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Music Under the Radar: Acoustic Indie

Stephanie DePrez | Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Situation: Music hunters seek, read, blog and cull music from radio, print and most often, the interwebs. Music gatherers collect mix CD’s, free digital downloads, and whatever their friends happen to be listening to. If you are a gatherer, this space is for you. If you are a hunter, e-mail me your latest find, and I promise you’ll find it written up here. (Seriously. E-mail. Even if you’re not a student.)

Today, I would like to take you on a journey into the deepest realm of your emotional self. Today’s music will not only use its lightly strummed guitars and soft, weepy vocals to lull you into a state of submission, but it will then grab your soul and yank you into deeper pits of understanding. Let me explain.

Here are three male artists who have perfected the art of revelation through lyrics set against a minimal, acoustic cycle of strings. It’s the quintessential collection of “indie” — or at least the music that your roommate’s cool older brother listens to.

Damien Rice

He is all that was ever meant to be “deep.” This Irishman has wooed followers the world over. Two major songs in particular have woven their way into the deeper psyche of television and movie moments. “9 Crimes” has been used to end a number of TV episodes, and “The Blower’s Daughter” is immediately recognizable. If you don’t know Damien Rice, you will most likely hear either and say, “Oh hey, I know/like this song.” His music has become ubiquitous to the point that it’s almost cliché. Perfect for playing in the background while doing homework and/or weeping over the news that your hot T.A. is already engaged.

Tracks to Tap: “The Blower’s Daughter,” “9 Crimes,” “Cannonball”

Alexi Murdoch

Let’s give it up for the British Isles, because this Brit is Rice’s Scottish counterpart. Here is the brainchild behind the massively successful “Orange Sky,” which gained particular fame after being used in the movie “Away We Go” (along with many other songs from his latest album). Thanks to him, we can all agree “my salvation lies in your eyes.” Murdoch’s songs tend to me more atmospheric than Rice, incorporating more instruments, and he even plugs a few in. To hear him is to love him, especially since his woeful baritone is such a contrast to most of the lighter tenor voices populating today’s new folk scene. Think of him as the Josh Turner of acoustic indie.

Tracks to Tap: “Orange Sky,” “Breathe”

Jose Gonzalez

One might think of Gonzalez as new folk’s master of minimalism. He will create an intricate guitar riff, and then repeat it until you are under his cyclical spell. His lyrics will then pluck lightly at your heart until you no longer know which is more hypnotic — the music or the words. The song “Heartbeats” has made its rounds through film and television, and is the usual entry point for a new Jose convert. I would argue, though, that his cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” (the opening song for the show “House”) is his most interesting accomplishment. Gonzalez takes the song out of its hard electronic mode and uses a low guitar string to simulate the pulsing beat. He manages to imitate all of the sounds and effects from a computer-heavy song and create something that is immediately affecting. It was even used to end a season five episode of “House.”

Tracks to Tap: “Heartbeats,” “Teardrop,” “How Low”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Stephanie DePrez at sdeprez@nd.edu