This should be called You Don’t Belong on the Radio.
It’s time for songs again, but I wanted to shake things up a little again and not just complain about the terrible mainstream, but take a look what you find outside it. This definition is fishy since “indie music” is not as not-mainstream as it used to be, but still, music that not necessarily only strives to make money and get into the charts is often very different. Almost needless to say, this is mostly the kind of music I’m listening to. One thing you’ll notice is that the lyrics often are much less clear to interpret. As a resource I used the site CampusCharts, which always has a good mix of new indie songs that people can vote on. The charts are from the week 16 of 2015.
#2 The National – Sunshine on My Back
The National is one of my favorite bands, but their lyrics (by Matt Berninger) are often very dark and with not much hope. They are also authentic and don’t waste their time with illusions. The song about a woman named Tina leads up to a kind of climax, in which she gives a response to the narrator:
She says "After today then there's nothing you owe me
But I'm so glad that you came, I needed someone who loves me
But just don't try to talk yourself into this love
And sleep like a baby while I'm staying up
It's as much what you say as it is what you don't
You can't try to stay, you either will or you won't."
While most normal love songs just deal with romantic fantasies and extremes, this is a good example of a realistic portrayal of love or relationship. It’s messy, it’s unclear, it’s not just good or bad, it’s always ambiguous. It also talks of the illusion love can be, something you “talk yourself into”, making it hard to know the difference between self-illusion and real feelings.
The chorus goes
Sunshine on my back
Is the only kind I lack
Sunshine in my brain
Is the lonely kind of pain
It's the sunshine
Of a lonely mind
This is similar to the desolate mindset we get in mainstream songs, but there’s some kind of self-awareness that most other songs lack. Complaining about a stressful and trying to escape it, is one thing, but being aware of your psyche is another. Still, this says a lot about how people feel in our culture, lonely, full of pain, hopeless.
#3 Will Butler – Anna
I’m not a big fan of Will Butler’s solo album or this song, but it has some interesting, slightly cryptic lyrics. It’s the story of the titular Anna, getting up in the morning, working hard for her money, but the song asks her if that’s really worth it.
Hey, little Anna, you're the one
Rising before that lazy sun
Cross all the numbers off your list
I never knew it'd be like this
Hey, little Anna, what's the move?
I can't believe the things you do
Hey, little Anna, look my way
What's gonna be the price we pay
For the money?
I like the lyrics really much, much more than the song. They’re smart in describing her daily routine and subtle in questioning it.
#4 Jamie XX (feat. Romy) – Loud Places
This is a break-up song that somehow neither features the desperation nor the meanness of conventional break-up songs. It’s a simple story, but reading the lyrics makes me aware how different it is from other songs. It’s nothing really special, but I really appreciate how the narrator simply wonders why she wasn’t able to give her ex what he wants. It’s sad and there is heartbreak, for sure, but it’s not the end of the world. This song feels, I’m sorry to say it, mature. As a song, I don’t like it as much as Jamie XX’s other songs because it’s too much like The XX for me, but it sounds relatively mainstream!
#6 Hot Chip – Need You Now
This doesn’t sound like an indie song at all (and I don’t like it much) and the lyrics aren’t really that deep either, but they are still intriguing.
Tired of being myself
Caught up in this world
That’s standard misery we’ve seen in countless other mainstream songs. It’s not specific, it is just the common feeling of dislike for yourself and everything.
Never dreamed we would belong
In a world, a world that's just gone wrong
Now it’s the world that’s wrong, which makes it even more miserable, but at least gets away from self-blame, which could indicate a more critical view of society.
And if we try to stand alone
We'll be playing with a force beyond control
Our faces pressed against the glass
In the knowledge you belong to us
And suddenly we’re in Radiohead-like “authority-society-culture screws you” territory. Those last lines are great. Not specific, sure, but they spell out that fighting against a world you don’t like is not really appreciated and often punished by the ones in power. Okay, not the most original idea in the world, but I still like it. If only the song would fit.
That’s it already. For the other songs I either didn’t find the lyrics or they didn’t give me anything to write about. I enjoyed doing it indie style this time, but do you think this was worth the digression? Let me know.