indie

'That Song You Sing For The Dead'

BIBLICAL LAMENT includes both pleas to God for help and mournful dirges. Sometimes they are rooted in individual travails and grief, other times in anguish for those crushed by injustice or war.

The psalmist and the prophets dig deep into visceral images of bodily suffering—and stretch up, out, yearning to find symbols and metaphors in nature that might capture the mercy and presence of a God who, the psalmist isn’t afraid to say, is sometimes a bit elusive.

The album Carrie & Lowell is indie musician Sufjan Stevens’ multifaceted lament: For a mother, Carrie, he lost at least twice—to mental illness, addiction, and abandonment when he was a child and to cancer when he was a man. For the grief that surprised him after her death. For his inability, as he sings to his mother, to “save you from your sorrow,” hinting at that lingering, impossible guilt felt by so many children of troubled parents. Stevens reaches no tidy resolution in the course of the work (although early on, in the first song, he does offer that most basic, difficult, and saving grace: “I forgive you, mother”).

So why would you want to listen to something that speaks of so much pain? For starters, these are exquisitely spare, beautiful, and haunting folk-not-quite-rock songs. Stevens’ gift for hook and melody here is distilled, deceptively delicate, carried by few instruments and subtle effects. Layered vocals and harmonies swell up on a bridge or carry a song wordlessly to the end, like waiting choruses of angels, or ghosts.

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Animal Collective: ‘With It’

David Portner of Animal Collective. Brandon Hook / Sojourners.

Oddly enough, whenever I think about eternal life, Animal Collective come to mind.

That might — well, almost certainly will — need some clarification because, as many Christians might be quick to point out, shouldn’t Jesus be the first person that comes to mind, or maybe living on some clouds in a golden city or something?

Yes and no. What comes to mind when I think about eternal life is painted by Frederick Buechner’s entry on the subject in his book Wishful Thinking, which I studied for a class in college. Buechner takes religious terms and eloquently and poetically explores what they might mean.

Stornoway: Hopeful and Honest

Photo courtesy of Stornoway

Stornoway deliver with hopeful songs about life, love, and everything in between. Photo courtesy of Stornoway

I first got wind of Stornoway back in 2011 when Izzy Westbury was president of the Oxford Union during the Michaelmas term of 2011 at Oxford University while studying abroad. The group of Oxford natives were Izzy’s favorite band at the time, and she made sure to give them a chance to play that I regretfully passed up to grab a pint with some friends.

So when the opportunity arose to see Stornoway in Washington, D.C., envelope myself in Oxford nostalgia, and enjoy some good tunes, I couldn’t pass it up.

And Stornoway delivered with hopeful, honest songs about life, love, and everything in between. Delightful is probably the best word to describe their music and the experience of seeing them live. It’s like taking a deep, refreshing breath. The British quartet mix elements of beach boys-esque pop with fleet foxes’ harmonies and a low fi, organic feel.

Sojo Stories: The Last Bison

Brandon Hook/Sojourners

The Last Bison talked with Sojourners about music, creativity, and God. Brandon Hook/Sojourners

Chesapeake, Virginia-based folk band The Last Bison talked with Sojourners about music, creativity, and God before their show in Washington, D.C. a while back. Be sure to listen to their recently released debut album Inheritance and catch them while they're on tour in the U.S.! Their music is definitely worth a listen.

Local Natives and Salvation

Photo courtesy of Jareed / Flickr

fresh, catchy indie rock laden with eclectic beats. Photo courtesy of Jareed / Flickr

Hipsters. Not gonna lie, that was one of the first words that came to mind when Local Natives took the stage at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., on Friday. I wasn’t sure whether it was guitarist Ryan Hahn’s floral skinny jeans, the luscious mustache of singer/guitarist Taylor Rice, or singer/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer’s flannel — buttoned all the way up, which seems to be the latest amendment to hipster fashion these days— or all of the above.

But then again, almost every young person these days seems to have absorbed some of the styles characteristic of hipsterdom, and Local Natives seem to do so in an unpretentious way. They’re cool. And, more importantly, their music is awesome.

Sojo Session: Branches

Our friends and up-and-coming musicians Branches trekked all the way from California and stopped by our office in D.C. last week to play a couple of their songs during their East Coast tour! 

Their songs explore the ideas of doubt, faith, loneliness, love, and above all, hope for life as it was meant to be.

Best friends turned band-mates, the lady and gentlemen of Branches are an independent, self-writing and self-producing collective. Birthed in a living room in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 2010, Tyler, Natalie, Jacob, Mitch, Tyler, and Mike have since spent their time together making friends, playing shows, and writing and recording the songs for their EPs ("O, Light!", "Cabin", "Covers", "Songs For Christmas") and their full-length ("Thou Art The Dream", released 2/12).

ICYMI: Andrew Bird's 'Hands of Glory'

Courtesy of Andrew Bird's Facebook page.

'Hands of Glory' sees the indie star engage with stripped down blues and country tunes. Courtesy of Andrew Bird's Facebook page.

If you were overwhelmed by all that election business, you might have forgotten that October just happened, and with it came a new release from one of my personal favorite musicians, Andrew Bird.

Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird’s latest record and companion to March’s Break it Yourself, is the product of a pair of recording sessions prompted by an immense response to Bird’s “old-time” sets on recent tours.

Reinterpreting songs from Break It Yourself and featuring covers of classic country tunes, these “old-time” performances find Bird and his full band playing to a single microphone with an entirely acoustic setup.

Drawing inspiration from these sets, Hands of Glory features two brand new original tracks, a new interpretation of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and covers of Van Zandt, the Handsome Family, Alpha Consumer and others.

The results are fantastic.

Jens Lekman: Why You Should Check out Swedish Indie Pop

Alberto Garcia, Flickr http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Jens Lekman came to the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. last Friday. Alberto Garcia, Flickr http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by

Jens Lekman is a storyteller.

Wait, Jens who? How do you pronounce that?

Jens (pronounced “Yens”) Lekman is a witty, hopelessly romantic Swedish musician from a suburb of Gothenburg.

Lekman was at the 9:30 club in D.C. last Friday — armed with a small acoustic guitar that fuels his unique indie pop style. Occasionally he reached over and pressed the pads of his sampler, cuing thumping bass accompaniment and flurries of strings to compliment his smooth voice, violinist, bassist, drummer, and pianist.

While he may not be on top of the iTunes album charts, Jens (I feel like we’re on a first name basis simply because he was so relaxed and open at the show) is definitely worth a listen, whether it’s at home, in the car, on the go, or — especially — in concert.

Freelance Whales Evolve on 'Diluvia'

Charlie Gross / Tellallyourfriendspr.com

Freelance Whales' sophomore album, Diluvia, hits shelves today. Charlie Gross / Tellallyourfriendspr.com

Battlestar Galactica—not the first thing you think of while mining the vast array of influences on an indie rock record. Even more surprising might be Carl Sagan’s The Cosmos or the History Channel’s Ancient Alien Theory. But all three shows played vital parts in inspiring Freelance Whales’ newest record Diluvia.

“All three of those shows have an abundance of emotional storytelling that we just found really inspiring,” said Chuck Criss, who plays banjo, bass, synthesizer, glockenspiel, harmonium, acoustic and electric guitar, and provides vocals for the band. “[But] I don't want to give the impression that we made a Bowie sci-fi record.”

While they may not have set out to make another soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the sci-fi influences are definitely apparent on Diluvia, particularly in the twitchy electronic sounds that open and close most of the album’s songs as well as the ambient, spacey atmosphere permeating Diluvia. Both are a far cry from the quintet from the Queens’ opening album, Weathervanes (2009), which they described as “layered, textured pop music.

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