A gander at my Spotify library makes the average person back away from the screen in horror. Not because I listen to anything heavy or grating–I don’t. But my music collection evokes comments such as, “You like this?” and “I wouldn’t expect this from you” and “This sounds like cult music…” No, friends, I am not uniform and neither is my music collection. Instead, it reflects the diverse embroidery of my soul tapestry.
So, my library is no average party piñata. It’s more of a piñata filled with assorted candies, power tools, air fresheners and just about everything else you wouldn’t expect to come out of a piñata. I struggle to sort it all into playlists that match a world obsessed with compartmentalization.
The list below is essentially a playlist of bands—a piñata with candies that all happen to be pretty similar. Indie rock just happens to be my favorite genre. It also happens to be a favorite for a lot of other young people these days, so I’ve taken time to shift the followspot from the Walk The Moons and Mumford and Sons of the world to the equally as talented, less appreciated rockers making quiet waves in my soul.
- Freelance Whales
Freelance Whales injects indie pop melodies with electronic infusions evocative of early childhood wonder. Some critics have thrown words like “twee” and “hipster” at them, calling them underwhelming imitations of Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service. But it’s hard not to fall in love with their xylophone-rich first album, Weathervanes—an ethereal experience with lyricism packed with enough imagery to put you in a world that is eerily like ours would if it were elevated a few thousand miles off the ground. This band keeps its folky electro arrangements accessible enough to make you bob your head, but expect things to get a touch more experimental. Lyrics silver line a world where relationships go sour, friendships end and people die. Freelance Whales reminds us that life can be just as wondrous as it can be tough.
Best album: Weathervanes
Notable tracks: Hannah, Ghosting, Generator ^ Second Floor
- Sir Sly
Sir Sly’s three musicians who understand the power of quiet, haunting simplicity. From the very first track on their debut album “You Haunt Me”, the listener is drawn into a smoky atmosphere of subtle synths—what Coldplay might be if they were a little less optimistic about life. You needn’t look farther than the names of their songs to see what this band is all about—“You Haunt Me”, “Ghost”, “Witches” and “Inferno” are just a few on the album. But don’t be fooled—they’re not out to scare you. Sir Sly’s vulnerable lyrics offer darkly poignant looks at romantic hardships and the process of self-repair. The mellow, sad vibes Sly puts out evoke thoughts of a lone cruise down a dark road; a drive to piece together a broken psyche.
Best album: You Haunt Me
Notable tracks: Where I’m Going, Ghost, Gold
- River City Extension
The least-known and most tragically underrated of the list, River City Extension is a musical gem that’s been buried under a great big pile of ordinary, harder hitting artists for far too long. This band is prolific. It boasts remarkable lyrical talent. In Joe Michelini’s voice is a searing down-to-earthness. He grabs you by the heartstrings and challenges you to ponder faith, the prospect of the future, hardships of the past and the joy in the present. The emotional rollercoaster that is any River City Extension album features moments of somber acoustic melody and upbeat hand-clapping folk-rock.
Best album: The Unmistakable Man
Notable tracks: Our New Intelligence, Ballad of Oregon, Today I Feel Like I’m Evolving
- The Front Bottoms
Starkness has never sounded so good. The Front Bottoms is a two-piece band that goes to no trouble to cloak its lyrics in abstraction. Their music is an arm around your shoulder and a punch in the gut—a reminder there is someone out there whose angsty, frustrated outcry is strikingly similar to yours. But this is not the same angst that pop-punk bands felt with you in middle school. The stark poetry found in a Front Bottoms track is fueled by grownup experiences—ones that breed lyrics as mature as, “I want to contribute to the chaos. I don’t want to watch and then complain. I am through finding blame. That is a decision that I have made”. It’s refreshing to hear a voice, so raw, uncensored and emotional, lay a fragile half-adult soul out on tracks so that we don’t have to.
Best album: The Front Bottoms
Notable tracks: Flashlight, Flying Model Rockets, Rhode Island
Joywave is a powerful indie rock band perfect for alt fans with fluid tastes. No one song quite sounds like another but all are executed with such power, energy, and pitch-perfect pop sensible arrangements. Going through Joywave’s collection, you can’t help but appreciate a band that has such a natural ability to take risks within the genre while still remaining so infectious and listenable. Most people who’ve heard of Joywave know them for their feature on Big Data’s Dangerous, a song that probably got far more attention than anything the band’s produced independently. With their 2015 album release “How Do You Feel Now?” they’ve established themselves as independent talent whose music plants you smack dab in the middle of a rickety seesaw. Lean too far to the left and you fall into the comfort of your favorite familiar pop band. Lean too far to the right and you end up lost in something like what schizophrenia might sound like if it were music. Still, there’s a sense of fun that pulses in every track. With an array of disco, pop, electronic, and alt-rock vibes, Joywave is a fast train around a futuristic metropolis that you don’t want to miss.
Best album: How Do You Feel Now?
Notable tracks: Tongues, Parade, Nice House
Disclaimer: All of these recommendations are coming from me. Proceed at your own risk.