Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gift Guide for the Indie Music Nerd

Today's Gift Guide is a special guest post from Stefanie of the blog Handmade by Stefanie!  There are some great music picks in this guide sure to please the indie fan on your list.  Enjoy! 

I usually leave the music blogging to my husband and band-mate Tyler (see:  dispatches from the panda room @, but from time to time I'll write about the bands that excite me most on my knitting blog.  I'm thrilled to be guest blogging today for Kala at Vegancraftastic! 

2011 has seen far too many fantastic albums come out in the indie world, so I've rounded up the ones that are in the heaviest rotation on my iPod and turntable for your listening pleasure:

If you aren't familiar with this gothy girl-rock band from California, you're in for a treat. Deedee's precise song arrangements, spot-on vocals and harmonies, and well-written lyrics have been perfected for this latest release.  Fans of the Vivian Girls ( another favorite of mine) will enjoy their back catalog as well as Only in Dreams, which is comprised of polished pop gems and some truly passionate songs ("Coming Down" and "Hold Your Hand" spring to mind).  Expect reverb-drenched guitar-driven tunes to get your blood moving - and for those of you who have had a tough year (who among us hasn't), you'll really be able to relate to the thematic elements of this record as well.

Ok, fine - this album came out in 2010!  However, if you've missed it, it's worth a listen.  I myself was a little slow to the Deerhunter party (so many bands with "deer" in the name!), but this record is the perfect '60's-tinged indie-pop album.  For some reason, I always want to play it when I'm cooking, I'm not sure why!  "Don't Cry," "Desire Lines," and "He Would Have Laughed" are the standout tracks, but that's not saying much here, considering the consistent quality of this album.  Bradford Cox has a gift for crafting truly interesting song structures with unexpected elements - for example, I was convinced that the main riff of "He Would Have Laughed" was a keyboard sample til we saw them live at Pitchfork earlier this year - which was totally worth the heatstroke, by the way (and if you're wondering, that is indeed a guitar!). Also worth checking out:  Bradford Cox's side project, Atlas Sound (which released the excellent Parallax this year.)

Speaking of bands I was slow to jump on the proverbial wagon for, here's another one I initially overlooked.  If I had to distill their entire sound into one word, it would be: drone.  Wooden Shjips are the masters of droney fuzzed-out guitar riffs.  Most of their songs clock in at well over five minutes, and they're great for letting your mind wander, perhaps even slipping into a trance-like state.  This album feels like an extention of Moon Duo's Mazes (released earlier this year) which is the lead singer Ripley Johnson's side project with Sanae Yamada.  In fact, Ripley recently said in an interview that he makes no distinction between bands when writing songs - the difference is in the instrumentation and execution.  Both records have been in heavy rotation for me, needless to say.

One of my favorite Brooklyn bands, the Crystal Stilts' recent release has finally surpassed their self-titled album, against which I have been judging all other releases.  The opener, "Sycamore Tree" sets the tone with its simple guitar riff that won't leave your head anytime soon (consider this your warning).  "Silver Sun" and "Shake the Shackles" are also tracks of note, but this album is best listened to as a whole.  Reverb-drenched vocals & memorable melodic hooks will have your head bopping - and if you get a chance to see them live, don't pass it up!  

Let's begin with: The Oh Sees are incapable of making a crappy record.  Ok, good, we've got that established.  Driving force John Dwyer is quirky and talented beyond belief - his hyperactive brand of garage rock can make even the most mellow person bouncy beyond their control.  Their latest record is wild and full of psychedelic jams (and trust me, "jams" is not a term I typically like to use - but there's just no way around it).  "Contraption/Soul Desert" is a particular favorite track of mine, surpassed only by its live version, which is played even faster at about 100 MPH. Honestly, though, you could blindly select any Oh Sees album from their extensive catalog and not be disappointed.  Besides this latest effort, my favorites include Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion and Help.

I stumbled upon Mikal Cronin when a friend posted his video on my husband's Facebook profile.  It was infectious, and then we found out he was on tour with another garage-y favorite of ours, Ty Segall .  I was fortunate to catch a free in-store at a local record shop, and for weeks afterwards, listened to his self-titled album non-stop.  It's full of driving guitar riffs and catchy lyrics - several songs start with a few simple elements, then explode into a thick, fuzzy arrangement of guitars, harmonies and the occasional flute freak-out. Cronin also uses the loud/soft dynamic to great effect.  Standout tracks include "Is it Alright," "Apathy" and "Gone."

Again, this record came out in 2010, but who knows when or if they'll put out another one?  Besides, I can't stop listening to this one - incredible rock songs that surpass expectations and perhaps have even replaced my favorite album of theirs, Foolish.  This album is a true return to form, except in a way that feels totally fresh and not at all lame.  Great pop songs with signature Mac riffs and solos (man, that guy can solo!) and interesting lyrics that are clever, but not in an annoying way.  One of this year's highlights was getting to see them play at Pitchfork, and despite the crippling heat, it was impossible to stand still during pogo-worthy songs such as "Digging for Something," "My Gap Feels Weird" and "Crossed Wires."

Looking for drone-y krautrock a la Neu!?  Chicago's own Cave deliver the goods.  I'm not sure how they do it, either - by all rights, this should feel like a tired rehashing of the past.  Somehow they manage to put their own particular spin on synth-y, guitar-centric instrumental rock.  When listening to the album, prepare to often be surprised - they have a way of shifting a song in such a subtle way, you don't notice til you're suddenly overtaken by a wave of sonic noise.  Needless to say, the results are interesting and worth checking out, as are their videos:  "W U J" features hand-made puppets and this video  features highlights from a full set which was filmed live while the band played on a back of a flatbed truck as it drove throughout Chicago.

Thanks so much for the great post Stefanie!  Be sure to keep up with Stefanie on her blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

I hope you guys find some awesome new music from this guide, either as a gift or for yourself, let me know if you discover something you love!



4you-withlove said...

I don't believe I have any indie music lovers on my gift list. However, I love having this info available just in case. Thanks for sharing!

missmuffcake said...

Dum Dum Girls are good in concert!

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