The Digital Journalism Blog

Indie-folk music hits the mainstream

By: Vickie Berkow

The fact that the Lumineers are on Billboard Top 100 as a new artist makes me pretty angry.

It’s not because the Lumineers suck.  They’re a very talented group of people, and their self-titled album is one of my favorite in the indie-folk-rock genre.  The reason why I’m so upset is as simple as this: the Lumineers are not a new band.  “Ho Hey” came out in December 2011 and the Denver-native band released the full album a few months after that.  But the single somehow made its way to the big radio stations in January, and now everyone is claiming the Lumineers have always been his or her “sweetheart.”

This seems to be an on-going trend lately.  Small bands who garner one audience are suddenly launched into fame when a single makes it to the almighty “popular” radio stations.  fun. was one of these bands, whose claim to fame “We Are Young” brought the group a huge fan base, a song on the hit show “Glee” and a Best New Artist Grammy.  Imagine Dragons and Of Monsters and Men are following suit with their singles “It’s Time” and “Little Talks,” respectively.

So what’s so fascinating about these bands (who you probably never would have heard of if the radio didn’t come along)?  As much as I’d like to say people have grown better ears and are now appreciating the indie-folk groups I’ve been listening to for years, I don’t think it’s the case.  In part, it’s the artists’ fault.  People like simple chord progressions and relatable words to sing to.  If it has a groovy beat and one lyric that can be used as a photo album title on Facebook, you’re set.  fun.’s “Tonight we are young” lyric met this criteria, because, let’s face it, we are young.  Imagine Dragons and Of Monsters and Men’s tunes are catchy, and the Lumineers hit the jackpot in “Ho Hey” by using the lyrics “I belong to you, you belong to me, you’re my sweetheart.”  Simple, relatable, Facebook-ready.

My hope is that people who check out these supposedly “new” bands listen to all of the artists’ work, not just the single that made it to the radio.  Although fun. won Best New Artist last month, their album “Aim and Ignite” (one of my all-time favorites) came out in 2009.  That’s nearly four years before winning Best New Artist … see what I mean?  While the Lumineers are more of a new artist than fun., with their first album released about a year ago, they are receiving attention for their work now.  It’s unfair to the fans that have been with the bands from the beginning to hear all the band-wagoners talk about their favorite “new” bands, especially those people who only listen to the band’s singles.

But I digress on my hipster rant.

I agree with Jordan Ann’s positive review of another track: if you like the Lumineer’s sound, check out “Stubborn Love.”  It’s great song and has deeper lyrics than the carefree ones of “Ho Hey.”  Too complex for the simple-minded lyrics spewed at us on today’s “popular” radio (in my humble opinion), “Stubborn Love” is a song of reflection. The tune is consistent with the band’s style, incorporating steady guitar, minimal use of percussion, a violin and a chorus of harmonies to accompany Wesley Schultz’s rough voice.  It’s a perfect folk song, and it doesn’t need the glitz of the radio to make it that way.

Another fun track is “Submarines.”  Schultz tells a personal narrative, which is the gold of the song.  His normally scruffy voice is washed clean as he tells the story of the fateful day he met a submarine.  A snare drum keeps the song from being too sappy and the end result is another classic Lumineer track.

Fans of the Lumineers should check out the Avett Brothers, Ray LaMontagne and Young the Giant for more indie-folk sound.

Note: This post was written as if it could appear on Music. Defined.


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