Sometime in the mid-00s, the word “indie” in music stopped describing a band’s label status and mindset and came to represent a kind of emotional alt-rock sound. Today it’s as wide-ranging and un-illuminating as calling something “pop.” To be clear, it’s just terminology — I’m not lamenting the loss of “real indie” or anything like that and we, as fans and music writers, have just deployed more specific terminology like “DIY” and “bedroom pop” in its place.
But I do miss the feeling of being new to this and hearing an indie band that sounded like the realest thing in the world. Not a high concept art project or a buzz band’s latest move, just something that felt irreverent and bold and frank.
Mitski and Elvis Depressedly, in their own different ways, remind me what it was like to be a teen that still got a rush out of the aura of authenticity in indie bands. Part of it is, surprisingly, how they seem to be off-stage. Seemingly every Mitski press piece mentions her opinionated Twitter, where she sharply takes gear nerds down a peg and succinctly clarifies white privilege. Elvis Depressedly, meanwhile, were doing Radiohead’s “Pay What You Want” scheme without Radiohead’s financial safety net and routinely shit on indie institutions that other bands rely on to break through. In short, they seem real as fuck.
These are little things, products of how we engage with artists today, but they let us feel like our favs are outsiders — yet confident and assertive anyway. That’s a quality you value in music, really, only if you’re a weirdo with some insecurity. But if you can’t anchor your insecurities in music, where else are you going to go?
Mitski is an artist that is deeply aware of her own power and how to best unleash it.
But of course, above all else, their music powers this appeal. Mitski as a songwriter wrestles with hurt, down into the mud and gravel. When she works up the will to get angry about it, it’s downright inspirational.
Mitski is an artist that is deeply aware of her own power and how to best unleash it. It informs her perfectly soaring voice and her dramatic lyricism. Throughout her set I cursed through gritted teeth because of something striking, piercing. On “Drunk Walk Home,” her roaring, searing “fuck you and your money” drew applause and lit up the wall-to-wall crowd.
Elvis Depressedly was a completely different flavor. If you’ve heard any of his recorded music, you’d think you were in for a low key, nearly acoustic show. Instead, Mat Cothran draped a microphone cord behind his neck and shouted slurred lyrics over a noisy, full band. I’d never seen a mosh pit form at The Echo, and I never thought it would happen at an Elvis Depressedly show.
If you went into this show expecting a snappy, a cappella version of “NMSS” you might be taken aback by the energy and grime in his live show. But what I enjoyed more than anything was seeing performer completely immersed in his music (and, yeah, probably a few tall boys) as he relived every tortured moment of these perfectly pleasant songs. His eyes would roll back and he’d yelp the more climactic parts, but he’d feel every word he shouted. It all reminded me of the early Bright Eyes days when Conor Oberst would get plastered before a show and freak people out with these gnarly renditions.
It’s something to witness if raw vulnerability is your thing. It’s absolutely mine. This music works on an intellectual level, sure. We can discuss clever lyrics or interesting falsetto shifts to describe why these people make great music. What’s clear in concert is that sometimes it’s just the aura of authenticity that lets us imagine that distant-but-intimate communion with a song.
There are days that are elongated, slow disasters. There are rough patches, laid end to end, seemingly proceeding into eternity. When typing about it in vague terms on the internet doesn’t feel like enough, there’s always the clarity supplied by people who seemed to be there first: in Mitski’s longing “I Will,” or Elvis Depressedly’s down-trodden “New Heaven, New Earth.”. They’re built for hard times, and should you ever find yourself in that cloud, their effortless clarity is a god damn beacon.