Tuesday, March 3, 2009

5 Indie Artists You've Never Heard Of

One of my favorite things about the people I associate with is that most if not all of them claim to love indie music. In fact one of the greatest appeals of liking indie music is the illusion that you are "not mainstream". Most people hate the term "mainstream" and are desperate to find things that are more genuine, unique, and reflective of their experiences. The problem is that most people claim to be into indie music, but limit themselves to Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie. Don't get me wrong, both bands fucking rock, but there is a lot more out there than sad songs about how girls don't like you.

So to help my loyal readers expand their indie horizons I have compiled a list of indie acts that most people haven't heard of. So next time when your friends bring up one of these bands you can say you were into them before they were featured in an apple commercial...and you can hold it over their heads forever!

Bloc Party
The thing about Bloc Party is that you probably already have heard them...you just never realized it. Have you ever been in a record store and heard a really cool jam come on that sounds familiar, but you can't just put your finger on it? That was probably a song by Bloc Party.

Most people don't realize it but Bloc Party is huge over in England...like almost Beatles huge.

Well, not that huge, but at least Mr. Bean huge.

Bloc Party is not one of those bands that gets played on the radio over here in the states. You are more likely to hear them playing while you're buying I-tunes cards at Fye. Not exactly the most glamorous way of getting known, but when you have to compete with the shit storm of American music that is Taylor Swift and The Jonas Brothers, you take what you can get. Also it doesn't hurt to have a black lead singer...look what it did for Hootie and the Blowfish.

Okay, bad example.

Who Do They Sound Like?

If you like Modest Mouse, The Cure, and Smashing Pumpkins then you would really be into these guys. Their first couple of albums were very guitar, rock basic, but there newer albums have moved toward a more electric feel. Their spiky guitar sound and lengthy tracks can keep an audience enthralled for hours. Seriously, if you like a marathon band that can really bring it, these are your guys.

Songs to download:

"Uniform" is a pretty good song to get a good feel of their sound. Also try "On", they are both on the album A Weekend In the City.

This is a pretty unique group. For one thing most of there songs have spoken word vocals, free ranging drums, and they heavily use maraca's. Also, they have a very old school feel to them. These guys rarely do interviews and usually let their music speak for itself. They get there name out the old fashioned way, by word of mouth and constant touring. On top of all that, when they are on tour, the get around in an old 40 foot 1976 MC8 Charter bus.

Oh, and it runs on fucking vegetable oil.

Al Gore would love these silly bastards.

Who Do They Sound Like?

Their lyrical style is very much like Brand New, but their sound is their own. To say this band is unique is an understatement. If I had to compare them to anyone it would be bands like Arcade Fire and Polaris, but that's only because I can't pigeon hole them into anything more specific.

Songs to download:

If you want to give MewithoutYou a try, download "In a Sweater Poorly Knit" from the album Brother, Sister. It's a very compelling track that draws you in from the first measure and keeps you listening.

It really pisses me off that these guys aren't more famous than they are. It's not like their completely unknown. They've played on The Tonight Show, and Late Night with Conan O' Brian which is considered by many to be pretty mainstream. But, every time I ask someone if they've heard of Guster, they act like I'm talking about fruit roll ups or vacuum cleaners.

Regardless of their moderate success these guys have stayed pretty true to their indie roots. They tour constantly, and they rarely make music videos. I think this is great because beyond the occasional blink-182 comedy video, most music videos suck the biggest bag of dicks imaginable. These guys look at them as a contractual obligation, and are not to be taken seriously.

Another great thing about Guster is they have a very strict policy that they believe their fans should adhere to...they want you to record their concerts. Yes, these guys have basically given their fanbase permission to say FUCK YOU to the record label and bootleg the shit out of their shows.

Gotta respect a little indie anarchy.

Who Do They Sound Like?

Think of John Mayer meets Nickel Creek. Now throw in a little Phish, add a splash of Dave Matthews Band, and you've got Guster...a tasty after school snack for your ears.

Songs to download:

A good song to start with would be "Airport Song" from Goldfly, then go ahead and download the entire Lost and Gone Forever album. If you only had to pick one song though, my personal favorite is "Either Way", a beautiful medley that will tug at your heart strings.

Smile Smile

Now if you like your indie bands unknown, it doesn't get much better than Smile Smile. I didn't even know who the hell they were until this weekend when my buddy found their album tucked away in the bargain bin at a hole in the wall record store in Pittsburgh. These guys don't even have a wikipedia page. Even Col. Mustard from the game Clue has a wikipedia page...and he's a piece of plastic on a game board.

Anyway, Smile Smile is a nice little obscure band based out of Texas. The instruments they usually incorporate in their songs are the piano and guitar, with the occasional drum track thrown in. But, their real appeal is their duet vocals, harmonies, and killer keyboard lines. The best part is that you can tell Smile Smile are playing for themselves and not trying to overly impress anybody. There is real joy in their music, even if most of the lyrics make me want to hang myself with my underpants due to the depression they cause.

Who Do They Sound Like?

A few of their tracks will make you think The White Stripes have gone soft. The dual vocals also remind me of bands like Straylight Run and The Moldy Peaches, only more organized in their sound and less rough around the edges.

Songs to download:

To be honest I've only heard the album Blue Roses, but most of the songs on this record are pretty stellar. If you want to just test them out, start off with "Stranger Across the Street", "Your Life", and "Sad Song". All of these songs are different in their pacing and style, so you need to give them all a try to really appreciate Smile Smile's range.

Sufjan Stevens
Every once in a great while an artist comes along that can drastically change the way you look at the world...Sufjan Stevens is exactly one of those artists. I completely understand why he isn't more well known and mainstream. He's so unique and revolutionary that he's some what off putting to everyday people. The first time I listened to the album Illinois I didn't really understand what was going on. The album listed over 20 tracks but I'd say only 14 were full length songs...the rest were just little pieces of music he wanted to throw in to help bridge the gaps between the songs. I listened to it again, and again, and again...and I am yet to get tired of it.

This man plays music that I have only heard in my dreams. To call this guy simply a musician is putting it lightly. He doesn't create music...he creates art and then puts it to something we can comprehend. Sufjan Stevens is so beyond what we can fathom that he literally has to limit his genius in order for people to be able to listen to it.

The most fascinating thing about Sufjan Stevens to me though isn't even his music...it's the way his mind works. He has what he calls a "Fifty States Project" where he is basically writing an album for each of the 50 states in the United States.

Oh you read that correctly...this man wants to write an individual album for each and every single state. When I first heard about this my brain shit its pants. I asked myself, "Is it a publicity stunt? Who would be crazy enough to try and make a full length album about each state?"

Well apparently Sufjan Stevens is. He has already completed two albums, Michigan and Illinois, and is hard at work on his next album New Jersey. He's either a musical genius or bat shit insane...either way I don't care, just as long as he keeps making music.

Who Does He Sound Like?

Who does he sound like? He sounds like Sufjan fucking Stevens...that's who he sounds like.

Songs to download:

Everything. Seriously, get your hands on as much Sufjan Stevens as possible. Get Michigan and Illinois. Download Seven Swans and weep as his lyrical masterpiece makes love to your ears. Get Enjoy Your Rabbit then enjoy the shit out of it. Get The Avalanche then lock yourself in a room, tuck yourself into bed, and let Sufjan Stevens take you to a dream world you'd never be able to imagine without his music.

If you are cautious and only want to download one song, then make it his cover of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing". He didn't even write the song, its an old hymn. But, somehow he took a song that was written in the 18th century and played it how it was meant to be. The man is pure magic.

Please world, jump on the Sufjan Stevens band wagon. I want you to do this because he doesn't create just music...he creates happiness. Sufjan Stevens wants us all to "Come On, Feel the Illinoise"...I say we join him.


  1. so for the record, to continue the tradition of listening to indie as identified above: I heard Guster and Sufjan Stevens before you brought them to the table - j/k man.

    I definitely like mewithoutYou, just because of them I thank you for this post.

    I was personally hoping Guster's 'Satelite' from Ganging up on the Sun would help them catch on more with its use in the recent John Cusack movie Martian Child - no such luck I guess. 'Demons' off of Goldfly is also one of my favorites.

    Sufjan's Outakes & Rarities album is a whole lotta fun as well.

    You'd prolly like to check out this artist Andrew Bird that my buddy Matt just turned me onto recently - he's awesome.

  2. all of these bands are old.