What do we talk about when we talk about indie? Since its popularization in the early 1980s, the once-humble descriptor 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. Heaps of stellar indie music is released daily, and to listen to it all would be a full-time job and more. Throw in the fly-by-night nature of the media cycle, and more than a few fringe acts will undoubtedly slip through the cracks. IndieMatters helps bring these artists into focus by highlighting some of the best albums and EPs released each month across the Indieverse. Across all branches of this colossal family tree, this is indie that deserves pause for thought.
PACKS – WOAH
Madeline Link approaches WOAH like she’s scoring an indie flick only she will watch. Ditching the full-band setup of last year’s Take the Cake, the Canadian songwriter behind PACKS transmits husky confessions with only a detuned acoustic guitar in accompaniment. This exposed space allows for imperfections—the text notifications during “heaved”, the way her guitar distorts the microphone during “don’t go for the goat’s milk”. In addition to distinguishing her from generously produced indie-pop peers, these intricacies further the sense of intimacy, as though we’re in the room while she sits on the floor contorting her guitar (the obscured production on “father’s truck” suggests she’s in an altogether different room, however). Marrying an Adrianne Lenker-esque intensity with the playful twee of the Moldy Peaches, PACKS’s minute-long compositions are like private messages. You’ll find yourself scrolling back, again and again, discovering new meaning each time.
Queen Kwong — Couples Only
Carré Kwong Callaway doesn’t care about you or your dad’s last name or where you got that piece of art. In the four years since her previous album, the Los Angeles songwriter has been through the wringer—a divorce, a cystic fibrosis diagnosis, and the news that she has ten years to live. It’s a testament to Callaway’s stoicism and songwriting aptitude that Couples Only, her third album as Queen Kwong, doesn’t consist of one 40-minute-long scream down the microphone. Instead, taking the resolute approach of writing one song per day, Callaway has produced a variegated and emotive workhorse of art-rock with all the swagger of PJ Harvey and the raw fervor of a sold-out club show. As if to mirror how a terminal diagnosis would force one to reevaluate everything, producer Joe Cardamone soaks every corner in harsh food lights—the knotted guitar lines bleed into deconstructed drum beats, her voice commanding every ebb and development. It sounds at once exhausting and energizing.
Rusty Santos — High Reality
For his first record in over a decade, behind-the-boards maven Rusty Santos sought to expel repression brought on by his involuntary detainment in a mental health facility. With coltish acoustic strums, percolating samples, and effect-laden vocals all shifting in and out of sync over High Reality’s nine tracks, it’s as though the album not only vows to make up for lost time but also matches its creator’s diversified, intercontinental career. Santos has produced many artists in many countries—the extolled Animal Collective, the Chinese psychedelic rock band Chui Wan, and the late DJ Rashad. Between its infectious grooves and whimsical exploration of one man’s disassociation from the day-to-day, High Reality makes a solid case for Santos donning his writing cap more often.
Atmos Bloom — Flora
Atmos Bloom’s music is all shy smiles across crowded rooms and half-remembered strolls through city parks. The power of these seemingly inconsequential scenes is foregrounded in the Manchester duo’s pastel-hued pop songs, collected in their debut mini-LP Flora. A pandemic project that “bloomed into something a little bit more special”—as their Bandcamp bio winks—Flora may exude the nervous energy of a meet-cute in a florist, but the ease with which Tilda Gratton and Curtis Paterson converse could lull even the most concrete skeptic into believing they’ve been at this for years. Bouncy pop-punk tracks such as “Daisy” are disguised beneath sheets of reverb. “Picnic in the Rain” (was there ever a more poignant name for a song?) evokes The Cure at their bubbliest. And “Morning Sun”’s languid groove archives the ache that comes when we lose part of ourselves. In a subway carriage already oversubscribed with Cocteau Twins advocates, the self-christened dreamgazers are pushing their way to the front.
Seasoning — The Condensation EP
As the titles of band and EP confirm, Brisbane-based songwriter Lachlan Buckle is concerned with small particles that coalesce into something decidedly bigger. Every component of Seasoning’s debut EP The Condensation is minimalistic and considered—a descending piano motif, the warble of a saxophone, a legato violin phrase. The gauzy production wraps it together into an enveloping slice of Gold Coast repose. While surely inviting comparisons to the Mac DeMarco and Real Estate school of new-age jangle, Seasoning’s is a mindset more aligned with ambient jazz composers like Lynn Avery and Cole Pulice. As for lyrics, Buckle is fascinated by transition and his emotions entwined with the seasons. People drift in and out, memories wax and wane—indeed, the music seems to reproduce the fleeting sigh of one season sinking into another.