In 2006, indie is moving faster than the speed of light. That’s indie, not rock’n’roll, not music, definitely not glamorous indie rock’n’roll. No, plain old indie. This will be crucial later. So yes, it’s moving so fast that it’s in danger of eating its own tail: every year, traditionally, The Global Music Industry gathers in Austin, Texas for the South By SouthWest conference and nefariously plots what you’ll be listening to for the next 12 months. Spies and experts call it a ‘buzz’. Usually, about a year later, the bombs drop. Yet this time we’re just months after the big event, and the talking points have already turned into real-life beat happenings – demented Swedes Love Is All and acoustic-emo pioneer Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly have both already left the starting blocks, while the biggest noise of all comes from the direction of Minneapolis’ Tapes ’N Tapes. Well, not a big noise from Josh, Jeremy, Matt and Erik, but a splendidly quietish one. But a big noise from the army of labels who turned up to all their gigs that week, evermore convinced that the process had thrown up a nugget.
This, of course, is due to the world’s well-documented indie realignment of the past 18 months. Yet (and it’s a big yet), in the flurry of Hard-Fi stickerbooks and Unsigned Band contests by manufacturers of athlete’s foot powder, indie has transmuted into something different entirely. Everyone thinks they’re indie nowadays; from Fall Out Boy to Kaiser Chiefs, from Fearne Cotton to John Prescott. Even you. Yes, you with the magazine. Yet click to Urban Dictionary (the netdemocratic guide to street slang) and the only actual bands to be listed under that entry are The Smiths, Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes and Death Cab For Cutie (OK, so Panic! At The Disco are there too, but that’s an anomaly). That is real indie, and it was becoming a lost art. Rock’n’roll has riffs. Pop does pogos. Indie strums along, unclear of its direction, but all the happier for it. Indie dances by moving its knees from side to side, but never its feet, looking down at the floor as if it’s just lost a tenner. Indie has a fringe. Indie smells of wood and musk and smokes rollies and insists on complete creative control in its record contracts. Indie sees ‘quirky’ not as a curse-word, but as a virtue. Indie’s natural home is the American college rock of the early ’90s – you know, the stuff with loads of reverb on it. If it feels adventurous, indie references Pavement and Pixies. Most of all in 2006, indie is Tapes ’N Tapes.
‘The Loon’, in true indie style, was recorded for nothing in a clockwork recording studio, way before South By SouthWest. It conjures up a Hansel And Gretel forest of magic realism, stuffed with oblique lyrics and frail, intricate guitar lines. The single, ‘Insistor’, ties urgent skiffle to a wire frame designed by ’50s guitar instrumentalists Hank Marvin and The Shadows. ‘In Houston’ criss-crosses prissy vocal patterns with thundering bass, then tops the thing off with glockenspiels. Glockenspiels! ‘10 Gallon Ascots’ does lilting prog – were such a thing possible.
And yet for all the disparate elements, we haven’t heard a record all year so secure in its own vision, or a collection of songs that sound so much like they need to be together. The only downside of this is it kind of smothers the potential for standout Oh. My. God. moments. The only real spine-tingling, get-off-your-chair and dance moment comes with country-punk shoutalong ‘Cowbell’ and you spend most of that wondering where you’ve heard it before. To be honest, we’re not sure how this one’s going to play out. North America’s last Next Big Things, Arcade Fire, were decked out in enough melodrama and cinema to sweep through the world like a mobile production of Evita. Before them, The White Stripes boasted a superstar bigger than his lo-fi shackles. Tapes ’N Tapes boast none of that drama and don’t seem to want it. Instead, ‘The Loon’ is a (yes) quirky, low-key, lo-fi delight, but it feels like an anomaly, like it’s slipped through to the big boys’ playground and that exposure to sunlight could suck out its cultness and destroy it. Which is, of course, complete bollocks, because the world needs to hear a record as spooky and as special as this. It’s David and Goliath stuff and they just might pull it off. Let’s see how indie the world has really gone.