What do we talk about when we talk about indie? Ever since the descriptor’s popularization in the early 1980s, indie has been pulled from pillar to post, celebrated and denigrated, and used synonymously with music at odds with the genre’s origins, i.e. independent artists. So much indie music is released daily—to listen to it all you’d need a full-time salary plus benefits. Throw in the fly-by-night nature of the media cycle, and more than a few fringe acts will undoubtedly slip through the cracks. To help bring these artists into focus, IndieMatters highlights some of the best albums and EPs released each month across the Indieverse. From garage-rock and post-punk to shoegaze and bedroom-pop—to any other branch of this colossal family tree—this is indie that deserves pause for thought.
Emily Elbert – Woven Together [Independent]
Not everyone can pull off a song like “Woven Together”, the title track from Texas-born, LA-based songwriter Emily Elbert’s new EP. Her voice leaps across pitches, ascending and descending scales in unison with an acoustic guitar while a restless backbeat keeps 6/8 time. It’s a distilled, hopeful protest song, a call for altruistic liberation: “We’ll rebuild a world fed by collective vision / Radical communal healing and pleasure.” While the end result sounds brilliant and deceptively effortless, it takes a lot of work to get here.
Elbert is a prodigy, after all, a session guitarist and alumna of the Berklee College of Music. She has supported or worked with everyone from Big Thief to Gwen Stefani to fellow wunderkind Jacob Collier. Though it would be safe to call her a spiritual successor to Joni Mitchell, Elbert is truly a chameleonic composer, her homespun intonations the jolting reminder that you aren’t listening to some venerable activist anthem. This is Emily Elbert, a name to bookmark.
Dendrons – 5-3-8 [Innovative Leisure]
It’s a movie-script origin story. New Year’s Day, 2018. A group of ambitious Chicagoans nurse their hangovers with a resolution to start a band. It will sound like their krautrock and post-punk heroes, as well as next-door mainstays such as Dehd. And while the rest of us are letting nascent gym memberships gather dust, Dendrons will be burning rubber across the US, playing anywhere that will have them, and shaping their sound along the way. A multitude of parking stubs and a pandemic later, 5-3-8 is a scrapbook of looping vocal fragments—prescient lines repurposed from C-SPAN broadcasts (“distance, time, new outlook”)—with a trio of interlacing guitar lines acting as the glue that elevates the pile of clippings to a cohesive, unforgettable piece of art.
Lifeguard – Crowd Can Talk EP [born yesterday]
The title of Lifeguard’s latest EP hints at their indifference towards attention. It’s a futile suggestion, though, for if Crowd Can Talk is anything to go by—and it is—it would be impossible to shoot the breeze while the Chicago high schoolers tear it up on the other side of the room. Crowd Can Talk’s four songs clamor and seesaw with unmoored tempos—all scuffed guitars and chest-thudding drums, recorded at the hallowed Electrical Audio, and vocals howled as though Kai Slater and Asher Case are up to their necks in quicksand if not fighting to be heard during a packed-to-the-rafters basement show. In the zine created for their record release show, Horsegirl scribbled, “Lifeguard has ruined live music (none of our favorite touring bands are as good as them).”
The second city’s youth-organized arts scene—home, also, to Friko, Dwaal Troupe, and Post Office Winter—is birthing some of the most exciting indie music around, and providing a more hopeful alternative for the future of indie rock than is another legacy act on an anniversary tour or peddling a reissue. Down with nostalgia. Lifeguard are diving in to save us.
Thanya Iyer – Rest [Topshelf Records]
In the library of indie music, Thanya Iyer would be shelved in the self-help aisle. It’s a cheesy metaphor, but it’s about the only categorization one could meaningfully tack to the Montreal composer, whose liberal genre borrowing renders labels futile, curating a sound that is timeless and familiar, like the voice of a trusted friend. Indeed, it’s Iyer’s pillowy lilt that anchors the arrangements on her new EP Rest, with a wind trio, string quartet, and choir in tow. Like Cassandra Jenkins’ meditations on mental health, nature, and their intersection, the songs on Rest are as kind to their creator as they are to listeners. “Try to do your best, take a little rest,” Iyer motions from the get-go, a slow burn overture aptly titled “Slow Burn”. Her calming coos and healing orchestration take care of the rest.
Hellrazor – Heaven’s Gate [Independent]
Hellrazor‘s is the kind of music that misanthropic older brothers blare from their poster-covered bedrooms in 1990s movies. Noisy, provocative, and exceedingly fun, Heaven’s Gate—the New Haven trio’s latest—is a succinct collection of firecracker grunge-pop. With assistance from on-and-off collaborators Kate Meizner and Michael Henss, both of whom play in a number of other under-the-radar bands, Michael Falcone spent six years whittling 100 songs down to just nine.
This fastidiousness pays off in gummy hooks that slap you in the face like spit-wads fired across a rowdy classroom; in multi-tracked power chords thicker than concrete slabs; and in Falcone’s shout-sung quips about dystopian paranoia. It’s a formula undoubtedly indebted to a little-known Seattle outfit whose name starts with N. But by eschewing many of indie rock’s in-vogue ingredients, Heaven’s Gate teleports listeners to a less self-conscious time—one in which “Demon Hellride” and “All the Candy in the World” idle side by side in the harmony of eternal damnation.
Spielbergs – Vestli [Big Scary Monsters]
Spielbergs‘ twilit punk-pop is robust and immediate, coming at you like a sonic snow plow. Hailing from Norway, and naming their sophomore album after a suburb of Oslo in which they grew up, the trio make music that approaches the beefy riffs and emotive vocal refrains à la Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American not from sun-scorched Arizona but frosted-over Scandinavia. Indeed, there’s a sense of geographical dysphoria permeating the songs on Vetsli—of which the anthemic “When They Come for Me” and plaintive intermission “Goodbye” are standouts. As frontman Mads Baklien puts it, “You can leave Vestli but Vestli never leaves you.” Provided it falls into the right hands, the record may achieve the same.