What are we talking about when we talk about indie? Since the popularization of the descriptor in the early 1980s, indie has been tossed from pillar to post, celebrated and denigrated, and used as a synonym for music that breaks away from the origins of the genre, i.e. artists independent. There’s so much indie music coming out every day – to listen to it all, you’d need a full-time salary plus benefits. Add to that the fleeting nature of the media cycle, and more than a few fringe acts will undoubtedly slip through the cracks. To help put these artists in the spotlight, IndieMatters highlights some of the best albums and EPs released each month across the Indieverse. From garage rock and post-punk to shoegaze and chamber pop to any other branch of this colossal family tree, this is indie worth stopping by.
Emilie Elbert – Woven together [Independent]
Not everyone can release a song like “Woven Together,” the title track from the new EP by Texas-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Emily Elbert. His voice leaps through the pitches, up and down ranges in unison with an acoustic guitar while a choppy offbeat keeps 6/8 time. It’s a distilled, hopeful song of protest, a call for selfless liberation: “We will rebuild a world nourished by collective vision / radical communal healing and pleasure.” Although the end result looks brilliant and deceptively effortless, it takes a lot of work to get there.
Elbert is a prodigy, after all, a session guitarist and an alumnus of Berklee College of Music. She’s supported or worked with everyone from Big Thief to Gwen Stefani to fellow prodigy Jacob Collier. While it’s safe to call her a spiritual successor to Joni Mitchell, Elbert is truly a chameleon songwriter, her crafted intonations reminding you that you’re not listening to a venerable militant anthem. It’s Emily Elbert, a name to put in favorites.
Dendron- 5-3-8 [Innovative Leisure]
This is a movie script origin story. New Year’s Day 2018. A group of ambitious Chicagoans nurse their hangovers with the resolve to start a band. It will sound like their krautrock and post-punk heroes, as well as next-door mainstays like Dehd. And while the rest of us let fledgling gym memberships gather dust, Dendron will burn rubber across the United States, play wherever they can, and shape their sound along the way. A multitude of parking stubs and a later pandemic, 5-3-8 is an album of looping vocal fragments – prescient lines repurposed from C-SPAN (“distance, time, new perspectives”) broadcasts – with a trio of intertwined guitar lines acting as the glue that elevates the pile of cuts release into a cohesive and unforgettable piece of art.
Rescuer – The crowd can talk PE [born yesterday]
The title of Lifeguard’s latest EP alludes to their indifference to attention. This is a futile suggestion, however, because if The crowd can talk there’s something to pass – and it is – it would be impossible to blow the breeze while the Chicago high schoolers rip it across the room. The crowd can talkAll four songs clatter and rock with undocked tempos – all scuffing guitars and chest pounding drums, recorded at famed Electrical Audio, and vocals screaming as if Kai Slater and Asher Case are up to their necks in quicksand if they weren’t fighting to be heard during a packed basement show. In the zine created for their record release show, Horsegirl scribbled, “Lifeguard ruined live music (none of our favorite touring bands are as good as them).”
The Second City’s youth-curated art scene – also home to Friko, Dwaal Troupe and Post Office Winter – is spawning some of the most exciting indie music around and offers a more promising alternative for the future of indie rock than Another legacy act while on an anniversary tour or peddling a re-release. Down with nostalgia. Lifeguards dive to save us.
Thanya Iyer– Rest [Topshelf Records]
In the independent music library, Thanya I would be lined up in the support aisle. It’s a corny metaphor, but it’s about the only categorization that can be meaningfully attributed to the Montreal composer, whose liberal genre borrowing renders labels futile, retaining a timeless, familiar sound, like the voice of a trusted friend. Indeed, it’s Iyer’s mellow rhythm that anchors the arrangements of his new EP. Rest, accompanied by a wind trio, a string quartet and a choir. Like Cassandra Jenkins’ meditations on mental health, nature and their intersection, songs on Rest are as nice to their creator as they are to the listeners. “Try to do your best, get some rest,” Iyer beckons right off the bat, a slow-burning opener aptly titled “Slow Burn.” Its soothing coos and healing orchestration take care of the rest.
Hellrazor- The Gate of Paradise [Independent]
hellrazoris the kind of music the misanthropic older brothers play from their poster-covered bedrooms in 1990s movies. Loud, provocative and hugely fun, The Gate of Paradise— the latest from the New Haven trio — is a succinct collection of firecracker grunge-pop. With the help of occasional collaborators Kate Meizner and Michael Henss, who both play in a number of other under-the-radar bands, Michael Falcone spent six years whittling down 100 songs to just nine.
This thoroughness pays off in gummy hooks that slap you in the face like spitballs fired in a rowdy classroom; in multi-way power cords thicker than concrete slabs; and in Falcone’s shouted jokes about dystopian paranoia. It’s a formula no doubt indebted to a little-known outfit from Seattle whose name begins with N. But avoiding many of the popular indie rock ingredients, The Gate of Paradise teleports listeners to a less self-aware time, a time when “Demon Hellride” and “All the Candy in the World” spin side by side in the harmony of eternal damnation.
Spielberg- vestli [Big Scary Monsters]
Spielberg‘twilit punk-pop is rugged and immediate, coming at you like a sonic snowplow. Hailing from Norway, and naming their second album after an Oslo suburb they grew up in, the trio make music that approximates beefy riffs and emotive vocal choruses à la Jimmy Eat World’s. bleed american not sunburnt Arizona, but frosty Scandinavia. Indeed, there is a sense of geographic dysphoria that pervades the songs on Vetsli– whose anthem “When They Come for Me” and plaintive intermission “Goodbye” stand out. As frontman Mads Baklien says, “You can leave Vestli but Vestli never leaves you.” Provided it falls into the right hands, the disc can serve the same purpose.