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Five Indie/Contemporary Folk Tracks You Might Want to Listen to Today

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros performing at the Brixton Academy in London in 2014. Please don't bother counting the number of band members - they are in a perpetual transient state. Image courtesy of Drew de F Fawkes (CC BY 2.0)

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros performing at the Brixton Academy in London in 2014. Please don't bother counting the number of band members - they are in a perpetual transient state. Image courtesy of Drew de F Fawkes (CC BY 2.0)

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At its core, contemporary folk music narrates stories. The genre doesn’t make declarations of love like pop, drag you into the depths of melancholia like jazz, or trigger corporeal cognitions like rock and roll. Instead, folk delves into present reality, the inescapable past, and tread precariously on the fine line between tradition and sophistication. So if you’re in the mood for some contemporary folk this weekend, check out the five incredible indie tracks below.

Blitzen Trapper – Love The Way You Walk Away

Blitzen Trapper, an experimental Portland-based folk/country band, has a way of drawing out long lost memories and emotions. I used to wonder whether it was a calculated or an instinctive approach. My question was answered after reading this very honest and stark piece by lead vocalist and guitarist Eric Early. He had a rough start in life, and was homeless for the longest time, so when he speaks about loneliness and pain, the authenticity rings loud and true. This self-taught songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist, and harmonicist is as genuine as they come. There is a rare honesty to his music that hits you right in the gut.

Man on Fire – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

First off, there is no Edward Sharpe. He’s a character, a persona if you may, created by lead vocalist Alex Ebert during his battle against drug addiction. Secondly, don’t try to count the number of band members. Aside from Ebert and the now-departed Jade Castrinos, the number of members fluctuates between 4 and 12 on any given day. Thirdly, Dwight Shrute’s milkmaid girlfriend, Esther Bruegger (Nora Kirkpatrick, in real life), plays the accordion in the band, and trust me, she looks resplendent.

True to its folksy psychedelic hippie roots, Man on Fire (from the album Here, which The Rolling Stones ranked as the 7th best of 2012), is dreamy, poignant and melancholic.

Okkervil River – Lost Coastlines

Once described by a music critic as a “literary rock band”, the band’s name is taken from a poetic short story by Russian writer Tatyana Tolstaya (yes, she is related to the legendary Tolstoy), which narrates the tale of a man’s romance with a singer by the banks of Okkervil River in Saint Petersburg, Russia. With that introduction, you just know their lyrics will be several notches above the usual tripe.

Like Bob Dylan, Jewel and Joni Mitchell, this indie rock outfit’s tracks are little stories. From the tragic tale of 70s gay glam rocker Jobriath to the existential crisis of a porn star, Okkervil River is not for the casual listener. But if you’re in the mood for expressive and colorful lyrics like, “Lovers in their sheets, dreaming lovers sweetly turn in their sleep all under sunbeams,” then you’re in luck.

The Bootleggers feat. Emmylou Harris – Cosmonaut

The legendary Nick Cave teamed up with a few musician friends to form The Bootleggers in 2012 to write the soundtrack for Lawless, an excellent flick based on Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County. Incredibly, they pulled it off and their music has all the trappings of early 20th-century country/folk music. The icing on the cake though was Cosmonaut, an amazingly rich and picturesque love song sung by the inimitable Emmylou Harris. You could practically fall in love with her voice here, despite her being a grandma and all.

Meg Baird – The Land Turned Over

The talented descendant of folk legend Isaac Greer weaves melody and poetry to produce gorgeous music that stirs your very soul. The Land Turned Over is an ode to her Appalachian mountain music roots.

 

Song of the day: Various Cruelties – If It Wasn’t For You

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