Photo: Jason Nocito
Many have argued that the descriptor "indie music" means nothing more or less than "bands Pitchfork reviews" these days, and the claim was never more true than last year: it seems 2009 was the moment this commercially fledgling category of music truly became an alternate pop universe. We can perhaps thank the cheeky, French lite-pop band Phoenix for this: their recent singles ("1901" and "Lisztomania"), shallow and utterly irresistible, were championed by critics until they found commercial success.
Like the Billboard charts, the indieverse is rife with trends that become too ubiquitous (Auto-Tune, meet chillwave), but its half-life is much briefer. The lo-fi fuzz proliferation of 2008 (led by bands like No Age and Vivian Girls), for instance, has exhausted itself a year later, and so it evolves in unlikely ways, incorporating world, dance, and/or ambient influences.
As other 2009 trends prepare adapt to genre fatigue, some newly touted '09 releases (and some on the early 2010 docket) point to ideas that look to become thoroughly exhausted in the new year. With that, let's do some trendspotting! Look for March's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas — which sets the stage for each year in indie — to prove me right or wrong.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND WILL CONTINUE TO BE DIVISIVE The most interesting thing about the African-influenced prep-pop sensations' forthcoming album, Contra (XL), is that it comes out next week and just leaked on Monday — a nearly unheard-of occurrence these days. Advance profiles suggest the band have expanded their repertoire a bit (polka rhythms?), but the last thing to expect from such a quaint, catchy group is a drastic change of pace. So, the haters will still hate, but the more interesting question is: will those who championed such a soft, if likable, debut album be up for defending more of the same?
SHITGAZE AND HYPNAGOGIC POP EVOLVE, AND MAYBE CONGEAL These two microgenres were the defining indie niches of 2009, and albums from both realms often sound like they were recorded underwater. Expect the harsh, lo-fi hiss of bands like Wavves and No Age to temper a bit, and move into a style akin to one of 2010's early buzz bands, New Jersey's Surfer Blood. Their Astro Coast (Kanine) sounds submerged, but its rudimentary power chords reach for mass appeal, and their Shins-y vocal stylings hint at no shortage of potential for sharp songcraft. The drowsy yet euphoric hypnagogic pop (or chillwave, or glo-fi) movement, meanwhile, was typified by groups like Animal Collective and Neon Indian last year. In 2010, Toro Y Moi emphasize the bass end of the waterlogged euphoria with their upcoming release, Causers of This (Carpark). Most auspicious of all: a couple of late-2009 breakouts, such as Ducktails and Washed Out, suggest both trends can exist together: their beat-driven bedroom recordings seem produced during narcotic-induced fantasies.
POP GETS SCRAPPIER If shitgaze's back-to-basics gospel is all wrought from guitar feedback and teenage angst, indie-pop's deceptive simplicity has shown signs of innovation lately. Micachu and the Shapes (with Jeweller, on Rough Trade, my favorite album of 2009) and Tune-Yards (with Bird-Brains, on 4AD) took cheap or broken instruments and unusual percussion (like glass bottles) to make music with familiar ingredients that, with the aid of some unique voices, sounded entirely new. We can hope more bands will raid their family attics to create music as singular and invigorating as this.