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Sep 20

#2: My head’s to the wall and I’m lonely

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A bracket dominated by indiepop – some established at this point, some emergent, some doing things a little differently. There was a lot of this stuff about in 2001; it found a natural home on internet mailing lists and proto-blogs, and if the bigger music press names kept it at arms length, plenty of new websites were cropping up to celebrate it.

I’ve mixed the big names and tracks with stuff I didn’t recognise by sight. In some cases this has meant a blurring of genre lines – for instance, Weeping Willows’ “Touch Me” has the self-obsession and airy post-Morrissey vocals that fit the bracket, but its more muscular guitar chug feels like it could be from a few years later, mixing it up with the Kaisers and the Killers.

I knew and liked people who loved this stuff, but its folkways by this point were mostly closed to me – I had an MP3 of The Shins’ “New Slang” (titled as “When You Notice The Stripes”) at the time, but I couldn’t tell you why it became the breakout track from all these.

What I can hear is music pulling in different directions – bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Soundtrack Of Our Lives reaching for rock structures to push their songs forward; songwriters like Ben Folds and Belle And Sebastian pulling back from it to something more orchestrated. There’s outright sentimentality (Folds again, Augie March, Gorky’s) but also Arab Strap’s determined rejection of it. There’s careful arrangements but also scuzzy good times. Lyrics are central – except when they’re absent – and range from awkward, cryptic poetry to dumb-ass chanting.

What makes this bracket different from the other indie ones is that variety, and the sense that these are fertile niches existing out of the spotlight and out of hype’s way. Some of the bands had been through hype or would have hype in their future, for sure, but mostly this feels like sample slides from a thriving microcosm. A generation of artists which came of age with low expectations, picking through the post-commercial wreckage of alternative rock and Britpop and building audiences their way: what indie probably should be, in fact.

Do I actually like it? Well… not all of it. The Shins’ track is sleepily pretty; Belle And Sebastian’s is an awkward pile of ill-fitting lines; dntel’s “The Dream Of Evan And Chan” is captivating, even if what it invented was often bad; The Moldy Peaches are a novelty, but not an awful one; I still can’t stand Ben Folds. And so on. As a bracket, I think it’s rather good – a hustle of different approaches and it’s hard to call which ones will come out on top.

POTENTIAL WINNER: Much of this stuff is likely to run aground as soon as it meets more populist tracks, but “New Slang” might make a run into the final groups.

BEST TRACK: “Evan And Chan” could take it for stepping so far outside the formulae, but others here might well grow on me.

DARK HORSE: It’s very pretty, and its low streams put it in the softer half of the draw, so Gorky’s “How I Long” might get the chance to build an audience. Or it might get spanked in its qualifier, who knows.

DISCOVERY: I’d never heard of Dakota Oak before and its spindly instrumental “How Danny’s Friends Became A Force For Good” was a mysterious and enjoyable surprise.

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