Indietronica + Recent Music Purchases

Monday, August 11, 2008

The word isn’t really seriously used anymore to describe a musical genre. In fact, it feels dated. Like “Electroclash” (except, thank god, without evoking the same sorts of trendoid awfulness). Indietronica was probably never officially trendy. It’s lightly maudlin sit-at-home-at-night music, for the loner in you. What you listen to when you’re not going out. Downtempo. Lightly pop-flavored, often with lyrics. With a tendency towards the easygoing complexification of IDM. The Postal Service probably represent the genre’s peak moment of popularity. Four Tet is another big name. Fennesz’s Endless Summer qualifies (the rest of his output: maybe). Damn near anything on the Morr Music label, for sure.

I’m sitting at home by myself, drinking a few beers and catching up on some work. It’s about midnight. And I’ve been rediscovering. Their “Digitalis” channel is the “indietronica” channel. In a remarkable way it takes me right back to 1999-2003 or so, the indietronica hey-day when I was really into this stuff — even tracks that were recorded after that period. It’s more of the general mood. Sitting alone. Windows open to a summer night. Tip-tapping away on the laptop. Music playing lightly in the background.

I’ve been bookmarking music I hear (mostly on, but also just “around”) and have been allowing myself to buy one album per week. I had been kind of stuck in a sad state of listening to old crap I’d heard a million times and probably wasn’t really all that great to begin with. (Is this what most people’s listening habits are like once they hit, say, thirty?) So I’ve been getting new stuff. And really getting into it.

Want to know what I’ve bought recently? Okay! They’re surely not all “indietronica,” but they lean in that direction. A lot’s just electronic-flavored pop. Some is elsewhere altogether. In fact, there’s really not much connection to the paragraphs above. Anyway, in order:

  • The Bird and the Bee, The Bird and the Bee: I bought this while in Vienna on the strength of this amazing video for the first track “Again and Again.” It’s just almost unbearably adorable to anyone who sits in front of their Mac all day (like me). The album’s hit-or-miss, but “Again and Again” and “I Hate Camera” are really, really good little pop songs.

  • Alan Wilkis, Babies Dream Big: This guy lives in Williamsburg somewhere and I’d kinda like to meet him sometime. The album, as far as I know, is a much more homemade sort of affair than even most “indie” music is. Electronic pop with a funky edge or something — it sounds like it’s got references stretching across swaths of music wider than I’m familiar with. But very, very good stuff. And straight-up fun, for the most part. “Milk and Cookies” and “I’m Famous” are great. Good Magazine uses both along with “It’s Been Great” for their “get to know the candidates” video. Learn something about the candidates and hear some good music. A two-fer. (And re-watching those videos is a good reminder that, whether you think they’d make good presidents or not, all three have pretty extraordinary biographies.) So, yeah: Alan Wilkis for president.

  • Twine, Violets: Moody, atmospheric textures. Vaguely creepy. Good for late listening in dim rooms. Bad for jogging.

  • Fancey, Schmancey: One of the New Pornographers, his side-project. Very much like NP, but with a lighter production. At least, that’s when it’s at its best. Not electronic music by any stretch of the term. Guitars. Drummer. Organ. “Gulf Breeze” and “Lost in Twilight” I really like. And the super-catchy “Call.”

  • Pole, Steingarten: Pole is Pole. Minimalist German electronic dub. Somehow simultaneously warm and cold. Good to program by. Like every other Pole album.

  • Modeselektor, Happy Birthday!: Electro-flavored IDM. More Germans, and it sounds like it. Tendency towards a dense, nearly claustrophobic throbbing synth sound. I kind of got it just to study that a bit. “Happy Birthday!” and “Déboutonner” are my favs.

  • One Second Bridge, One Second Bridge: Dreampop a la Slowdive or Chapterhouse, with dips into glitched-apart drone guitar landscapes. Very lush. Nice. Good to leave on in the background.

  • Capitol K, Nomad Junk: Okay, so this is my favorite new find of probably the past six months. Definitely “indietronica.” A bright, colorful swirl of electronic pop laced with dense textures of sounds recorded while in southeast Asia. Process-wise, it reminds me a lot of Herbert’s Score, but just simply way catchier and friendlier, less academic (if that makes sense). Not weighted down by poltics. Fairly goofy at points — “Can’t Lie Down,” for example (which is great). “House of Representatives” is almost exactly what it sounds like in my brain when I’ve got my head down, hard at work doing something like coding (in case you wondered). When I’m experiencing flow, that’s what it sounds like. “Taipei” is a gorgeous sort of trip-hop affair full of samples of mysterious singing and atmospherics. “Barcelona,” uptempo dub, also very good. “Jamboree,” an appropriately festive little Four Tetian guitar jam that rises and rises. Really, there are very few not-great moments. And it reminds me somewhat of Sufjan Steven’s “Illinoise” — not because of the actual sounds or musical genre, but because it’s a similar sort of dense travelogue album — though it’s not nearly as serious about itself. (That may not make sense.) Also, like “Illinoise,” it rewards multiple listenings — there’s just a lot going on.

That is all.

Oh yeah: Why am I buying these albums, you ask? Y’know, as someone who earns a reasonable income, I just feel frankly weird not paying for music from independent artists. I’ll pirate the hell out of the Beatles or Fleetwood Mac or whatever — they’ve got their fat paychecks — but I know somewhat about what a financial pile of shit being a musician can be… I buy almost exclusively from Bleep or Amazon’s MP3 store, so I get non-DRMed music at a higher quality than I’m likely to find on Soulseek.