Returning to My Indie Music Roots
My journey through the world of music has led me to shed light on some odd corners and experience countless genres of music, new and old. Through 100 gecs’ bizarre, anarchic and cacophonic “1000 gecs” project, Poppy’s irreverent blend of synth pop and Black Metal on “I Disagree,” or GRLwood’s screaming punk EP “Daddy,” I regularly find myself waist-deep in the strangest and most boundary-pushing sounds the music industry has to offer. But the constant stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has led me back to a field of music I never thought I would find myself in: the indie scene.
I first began a serious interest in music in 2014, when my high school best friend purchased a copy of Akron-native blues-rock duo The Black Keys’ record “Turn Blue” on vinyl. We sat in his grandfather’s living room, crowded around the player and swaying to the beat of the cluster of hypnotic tracks across the record.
Later that year, I joined the then-fledging music streaming platform Spotify, and suddenly found myself with a near-limitless supply of albums, playlists, and singles to sink my teeth into. The algorithm quickly directed me from my interest in The Black Keys and Motown pop outfit Fitz and the Tantrums to alternative and indie projects like the Bad Books’ 2012 record “II” and Two Door Cinema Club’s ubiquitous 2010 album “Tourist History.”
In 2015 I stumbled across an NPR interview with the Athens, AL-based soul and blues rock quartet Alabama Shakes on their forthcoming record “Sound & Color,” an album which still holds a special place in my heart. Just a week later, I sat in on a listening of Lord Huron’s indie-rock odyssey “Strange Trails.” I was officially hooked.
From there, my interest in new music exploded and spilled over into other genres like Hip-Hop, R&B, and my native Kentuckian bluegrass. Today, there are few genres I explicitly exclude from my music catalogue, notwithstanding oddball projects like 100 gecs and GRLwood. But being relegated to the bedroom of my teenage years during quarantine this spring and summer led me to revisit the indie staples that gave way to my fascination with music over the last six years.
Much to my surprise, I stumbled across dozens of artists still making indie music that embraces the traditional atmosphere of the genre while still experimenting with more modern production and sounds. Here are a few of my favorites.
Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher (2020)
The Los Angeles-based singer’s sophomore LP, “Punisher” offers a visceral take on daily life in the late 2010’s, exploring Bridgers’ hyperbolic fending off of white supremacists on “Garden Song” and tackling toxic masculinity on “Savior Complex.” The album’s closer, accompanied by breathtaking orchestral instrumentation, wrestles with acceptance of death, especially in 2020. Bridgers’ indie vocals and meticulous melodies dance around baroque pop, but still land comfortably in her indie element.
G Krish- Life Off the Tracks EP (2019)
An artist I originally stumbled across on the popular short video app TikTok, Gaurav Krishna Surampudy, known by his stage name G Krish, ditched his nine-to-five lifestyle in pursuit of a music career in early 2020. His voice, seemingly of solid gold, belts out stunning chords across the EP, just 13 minutes long. His light, guitar-led instrumental style leans heavily on indie influences, but the combination of his buttery-smooth vocals and haunting guitar backing is irresistible. His criticism of work-oriented life comes in strong on “Two : Thirty,” and I can’t help but sway along.
Sylmar- Self-Titled (2017)
The Cincinnati, OH-based Sylmar released their self-titled debut LP in 2017, but it feels just as relevant three years later. Lead singer Bran McCullough tears up melodies and leaves them hanging on tracks like “Even Now,” letting them fade into the plucky electric guitars in the background. Dreamy acoustic pieces like the record’s opening track “I Love Everything” would feel at home on a Grouplove or Bronze Radio Return record. Harder-hitting songs like “Punk Song/Coup de Mayo” layer wailing guitars over McCullough’s sailing vocals, while “Waste Away” offers a tongue-in-cheek criticism of Donald Trump.
Vista Kicks- Booty Shakers Ball (2017)
My younger sister, who is currently enjoying her own renaissance of 60’s-inspired folk and surf rock, offered up the Sacramento-native quartet Vista Kicks’ 2017 record “Booty Shakers Ball,” which drives home the nostalgia factor for a decade that closed out 30 years before I was born. The beachy vibes on “Alice” and “Gimme Love” feel ripped straight from a Beach Boys record, while tracks like “Love & Paranoia” and “Fight the War” would land comfortably on an Iggy Pop or LOVE record. No matter the mood or the decade, “Booty Shakers Ball” is a blissful, retro trip through indie landscapes of the past.
Music of any genre may offer a much-needed escape from reality in these trying times. I hope that you will find music that gives you the strength and comfort to keep on keeping on, as it were.