Jan. 9, 2006 issue - Music fans, rejoice: "list season"—that wintry instant when our nation's critics whittle a year of records into tidy top 10s—has come again. According to the album-review aggregators at Metacritic.com, Bob Dylan scored highest in 2001. Tom Waits took '02, '03 was Led Zeppelin's year and Brian Wilson owned '04. So who's winning this round? Some guy named Sufjan Stevens. That's "SOOF-yawn"—in case you haven't heard of him.
Stevens's success (and the dinos' decline) neatly sums up a year that saw "indie" rock suddenly selling to scenesters and suits alike. In November '04, Conor Oberst—the genre's poster boy—snagged the top two spots on the singles charts, and Death Cab for Cutie's 2005 record "Plans" debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200. Despite a dip in overall sales, indie labels now claim 27 percent of the music market—their largest share in recent memory. "This year, there's a real consensus around 10 records," says Adam Shore of Vice Recordings. "And they're all this type of indie rock."
Connoisseurs are crediting "Yupsters"—Yuppie hipsters—for the change. (Need help? Take a look at "The O.C.'s" Seth Cohen, who stocks his Range Rover with Death Cab discs.) For the past decade, indie records sold primarily to obsessives because, without major-label distribution, the music was tough to find. But now a few clicks and an iPod are all it takes for would-be Yupsters to indulge any curiosity. Just ask Metacritic's eighth-ranked act: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. A year ago they were unsigned—and unknown. But hot MP3 blog Stereogum.com posted a track in February. In June, Pitchforkmedia.com gave their debut a rare 9.0. Now they've sold 50,000 CDs—one of which provided the cube dwellers of NBC's "The Office" with the soundtrack for a recent BBQ. "We're at a crossroads," says Stereogum's Scott Lapatine. "Indie bands are gaining in popularity—and indie Yuppies are using the Web to discover them."
Expect the hybrid to thrive in 2006. Audi now advertises on Pitchfork. John Varvatos crafts custom Converse. Apple is set to unload as many iPods in the next three months as it sold between '01 and '04. And on Feb. 6, Sufjan Stevens will vie for indiedom's just-invented answer to a Grammy: the New Pantheon Award. Who knows? Come next list season, you may even be able to pronounce his name.
are you fucking kidding me? how about stereogum, pitchfork, and all those people writing uber-hip blogs talking about what they read on stereogum and pitchfork just stop it already and figure out for themselves what they like or not. it's shit like this that makes a packed house at the iron horse disperse after clap your hands say blah finishes, leaving less than fifty people to see the national. who were the headlining band. who now are nominated for eighty bazillion plug awards and making everyone's top ten, twenty, and fifty of 2005. what the fuck, people? what. the. fuck.
and it's not like I'm all uber-indie or anything, christ I just started listening to the wrens last year. and I don't know what's cool and what's not, but there's some very interesting and depth-oriented people in my life that go here, listen to this. it might change your life. people that knew about death cab and the seattle scene while you were still going to new kids on the block concerts. people like kristin, who carried around a minidisc player when we were in high school because she was such an audiophile. and shit, if I hadn't fucked up my life drinking myself into a coma, I probably would have continued to peruse the indie scene too, but I didn't. and I don't pretend like I did.
so, yeah. so by association, I've managed to get hooked up with some pretty cool people who are into some pretty cool shit. but you know what? the arcade fire album didn't slay me. and you know what else? I haven't even heard sufjan stevens' full album yet, because I haven't fucking gotten around to it. and if they keep using that M.I.A. song in that fucking car commercial, I'm going to stab someone. I can only associate this with the rave scene flaring up for a little while there, and it eventually wound back up into obscurity, but I'm sure that all the hardcore ravers got all pissed off at people barging into their scene.
fuck, I'm all like, barging into someone else's scene. but it's because I like this stuff, not because someone told me I'm supposed to. for instance:
here's KEXP's top twenty of 2005, and my supporting commentary:
20 Broken Social Scene / Broken Social Scene
I don't even know who this band is, or if I know any of their songs.
19 Minus The Bear / Menos El Oso
ditto. except for thinking it was matt bivins from jump when he did a station ID.
18 Kanye West / Late Registration
I bought this because some hip old black guy told me it was an excellent album. it's alright, I guess. some of the songs are really good, but there's a lot of filler.
17 Gorillaz / Demon Days
I like what I've heard off of this, but never went out and got it.
16 Sleater-Kinney / The Woods
sleater-kinney should be shot and dragged out into the woods somewhere. I fucking hate them. now, go ahead, take away my honorary seattle card...
15 The White Stripes / Get Behind Me Satan
I heard that this was great too, but I never got around to it.
14 Okkervil River / Black Sheep Boy
this I did actually acquire, and was enchanted by. good stuff.
13 The New Pornographers / Twin Cinema
bought this because all the cool kids were buying it, and it didn't really slay me much...
12 Sigur Ros / Takk
what? ha. I've heard of this guy and everything, but that's about it.
11 M.I.A. / Arular
this I like, and should buy. never got around to it either, like the U.S.E. album from last year. galang-alang-alang.
10 Bright Eyes / I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
bought it, loved it, worship it, and was led to the light by kristin.
9 Wolf Parade / Apologies To The Queen Mary
heard they're excellent, missed them at cafe nine, probably should listen to it at some point.
8 Spoon / Gimme Fiction
I like the songs that got airplay, and the album's probably worth a listen.
7 My Morning Jacket / Z
I run hot and cold with them, some songs are stellar, some aren't. definitely wouldn't be in my top ten.
6 Beck / Guero
barf. hey, I'm like, different! I'm all old school, because I'm beck! so you must like me.
5 The Decemberists / Picaresque
loving the decemberists, long time. again, kristin led me to the goodness, that I must go see colin meloy solo at the iron horse. I obeyed. the rest is history.
4 Death Cab For Cutie / Plans
good, but I like kristin's mix better.
3 Bloc Party / Silent Alarm
heard a few tracks on KEXP, never got around to the album.
2 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah / Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
clap your hands say go fuck yourself.
1 Sufjan Stevens / Illinois
I'm sure I'll hear it soon. in a tampax commercial. seriously though, I've loved every track of it I've heard so far and I'm looking forward to checking out the album.
see? I'm not cool. not even a little bit. this year I fell in love with tom brosseau, and devin davis, and luke temple - jesus, how did he not make it on here? he was 2005, right? and hopewell and goldspot and the prayers and tears of arthur digby sellers and the cloud room (yum!) and andrew bird and the national. and the long winters, and the wrens! not hearing them until now officially makes me SO not cool. and I love all these bands, not because I wanted to like different things than everyone else, but because they spoke to me and stopped me in my tracks and drove me to tears. like ray lamontagne and the frames and stuff.
I wish I could go up to these urban outfitter-ed kids and rip their nanos out of their ears and go really, tell me, what is it exactly that moves you about clap your hands say yeah? what songs on your playlist make you homesick for places you've never been? have you ever stopped the car in the middle of the road, weeping, from hearing the words that have been in your head for so long coming out of someone else's mouth? to chords you could never figure out? tell me, oh indie rock yupster princess. what moves you?
none of this matters in the grand scheme of things. the lovers and poets will prevail, because we just do. and while we're at it, seth cohen can kiss our asses.