Listening Now: Indie Shallow Dive (Part 2: Men) + Mumford “Delta” Review

I like friends who stand by their opinions. I was talking to my friend Katherine yesterday and shared a very passionate opinion about an author I did not enjoy. She replied with about the same amount of feeling how much she loved the author. I like having friends with opinions. And I have plenty of them because I am a rather opinionated person. The great thing about having friends with opinions is that they’re confident. My friends do their research, they have comprehensive thoughts that they share and have taken the time to mull over. When they present a strong opinion, often it’s because that is the genuine conclusion they have come to. But also, my friends and I change our minds. And we give each other grace to do that because opinions can change, but you should be thoughtful about the opinion you’re giving. I love how Katherine just owned her opinion. I still stand by mine, but I feel like I used to just throw my thoughts out without considering that the person I’m talking to, who I care about, may very passionately disagree. So, as we gather around the Thanksgiving table, think about that.


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ALBUM REVIEW

Mumford & Son’s “Delta”

“Delta” as in change or “Delta” as in stagnant?

Speaking of (apparently) unpopular opinions, I loved the new Mumford album. That was literally the go-to table topic at this year’s Friendsgiving and everyone I talked to loved it, but as I started doing research I realized that was not a common opinion.

A day of listening to podcasts and reviews revealed that most people gave the band’s latest album a “meh” at best. Rolling Stone cited it as an “epic bummer,” Pitchfork shrugged, and whoever these guys are tore it apart. But at least a good amount still enjoyed it:

Consequence of Sound song by song breakdown

The Boot

Mumford track by track brief breakdown

Telegraph loved it.

And this episode of The Greg James Podcast featuring Mumford & Sons making up songs on the spot for callers calling in about their bummer mornings will have you giggling.   

Delta is actually everything I’ve wanted Mumford to become.
I remember the first time I heard Mumford & Sons: I was in an Old Navy on Black Friday and my dad held his phone up to my ear while we listened to their first few records on YouTube while waiting in line. He said “Bob Dylan said he wouldn’t perform unless these guys came with him.” My dad is a huge Bob Dylan fan so I knew it was high praise. Who DIDN’T love Mumford in those days? Probably some, but still. They took us all by storm, and then we expected them to stay in their folk bubble. It’s common for artists to produce a second album that’s similar to their first, which I think is boring. I was apathetic toward Babel, so I was really excited when Wilder Mind came out. And I loved it, even though a lot of people didn’t. Music is so subjective. Yeah, it was really rock and yeah they abandoned the banjo, but, I’m sorry, are you still who you were three years ago? And if they hadn’t gone more experimental rock then we wouldn’t have the great blend that is now Delta. Admittedly, my musical palette has grown. I respect Mumford & Sons, but I actually think Glen Hansard is the greatest folk rock musician of our time.

I’m excited to see where Mumford goes. Personally, I think Marcus Mumford can do little wrong. His lyrics are vulnerable, he tries new things, and he pushes his own boundaries regardless of whether or not they’re what people define his boundaries to be. Alejandro Rose-Garcia aka Shakey Graves talks about the frustrations with writing music as the new person you’ve become and people still trying to force him into the suspenders he once wore.

Mumford & Sons said that this album deals with the four d’s: death, divorce, drugs, and depression. I think it sounds even more religious than previous albums. I love “Guiding Light” and I’m kinda surprised the album isn’t called that. I can’t stop screaming these lines in the car every time it comes on:

Well I know I had it all on the line
But don’t just sit with folded hands and become blind
‘Cause even when there is no star in sight
You’ll always be my only guiding light

Phew. That’s a lot to unpack. I very much enjoy the build and tension that Mumford gives their songs. There’s so much dramatic orchestration. Did you know Marcus built himself a studio and made a pact to record a song using every instrument in the studio? That’s how Wild Heart came to be. The band wrote over 200 songs. It just shows you how long it takes to make an album.

“Woman” is quickly becoming a favorite.

I can’t read your mind though I’m trying all the time

There’s something I don’t know, I can see it in your eyes.

Critics said this was a pretty basic line. One even asked if Marcus had ever been in a relationship before, questioning if this was news to Marcus. I don’t know how many relationships you’ve been in, but I never know what people are thinking. I feel like this line will always be true. Plus, it’s nice to know that someone like Marcus Mumford, poet and HUSBAND TO CARRIE MULLIGAN, still struggles with this. Let’s just sit with that for a second: He literally married Daisy from The Great Gatsby. They were childhood pen pals. Marcus caught that green light and took it home. Holla.

I know that there are more poetic lyrics out there. There are lines that I think could have been more visceral or less straightforward. But I like the honesty. Though a lot of people said this was a “try hard” album I actually thought it was more genuine. I will also always love Marcus Mumford. And I’m allowed that opinion. 🙂

Delta can mean change or a muddy, stagnant place. Maybe that’s what the listener gets to decide.

I give it 4 out of 5 electric banjos. 

Ps. Mumford & Sons added Maggie Rogers to their tour, so they obviously recognize talent and share their stage with emerging artists. thank u.


INDIE SHALLOW DIVE

Part 2: The Boys

A shallow dive into the world of modern indie alternative music.

In continuing our little dive into indie music, this week I’m sharing some of my favorite alternative indie rock bands that are (mostly) men. There is no shortage of indie alt boy bands, so there’s a long list at the end in which I probably still forgot a few. Again, we’re just looking at modern and emerging indie artists that I recommend checking out. I’ll be covering the king of indie next week for the holidays.

For a full history of indie/alternative/rock music that forever changed us—hello, The Smiths—I recommend listening to four-part series on the Ongoing History of New Music podcast by Alan Cross.

Damien Jurado

Oh man, how I adore Damien Jurado. I’ve had a week of feeling like there hasn’t been good new music out in a while. I know, I’m greedy. But I can always come back to Damien Jurado.

Since the late 90s, Jurado has been steadily building a fortress of indie gold. He’s done everything from folk to indie rock to dreamy instrumentals and all with depressing but rather introspective lyrics. If you liked the new Mumford album, you’ll likely be listening to Jurado on repeat next. He tends to flirt with religious ideology through ballads and dream sequences that make you wonder if he’s actually a space cowboy. If they did a Firefly reboot, all the montage parts should be Damien Jurado songs.

He self-produced his latest album “The Horizon Just Laughed” which he dubs a “goodbye” album as he moves from Washington to California. In writing these songs, Jurado unplugged and “turned off the world for a while.” The dude tends to swim in melancholy, but he produces some great music if you’re a fan of airy voices and acoustic, orchestrated, eery slow jams. His music sounds like an echo.

Intro: Ohio (original and remix), Museum of Flight, I Break Chairs album, Last Great Washington State, Allocate

For fans of Neil Young, Nick Drake, J. Tillman (aka Father John Misty), Father John Misty, M. Ward, Ryan Adams, the movie “Little Miss Sunshine”

Damien Jurado: “These are goodbye songs” | interview about The Horizon Just Laughed

Damien Jurado: 4 songs of new record “The Horizon Just Left”

Older (2011) NPR Tiny Desk

Chose this music video because it might as well be an indie film.

Hippo Campus

Okay, read this article because it’s literally what I was JUST talking about with Mumford. Hippo Campus is a band I’ve been watching for a while, so when The Bridge played their latest single “Bambi,” I was pumped. Also, if you’re an Enneagram fan, I actually think “Bambi” is a very Enneagram type 2 song. The song is about being there for your friends even when you feel like you can’t be there for yourself.

Why are they worth listening to? The Billboard article sums it up well:

Their formula — lead with an insistent riff, roll in clever verses and bursting, sunny hooks that belied often conflicted observations — proved damn near irresistible for a sizable, passionate and heavily female fan base. But it also boxed them into something of a corner. Hippo Campus had achieved a signature sound, but when faced with that sophomore fork in the road, with the encouragement of their go-to producer BJ Burton (Bon Iver, Low), they veered left.

“BJ asked us, ‘Do you want to make another Hippo Campus record? Or do you want to make a record under the name Hippo Campus?’” recalls guitarist Nathan Stocker. “And that was an important distinction. Were we going to do what we were ‘expected’ to do, and maintain a certain sound? Or did we just want to be creative people, harvest what we can during this period of growth — and move forward?” The result is Bambi, the boys’ sensational second album. 

I like that. Do your thang, Hippo Campus.

Intro: Bambi, Buttercup, South

For fans of Vampire Weekend, Colony House, COIN, Grizfolk, Coast Modern, Smallpools

 Ones to Watch: An interview with Hippo Campus, the people’s band.

Hippo Campus on the ‘Indie-Alt’ Divide, the Sexist ‘Chick Band’ Trope & Their Adventurous Second Album ‘Bambi’

Rostam

Speaking of veering left. Enter Rostam. You may not recognize the name, but you’ll recognize the voice. Rostam Batmanglij, aka Rostam, is an Iranian-American artist/film composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist of electro-soul group Discovery, and formerly of Vampire Weekend. He has so much musical range and I love it. From a trippy “Bike Dream” to an almost Irish-folk sounding bar tune in “Fairytale of New York,” the man is one to watch in the indie world. I like that his voice always sounds like he’s smirking.

Intro: Bike Dream, Fairytale of New York

For fans of Vampire Weekend, Kishi Bashi, Tennis, Dirty Projectors, Rubblebucket, Sam Smith, Bleachers

Rostam and Ezra Koenig are working on music together.
Also, he’s friends with Maggie Rogers.

Dragon Inn 3

“I was so lost until I found that sound.” 

Shoutout to the 417. Dragon Inn 3 is a spinoff of the band Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. This is more of an electronic pop band than rock, but I recently got take out and was reminded of one of my favorite Chinese places in Springfield—the former Dragon Inn 2. I don’t know what happened to the first Dragon Inn, but I have to believe that this band name is some nod to that restaurant. It was the best cheap Chinese food and super close to MSU campus. RIP Dragon Inn.

Anyway, Dragon Inn 3 is a side project of SSLYBY member Phillip Dickey that’s been in the works since 2012. He also pulled his wife Grace Bentley and his sister Sharon Bowie into the project. Their single “Club Sauce” and the subsequent album has garnered serious attention on the indie waves for its catchy electro-dance/rock melodies.

Intro: Club Sauce

For fans of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Rogue Wave, Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, the 1975

 

Cage the Elephant

An oldie, but a goodie. Cage the Elephant hasn’t done much in the last year (that we know of) but they did single-handedly bring “Whole Wide World” back into our minds with a reimagined cover better than when Will Ferrel sang it in Stranger than Fiction. And we don’t even have to Tahiti to find it! Although, that might be nice. I found myself listening to their 2015 album “Tell Me I’m Pretty” this week. Just classic indie rock. If there’s anything Cage the Elephant does well, it’s covers (see “Unpeeled” album). And I know that’s a bit of a cop-out, but I think they bring a good energy to the covers that they do and then use that momentum and throw it into the rest of their work. Apparently, there’s a saying that the Americans invented rock, but the Brits perfected it. Ironically, Cage the Elephant, originally from Kentucky, had huge success in England when they first began.

Intro: Whole Wide World, Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked, Cigarette Daydreams

For fans of British rock, White Stripes, Cold War Kids, OK Go, Grouplove, Young the Giant (wow, I wish I had time to write about all of these)

 

Let’s Hear it for the Boys

Check these artists out: 

Real Estate

White Stripes

Local Natives

Black Keys

Portugal. The Man

Colony House

Beirut

Andrew Bird

Grizzly Bear

Kurt Vile

Bastille

Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers

Brother Moses

Modest Mouse

Walk the Moon

My Morning Jacket

Arctic Monkeys

Shakey Graves

War on Drugs

Kishi Bashi

COIN

The band CAMINO

Coast Modern

 

How Indie Rock Changed the World, The Atlantic

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