Last year, was almost unquestionably the year of hip-hop; the genre saw a huge influx of new artists and the drop of some absolutely massive albums from established names (From Chance the Rapper’s Colouring Book and A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service to Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered). This explosion in hip-hop isn’t going anywhere any time soon but, 2017 might just see a resurgence of indie.
This year is set to see the release of a number of new albums from indie giants, such as Father John Misty, Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem (yes, I know they were supposed to have broken up but I’m not complaining and neither should you). And if you’re about to say ‘Big Whoop’, bear in mind that it has been well over half a decade since either LCD Soundsytem and Arcade Fire released This is Happening and Reflektor respectively.
Arcade Fire were the shining example of the late 90s/early 2000s diversification in indie music. Whilst journalists at the time were throwing around terms like ‘landfill indie’ in response to the slew of un-inventive bands which were inundating record shops, Arcade Fire managed to catch the eye of Merge Records and subsequently produced one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the decade, Funeral. Its daring ‘baroque pop’ sound was a sign of things to come as the band dragged indie music into a new, more electronic, era.
LCD Soundsystem took this move towards the electronic and put it on steroids. The band’s frontman James Murphy came from a prolific DJ’ing career in New York and his background is seen heavily in LCD’s discography. Sound of Silver, the band’s first album, is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 21st century with some of the catchiest and most creative electronic/dance music ever made. The band’s unique sonic coupled with Murphy’s comedically cynical lyrics have cemented their place in my most listened band on my rather bloated six-year-old iPod Classic. The band split after only two albums but returned last year for a festival tour. I was lucky enough to witness their 2am, two hour set in Denmark which was easily the best set I have ever seen live.
Finally, there’s Father John Misty. Though he’s probably better known for his work as part of the indie folk band Fleet Foxes, his 2015 solo album I Love you, Honeybear was incredibly well critically received, getting praise for the same imaginative orchestral-pop melodies which shot Arcade Fire to fame a decade earlier. In contrast to LCD Soundsystem’s wobbling synths and complex drum machines, Misty’s albums ooze the same beautiful harmonies which characterised his work in Fleet Foxes. Importantly, the indie folk scene hasn’t been untouched by this shift towards the experimental and electronic. The modern flagship names of the sub-genre like Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens have all released new music with a contemporary flair whilst still preserving the roots of the sonic. From what we have heard of the first few singles from Pure Comedy is that Tillman is certainly intent on making good his reasons for leaving Fleet Foxes with a considerably darker and more political tone to the new music. The singles move ominously between keys to create a pretty eclectic dissonance building and reinforcing the subject matter of the lyrics.
So, are these three albums enough to herald the return of indie music? Who knows! The biggest hurdle that these albums need to overcome in order for them to bring back indie is to engage with the counter-cultural roots of the genre. Only then will they make the impact the names attached to the records deserve.
The genre must climb down from its romanticised past and address the important social and political climate into which these records are about to be released, if they are to connect with their audience in the same manner the post-punk records of the mid-1980s did. Furthermore, these music legends must not be afraid to develop their sound and take influence from innovations in the electronic music scene. Get all of that right and we could be in store for some absolutely cracking albums later this year.