Category Archives: Indie

If you like Arcade Fire, then you’ll like Beach House

Arcade Fire formed in Canada in 2003. The group is a unique blend of indie-rock and orchestral music. They garnered major attention in 2004 with the release of their debut album, “Funeral”, and have continued to gain popularity ever since. In addition, they are the only band to have won their first and only Grammy in the “Album of the Year” category.

Arcade Fire -

Arcade Fire –

With seven members, Arcade Fire is a large group. Their genius blend of instruments results in a very full, diverse sound. Violin, cello, and accordion are just some of the instruments featured alongside the traditional blend of guitar, bass, and drums. The band also has both female and male vocalists.

While Arcade Fire is certainly a unique venture, their sound has clearly inspired several groups. One of these groups is called Beach House. Beach House formed in 2004 in Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike Arcade Fire, Beach House is composed of just two members, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. They have a style that is quite similar to that of Arcade Fire and has been characterized as “dream pop“.

Beach House -

Beach House –

The band attracted attention with its third album, “Teen Dream”. The album was released in 2010 and received great reviews. Stars such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé were even seen at one of the band’s shows. Like Arcade Fire, Beach House has both a female and male vocalist, although Victoria sings lead on most of their tracks. She also plays the organ, which gives the group a vaguely orchestral feel akin to that of Arcade Fire. The vocal style of both groups is echoing and almost haunting – the singers have a far-off feel to their voices that perfectly complements the full, smooth instrumental backing.

“Bloom”, Beach House’s latest album, was released in May 2012. Since then, the band has performed on various late night talk shows and at several music festivals.

Check out “Myth”, by Beach House:

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If you like Sufjan Stevens, then you’ll like Local Natives

Sufjan Stevens -

Sufjan Stevens –

Sufjan Stevens is an indie folk/rock artist from Michigan. He has been recording since 2000 and has released 11 albums thus far, including two Christmas albums. He often writes lyrics centered on his faith and beliefs, as well as traditional values such as family.

All of Sufjan’s albums have been released on Asthmatic Kitty, a label he cofounded with his stepfather. He wrote and recorded his first album, “A Sun Came”, while he was in college. Prior to this, Sufjan played in a band called Marzuki. He can play several instruments, including guitar, banjo, bass, and piano.

Akin to Sufjan’s full, mystic, sometimes instrument-heavy sound are the stylings of indie folk/rock band Local Natives. The Local Natives add unique elements of percussion to Sufjan’s signature sound, often relying on clapping and stomping. In addition, their vocal style is similar to that of Sufjan’s, though the Local Natives incorporate a distinctive howling in many of their songs.

Local Natives -

Local Natives –

The Los Angeles-based Local Natives released their first album, “Gorilla Manor”, in 2010. The album was named after the house the group shared in Orange County. Interestingly enough, everything the band releases to the public is a collaboration between its members; music, artwork, etc.

The band’s latest album, “Hummingbird”, was released in January of this year. It is a noticeably darker album – the songs are less wild and more somber, the instrumental parts have been thinned. However, it highlights another side of the band without compromising the success achieved with their first album.

This is my favorite Local Natives song:

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David Ramirez

David Ramirez is a singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas. He played a CAB-sponsored show at Iowa City’s The Mill last Thursday and I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with him.

Unlike many musicians, Ramirez did not discover his musical talents at a young age. He was an avid baseball player throughout his youth. However, when his family moved at the start of his senior year of high school, he decided he did not want to continue playing baseball at his new school. It was at this time that his new acquaintances convinced him to join the school choir and theater programs.

Ramirez picked up both guitar and songwriting that same year. He then went on to form several “awful bands”, as he calls them. While he has been touring full-time for only five or six years, Ramirez says he began to perform at various open mic nights at age 19.

As far as his goals go, David Ramirez says they have changed significantly over the course of his musical career. When he was first starting out as a performer he set concrete goals, such as making a certain amount of money, getting signed to a label, or winning a Grammy Award. Ramirez felt the quality of his music suffered because of these goals – he was too focused on getting recognized. His current goals are to continue writing things that he believes in, putting out great records, and playing great shows. “If those [other] things happen as a result, then that’s great,” Ramirez said. He continued, “I believe art has a big influence on people, and I want to be a part of that.”

At age 21, Ramirez was given a Ryan Adams album. Adams became his main source of inspiration; he “changed it all” for Ramirez. The influential Adams has played a large role in what Ramirez writes and why he writes it. Ramirez is compared to Adams quite often. “People compare me to him, and I think that’s probably inevitable,” Ramirez said. “I looked up to him a lot for several years and I still do. It’s kinda hard not to mimic some of his stuff.”

This was David Ramirez’s first time playing in Iowa City. Kudos to CAB for bringing him out! He is playing at the SXSW festival in his hometown of Austin, Texas this week.

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If you like Bon Iver, then you’ll like Ben Howard

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver -

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver –

Bon Iver won the Grammy Award for “Best New Artist” in 2012. The band gained popularity with the release of their album “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” in the summer of 2011. “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” was quite different from the band’s tamer first album, “For Emma, Forever Ago”. Lead singer and creator Justin Vernon brought in multiple guest musicians to help change the album’s sound; the record maintains the same tone as “For Emma, Forever Ago” but the music is more diverse, layered, and full.

Bon Iver’s vocals are extremely distinct and define the band’s character. They have an echoing, melancholy sound that will immerse you. British singer-songwriter Ben Howard has a style that is reminiscent of Bon Iver’s. He won the BRIT Award for “British Breakthrough Act” earlier this year.

Ben Howard -

Ben Howard –

Howard’s voice is soft and full of feeling, just like Vernon’s. His guitar playing is quite unique – intricate plucking characterizes many of his songs. While he is less subdued, his sound can be compared to that of Nick Drake. Howard has cited musicians such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell as his major influences. His parents used to play these artists’ records for him when he was a child, and he began writing songs at age ten.

Both Bon Iver and Ben Howard have a folksy, melodic sound but darker lyrics than those usually associated with their genre. Howard’s latest release, “The Burgh Island EP”, has an even more ominous and menacing tone than his earlier works. In addition, the EP features electric guitar as opposed to Howard’s usual acoustic guitar; a progression that is typical of folk artists.

Here’s my favorite Ben Howard song, “Old Pine”:

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If you like Mumford & Sons, then you’ll like The Head and the Heart

No matter how old you are or what type of music you like, you have heard of Mumford & Sons. They’ve put a refreshing spin on mainstream music and have proved that not all hope has been lost to auto-tune and Rebecca Black. The London natives recently won the Grammy for “Album of the Year” for their latest release, “Babel”.

Mumford & Sons performing at this year's Grammy Awards -

Mumford & Sons performing at this year’s Grammy Awards –

Mumford & Sons has a distinctive sound. Their folksy, almost bluegrass-like rock is full of lively guitar and banjo, layered vocals, and passion. Their music ranges from foot-stomping anthems like “I Will Wait” to slow, heartfelt tunes like “White Blank Page”.  Their vocal harmonies are perfect and haunting.

The Head and the Heart, a group from Seattle, has a similar set of qualities with one major difference – their vocal harmonies are comprised of both male and female voices. The band’s sound is more reliant on piano than guitar, but the feel of their music is akin to that of Mumford & Sons.  Both groups have an incredible amount of soul.  They sing about love, loss, and longing, and they do so in a way that makes you feel what they are feeling.

The Head and the Heart -

The Head and the Heart –

Having self-released their album “The Head and the Heart” in 2009, The Head and the Heart should have had a slow start. However, since the album’s release, they have opened for artists like Dave Matthews and The Decemberists as well as appeared at music festivals like Lollapalooza. The band has a pop-folk sound, relying heavily on the vocals of Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell, and Charity Rose Thielen. All three sing separately as well as together, giving the group a dynamic sound and a lot of room for variation in their songs.

Check out my favorite The Head and the Heart song below:

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If you like Fleet Foxes, then you’ll like Real Estate

When you hear the term “indie”, not many mainstream or popular artists come to mind.  While the genre has remained fairly underground, Fleet Foxes have risen to prominence over the past few years.  The catalyst was the release of their album “Fleet Foxes” in 2008, which was named “Album of the Year” by Billboard’s Critic’s Choice.  The group performed on Saturday Night Live and embarked on a worldwide tour as a result of the album’s fantastic impact on the public.

Fleet Foxes is known for their lilting, almost haunting melodies and vocal progressions.  Real Estate, a band from New Jersey, has a very similar sound.  Both bands utilize vocal harmonies and have a distinct “indie” sound.  In addition, twangy guitar riffs are often the center of their songs.

Real Estate's album "Real Estate"

Real Estate’s album “Real Estate” –

Real Estate is what I would call a “surf rock” band. They are Bon Iver mixed with the Beach Boys. They are the type of band you would listen to in a convertible while cruising down the California coast.  Real Estate has released one EP, “Reality”, and two albums, “Real Estate” and “Days”. They have performed at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on two separate occasions.  Most recently, Real Estate played at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the summer of 2012.

Fleet Foxes has a more commercialized sound than Real Estate, which is to be expected.  Real Estate is not signed to a major label and has not made many big-time public appearances other than Coachella and Pitchfork.  However, I think their independence is what makes them able to have such a unique sound.  Lazy guitar picking and echoing melodies define Real Estate’s songs. While I wish nothing but success for the band, I hope they maintain their style.  Check them out below:

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