The Indie Music Alphabet! – 2008 Edition

Alphabet of Rock           

Aderbat – Mp3

This band crept up on me recently (thanks in part to the music blog i guess i’m floating). Regardless of when I found them, I really like Aderbat a lot. They remind me a bit of Sunny Day Real Estate, with hints of Josh Rouse circa Home. Their LP, We Belong to the Sea, starts with a very Figurines-ish ballad, and keeps us in their grips with tinny percussion, intentionally feeble vocals, and bittersweet melodies.

Alphabet of Rock

Bon Iver – Mp3

My most listened to album this year has easily been For Emma, Forever Ago, by Bon Iver aka Justin Vernon. I normally frown upon the falsetto except on rare occasions, and this would be one of them. His voice trembles without warbling, it slips octaves with an R&B flare rather than the adolescent cracking common to crappy emo, and it just makes you feel good about being an introvert. Plus, he’s a Wisconsonite, like me.

Alphabet of Rock

Coldplay – Mp3

I give Coldplay a lot of credit for putting out their Viva la Vida… album this year. Plagiarism lawsuit notwithstanding, they found a way to keep their anthemic U2-scale pop prowess and still make a somewhat “artsy” record. I’m not sure if we have album’s producer Brian Eno to thank solely, or if it was as collaborative as the band has indicated, but either way, a pleasant surprise from a band I was ready to write off to Britney Spears land.

Alphabet of Rock

Department of Eagles – Mp3

Don’t worry, this isn’t a Don Henley cover band. In fact, one half of this duo is comprised of Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen, which explains a lot. I don’t want to say this out loud, so I’ll just whisper it: “I like Department of Eagles more than Grizzly Bear.” Just keep that between you and me, and check out their album In Ear Park. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Alphabet of Rock

Elbow – Mp3

Sort of like Coldplay on qualudes, Elbow manage to slip something into the brit pop fruit punch with every album they put out. Their latest, The Seldom Seen Kid, benefits from Elbow having lost their chance at being the next Coldplay, and it seems this one flew under the radar. This is a good thing for those who wanted to like this band, but felt they were catering to A&R’s rather than their fans.

Alphabet of Rock

Fleet Foxes – Mp3

While Bon Iver wins for most-listened-to, Fleet Foxes takes the “Best Band of 2008” award handedly. Their self-titled LP is a likely contender album of the year on many lists. Fleet Foxes are the perfect distillation of what I loved about My Morning Jacket once upon a time. But where Jim James conjures images of Kermit the Frog, Robin Pecknold (of Fleet Foxes) keeps the connotations at bay, and sweeps us up in his Baroque, Appalachian-by-way-of-Beach-Boys mythology.

Alphabet of Rock

The Gaslight Anthem – Mp3

Bruce Springsteen called, and he actually doesn’t want his songwriting skills back. You can keep ’em Gaslight Anthem, and thank heavens. The songs on their latest LP, The ’59 Sound move steadily, like staring at the farms passing by from the back of a pick-up truck while driving down the interstate between industrial cities. Once in a while the band pulls over at a truck stop to fuel up, but only long enough to let you straighten your windblown hair. Then it’s back to the pavement again, and don’t you dare buckle up!

Alphabet of Rock

Horse Feathers – Mp3

Horse Feathers could be a really boring band if you forced them to. But they would never listen, and for that we should all give them a synchronized “thank you.” I consider their sophomore album, House with No Home, an improvement over their debut, Words are Dead, which was also a great album, as it happens. I just like the stripped down, barnyard vocals melding with banjo and violin-laden folk arrangements. The songs ebb and flow, sometimes sparse (just a violin and Justin Ringle’s vocals) and other times soaring, a full orchestral sweep, flooding over verse and lyric alike. And that’s just how I like it.

Alphabet of Rock

The Instruments – Mp3

Think of this band as the Velvet Revolver for psychadelic chamber music. With the latest album, Dark Småland, frontwoman Heather McKintosh (of Japancakes quasi-fame) recruited members of Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Elf Power, with results as obscure as they are engaging. A down-trodden, murky journey through a forest of guitars, violins, brush kits and cellos, this band makes you want to sink in quicksand, if only to feel like your melting for a little while.

Alphabet of Rock

Jacaszek – Mp3

I’m reminded of Amon Tobin and Susumu Yokota when I play Jacaszek’s LP, Treny. Only this album is less rhythmically constructed than Amon Tobin’s work, and less occasionally shrill/grating than Yokota’s. Personally, I think this album rivals anything either of the aforementioned artists has ever put out. It feels like a Film Noir funeral dirge, as viewed through the refractions of a glass of whiskey in an empty, smokey bar-room… in slow motion.

Alphabet of Rock

Mark Kozelek – Mp3

You’ll learn by the time you reach the letter “S” that my choice to put Mark Kozelek on my list is most biased of me. But guess what, that’s why you choose to read my list, right? Well, it so happens that he’s one of the foremost singer/songwriters of the past decade, a cavalier champion of the sleepy and the somber. His live album, 7 Songs in Belfast, is as good as a studio session, for Kozelek in a hushed room, on his stool, 12-string in hand, suits him just perfectly. And his most recent LP, Finally, returns us to Kozelek’s infatuation with deconstructed covers, turning even the most raucous of metal tunes into a lullaby for ailing souls.

Alphabet of Rock

Leila – Mp3

As the former Iranian keyboardist for Björk, it’s no wonder her album, Blood Looms and Blooms, sounds something like a Mad Max carnivale gone awry. It’s an instrumental album for the most part, with dirty break beats, samples of water dropping, and haunting drones seeping in from every crack of the ramshackle ceiling. It’s dark, dank, musty and creepy fare, and I love it for all of those reasons.

Alphabet of Rock

m83 – Mp3

None of us were sure whether we liked the idea of Air-style vocals carrying an m83 album. And after one listen, maybe some of us were still unsure. But with time, like all good things, Saturdays=Youth became a vintage too important not to swallow. I’m not sure if I like this album more than Dead Cities… yet, but it’s damn close.

Alphabet of Rock

The Notwist – Mp3

For all the critics who wrote off The Devil, You + Me, shame on you. Who really wanted The Notwist to reinvent themselves anyway? So what if this album took six years to drop, they didn’t miss a step in my opinion. As the pioneers of the folktronica movement (or whatever pet name your favorite music critic has dubbed it), these laptop rockers gave us another great album full of German-tinged English loveliness. I especially appreciate the tracks with grander arrangements, and how they felt borne more from an orchestra hall than the proverbial bedroom-in-the-basement sound we have come to know them for.

Alphabet of Rock

Okkervil River – Mp3

It seems with every new album they put out, I like Okkervil River a little bit more. At first I kept them at arm’s reach, favoring the spin-off band Shearwater more (I still do) and it was likely due to frontman Will Sheff’s tendency to come off like a coffee shop a-hole who loves to quote Dostoyevksy just to feel smarter than you. And his trembly warble was always second fiddle to Conor Oberst’s back when Bright Eyes was putting out albums like Lifted. All that aside, The Stand Ins is an undeniably solid record. The smart songwriting carries each track, and the songs themselves stay stuck in your head like anecdotes from the a-hole at the coffee shop who actually is smarter than you.

Alphabet of Rock

Benoit Pioulard – Mp3

I appreciate Pioulard’s infatuation with field recordings, and the tapestry of these found sounds layered in with instrumentation is what (for me) define this ambient brand of spacey folk songs. Often times haunting, other times heartbreaking, and once in a while inspiring, his LP Temper takes you on a cosmic journey past stars and galaxies still searching for their soulmates. And what could be more bittersweet than that? (Portishead was a close second, btw.)

Alphabet of Rock

Quiet Village – Mp3

I often need some respite from the melancholy dredgery that has so typified my musical tastes. And when that time comes, I like to get my groove on. Quiet Village allow me to stray from home, without ever leaving the comfort of my front porch. This must be what “cool” sounds like in Europe. Or maybe India? Either way, I rather enjoy the exotic mix of musical faux pas. At times it’s deranged elevator music for psychopaths, and other times a pump your fist ghetto anthem. No matter what the case, Quiet Village manage to keep you on edge, always unsure what the next track is going to bring.

Alphabet of Rock

Ra Ra Riot – Mp3

Whether you admit it or not, you like anthem songs. Sure, some may be to poppy for you to admit loving (Destiny Child’s “Survivor”) while others are perhaps too engrained in our culture to even know we love them (“Eye of the Tiger” well frequented in weight rooms the world over). But in the indie world, we eat anthems up for breakfast; Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Modest Mouse, m83, Sunset Rubdown, the list goes on. They make them and we love them. Ra Ra Riot knows this formula well, and their Rumb Line album is nothing if not chock full of anthems. So inhale a chest full of fresh mountain air and exhale with a mighty ra-ra-roar.

Alphabet of Rock

Sun Kil Moon – Mp3

I could listen to Kozelek sing for hours on end (and I have, if you add up the iTunes plays and all the times I’ve seen him in concert). His work with bandmates Sun Kil Moon comprise some of my favorite Kozelek moments, and it’s probably because I revel in the juxtaposition of his songwriting talents and frail voice with the slide guitars and guitar work of the others, who seem to enjoy those things as much as we the listener. Their latest album, April, is nothing short of beautiful (and melancholy, of course). Listen close for Bonnie “Prince” Billy singing backup.

Alphabet of Rock

The Tallest Man on Earth – Mp3

Bob Dylan comparisons are as common as fart jokes in Shrek these days, and usually wildly unfounded. But The Tallest Man on Earth, aka Kristian Matsson… man, I dunno. “The Gardner”, from his Shallow Graves LP is something to behold. It’s a story about a man killing other men and burying them in his garden, so that he can remain the tallest man in the eyes of the woman he loves. At the end of the song he dances with her in the garden, on top of the dead bodies, while flowers grow all around them. You don’t know whether to shiver in terror or smile at the most hopeless of romantics. Brilliant.

Alphabet of Rock

The Uglysuit – Mp3

Beautifully melancholic sweeping pop symphonic ballads. Is that a sentence? Who cares. The Uglysuit are great. Their self-titled LP is hypnotic, entrancing, and moves like a ship riding a giant wave into rocky shallows; you know the boat is going down, but you don’t care because you’re full of resolve, you can do anything, be anyone. It’s a bittersweet notion, naive and short-sighted, but you stay in that moment for as long as it lasts. Yeah, something like that.

Alphabet of Rock

Chad VanGaalen – Mp3

I saw this Canadian one-man-band open for Band of Horses last year, and his songs were as wry as was his banter, yet both were inescapably addictive. He told a story about how he’d missed one of his gigs because he was swimming in a lake in Minnesota with his girlfriend and forgot about the show. Thank goodness he made it to the one I attended, or I might not have known enough about him to check out his stuff. His latest, Soft Airplanes, is an even more refined batch of fuzzy, earnest songs. It’s still bedroom folk, but maybe now it’s sort of a master bedroom with a walk-in closet and nice bathroom (no jacuzzi tub yet, Guns’n’Roses stole the jacuzzi tub this year).

Alphabet of Rock

Wolf Parade – Mp3

I don’t care what you say, Spencer Krug is the man. And to all those chattering about of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes being the next Bowie I ask… have you listened to Sunset Rubdown? Wolf Parade? Swan Lake? Get back to me on that, in the meantime, I’ll be listening to “Language City”, off the At Mount Zoomer LP.

Alphabet of Rock

xiu xiu – Mp3

Jamie Stewart, aka xiu xiu, was pretty much a shoe-in for this list, let’s be honest. Fortunately for me the all-too-serious vocal delivery we all know and (some of us) love has produced another deranged yet picturesque album in Women as Lovers (see proof in his cover of Bowie’s “Under Pressure”). Depending on my mood, I can sometimes let the whole album roll, but usually xiu xiu is best served as a cold dish between larger meals, you know to cleanse the palette. Nonetheless, thank you xiu xiu, I worried I might have only 25 letters this year.

Alphabet of Rock

Yeasayer – Mp3

If you haven’t already, check out their Take Away Show. I know these dudes look like your typical hippie-bearded, no-deodorant-wearing indie band. Nothing new there. But the songs are funky, somewhat Bowie-esque in their eclecticness, mixed up with a down-home barbershop quartet vernacular. I don’t know how it works, but it works. I’m excited to hear more from these guys, as are you I’m sure.

Alphabet of Rock

The Thalia Zedek Band – Mp3

At 47, Thalia Zedek is still bringing her singer/songwriter-meets-murder-ballad-rocker-chick vibe to her albums. She’s got a band this time around, and while I’m not usually a fan of masculine sounding women singing to me brusquely, somehow this time it works. I’m reminded of a female version of Nick Cave, with the melodrama and violins and that subtle snarl you can hear even if you can’t see. She sings as if the pack of cigarettes rolled into her sleeve is digging into her skin, and she’s pissed.

13 Responses to
“The Indie Music Alphabet! – 2008 Edition”

  1. david December 10, 2008 at 4:10 pm #

    awesome, top ten friends now.

  2. tyler December 11, 2008 at 12:48 am #

    Nice one Rye Rye.
    However G might be for Grouper…

  3. Nathan December 11, 2008 at 7:41 am #

    Not a bad list, I’ll have to give some of these bands a listen.

  4. masa December 11, 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    oh man thanks for the hook-up.
    here goes my mix tape. All the band that I hardly know.
    my indie band knowledge is kind of stopped since Super Chunk..

  5. babee December 13, 2008 at 10:01 am #

    nice!! thank you for this list 🙂

  6. liz December 14, 2008 at 6:58 pm #

    great list! and i haven’t heard of a couple of these bands – based on the recommendations that i already agree with, i’ll have to check ’em out. thx!

  7. musictastesgood December 29, 2008 at 5:14 pm #

    Great list here…Some of my faves of the year and some I hadn’t heard of. Looking forward to checking them out.

    The Uglysuit-S/T has been my favorite album of 2008 so glad to see it make your list. Very recommended!

    Department of Eagles and Dr. Dog would have been a tough decision for D’s, as well as Bon Iver or Blitzen Trapper for B’s, The Walkmen or Wolf Parade for W’s. It must have been a tough list to build.


  8. Q January 3, 2009 at 5:46 am #

    Great list! Thanks for including ADERBAT!!!

  9. J. Lopez April 13, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    thanks, great list 🙂

  10. A H December 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    the list is excellent! Grizzly Bear is in my opinion better that department of eagles, though i love them both.


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