The Mouse That Roared

This year has been good to “Indie” bands so far. “Indie” is kind of an innacurate term — despite the implication that it is music made by acts on an “independent” label, many of the bigger artists who are purported to play that style of music are signed to major labels. It’s kind of like “Alternative” was 15 years ago — a generic catch-all that says nothing about the music itself, but is familiar enough of a term that people get the idea. Not pointing fingers here — I’m guilty of throwing the term around as well. It’s much more efficient to say Guided By Voices were a great Indie Rock band, versus saying, “GBV were a great British Invasion-influenced Pop Rock band with abstractly poetic lyrics and a distinct early sound that was trademarked by the band’s use of lower fidelity home-recording techniques.” But now, according to chart-makers and other genre definers, “Alternative” is used to describe the lunk-head Rock created by the likes of American Idol reject Daughtry and Papa Roach. And “Indie” bands can record for multi-billion-dollar corporations.

Anyway, yesterday it was announced that popular “Indie on a major” band Modest Mouse (that’s their latest freaky video, for the single “Dashboard,” above) scored the No. 1 position on the Billboard album charts by selling around 129,000 copies of their new album. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is a great record — imaginative, a little challenging and still oddly catchy as hell (Johnny Marr’s addition to the band is surprisingly stealth; his chameleon-like abilities on guitar make it hard to tell who’s playing what, so it’s hard to gauge his influence, if there was any at all). In other words, not your typical chart-buster. It’s refreshing to know that there are still a lot of people out there starved for good music.

Albums by The Arcade Fire and The Shins also made strong chart entries this year, both coming in at No. 2. Those records’ impressive sales were even more heart-warming — Modest Mouse’s No. 1 feeds the Sony/Epic Records machine, but the success of The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible should help the truly independent label Merge Records sign more great bands and get more great artists heard. Likewise, Sub Pop is also a label known for its consistent quality, so The Shins’ album might just pay for the label to dig up a few more underground gems deserved of a bigger audience.

The bottom line is these were three fantastic albums that might have been lost in the shuffle five years ago (thank the Internet?). It’s encouraging that people are hearing them, no matter what company is putting them in stores.

— Mike Breen

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