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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Top 10 Lo-Fi Bands

Is Lo-Fi a genre or a state of mind? Well it has it's own section on Amazon, so clearly it must be a genre, but it's so much more than a style of music. Lo-Fi artists have limited similarities in their style of music other than it's indie-ness, but all record on old or purposely sub-standard equipment to gain that sense of chin stroking authenticity so often missing on modern pop songs. It's more of an attitude and a throwback to the days when independent music was truly independent and not owned by Simon Cowell. The following chart lists my current top 10 Lo-Fi artists; go dig them out and enjoy...

10. Iron and Wine

Folky, camp acoustic complexity characterise the work of Samuel Beam (aka Iron and Wine). I have to say I'm not completely convinced by his offerings and I have to be in the right mood, but a big bushy beard is always a great thing to have in the Lo-Fi scene. 'Our Endless Numbered Days' is an excellent starting point.

9. The Olivia Tremor Control

One of the original members of the Elephant 6 collective, Olivia Tremor Control provide off the wall, Lo-Fi indie to the masses. Although Jeff Mangum was a member, the band favoured the more experimental approach of Bill Doss and Will Cullen Hart in producing the semi-classic album 'Dusk at Cubist Castle.' You've really got to be in the right kind of mood to enjoy this, but interesting and different nonetheless. Or rubbish, depending on your perspective.

8. Modest Mouse

There's a touch of the Talking Heads about Modest Mouse and they're definitely an acquired taste, but well worth the effort. Fronted by Isaac Brock, the band recently collaborated with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr but it's their 2004 album 'Good News for People Who Love Bad News' that really does the business. It's funky, spikey, folky, and has a great album cover.

7. Sebadoh

Eric Gaffney and the bass player from Dinosaur Jnr Lou Barlow combined to form seminal Lo-Fi pioneers Sebadoh as long ago as 1996. Their particular brand of mellow vocal indie rock sounds as fresh today as it did in the last century. For Festive Fifty fans check out the video for 'Rebound' which reached number 14 in 1994.

 6. Pavement

Indie stalwarts Pavement stayed true to their Lo-Fi values by staying with independent labels throughout their career. The sound is quirky american indie with a touch of alt-country thrown in now and again. Slanted and Enchanted was a more grungy offering but I always favour 1994's excellent 'Crooked Rain Crooked Rain' LP which is polished and confident but retains the spirit of Lo-Fi.

5. Guided by Voices

The prolific Robert Pollard is the man behind Lo-Fi behemoths Guided by Voices. Masters of the two minute, four track pop song GBV operate across a range of genres, but always with that independent edge. At present I'm accumulating their LP's but my favourite so far was their final offering 'Half Smiles of the Decomposed'; a folk rock journey with 'camp' acoustic tendencies.

4. Okkervil River

Great lyrics, folky overtones and a dark, dark atmosphere characterise the work of Okkervil River. Again it's an acquired taste but the bleak passion soon wins you over and the songs are stuck in your brain. 'Black Sheep Boy' is an absolute classic and is up for review on Into the Valley... in the near future.

3. Beck

Where would the world be without Beck Hansen? It all seemed liked one hit wonder territory when 'Loser' was released, but the album 'Odelay' launched him into the stratosphere of Lo-Fi artists. Undoubtedly a talented and important artist, Beck can just once in a while produce a song that is pure genius. I have to say I prefer 2005's 'Guero' for some reason.

2. The Shins

It's hard to say what the Shins sound like. It's a unique mix of indie, folk, rock and idiosyncratic lyrics and vocal delivery. On first listen the sound can be a little under-whelming but it gnaws away at your subconscious with layers of complexity and soon you're hooked. 'Chutes Too Narrow' is jam packed with quality numbers and is the best entry level LP.

1. Neutral Milk Hotel

'In The Aeroplane over the Sea' is my favourite album in this and possibly any other genre. Jeff Mangum's voice is near un-listenable on the first few plays of the album and has a certain finger in the ear, folky tinge to it, but allow time to absorb the melodies and lyrics and you'll be convinced. Apparently a concept album based on the life of Anne Frank the lyrics are dark, powerful and most of the time incomprehensible, but are balanced by a varied and eclectic range of instrumentation. It's sold enough copies now to be anything but obscure, however it's an album everyone should own; admittedly 95% of them will hate it, but they need to hear it anyway. Warning; remove all fine crystal glass from your house when listening to this as when Magnum goes for the high notes it could turn nasty. Enjoy!

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