Various Artists – This is Indie Rock, Vol. 1

Various Artists
This is Indie Rock, Vol. 1

“This is indie rock.” That’s quite a claim. Indie rock, as people reading this hopefully know, is really just music that’s not on a major label. But more than that, it’s come to describe a kind of uber-genre, something that encompasses a host of others (usually possessing the indie- prefix). When those not in the know ask me how to define indie rock, I have a hard time explaining it. “You know it when you hear it,” is my usual answer, and it leaves them as confused as I.

When we last left Deep Elm, the label was offering bands in all the various emo genres with its Emo Diaries compilation series. Now that the 10-volume series has met its graceful ending, Deep Elm moves on to an even more all-encompassing label. Of course, this gives the Deep Elm folks a comfortable out: you may disagree about what is or isn’t emo, but how can you possibly say any of these bands aren’t, in fact, indie rock?

The label isn’t trying to define indie rock (thank goodness!). Instead, Deep Elm puts together a compilation of 12 tracks you won’t hear elsewhere, as the label continues its policy of making sure all tracks are exclusive to this release. However, while there was a loose connection between the Emo Diaries songs (they were various shades of emo, after all, and didn’t we all like it when Deep Elm put a slower, more unique track at the end or as a hidden track?), there’s really no connection between these songs other than that they are, in fact, indie-rock tracks by indie-rock bands, and most listeners will probably find at least something to like.

Things kick off with fun, crunchy power-pop of Jerusalem’s The Pit That Became a Tower’s “I Must Save the President.” We get another track of uptempo emo from Clair de Lune with some nice piano parts at its end, spastic, dancey music that seems all the rage these days from Dino Velvet, and up-beat straightforward rock from Ireland’s Throat. Siva’s “G” is pretty standard hardcore, and then we get the knock-offs: Lakota’s “So Simple” reminds me eerily of ex-Deep Elmsters Red Animal War, and The Kidcrash offers a dose of Cursive-esque emo.

More rock than indie-pop, “Indie Pop Song” by The Blind King is nonetheless a standout here, a bit ironic and a tad lo-fi. Similarly, the lo-fi singer/songwriter feel of Second Hand Stories’ “Frontiers” is a very pretty and calm song. Winter in Alaska offers a nice mid-tempo but powerful track as well with “Puzzle: Part One.” Another standout, “Rooms” by Leaving Rouge has hints of alt-country to its nicely flowing rock. Joanna Erdos’ torch song, “Silver and Gold,” feels completely out of place here, despite how nice this traditional-feeling song is.

The sub-title to this compilation, The Best Bands You’ve Never Heard, is probably fitting. There’s some very good bands here, and the average listener has probably never heard most of them. There’s even merely one Deep Elm band this time around, which means even Deep Elm fans may be surprised. Still, the label has always been adept at picking new and obscure talent from around the world, and this compilation, while not perfect on every track, has some surprisingly strong talent that I’ve never heard before. And that’s always something to get excited about.