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With the passing of the decade, the appellation ‘indie’ became an almost cringe-worthy millstone around the neck of any band or fan unfashionable enough to still use the epithet. Thanks to milieu of sub-standard artists championing the genre throughout the noughties, its use in everyday speech has become significantly less pronounced – but of course, that doesn’t mean the style itself has passed out of existence.
Instead, artists have begun circumnavigating that particular faux pas by using either the more pigeonhole specific categories honed in the previous decade or the less offensive umbrella term ‘alternative’.
Whatever you call it, indie is still alive and well – it’s just now known as the genre formerly known as indie. Here are five of my favourites from the past years, appearing in various guises and forms, but all indie as hell at heart.
Oh my God, I swear this never happens//Lately, I can’t stop the wheels from spinning//I feel so unconvincing//When I fumble with her buttons
Essential album(s): ‘Fear Fun’ (2012), ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ (2015)
Combining the scraggly ginger mane and imposing beard of Tormund Giantsbane, the cruel and incisive wit of Jaime Lannister, the seemingly insatiable sex drive of his brother Tyrion and the two-faced false piety of the High Sparrow, Father John Misty is the indie incarnate of ‘Game of Thrones’… sort of.
Okay, so the two share very little in common aside from the traits outlined above, but who am I to let the facts stand in the way of a good analogy? Plus, such posturing and impostoring is exactly what Josh Tillman (to give him his real name) is all about; even those omniscient musical sages at the Guardian have trouble telling where the performer ends and the performance begins.
But with lines as deliciously spiteful as “She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes / And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means / Well, it’s literally not that”, who cares?
Don’t pray for us//We don’t need no modern Jesus//To roll with us//The only rule we need is never//Giving up//The only faith we have is faith in us
Essential album(s): ‘American Ghetto’ (2010), ‘In the Mountain in the Cloud’ (2011), ‘Evil Friends’ (2013)
With seven albums in under a decade and an eighth on the horizon, Portugal. The Man are just about as prolific as it gets in the indie game. Luckily for latecomers to the party, their last three efforts are also probably among their most compelling, something of a rarity for musical acts. Not only does their recent work seem more polished, it also has more direction and purpose than previous albums, whilst still retaining the same exuberance and rawness that make them so damn likable.
For those looking for a direct route into their music, the good news is that just about any of their albums (including those preceding 2010) are pretty much equally accessible.
However, if you’re really determined to drag specific suggestions out of me, I’d suggest starting with ‘Head Is a Flame (Cool With It)’, ‘Modern Jesus’ or ‘Sea of Air’.
Wild winter, warm coffee//Mom’s gone, do you love me?//Blazing summer, cold coffee//Baby’s gone, do you love me?
Essential album(s): ‘Sylvan Esso’ (2014)
Due to the fact that Sylvan Esso has a female vocalist, and her voice is so deftly intertwined with the melodies themselves, it’s tempting to think of her as a solo artist named Sylvan. The truth is that the indie pop outfit comprises two members: Amelia Meath, the bouncy singer who acts as the frontispiece for the band, and Nick Sanborn, the production wizard who mixes the electronic arrangements into their current hypnotic state.
From the irrepressible optimism of tracks like ‘H.S.K.T’ and ‘Play it Right’ to the more soulful musings of ‘Coffee’ and ‘Uncatena’, their debut album is designed to speak to a mainstream spectrum. “These songs were meant very specifically to be catchy, to appeal to a wide audience,” gushed Meath to the Washington Post. “All of my personal goals that I’ve ever had have been met, which is wild.”
As such, she and Sanborn have achieved the challenging feat of pleasing both critics and masses at the same time. Kudos.
One dumb night I’ll make a point to take an old verboten route//And one dumb night I’ll take you out to the bar we’ve both blacked out//One dumb night, two bad decisions don’t divide to cancel out
Essential albums(s): ‘Burst Apart’ (2011), ‘Familiars’ (2014)
Though The Antlers’ finest work is debatably still their 2009 concept album ‘Hospice’, they followed up its considerable critical success with not one but two excellent albums in the next five years, as well as two outstanding EPs ‘(together)’ and ‘Undersea’.
The hauntingly high vocals of composer and frontman Pete Silberman are the perfect complement to the sometimes sparse, sometimes furiously dense instrumentals which make The Antlers so impressive.
For a gradual easing in to their music, give the slow builders ‘Drift Dive’ or ‘I Don’t Want Love’ a listen; alternatively, if you like your introductions with a faster tempo, the nightmarishly enthralling ‘Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out’ might be right up your street.
Wanderlust//With us, the world feels voluptuous//I just feel more, with us//It’s a feeling that I’ve come to trust
Essential album(s): ‘Smother’ (2011), ‘Present Tense’ (2014)
Another band with impressive falsetto vocals, Wild Beasts combine devilishly clever lyrics with musical arrangements that’ll get stuck in your head like perfectly cooked strands of spaghetti to a kitchen cupboard. Their breakout album ‘Two Dancers’ in 2009 might have put Hayden Thorpe’s remarkable range and penchant for weird storytelling in the shop window, but the following two offerings really seal the deal from a musical perspective.
In particular, ‘Present Tense’ is chock full of wall-to-wall bangers, with the opening quartet proving especially alluring. “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck / In your mother tongue, what’s the verb to suck?” is just a taster of the lyrical goodness on offer.
While the term indie might not be being bandied about so often these days, the last five years have certainly been productive for the genre it represents, whatever moniker you choose to stick on it. Aside from the five artists named above, The War on Drugs showed there was life after Kurt Vile with 2011’s excellent ‘Slave Ambient’ and 2014’s even better ‘Lost in the Dream’. Haim, Courtney Barnett and Wolf Alice all broke through onto the scene, while Alex Turner let us have a little peek at his softer side with the soundtrack to indie-flick ‘Submarine’.
The xx, Local Natives and Real Estate all followed up exciting debuts with respectable second albums and veterans of the genre such as Eels, Yo La Tengo, Okkervil River, Deerhunter and Foals proved that there was still life in the old hound yet.
Have I missed out your favourite indie/alternative band from the last five years? If so, give me the earful I deserve by venting your spleen and spilling your guts in the comments box below.
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