Indie music has grown to include so much. It’s not just music that is released on independent labels, but speaks to an aesthetic that deviates from the norm and follows its own weirdo heart. It can come in the form of rock music, pop, or folk. In a sense, it says as much about the people that are drawn to it as it does about the people that make it.
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MJ Lenderman – And The Wind (Live And Loose!)
From Wednesday’s masterful Rat Saw God to his solo breakthrough, last year’s Boat Songs, the Asheville songwriter MJ Lenderman has been on a hot streak. On his live album, And The Wind (Live And Loose!), Lenderman maintains his dizzying momentum. It perfectly captures the spirit of his live shows: rowdy bursts of guitar twang, noisy breakdowns, and locked-in, symbiotic performances. Boat Songs cuts like “Hangover Game” and “Dan Marino” take their country-fried arrangements a step further, and his latest single “Rudolph” gets an extended outro that nearly doubles its original length. Across this album’s 15 tracks, Lenderman reminds us why he’s one of indie rock’s best songwriters right now.
Kurt Vile – Back To Moon Beach
Leave it to Kurt Vile to make a roughly hour-long EP. The Philly indie rock songwriter has practically become synonymous with sprawling, dreamy twang. Similar to last year’s Watch My Moves and seminal records like Smoke Ring For My Halo and Wakin On A Pretty Daze, many of his songs far exceed the five-minute mark. His new EP, Back To Moon Beach, would qualify as a double album for some artists. Vile, however, likes to defy expectations, both in his music and his presentation. On songs like the cheerful cover of “Must Be Santa” and the drum machine-driven, gauzy “Like A Wounded Bird Trying To Fly,” Vile continues to surprise us in the best way. It’s hard to ask much more of songs this charming.
The Smile – “Wall Of Eyes”
Core Radiohead songwriters, vocalist Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood, have been keeping themselves occupied. But they’ve largely left Radiohead behind since 2016’s masterful A Moon Shaped Pool. The Smile, their pseudo-side project with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, seems to be their primary interest at this point. Last year’s excellent debut, A Light For Attracting Attention, will receive its follow-up this January, titled Wall Of Eyes. Alongside the announcement, they’ve shared its title track and opener. Its eerie sense of calm hits hardest in the chorus, as Yorke croons, “I try, but it don’t go away.” Although it’d be a shame to have Radiohead go away, we’re lucky to have a band that matches their distinct panache for ornate, mournful beauty.
Mannequin Pussy – “Sometimes”
Philly punk rockers Mannequin Pussy are three for three with the new singles from their upcoming album, I Got Heaven. Whereas the title track was acerbic and punchy and “I Don’t Know You” was a slow burn, “Sometimes” is a jangly, pop-inflected stomper that drives forward at a quick pace but relishes in its swooning textures. It’s a lovely blend of Mannequin Pussy’s various modes: snarling delivery; punishing drums; and rich guitar riffs.
Helado Negro – “I Just Want To Wake Up With You”
Roberto Carlos Lange, who records under the sobriquet Helado Negro, is known for his woozy grooves and soothing vocals. His latest preview of the forthcoming Phasor has plenty of both. As its name suggests, “I Just Want To Wake Up With You” is a paean to domesticity and settling in with a loved one. It sounds as cozy as a late Sunday morning spent in bed.
Julie Byrne – Julie Byrne With Laugh Cry Laugh
Over the summer, Buffalo songwriter Julie Byrne released her meditative, delicate, and groundbreaking third album, The Greater Wings. Now, she’s already back with more material, this time alongside Taryn Blake Miller and Emily Fontana. The four-track EP, aptly called Julie Byrne With Laugh Cry Laugh, is as gut-wrenchingly astounding as you’d expect. From the drum-free, latticed opener “’22” to the light finger-picking on a cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” we can only hope that Laugh Cry Laugh isn’t a one-and-done collaboration.
Mo Troper – Troper Sings Brion
Mo Troper isn’t a stranger to covers. In 2021, he covered The Beatles’ Revolver in full, and, back in 2014 with his old band Your Rival, he reimagined Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” as a lost track from Weezer’s Pinkerton. However, Troper Sings Brion is one of his most fully realized visions yet. Composed of 11 Jon Brion demos as interpreted by the Portland indie rocker, Troper Sings Brion breathes new life into the deepest of deep cuts and presents them to a new audience. Just as last year’s MTV struck a shrewd balance between noisy discord and hook-driven power-pop, Troper’s readings of Brion’s rarities, uniting dissonance and harmony, come across as the purest labor of love.
Madi Diaz – “Don’t Do Me Good”
On Madi Diaz’s last full-length album, 2021’s History Of A Feeling, the Nashville singer-songwriter chronicled the dissolution of a long-term romance. Scheduled for release this February, Weird Faith examines the insecurities that arise at the start of a new one. “Don’t Do Me Good,” her duet with country fixture Kacey Musgraves, documents these ups and downs in vivid detail. “Every time I walk away, I stay, you knew I would,” they sing together over a swaying, 6/8 shuffle. It all comes to a climax toward the end when Diaz and Musgraves belt in unison, leaving all their feelings on the table.
Ali Sethi and Nicolás Jaar – Intiha
Ali Sethi found immense success with his 2022 single, “Pasoori.” It was so ubiquitous, in fact, that it was one of the most Googled songs of the year. Rather than following up on commercial hit potential, though, the Pakistani artist has opted for the freeform, amorphous compositions on Intiha, a collaborative album with electronic producer Nicolás Jaar. Recontextualizing Jaar’s 2020 solo album, Telas, Sethi intersperses Jaar’s atmospheric tracks with extemporaneous vocals rooted in Urdu poetry. Structurally, Sethi adopts ghazals, a Sufi artform concerned with love and loss. Intiha, consequently, is an exercise in reconceptualization, using extant blueprints for newfound expression.
Water From Your Eyes — Crushed By Everyone
Experimental pop duo Water From Your Eyes released one of the best albums of the year, Everyone’s Crushed. That album’s commitment to deconstruction elevated Rachel Brown’s and Nate Amos’ levels of delightful absurdity to wondrous new heights. Somehow, they’ve taken that penchant to an even further extreme; they’ve handed over the tools to other like-minded artists, including Nourished By Time, Mandy, Indiana, and Sword II. Billed as a remix album, Crushed By Everyone delivers on its namesake. From Mandy, Indiana’s clubby rendition of “Remember Not My Name” to Amos’ own brutal, sludgy take on “Barley,” Water From Your Eyes’ singular vision of inscrutable fun cuts through the clutter, even when other musicians take over the boards.