Of Montreal and more...
More artists should take chances like Anaïs Mitchell did with Hadestown, the Vermont singer-songwriter’s epic folk opera. Featuring guests like Ani DiFranco, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Grammy nominee Greg Brown, and Ben Knox Miller (The Low Anthem), Mitchell ended up taking a supporting role on her own album. Instead, the aforementioned list of folk and indie legends performed various marquee roles in an adaptation of the Greek myth of Orpheus and his ill-fated attempt to rescue his better half from depths of hell. While it may seem like a gimmick, setting the tribulations of characters Eurydice, Persephone, Hermes, Hades, and the Fates in Depression-era America, the album succeeded by the clearly showcasing the astounding commitment of Mitchell and her band of misfits to this work of art. Lushly produced by frequent Ani DiFranco collaborator Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown was imagined in vivid lyrical detail and supported by a rich, varied, immaculately played sonic palette. This album is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to be filmed. Alan Ranta
Everything in Between
It’s all too easy to overlook No Age as one of indie rock’s most innovative and artistically ambitious bands. That might have to do with the assumption that there’s only so much that’s possible from a guitar-and-drums format, especially compared to the over-the-top experimentation of those in the L.A. duo’s peer group. But there are no limits to No Age’s sophomore full-length, Everything in Between: Dean Spunt and Randy Randall use their vast technical skills, imagination, and instincts to find beauty in ear-splitting noise, coaxing nuance out of brute force. Just listen to how they shape what sounds like the roar of an airplane engine into something almost spiritual on “Katerpillar” or the way they transform screeching feedback into anthemic riffs on “Fever Dreaming”. What’s more, No Age seems to be growing into its own skin thematically, with the everyday existentialism of “Common Heat” and “Chem Trails”. If any band can continue grow and expand on a bare-bones formula, No Age is it. Arnold Pan
Most contemporary indie bands—and indeed a good number of the music writers who cover indie for that matter—are by and large one skittish bunch when it comes to tackling sex head-on. Sure, the cultural landfill is chockfull of indie music that awkwardly toe-dips in romance and the apparent anguish caused by its absence. But when it comes to downright erotic desire, most indie music-makers and their boosters are nothing more than closet cultural conservatives. More specifically, they habitually shun sexual jouissance—and the rhythmic vigor that usually follows—for the sake of preserving their fetishism for adolescent innocence. And as a result of this milieu, Of Montreal’s inhibition breakdown on False Priest—seemly induced by Prince’s syncopation and David Bowie’s plastic soul period—makes for one sonically rousing event. On the album, Kevin Barnes finally completes his transition from twee eunuch to sex-crazed psychedelic funk-lover, wholly embracing the cadential animalism that is in scant supply in the indie stratosphere. A wonderfully bizarre project that’s still surprisingly accessible, False Priest illustrates why indie and groove can make such fantastic bedfellows. Eric Allen Been
The Grand Theatre Volume One
Dallas stalwarts the Old 97’s are one of those rare bands that keep churning out reliably stellar rock ‘n’ roll over the years without ever getting flat-out famous. They don’t have to work dayjobs, but they ain’t rich. You hear them on NPR and see them on Jay Leno, but your mom doesn’t know who they are. Which all might serve to be perfect scenario for fans, because the band gets to write great music and record it and tour behind it, without ever turning into asshole divas or imploding into their own Behind the Music episode. The Grand Theatre, Volume One rocks much harder than its last two predecessors, 2008’s Blame It on Gravity and 2004’s Drag It Up, and shows off co-founder Murry Hammond’s fabled-but-seldom-displayed Oasis fixation. Occupying that rare space of comfort-level success affords the freedom to throw it all in: Hammond’s Britpop love, frontman Rhett Miller’s smart-guy literary leanings, Ken Bethea’s melt-the-chrome-off-the-trailer-hitch guitars, and drummer Phillip Peeples’ unerring knack for sewing it all up with the beat. Jennifer Cooke