Posts Tagged ‘indie’
05 Jan

Week 243: “re: stacks” by Bon Iver



I used to think falsetto was for chumps.

This might be because the first time someone explained to me what falsetto was, it was in the context of “In the Jungle”, a song that I found extremely irritating at the time.

But falsetto has a long and proud history in popular music. Over the years, male singers have used their falsetto voices in a surprisingly varied array of contexts; sometimes to make us dance, sometimes to make us hurt, sometimes to make us kiss. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the high-pitched male voice is a tool used across the spectrum of popular music. Then I felt an uncontrollably nerdy urge to make a graph to illustrate the point. Here it is:

Falsetto Analysis

So, having spent a mildly embarrassing amount of time making the graph above, I invite you to enjoy what has now been (scientifically?) proven to be the indie-est, heatbreaking-est song of them all.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It’s so very indie. And I don’t mean that in a snarky way. I mean that it’s the blueprint for independent music: recorded by one guy in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Recorded with lo-fi equipment. Recorded with no greater ambitions than a small-scale self-release. Recorded independent of the structure and expectations of the music industry.

2. It’s so very heartbreaking. Justin Vernon was fresh off a break-up and the dissolution of his previous band when he wrote this, and it shows; “This my excavation…this is pouring rain, this is paralyzed.”

3. The vocals and the guitar are each recorded twice, one panned left and the other panned right. It gives the impression of someone singing in front of a mirror, the only audience he can find.

Recommended listening activity:

Looking longingly out a coffee shop window.

08 Dec

Week 239: “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso


Partisan Records.

Most songs about dancing fall into one of two categories:

  • Instructional. These are songs whose sole purpose is to tell you how to do a certain dance. The hokey-pokey is probably the grandfather of instructional dance songs, but many have followed. These songs are great for people who lack confidence on the dance floor, but as songs they often fail miserably. The occasional instructional dance song can be a classic, but generally they range from mildly annoying to genuinely obnoxious to gouge-your-eyes-out awful.
  • Motivational. These are the tunes whose only goal is get you moving. No particular dance style is specified, although participants are usually urged to throw their hands up in the air, and wave them like they just don’t care. These songs are great if you just want to burn off some energy to a solid party jam. They’re plenty of fun, if a little bit mindless.

As you can tell by the lyrics and the video, “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso is a song about dancing, but it doesn’t fall into either of the above categories. It’s more introspective than instructional; more emotional than motivational. I like to think of it as a song that sees dancing as relationships in miniature. The excitement of scanning the crowd for the next partner, the electricity of initial contact, the boredom of familiarity…even despair at the possibility of not finding the right person. “The sentiment’s the same, but the pair of feet change.”

Now don’t get me wrong here. I love a good mindless dance song as much as anyone. But I’m glad that Sylvan Esso made a song as exciting to the brain as it is to the feet.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. In the opening twenty seconds, it’s hard to tell where the downbeat is.

2. At 1:17, there’s a tiny woodpecker in your speakers.

3. The words “my baby does the hanky-panky” have never sounded as mournful and meaningful as they do at 3:03.

Recommended listening activity:

Arranging your spice rack so that the labels face each other.

06 Oct

Week 230: “Within It, Along” by Tess Said So

I Did That Tomorrow (front)


My house is the last one on the street, and all down the west side of the house is a row of trees. My knowledge of trees is somewhere between patchy and laughable, but I think these trees might be honey locusts.

In addition to having a pretty cool name, the honey locust’s leaves turn a vibrant yellow in the fall, and last weekend, whenever the sun shone through them, the whole house was bathed in an amazing golden glow. But the honey locust’s yellow fall colour is as fleeting as it is pretty, and within a couple of days the leaves had all been blown off by the wind.

Nature seems to do that all the time; giving us these brief blasts of awesomeness, and then moving on to something else while you scramble to find your camera.

This lovely song, by Australian duo Tess Said So and scheduled for release this week, reminds me of the delicate and temporary beauty that nature seems to specialize in.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It’s simple. I’m trying to think of another duo that pairs a pianist and a percussionist. I can’t. If Jack and Meg White ran away to join the symphony, their music might end up sounding like this.

2. It’s subtle. I’ve never heard a song this soothing that uses this many types of percussion.

3. It’s sparse. There’s a lot of space between notes, forcing your ear to focus on the echo and decay of each sound.

Recommended listening activity:

Dropping leaves from a balcony.