What do we talk about when we talk about indie? Ever since the descriptor was popularized in the early 1980s, indie has been pulled from pillar to post, celebrated and denigrated, and used synonymously with music antithetical to the genre’s origins, i.e., independent artists. There’s an intimidating volume of indie music released every day—to listen to it all would be a full-time job. Throw in the media cycle’s fly-by-night nature, and more than a few fringe acts will undoubtedly slip through the cracks. To help bring these independent artists into focus, IndieMatters zeros in on five of the best albums and EPs released each month from across the Indieverse. From Francis Lung’s spoken-word character studies to Booter’s heart-of-the-continent guitar pop; this is indie that matters.
Ailsa Tully, Hana Stretton, and Catrin Vincent – Hiding Place [Independent]
Ailsa Tully, Hana Stretton, and Catrin Vincent have been making music independent of one another for years. Vincent fronts the anthemic art-rockers Another Sky, Tully creates tranquil folk concrète inspired by her native Monmouthshire, and Stretton makes ambient guitar compositions when she finds respite from managing her family’s farm in Australia. The three artists have in common a propensity for immersive soundscapes rooted in pop harmony and a vocal dexterity that could rival just about anyone.
Having met years ago at university in London, Tully, Vincent, and Stretton work together for the first time on Hiding Place. This name refers to Stretton’s secluded garden studio, where they recorded the EP in a single day, away from interference and judgment. It’s notable that Hiding Place—whose Bandcamp proceeds will benefit DEC Pakistan Floods Appeal—is more than a split EP. Although each songwriter contributes the shell of one song—Tully’s reposed, finger-plucked ode to her sister (“Easy”); Vincent’s cinematic self-analysis (“I Am”); Stretton’s solemn piano echo chamber (“Circling”)—they all weave in additional cello and piano parts, tape effects, and backing vocals, creating a cohesive, expert collection of avant-pop whose only weakness is that it doesn’t last for longer.
Booter – 10/10 [Independent]
Booter‘s first record is a kind of spiritual sequel to the Weakerthans’ first record. The guitars have a similarly warm and woody tone, lightly sparked with overdrive. That likable, rough-around-the-edges production style makes it easy to imagine you’re there in the practice room as snow blankets a sleepy Winnipeg, their mutual hometown. The songs are short and fast and indicate how both bands would expand their sound on following releases. Lastly, both bands take their time, with 10/10 produced sporadically over two years by none other than Weakerthans collaborator Cam Loeppky.
Connections to the retired indie rockers aside, though, Booter’s is an accomplished record in its own right—and a deeply thoughtful and open one at that. Vocalist and chief songwriter Alannah Walker, who is queer, sings of crushing on straight girls (“I’m crushin’ always / On the straight girl”). She laments how dissolved relationships continue to affect us (“This shouldn’t be my problem anymore”), and contends with modern capitalist struggles while exploring who she is outside of a relationship. Music such as Booter’s doesn’t have the inclination to change the world—but ask any Weakerthans fan if the band changed their life, and the answer will always be yes. Given time, Booter may do the same.
Francis Lung – Short Stories [Memphis Industries]
Swapping his native Manchester for the French city of Nantes has enabled Francis Lung to examine the places that defined his childhood with a fond-hearted perspective. Short Stories finds him telling unique, revelatory tales of the characters that populate them, like the young Stevie Nicks fan from the lead single “2p Machine”. Over woozy guitars like streetlights smeared by the rain, Sasha whiles her time in the arcades at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, hoping her reams of blood-red tokens translate into not a Yo-Yo or a teddy bear but a friend.
Deceptively simple character studies such as this excavate human vulnerabilities and our need for connection with beautiful subtly. Aptly, Lung has placed himself in a similarly vulnerable position, delivering these tragicomedies in spoken word with a sonic entourage that buoys but never usurps. The result is a unique combination of Britain’s enigmatic “head” bands (Portishead, Radiohead), Headspace Sleepcasts, and the dirty realism of writers such as Raymond Carver.
Well Wisher – That Weight [Egghunt Records]
Listening to Well Wisher is like a mutually beneficial venting session with a close friend; their sound familiar but invigorating, and their struggles near to home and relatable. Being broke in your late 20s, understanding your own mental health, realizing that you don’t have to be a playmate to mawkish mansplainers (“Don’t you know I’m not here to stroke your ego / And I will never be your doll”)—the Asbury Park quartet’s second record negotiates these topics with both humility and humor, mirroring life’s arduous undulations with its varied dynamics. After all, Natalie Newbold and her band can do it all: they switch from the lo-fi acoustic of “Emily” to the bulky power-chord punk of “Surface Love” without compromising That Weight‘s focus or synergy. Quite the opposite—by refusing to idle in one place, sonically or emotionally, Well Wisher make adversity their doll, harnessing their pain on their terms.
Nisa – Exaggerate [Hit the North Records]
Nisa Lumaj interrogates metropolitan anxieties and splintering relationships with a palate that straddles two worlds—detached alt-pop and indie rock noisemaking. It’s a formula echoic of contemporaries such as Nilüfer Yanya and Julia Jacklin, but the experiences that feed it are all Nisa’s. Born to Albanian parents in Morningside Heights, Nisa didn’t hear American pop music until her teen years in Manhattan, after which she drifted between London, Los Angeles, and New York before settling in Brooklyn. Her new EP Exaggerate seeks to unpack this period of nomadism and its concurrent questions while attempting to live in the present.
This oxymoronic goal is mirrored in the EP’s unsettled dynamics, with intense feelings obscured by Nisa’s detached vocal delivery, like the facades we adopt in the interest of self-preservation. Songs such as “Sever” sift through the detritus of a relationship before Nisa runs out of words and is left with just the feeling, impeccably translated with a flurry of guitar feedback contorted over a heaving drum beat. “Affection” channels similar concerns into synth-slathered euphoria, the fleeting intensity of “finding reassurance in all of the affection”. Sometimes, as these four songs attest, that can be enough.