For this new edition of the Indie Playlist, contributors were asked to write about songs they can’t get out of their heads. The results: indie rock, Australian psychedelic rock, Halloween rock, even some T Swift. Oh, and ABBA on marimba. Listen at tinyurl.com/y6kruasy.
‘Certainty,’ Big Thief
One of my favorite times is the transition from summer to fall. Traffic on Route 6 speeds up; the number of forgotten shoes in the roadway goes down. My music preferences change with the seasons, too. The overall tempo of my playlists slows, and the sound becomes sparser.
This recently released single by Big Thief was written and recorded during a multi-day power outage at a small studio in upstate New York. To power the four-track tape recorder, members of the band ran a wire outside to a truck’s cigarette lighter.
The song is a good match for the changing seasons. Adrianne Lenker’s voice gives the feeling of warmth traveling in the direction of cold. The lyrics track the waning relationship between the speaker and their love interest. In fact, the song’s creators, Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek, were once married but remained in the band after divorcing. This could help explain the song’s in-between energy. Three consecutive lines in the second verse begin with the words “Maybe I love you.” —Cam Blair
‘O.N.E.,’ King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
Australian band King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard is known for its prolific output. The band has released 18 studio albums since forming in 2010, including five in 2017 alone. “O.N.E.” is a song from the album LW, released earlier this year.
The band has the incredible ability to seamlessly swing from psychedelic rock and speed metal to world, electronic, jazz, and folk, all the while sounding like the same band. Its strength is constant creative reinvention.
LW is its third album to feature microtonal guitar. Microtonal tuning — uncommon in Western music — uses extra frets to play “notes between the notes.” The effect is a sound reminiscent of Turkish or Indian music. Over the galloping sound of two drummers laying the bedrock, three guitarists create a swirl of notes. The vocals exist in a kind of cartoonish parallel world of “The Gizzverse.” But the lyrics are not the reason I listen. It’s the music that carries me, and as a coping mechanism throughout Covid, King Gizz is my go-to band. —André van der Wende
‘All Too Well,’ Taylor Swift
During college, I partook in a form of snobbery that I hope, by now, I’ve properly extinguished. My friends and I would set up camp at the library: laptops, juiced up; attention, laser-focused; minds, sharpened not for scholarly discourse — but for Spotify spelunking.
We hunted for undercurrents. No, not the pre-made, Spotify-sanctioned playlist of the same name: “undercurrents,” spelled out in all-lowercase, to evoke alternative vibes. To us, “alternative” was already too mainstream. Alex G? Not with hits well past the millions. Big Thief? Obama listens to them. Vampire Weekend? Please.
We put a premium on obscurity, enshrining bands like the groovy, Providence-based Orange Passion Guava. Or 10” Personal Pizza, the creators of the modest banger “No Name,” which has rung in just over 1,700 plays. We showcased our finds in public playlists and paraded them through our activity feeds.
But seasonally, I’d succumb to Taylor Swift. The pangs for “All Too Well” usually strike now-ish, in mid-September. I’d descend into Private Mode, quadruple-checking that my “tay sway favs” playlist (all lowercase, for my own dignity) was shielded from public scrutiny. And I’d indulge in, God forbid, pop music. —Jasmine Lu
‘Moonlight Sway,’ the Vampps
“Moonlight Sway,” the opening track of the Vampps’ eponymous debut album, perfectly sets the tone for this rock ’n’ roll musical, written by Provincetown’s own ghoul on the loose, Ryan Landry. Thunder cracks, a guitar howls, and Landry’s tale of a glamorous vampire cult begins.
“Children of the night, can’t you hear the call?” beckons the Vampp. The melody is chilling and electric; the choruses beltable.
I was lucky enough to attend the Vampps’ album listening party at the Old Colony Tap back in August. It started promptly at 11 p.m. — vampire time, of course. As I sat and listened in the corner bay window, an eerie fog descended over the monument and ushered creatures of the night to Commercial Street. “Become one of us … come join the feast.” And that’s exactly what I did. —Hannah Trott
‘Lay All Your Love on Me,’ Caroline Shaw
Take the chorus of ABBA’s hit song. Slow it down to a point of nonrecognition. Add marimba. Overlay harmonized vocals.
This is essentially the concept behind Caroline Shaw’s reimagining of “Lay All Your Love on Me.” Shaw is a contemporary classical composer who took the world by storm when, in 2013, she became the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for music at age 30. The song is a collaboration with New York-based percussion quartet Sō Percussion.
It begins with a solo marimba introduction. “Don’t go wasting your emotion,” Shaw sings, each syllable carefully enunciated. The arrangement doesn’t waste anything.
Each verse is interspersed with silence. Two additional voices enter, slightly out of time. With each repetition, more marimba is added. Shaw’s melody becomes more melismatic until it seems to have gone through every permutation. The tension rises until all voices are nearly yelling. Then it all cuts away. Somehow, Shaw is able to transform a more or less upbeat song into something raw and quietly tragic. —Saskia Maxwell Keller