Saturday, 18 April 2009

American indie pop and folk music

I am back to blogging regularly now. It is such a great form of procrastination.
Today I am looking towards America for musical inspiration. Firstly, a lot has been said about the sensible lyrics of Sufjan Stevens, and while I cannot get enough of his music (he even made a brilliant interpretation of traditional Christmas songs which I might come back to on a more appropriate occasion) I think he is getting overexposed in various media forms, which might tire me after a while. 

I thought I would bring you guys a song of his that has not been played as much on the radio: Pittsfield is a tiny village located in the state of Illinois, and is one of many songs about the America that is not always portrayed by the media, the America of normal people's lives. Sufjan sings about the small bits of life with a social-realistic tone: The loss of childhood friends in the Gulf War (Pittsfield), the lives of mass-murders (John Wayne Gacy Jr.), losing a friend to bone cancer and the tenderness of the first caress(Casimir Pulaski Day), the blinkering lights of the metropolis (Chicago), ... He pretty much touches on what it means to be American in the good sense. There is a lot of material on the exploration of the human condition in the US. I see him a bit as the Annie Leibovitz of music.

Sufjan spoke about this song in an interview: "The most personal one is "Pittsfield". That one's based on a lot of memories from my childhood, and I sort of transplanted them into this miserable little town in Illinois. Pittsfield is very similar to some of the small towns we grew up around in Northern Michigan." In the song he sings about a child being neglected by his mother. There is a recurrent theme of neglect in his music. Sufjan sings about the families we do not hear about normally: The dysfunctional, unhappy ones. It is worth listening to. 

The other recurrent theme of his music is Christianity. Sufjan is very open about his beliefs, having made covers for most traditional Christian ballads like Amazing Grace  and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. While I am non-religious I really find his interpretation of these songs intriguing. There is such honesty in his music, and his use of banjo gives it that extra edge which makes them great works of art. 

For a more lively band I turn to Mates of State. A Kansas-based duo consisting of the married couple Kori and Jason. Their indie rock is joyful. The vocals provided by Kori are strong and the lyrics are uplifting. 
Highlights: The song Get Better whose video has a Donnie Darko feel over itself with the recurrence of the bunny outfit. Do not read too much into the song. It is cheerful, that's all.

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