Roanoke, Va. — My hometown in the Roanoke Valley is one of the most outdoorsy places you’ve ever seen. Sunk between the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke is home to more dirt roads than paved ones. Growing up here was growing up in nature — my dad constantly begging me to go hike the mountain behind our house, never ending “go outside” festivals and watching as hikers migrate off the Appalachian Trail and into town.
It’s only after coming to flat, flat, Williamsburg that I realize how much I miss the mountains. Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve found myself falling back into my indie folk music phase, seeking to surround myself with the “Mountain Sound” — by Of Monsters and Men, give it a listen — that I associate with home. As the leaves have turned, I’ve only fallen in deeper, and once Noah Kahan dropped his newest album, I knew I was done for: I’m in my crunchiest granola (if you’re unfamiliar with “granola,” look for it on Pinterest) phase yet. Indie folk/granola music is a relatively new genre, and I believe it hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves. It’s the “season of the sticks,” and it’s time for crunchy granola indie music to have its spotlight.
With artists like Caamp, The Lumineers, Hozier and Lord Huron headlining the genres, it’s hard to go wrong in the world of indie folk music. In my thousands of hours of listening, I’ve come to realize that modern folk music would not be what it is without the artists. It’s not the music that makes the artist, but the artist that makes the music. This may seem like an obvious conclusion, but it’s true. These artists are far from one-hit wonders; more often than not, they have at least a handful of hits apiece and they’re all recognizable for the things they say through their music and how they tell their stories.
Each and every artist is distinguishable from the others, their stories and voice shining through every melody. Only Hozier could take the twisted history of female oppression and make it into such a tragically beautiful song such as “Swan Upon Leda.” Only The Lumineers could take the story of Cleopatra and Marc Antony and turn it into a hauntingly upbeat melody about love and loss. Only Noah Kahan could soliloquize on autumn in his home state, turning reminiscent images of fall foliage into a sonnet on feeling left behind and trapped in the “season of the sticks.” In the genre of folk music, every artist’s voice shines through so authentically that, even through just reading their lyrics, you know who wrote the song. Each artist’s music is a lyrical reflection of their own experiences, bringing a deeply personal element into each song on an indie folk lover’s playlist.
Authenticity is a pervasive theme in indie folk music; it’s not only the lyrics that speak to the uniqueness of the artist, but also the instrumentals and vocals. Though there are a few commonalities across the genre — the certain raw sound that accompanies the typical acoustic instruments chosen as the basis of most of the pieces and the twinge of country music twang that shines through — there is much variation in sound from artist to artist, album to album, song to song.
With Caamp, you’ll always get upbeat acoustic guitar and banjo, simple, smooth melodies and the recognizable grit of the lead singer’s voice. Lord Huron, however, has a more eclectic sound, with lots of percussion, edited reverberation and an eerie, mysterious undertone that haunts their songs, giving their music a sound reminiscent of ghost stories told around a campfire.
From the instruments to the production techniques used, the sound variation throughout the genre is wide, but complementary in a way that makes listening across the genre such a special experience. Conjuring images of windows down, trees ablaze in the colors of autumn and mountains rolling past in the distance, there’s just something about the sound of indie folk music that sounds like a peaceful fall at home in the countryside.
If music can be described as “welcoming,” that’s what I’d call indie folk — the raw authenticity, emotion and sheer appreciation of the human experience drench the genre in a way that makes every listener feel like they’re experiencing the artist’s story as it’s put to lyrics and melody. There is something for everyone in the wide world of indie folk music, whether it lyrically speaks to a common experience or expresses something else melodically.
For those of you who might be like me — missing home in the mountains or the countryside, with a little bit of hyperactive wanderlust — or simply for those whose interest I’ve piqued, give indie folk a try. To start with something recent, I’d highly recommend Noah Kahan’s newest album, “Stick Season,” which speaks to themes of homesickness and growing out of where you grew up, feelings that are probably becoming more common here on campus as the semester carries on.
If you’re looking to find something new as the seasons change, are feeling a little homesick, have a bit of unsatiated wanderlust, or just want to hear some music slightly removed from the mainstream, crunch on some indie folk granola tracks. Maybe you’ll find a new home in music, just like I did.