Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Indie Schmindie

I’ve got a lot of time for groups of people, or organisations, who appropriate a derogatory term used to describe them, and describe themselves by it. A friend of mine is a Quaker, who are (or were) officially known as Young Friends originally. Now, giving your group a name that lame, you’re asking for a bit of a ribbing, and Quakers became known as such because they quaked. As in, shook. Not played lots of FPSs. Whatever you might think of Quakers, props to people who can take being laughed at and say “actually, you’re right, and we’re proud”. Words to that effect, anyway.

“Schmindie” has been a bit of a derogatory term used for the more, ehh, emotionally susceptible side of indie music. Ballads, songs about heartbreak, fey white men with acoustic guitars and the occasional electric. Generally a bit overwrought. Heck, there’s a lot of this kind of music, you know full well what I mean. I don’t mean the sort of stuff that Dom Passantino legendarily branded “Mondeo Pop”, stuff for 20something sales reps living in West London and engaging in ‘banter’ in an effort to fight the ongoing dreariness of their soulless existence.

Okay, that paragraph was just an excuse to shoehorn some Dom Passantino and some generalisations in. Sorry about that. But my point was, it’s high time that those making schmindie (and yes, there will be no more inverted commas for schmindie in this blogpost), those appreciating schmindie and everyone else, start, only if challenged, wearing it as a badge of honour. But the point of this isn’t to argue the case for a genre name, it’s to give a bit of love to an often-overlooked style of music.

Unlike a lot of my peers, when getting into music I eschewed the angry-teenager brand of Slipknot, RATM, Linkin Park and their (admittedly very wide-ranging) ilk in favour of the likes of Coldplay, Radiohead, Starsailor, Elbow and the like. To this day I’ll still maintain Parachutes is one of the greatest albums ever made, though at least common sense makes me realise the same isn’t true of Love Is Here. But I’m sure it’s that which gives me this affection for sensitive-soul, heart-on-sleeve, guitars-turned-up-to-5 kinda thing.

This was all sparked by putting Bell X1’s Music in Mouth on yesterday. Bell X1 always confused me, they’re a band who should’ve made it bigger in Britain than they did, yet their former lead singer, Damien Rice, made it fairly big with an album of near-unparalleled dreariness. Bell X1’s first two albums are schmindie par excellence, and have plenty a nod-along and plenty to stand on the side of a Pennine on a breezy summer’s day, emoting to. I say that specifically because track 10, In Every Sunflower, certainly soundtracked 2005 me’s just-been-broken-up-with-by-a-girl-going-to-stand-and-stare-into-the-middle-distance-and-wonder-what’s-it-all-about-now status. The line with the biggest impact? “I wouldn’t swap the pain, for never knowing you.” See what I mean? 19 year-old sensitive indie kid fodder.

Bell X1’s Tim Noonan pulls off a similar trick lyrically to Guy Garvey, in that there’s this undercurrent of wryness across Music in Mouth and its follow-up, Flock. I particularly like the line “I’m not over you, can I get back under”, the kind of tongue-in-cheek thing I was, again, thinking a lot in 2005. Elbow are unsurprisingly dead-good for this kind of slightly self-depracating schtick, in something like the wonderfully understated Not A Job, as a simple bass hook and acoustic line accompanies Guy Garvey singing “Words to make her stay, you said: ‘Leave me and the plants die’, a panicked smile across your face”.

Latterly, Frightened Rabbit have become king components of schmindie, as the sadly now-defunct Don’t Make Lists blog noted. Head Rolls Off is that wonderful combination of jangly guitars, overwrought vocals and hell-of catchy melodies that all the best schmindie has, along with grimly upbeat vocals. The break-up-tastic Good Arms Vs Bad Arms makes an endearing desperate point as a slightly overweight man suggests that because his exes arms fit all the way round him, they were made for him. It’s that kind of grim-faced optimism-cum-desperation which marks out the Rabbits.

There’s a mass of great schmindie. Andy Yorke’s band Unbelievable Truth managed a wonderfully understated version of schmindie with “Almost Here”, Snow Patrol flirted with it before they hit it big with Run and bigger with Chasing Cars (and mark the point where maybe schmindie meets Mondeo Pop). Delays added some synths and made You Need Colours, an incredibly underrated album. It always makes me sad that sensitive white boys with guitar get a bad rep from sneery look-at-me types. Granted we’re responsible for some utter shite like Longview and Haven (hint: if a band moves to Manchester to ‘try and make it’, they will be unspeakably dreadful), but c’mon. Every group is.

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