Stephen Merritt of Magnetic Fields

A friend and I were contemplating the other day that indie rockster snobs perpetuate their snobbery by sorting music into categories and sub-categories of genres. A demonstrative conversation: “Their recent album feels like a dream-pop reverie, fused with elements of shoegaze, slowcore, and noise-rock.” Which was met with a reply of “On the contrary! To me, it rings more of a post-grunge, post-punk milieu, with nuances of math-rock and twee.”

It’s enough to make your head spin, particularly if you’re more about actually listening to the music and less about making other people think you’re a musical elitist. But, it’s generally good to expand your vocab and be aware of your listening styles. That’s why I’m going to briefly introduce two genres near to my heart, give some recent/upcoming examples, and break down the barriers of pretension. If you don’t know the terms, you’ll learn something. If already know, you can squabble about my interpretation.

Lo-Fi

Literally low-fidelity (or lower quality) recordings. Some songs are lo-fi because of lack of proper equipment, while many are made this way for the raw, edgy effect. Often, lo-fi musicians favour simple arrangements of instrumentation, but there are branches which lean more toward the wall-of-sound (see next definition). Basically, it’s a hodge-podge genre. A few artists I would consider lo-fi are Guided by Voices, The Mountain Goats, Apples in Stereo, and the one I want to focus on – The Magnetic Fields.

The brainchild of Stephin Merritt, the MagFields are listed under “Indie Pop”, “Twee”, “Synth pop”, and a bunch of others, but since I’m writing this, I’m going to call it Lo-Fi. Using a variety of different vocalists (often Merritt’s bass, but also featuring female vocalists Susan Anway or Claudia Gonson, and many other guests), they delve in different aspects of life and comment with witty lightheartedness or dark satire. Power ballads, egocentric ponderings, silly melodies, they do it all. If you haven’t listened to the album 69 Love Songs and are feeling ambitious, give it a go. It’s a bit overwhelming (the album name is literal) but it’s up there on my list of all-time favourites. They’re releasing a new album – Distortion – in January, and I’m pretty psyched. Here’s an early leak from the disk, as well as an older gem.

The Magnetic Fields – Three-Way
The Magnetic Fields – When My Boy Walks Down the Street

Shoegaze

Distorted and fuzzy alternative rock, circa mid ‘80s to mid ‘90s. A sub-genre of Lo-Fi, it’s rumoured that shoegaze owes its name to the guitarists who stared intently at their guitar pedals near their feet while performing. Think whispered or unclear vocals and dreamy melodies. A few trailblazers in this “scene that celebrates itself” are The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cocteau Twins, and My Bloody Valentine (who are reuniting next year). More recent examples include The Radio Dept., Asobi Seksu, and my next feature – Young Galaxy.

This duo released their self-titled album at the beginning of the year. A member of the Arts & Crafts family, Young Galaxy represents a different side of the record label; instead of the traditional upbeat indie pop, they host mysterious lyrics, soft harmonies, and an overall dreamy feel. Right up my alley. Here’s the video for “Outside the City”.

Disclaimer – most of the information in this post was my opinion, not set fact. Please feel free to disagree with what categories I put bands into, or even with the fact that I categorized at all. Most bands fall into a bazillion genres anyway, and I couldn’t pick a favourite genre if I tried. Also, I left the picture grainy on purpose. It’s lo-fi too! Clever? Or too lazy to fix? Only I will know for sure.

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— , December 9, 2007    6 Comments
Comments:

young galaxy is an awesome band… i love the feel of their entire album… good call!

this “expand your indie music vocabulary” seems like a pretty good idea… fun read =)

— Rey, December 9, 2007

great post! love lo-fi.

— Sal, December 9, 2007

The Radio Dept. rules!

Daniel, December 10, 2007

I’m glad it was well-received! I was thinking about doing a musical dictionary post weekly.

— Bri, December 11, 2007

No! Everything is subjective and unclassifiable! Music is like an ocean! Fluid and amorphous. Stop straightjacketing musical philosophy with your “genres!”

jj ;) . . . I just got the feeling that this was the type of hippie comment you were trying to preemptively satisfy with that hilarious disclaimer of yours.

By the way, I also heart 69 Love Songs. I think that you, your friend and I would have charming discussions.

— S.D., December 12, 2007

lol, you SHOULD do a musical dictionary post weekly =P

do it! do it! do it!

— Rey, December 13, 2007