Another new category this year, indie folk is a genre of music that I admit to not being experienced in reviewing, but one that I greatly enjoy nonetheless. 2008 didn’t have an Iron & Wine for me to obsess over, but there were a still of a number of great indie albums with folk influences to warrant its own category. Whether you’re a fan of softer indie rock, traditional folk, or even someone who has already become a fan of indie folk, here are recommendable albums that at least vaguely fit into the genre.
For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver’s debut is a different kind of indie folk album than most, but it’s also one of the best albums in the genre. From the lyrical poetry to the beautiful atmosphere Bon Iver creates, For Emma, Forever Ago is an emotionally charged album that is truly something to behold. It’s not a perfect album by any means, but the sheer beauty of the record is something that any fan of music should appreciate. If you or someone you know is looking for an album that is both original and beautiful, For Emma, Forever Ago is as good of a choice as any. This is one of the best debuts of 2008, as well as a special album in its own right.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Lie Down in the Light
Carried to Dust
While Calexico isn’t necessarily indie folk, it has enough folk influences to earn its place on the list, and an appearance by Iron & Wine certainly helps its cause. Carried to Dust is also somewhat of an inconsistent album, but its standout moments are some of the year’s best. The single “Two Silver Trees” is mesmerizing in its beauty, and while the rest of the album doesn’t quite reach that same level, it’s still a solid album worthy of a strong recommendation. There are moments of experimentation as well, and it’s when Calexico breaks from their usual sound when this album works best. Carried to Dust ranges from mediocre to great, but there are more than enough moments of greatness to warrant a spot on your holiday shopping list.
Caught in the Trees
Damien Jurado has been one of the most underrated folk musicians for some time, and while Caught in the Trees is a few standout tracks short of being a masterpiece, it's another very good album to go with his other greats. This is an album that strays from Jurado’s usual darkness and subtleties, and instead focuses on simplicity. Caught in the Trees is certainly a simple album, but it’s also one of that could not be done by any other musician. This is not your typical indie folk album, as while beauty and simplicity are its strengths, the way the lyrics compliment the simple instrumentals works in ways that are rarely used in folk. Everything about Caught in the Trees is simple, except how it comes together, and it’s album that any fan of folk or indie music should pick up.
Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us
It’s hard to talk about Death Vessel without mentioning that the vocalist of this folk project is in fact a male. While that may not seem like a strange quality for an indie folk band, it’s quite hard to believe after listening to him sing. Joel Thibodeau is his name, and while his falsetto vocals can be somewhat of a distraction, Death Vessel’s music as a whole is actually very relaxing. Like one would expect from indie folk, there’s not much that's particular complex here, but again, that’s part of what makes Death Vessel such a relaxing and beautiful project. The vocals are soothing once you get used to them, and the lyrics are decent enough, although no where near the level of Iron & Wine or Bon Iver. Still, Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us is a soothing folk record that fans of simple relaxing music enjoy, even if it's a moderate step down from their debut.
It’s astonishing that Fleet Foxes’ self titled album is their first full length release. In a year that contained some of the most original music I’ve ever heard, the Fleet Foxes have released one of the most original, polished, and overall best albums of 2008. This album is guaranteed to be in my top 10 list, and could very well be called the best album released all year. This little indie band from
House with No Home
More of a pure folk album than any other on this list, Horse Feather’s House with No Home is a unique record that I’m proud to say comes from the Northwest. House with No Home is every bit as beautiful as the other indie folk albums found in this guide, but there’s far more here musically than just a poet with a guitar. Banjos, violins, cellos, and female vocals add a great deal of musical variety to the typical indie folk sound, and anyone looking for a true folk album will find one here. House with No Home is another simple yet beautiful record lyrically, but it’s also an album that isn’t afraid to try new things. It’s not only the closest thing to a pure folk record you’ll find in indie music, but it’s also one of the most original albums in the genre.
While metalheads know that
Sun Kil Moon
In terms of originality, Sun Kil Moon’s April pales in comparison to the likes of Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Lau Nau, and some of the top folk-influenced indie albums released in year full of great indie folk albums. However, Mark Kozelek, best known for fronting the indie rock group Red House Painters, understands the most important aspect of folk music. Sun Kil Moon understands emotion and how to convey in through music. The emotion found in April is what makes this album special. Lyrically and musically, it’s not a drastic change from the average indie folk record, but the emotion found in both the vocals and musicianship of Kozelek is nothing short of magnificent. If a purely emotional album is what you’re looking for, Sun Kil Moon’s April is just about the best you’ll find.
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats are the epitome of indie folk. If you’re a fan of the genre, chances are you know this band, and should know what they can do. Heretic Pride is not the best album they’ve put out, but it’s still solid, as well as one of the best albums for anyone looking to start their indie folk collection. For those who aren’t quite sure what indie folk is, The Mountain Goats, along with Iron & Wine, are probably the first artists to look into. Their sound is closer to indie rock than what one would typically associate with folk, but replace the rock and roll influences found within quality indie rock, and you have The Mountain Goats. It’s a simple concept with a simple sound, but a beautiful one nevertheless.