Vampire Weekend – A Generation Ahead

Their music is catchy and artistic.  They’re super talented, smart, and professional. They’re huge and can fill a stadium.  But none of that is what Vampire Weekend is about. They’ve connected with a generation you might not quickly understand.  It is a generation that grew up on the internet and that has had terrorism and economic failure thrust upon them from a young age.  Millennials have been called hipsters, snowflakes, or just plain lazy, but none of that is true.  Like generations of kids before them they look at the adult world and try to figure out how to make it their own.  Vampire weekend hears their call and calls back – “Our days were long, our nights no longer / Count the seconds, watching the hours / Though we live on the US dollar / You and me, we got our own sense of time.”

They make for easy listening, but if that’s all you pick up from Vampire Weekend you’re missing something.  These guys can pull on your heart strings and make you wonder about how to be a whole person in the new age.  I may not fit the demographic, but I can hear it.

Two songs for you.  Open your mind and come along for the ride.

Animal Collective – Electronics, Vocals, and Beyond

Coming up with a simple explanation of Animal Collective is hard.  Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

“The band’s music is characterized by studio experimentation, vocal harmonies, and an exploration of various genres which include freak folk, noise rock, ambient drone, and psychedelia.”

Frankly this doesn’t make the point at all.  I just saw them in concert a couple nights ago and took the photo above. Here is what I saw.  Three men working on computers and keyboards and a drummer.  The stage looked like something from a primitive cave drawing come to life and was in constant motion with animation over everything.

Awesome.

One thing to recognize is after decades of the use of synthesizers, sequencers and other electronic instruments people have come to realize that there is music you can make electronically that you just can’t make any other way.  These instruments are not cheap substitutes for “real instruments.”  They are the new way to make music.  Bands of all kinds have incorporated electronics into their setups. Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is taking over the hip hop and house music world.  If you are going to come to appreciate new music, you need to get passed any prejudice you may have against electronics.  The first time I saw a fully electronic group in concert I didn’t realize there were only electronics in their music.  I loved what I heard first, and only then realized it was 100% electronically produced (other that the singing of course).  Maybe that made it easier for me.  I’ve come to fully embrace it.

Animal collective make full use – with three musicians operating massive amounts of equipment and a drummer.  There were no guitars in sight.  What they’ve created is truly an amazing mix of sound built from their voices mixed with a spectacular range of musical sounds produced from a large number of CPUs operating on stage.

Their music is complex, and maybe the smell of 420 in the room helped people experience the full effect.  Don’t try to figure it out.  Let the music take you.

Decemberists – Indie Folk to blow your mind

Great band with a more traditional sound and humongous talent. I almost hate to use the word “folk” though that’s the way they are usually described. They do like storytelling songs, but it’s combined with a very current outlook, sarcasm, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek.

This is an outstanding band.  Many other bands could learn a thing or two from them. There are so many features to point out:

  1. Instruments include a Hammond Organ, upright bass, acoustic guitar, harmonica, accordion and several instruments I can’t identify.
  2. Colin Meloy’s voice.  At first I didn’t get it, but over time his voice stood out to me as a truly magnificent instrument that fits the bands sound and elevates it to another level.
  3. Sensibility – I can’t pin this down for you.  Suffice it to say, these guys have songs that will twist your brain.  Check out “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” if you want to see what I mean.  They make beautiful music in a sometimes terrible world.

Lykke Li – Bring on the Women Rockers

It’s been clear for a long time that whether you spell it Girls, Grrls, or just Women, female performers can make the best rock and roll.  Just look at some of my older favorites, like Patti Smith, Exene, Chrissie Hynde, Courtney Love and there can be no doubt (oh yeah, and No Doubt too).

One of the greatest sources of rock and roll inspiration has been teenage angst – actually angst of all sorts.  Growing up, break-ups, pain, loss, and hurt can ironically produce some of the greatest rock and roll. In my opinion, some of the best music is about transformation resulting from trying times.  When I hear a person changing it reminds me of how important it is to deal with life and change.  Well there is no doubt that female angst works just as well as anything. Sometimes the words may be aimed at other women, but I find I can appreciate the emotions just as well.  I’ve seen criticism of “sad girl” musicians – but I love them.

I saw Lykke Li live (I took the picture above).  I was expecting something more downbeat, but she brought the house down with genuine rock and roll.  Nothing sad about her performance – she definitely rocked the Radio City audience.

I’m linking three of her videos here.  The first, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” is certainly from the sad side.  If you can’t feel this, better have yourself checked.  For a more rock and roll sample, I’ve added “Get Some” and “Youth Knows No Pain”.  (The song in the video for Youth Knows No Pain starts about 45 seconds in.  It isn’t the best recording, but you get to see Lykke live and that gives a real feeling for her performance. )

Arcade Fire – Go Big, Go Deep

When Arcade Fire won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011 there were a lot of people – including at the Grammys – asking themselves: “Who?”

Arcade Fire burst on the scene as big as can be.  I saw them in Barclays Center in Brooklyn – the home of the Nets basketball team – a huge arena.  It was sold out and even though I was in the nosebleed seats, it was an awesome spectacle.  Costumes are big with Arcade Fire.  About half the crowd were wearing them.  Arcade Fire manages to combine strong messages, great sounds, nostalgia, and fun all in one package.

This song – The Suburbs – starts out like it’s going to be a nice nostalgia piece about growing up in the suburbs.  Nope.  This is hard stuff.  Arcade Fire brings big sound and powerful messages and the crowd eats it up.  Can you be this big and still be Indie?  Yes – because the next time they win a Grammy – most people will still not know who they are. They are a great example of how you need to pay attention in the modern music world. If all you do is watch TV – you will probably never hear of half the stuff that is really going on out there.  Great band – evocative and frightening video.

Metric

Next, here is something that may be a lot easier for some of you to digest.  It is basically a rock and roll band with plenty of rock and roll cred (I saw Lou Reed join them on stage at Radio City Music Hall for one of Reed’s last performances.)  Here they are using traditional rock and roll instruments (they incorporate a lot more electronics in later albums).  They are indie because – well what else would they be?

Emily Haines – the lead singer – is one of my favorite performers.  Super high energy live – and just gives of a real rock and roll star vibe.  Love it.

Intro to Indie

I love Indie Rock, but I’m not in the typical demographic for it.  I’m older.  Most people my age seem to have stopped listening to new music after college.  I know there are plenty of other people with other reasons for not quite getting Indie.  If you are a teen listening to EDM you may not have had a chance to hear it yet.  You may think this is the music of choice for “millennials” and so want to stay away.

Sometime many years ago I got hooked to the idea of always listening to new music.  I’ve been there for alternatives: Punk, New Wave, Alternative, Grunge, Indie etc.  I also listen to classic rock, pop, hip hop, EDM, etc, but it is Indie that captures my attention every time.  Here are the great creative minds, unfettered and free of corporate control (what does indie mean anyway?)  I consider myself incredibly lucky to be here today when there is so much great music being made.  It is changing fast.  I fully expect a generation of “old school” indie rockers to reject the new mostly electronic music and then another generation of EDM-lovers rejecting whatever comes next.  It seems like people just stop listening to new music when they start working full time.  Join me – and let’s keep listening to the most creative sounds we can find.

So here I’m going to put up some of my favorite Indie Rock – youtube videos mostly – and try to give you some understanding of what you are listening to to help make this stuff a bit more accessible.  I won’t just be putting up new music.  I will put up whatever I’m listening to at the time and want to share.  I love this stuff.  Maybe you will too.

First video

One word of warning.  When listening to a new genre for the first time you probably won’t quite “get” what you are listening to.  So my advice is… don’t try.  If you are thinking:  “Those words don’t make sense.” “Why does it sound like that?”  “There’s too much repetition.”  – then you aren’t really listening.  Here is something you may hear an Indie kid say: “That song was so vibey.” or “I loved the feels on that song.”  So don’t psychoanalyze the music.  Don’t even try to “understand” it the first time through.  Most songs are meant to feel – not to analyze.  I like the language around Indie.  It helps set the tone.  Let the feels flow.

OK, if you aren’t familiar with Sylvan Esso you are about to hear something so different and yet, somehow familiar.  Some amazingly creative use of the wide range of sonic expression available on modern electronic instruments.  Indie varies tremendously from soft to hard, orchestral to organic, and from 9 piece bands to one-person DIY artists.  Stay with me.