Top 40: Alternate universe edition
John Darr | Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Yesterday, I asked one of my more strongly-opinionated friends if he had heard of some relatively obscure rock band. “I don’t listen to that hipster bull****” he responded with deriding seriousness. I laughed it off, but it made me sad. I wasn’t insulted; us musical hipsters experience a lot of this sort of thing. Instead, I was again reminded of a misconception commonly held about indie music.
Many indie bands make songs very similar to those on the radio with catchy chorus and friendly production. Such “indie-pop” bands are often the music heard at trendy clothing stores and during television commercials; nothing noticeably separates the music from mainstream pop music except for its popularity.
That being said, there’s a lot of indie music out there. Most of it, for some reason or another, would never be on Top 40 radio. Some of it is recorded and produced with lo-fi equipment, some of it is experimental/artsy and a whole lot of it is just plain bad. Even if a radio listener wants to check out “indie music,” it can be difficult for them to track down something they really like.
That’s why I’m starting this column. After countless hours of exploring Spotify, iTunes and the like, I’ve tracked down amazing indie-pop artists whose music screams to be played on the radio. Every week, Top 40 A.U.E. will showcase an indie-pop artist whose music is friendly, catchy and just plain great. If anyone finds themselves happily jamming to indie music and hungry for more, I’ll have done my job.
Well let’s get started, shall we?
Snowmine makes warm, airy music with gorgeously layered guitars and soft orchestral atmospheres; think hot chocolate on a softly snowy day. Frontman/songwriter Grayson Sanders has a voice that effortlessly slips in and out of falsetto, allowing songs to have original vocal melodies that never stray into awkward territory. This is showcased in incredibly catchy singles “Penny” and “Let Me In” from debut album “Laminate Pet Animal.” Just a warning: You will try to hit “those notes.” You will not hit those notes.
‘Laminate Pet Animal’ is currently downloadable on their Bandcamp page for whatever price you want to pay. They also have a new album, “Dialects,” coming out within the next month. That album is streaming on Spotify as of yesterday.
Known best for Portlandia theme song “Feel It All Around,” producer Earnest Greene makes chilled out, reverb-laden pop songs under the name Washed Out. Rich drumbeats that flit between world music and hip hop pin down gauzy synth atmospheres. While the vocals are often difficult to understand, they carve out irresistible harmonies and easy melodies that lull a listener into humming along.
Washed Out stretches out pop music’s fist-pumping chord progressions into soft, pillowy backdrops. It’s the perfect music for shutting one’s eyes on a car drive through the countryside, or simply sinking into the comfiest chair in the common room. Check out Washed Out’s excellent debut “Within or Without” to hear trademark singles “Eyes Be Closed” and “Amor Fati”, and if you’re thirsting for more, his 2013 offering “Paracosm” for a more flowery, tropical sound.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.