Alternative and even main-stream media have become devoted to tracking these groups and covering the independent scenes in rock, electronic and even country music. But the giants such as MTV and commercial radio seem reluctant to fully embrace them, instead relying on Top 40 and Major Label music to occupy their playlists. It’s a shame to see some of these groups relegated to the 2 AM song rotations, as they’re contributing some of the freshest and most interesting music out there.
Here are five bands and their respective albums whose underground hype lives up to their abilities. Check ’em out; hopefully you won’t have Ashlee Simpson stuck in your head ever again:
The darlings of alternative media of late, Bloc Party currently ride a wave of successful independent bands channeling the discordant angst and artsy material of early 80s rock. With lilting vocals reminiscent of The Cure and tightly arranged guitars reminiscent of legends like Wire and Gang Of Four, the band has quickly developed a massive following.
Concerts in the U.S. tend to sell out quickly, and with good reason–their live show is every bit as impressive as their recorded material. Silent Alarm offers a great reading of the band’s range of talent; you won’t find anything mind-blowing here, save for a great modern rock record with more substance than the vapid lyrics and chords found in today’s Pop-Punk saturated airwaves. Check out the songs “Luno,” “Banquet,” and “This Modern Love” for this English quartet’s best offerings.
Q And Not U
Q And Not U follow in some pretty heavy footsteps, recording on the same record label that released such underground heavyweights as Minor Threat and Fugazi. The Washington, D.C. trio obviously grew up on the aforementioned bands–their spurts of energy and consciousness-rooted lyricism collide with an original blend of distorted guitars and off-the-path arrangement. This is by far their danciest collection of songs, and tracks like “Wonderful People” and “Beautiful Beats” seem to channel the Bee Gees almost as much as leather-clad progenitors of punk. The biggest reason to check them out is that by listening to Power, you can rest assured that you’re hearing some of the most original music in the United States today. It’s a shame to report that as of August 2005 they’d announced their impending break-up.
The Blood Brothers
Seattle must have something in the drinking water. Having birthed some of the most profound bands in independent music, like Modest Mouse and Sunny Day Real Estate, the area also gave us that other band you may have heard of, Nirvana. It’s in the same vein of those three that The Blood Brothers emerge. Their sound is truly abraisive on first listen–caterwauling guitars layered over rapid basslines and heavy drumming occupy the core of the songs as shrieking rubbery vocals explode over the surface.
But within the chaos lies beautiful song arrangement and harmonies, tended to with the same care that a more cautious and accessible band would employ. It’s in the damning delivery of some lines (as in the songs “Trash Flavored Trash” and “Feed Me To The Forest”) that the sheer power of the band is felt. The effortless transition to soft chanting and hushed strumming only adds to the unique nature of the music–it’s not simply loud noise being made, it’s the sound of a generation taught to scream out its frustration.
Summer In Abaddon
Touch And Go Recordings
It’s possible to hear indie rock favorites Pinback in chain restaurants and TV commercials nowadays, and it’s not surprising–their music is quietly beautiful, the type of thing you could play around your grandparents and not hear any complaints. This San Diego duo display some of the best songwriting around, far better than the predictable dregs of commercial radio. Songs like “Syracuse” and “The Yellow Ones” go from standard piano, bass and drums and meander into entire atmospheres of sound and emotion.
Vivid but occasionally obscure, the lyrics and their sparkling delivery help to shine like points of light on the instrumentation’s peaks and valleys. Despite the unbelievably non-confrontational tenor of Pinback’s music, they still retain what amounts to a cult following. Why this stuff isn’t on every alternative radio station in the country worries me about a potential Dark Ages for our nation’s radio listeners.
Since I Left You
This album is over five years old, and it’s still one of the most amazing and most-played recordings I own. Simply put, the Avalanches are incredible. This Australian DJ team takes dance music, rap, country, jazz and every other style of music under the sun and fuses it all together in rapid-fire succession and with surgical precision. The tracks all flow together to create one fantastic voyage through modern music, and by the end of the record it’s entirely possible to feel a little bit jet-lagged.
It’s all a pinch-here and a dash-there in terms of the use of samples, but until you’ve heard songs like “Avalanche Rock” and “Take A Little Journey” it’s hard to believe such disparite sources could become so cohesive under the right hands. You could listen to this album 100 times and still be amazed at some of the musical references you’ll discover, like hearing the bassline to Madonna’s classic “Holiday” snaking its way through the traffic of a disco-themed French rap interlude.