If there’s two things true about the indie rock movement, they are that a) It sounds great, but b) It can be pretty damn depressing.
What do Bright Eyes, The Shins, Stars, Feist, and Deathcab For Cutie all have in common? They’re all labeled as stars of the indie rock movement. However, examining it closely, much of the “indie” movement appears derived from the “emo” rock movement. Both movements dwell on the same themes — heartbreak, sorrow, and frustration — but the art form has been refined.
Stars, a Canadian orchestral pop group, is among the leaders of the nebulously defined “indie rock” movement. It drew lots of attention starting with its album Set Yourself on Fire.
One need not search far to find the reoccurring themes of depression, sadness, and love lost here. Take the title track which pines, “In a cancer ward where the patients sit; Waiting patiently to die…In a cage where only one thing could be free;And it’s not you and I.”
Another lovely example is “The Big Fight”, which contains the morose musing, “Its death for the living; Yes i am a ghost; The mirror is cloudy; I loved you the most; You threw out the pieces; Did things we didnt understand.”
Another perfect example is Feist, whose voice soars cracking on the track “Now At Last I Know”, proclaiming:
Now at last I know;
What a fool I’ve been;
For I’ve lost the last love;
I shall ever win;
When the spring is cold;
Where do robins go;
What makes winters lonely ;
Now at last I know.”
But perhaps the best example of this is the extremely (dare we say it) emotional track that elevated Airborne Toxic Event into the national indie spectacle, “Sometime Around Midnight”. Mikel Jollet wails:
And she leaves;
With someone you don’t know;
But she makes sure you saw her;
She looks right at you and bolts;
As she walks out the door;
Your blood boiling;
Your stomach in ropes;
And when your friends say, “What is it?”;
You look like you’ve seen a ghost.
So does Silverstein really seem that emotional when they sing on “Smashed Into Pieces”:
Tear at me from inside (you made me swear)
Smash apart what you created.
How can I ever stop you from crushing my soul?
It was It was yours, yours to begin with.
And doesn’t the frantic cries of Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional on the track “Screaming Infidelities” sound transposable with those of Jollet’s, when he sings:
I’m missing your bed;
I never sleep;
Avoiding the spots where we’d have to speak,
And this bottle of beast;
Is taking me home.
There’s a core underlying logic here — indie is the new emo. Granted it’s a more mature art form. The prose is a bit cleaner; those angsty teens have gone on to become equally angsty adults. And sometimes the topics venture to new territories, or the lyrics become so abstract, we can no longer be sure that the band is talking about the old tired theme of love. But time and time again, indie rock bands show striking similarities to the bands at the core of the emo rock movement which peaked 5-10 years ago.
Perhaps no band shows this symmetry better than Bright Eyes. It’s hard to find a more emo — or perhaps legitimately depressed — singer that Conor Oberst, particularly around the Letting Off the Happiness and Fever and Mirrors era. Unfortunately, many in the “emo” movement ignored the band as its lyrics were much more mature and poetic than their contemporaries.
Today the band is typically labelled as “indie rock”. I’m perfectly happy with that designation. They certainly have an “independent” sound and helped pioneer the idea that rockers aren’t just about getting laid, playing in arenas, and guarded self-expression. But the band is also undeniable emotional music, even today, with a much mellower Oberst.
Even the styles of indie rock and emo rock are similar (as are the DIY spirit and love of knitting and other quaint crafts). The only big difference between the two? Indie fans wear less makeup (see below).
Pic: Emo Style (right, emolookbook.com), Indie Style (left, ottawastreetstyle.com)
Disclaimer: I know this post may offend you. I must say that I’m a big fan of virtually every music genre, including indie rock and emo/pop-punk. This post looks to trace the origins of the current driving force of music “indie rock” and by no means is an attempt to deride it. While the comparison may make some cringe, if I can bear it, so can you.