Brush Fire | Indie Rock, I guess?

August 28, 2020 5:23 PM

I've briefly interluded from my normal style of electronica music in order to focus more on a sort of indie rock sound, because clearly we need more of that totally not done-to-death genre, right? I'd appreciate any feedback, though, as I have a hard time being objective and either love or hate most of my creative output. I've also included an impromptu creative writing piece inspired by the general idea in my head I had for this song. Details inside, yada yada.

It's night time, far out in the country. The wind whispers through the late-summer wheat marching along both sides of a deeply-rutted farm road. Behind you is the past, ahead of you is anywhere but the past. The stars are dim and faded, almost anemic. You've stopped for a brief rest and find your eyes drawn to the east, just off center on the north side of the road. A faint, warm glow sits there.

You frown, checking your watch. The digital readout is harsh and clinical in contrast, revealing not only nearly twenty thousand steps, but also the reason for your frown. It's barely midnight. Much too early for even a pre-dawn glow, obviously. Your frown deepens.

That's when the scent reaches you, carried on the wind now rising in the slow wake of your journey. Instinct carries that sense message straight through the rest of your thoughts like a bolt of lightning. The display on your watch has faded out, hiding the details of your spiking heart rate.


In another context, it could be comforting and familiar. But this is no cozy campfire or homey backyard cookout. This is the smell of panic and ruin, of fleeing animals with wild, desperate eyes rolling to the whites. The meal you traded a day's labor for at the last farmhouse is heavy in your gut, coiling around your spine, ready to squeeze. You try to swallow past a suddenly dry throat, licking your lips several times without realizing.

With an uneven shuffle you spin in a circle, an overindulged partygoer seeking a dance partner from an unwilling crowd. In every direction, those rustling fields of wheat surround you. They extend to the vanishing point in either direction up and down the road. The night has reduced them to wavering, hypnotic shadows, but you know these fields are full, nearly bursting with bounteous vitality. You're no farmer, but surely the full harvest must be only weeks or even days away.

Once more your gaze lands on the horizon, just north of due east as your uneasy survey comes to an uneven halt. Has the light grown? Yes, yes it has. Ruddy and full of movement, it squats behind the tops of the whispering wheat. It has spread out like a cracked egg into a sizzling pan.

Recent memories of a happy family at dinner flash through your mind. Children were underfoot as wearily satisfied parents sat at either end of a heavy oak table, elbows propped as they concluded another long day in a farm life. A mis-matched chair had been pulled up to the table, your invitation to share food and company alike. You were a stranger passing through, nothing more. But the chair, though worn, is comfortable, and the food is farm fresh and well prepared. For a moment, just a single, stupid, precious moment, you basked in stolen warmth and forgot your past.

You blink away a wavering world distorted into angry red smears to study the onrushing fire, for that is the only thing it can be. You can even hear it, now, a pulsing, unending, throaty exhalation. How far? How fast? Does anybody else know? Can anybody stop it?

You realize these questions don't matter anymore, not to you.


posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin (6 comments total)

this is cool, has the elements of a cool, cinematic (sorry, I know that word is overused) track. I like the spiky guitar loop in the back, and the delayed bell-like melody is a nice clear counterpoint to it all. A few ideas that are hopefully constructive criticism:

- the drum beat that comes after the basic four-on-the-floor bit is either a little too busy, or too high in the mix. The hi-hat sound really cuts through and distracts from the rest of the music. I would probably bring it down in the mix, cut some of the high end, or simplify that beat

- at about 1:10 a new guitar part starts up that sounds like it's going to take it somewhere else, harmonically, but then it doesn't really do that. I wonder if you could alter that chord progression and use it to shift to a section that steers away from the somewhat static nature of the piece

- thinking about that, and reading your piece above - the paragraph about "recent memories of a happy family at dinner" could possibly serve as inspiration to change things up a bit? I fall into this trap a lot in my own music where I come up with one cool part, layer on a bunch of stuff, and then . . . ??? not much else. I would encourage you to work on a second section that really differentiates (harmonically, melodically, whatever) just to retain interest. (There's a cool recent video of Nahre Sol doing a little composition exercise that I really enjoyed, maybe you would get something out of it too?)

sorry, that's a lot, hopefully some of this is helpful, please take what is and leave whatever doesn't serve you behind!
posted by gorbichov at 10:17 AM on August 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Excellent feedback, thank you! I've been focusing lately on better drum tracking (and rhythm in general) and it feels like every new track is a decent evolution. Being more of a guitar/keyboard player, I have a bias toward melody writing which is what I'm trying to grow out of into a more rounded musician.

The other part I struggle with (or, being honest, completely fail at) is vocals/lyrics. I can write lyrics alright, but can not sing to save my life which also keeps me from really even trying. I think that hampers my arranging, though, as I often find myself without a clear structure. Or, as you noticed, a half-baked idea will show up but go away too quickly.

Lastly, and this is probably an ADHD thing, I have a really hard time coming back to a song my brain has tagged as "done" in some fashion. If I don't get it finished within one or two sittings, it generally is abandoned. That's more of a personal problem, though, I suppose. I should probably try opening random old projects with the intent to add one more new piece.

Anyway, thanks again for the feedback, it's appreciated.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 2:26 PM on August 30, 2020

Anyway, my two zombie cents, cause I am tired. I did like this. It had a kinda pixies-meets-2010's pop feel. But I would label this (by now) as straight up pop/rock if it weren't an instrumental. pop/rock bed/b-roll music, maybe.

Tips for next time! (cause, like you, once a song for me is done, it's done-done, or it sits in a folder and gathers electron dust. Or I re-do it 20 years later.) I was in a snotty indie rock band about 25 years ago, kinda like we were the indie side of the "indie rock v candy rock" mentality. The band kinda still exists in spite of the music industry.

1) If you are going for indie rock: quantize the drums a little so it sounds like there could be a human playing them. (Unless you are playing them, in which case, hello human metronome.) Make the temp a little slower, and maybe nudge the tempo numbers up or down a little during the song, giving more of a human feel.

2) Indie rock to me has a much more lo-fi, recorded with as little frippery as possible—even the effects should be lo-fi. Electronica is cleeeeean. Indie rock is dusty, has tape hiss, and is generally all B-sides. The setting on Garageband, "World's smallest amp" is probably too round of a tone even. That said, there is a richness in indie rock that is maintained in spite of "smallest amp" but the richness is in the atmosphere, not the effects. The air itself, in the song, has to be dusty. Try to put some hissy effects on the drum track.

3) While I like the melody of this song, I think it needs to be a little more nervous to be indie rock. Even the slickest indie rock sounds like it's earnest and not very comfortable being ther, exept they gotta be.

My dad once told me, "A band is like a bunch of people with large enough egos to want to be on a stage, and fragile enough egos to need to be on a stage"

True indie rock doesn't give a fuck about that, we're all wierdos anyway so fuckit. :D

So, that's my 2¢ from a very sleepy indie rocker.
posted by not_on_display at 8:56 PM on August 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oy, thanks for the feedback! I used indie rock because honestly, genres exhaust me with a side-helping of choice paralysis. Nothing like being asked to tag a song with genre labels to incite a navel-gazing identity crisis!

The drumming is something I'm working on, I've been meaning to play around more with the groove feature in Ableton to get that non-metronome feel. Sometimes I'll tweak a few hits to be slightly early/late, but that's a work in progress to improve. I definitely wish I could be playing myself, but I just don't have the room for my acoustic kit (esp for recording) or the space even for a digital kit, yet.

I'm still trying to find my sound for this on-going project to branch out from pure electronica (trance, edm, idm, psybient, etc, etc). I think my latest song does a better job of having more dynamic and varied drums/melody and a stronger song structure. Or, at least, enough to notice, I hope.

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. Making music is such a great outlet, especially in a year like this.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 12:03 PM on August 31, 2020

O yeah, your latest song definitely has much more home-made overtones to it. The drums do sound a little better, plus the dynamics of the drums' melody help a lot. It gets sticky with electronica; like take Stereolab for example: electronics can be tweaked to sound more "analog"; or, they use actual vintage stuff.

Genres are useless these days, though. e.g. I've heard five types of "indie"-ish Vaporwave made five different ways, and they're all good. That's also probably just the old-guy in me. So, I wouldn't even bother trying to tag it with a genre. It's a good instrumental indie electronic rock, with a good amount more of the indie feel to it.

To me, "indie" describes more of an aesthetic than a genre—indie is one you made independently of any outside sources of funding or whatever. But then there's different levels of it: indie music like R Stevie Moore, homemade; vs indie labels, like Homestead or Alternative tentacles, not funded by parent corporations. But do indie labels fund indie bands? Yeah, kinda? That was always where the foggy area of semantics for "indie" was, in my head.

But essentially, indie = DIY, and you are DIY'ing it and the linked-to song has more of that "natural" feeling. Indie can be Stereolab, Red Krayola, Soft Machine, Sebadoh... or Billie Eilish, y'know?
posted by not_on_display at 1:52 PM on August 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like everything about this.
posted by srednivashtar at 1:28 PM on September 24, 2020

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