The future of indie: Indie R&B?

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Jan 27 2010, 18h39

I once pondered if modern R&B was becoming white washed and now an interesting thing is happening in the indie world, with R&B becoming more and more of a dominant influence (among shoegaze, lo-fi (glo-fi/bro-fi), and psychedelic hyphenated rock subgenres (the psychedelic-folk-gospel-dance-rock of Yeasayer anyone?), but that's another matter entirely).

I noticed this last year with Dirty Projectors and Discovery, and it's now slowly picking up momentum. Granted, Dirty Projectors takes more inspiration from Aaliyah than Amerie, and while Discovery's Orange Shirt might at first call attention vocally to J. Holiday, it's more like the synthpop of Junior Boys. It's okay though, for a subgenre so young it doesn't even have a proper tag yet, to not be full on re-incarnations of Ne-Yo or Usher quite yet.

Boy/girl groups have been emerging with a hint of this style. Notably, Sleigh Bells which is comprised of a hot school teacher and that dude from Poison the Well, has a CD-R out of rather abrasive pop jams, but Ring Ring is a laid-back chill number that borrows heavily (read: steals) from Parliament Funkadelic's "Can You Get To That". Once again, not full-on R&B as I'm hoping for but they still have time. First Rate People, another boy/girl duo have appeared out of nowhere with a few promising singles, one of them called GIRLS' NIGHT, featuring some awesome boy/girl overlap between the two and sounds awfully close to Mariah Carey's "Honey" (which in itself samples Tom Tom Club) and ORION which is some awkward soul-sampling bedroom pop song that brings to mind Jens Lekman or The Russian Futurists. Still not quite close enough. Are we getting close at all?

Take Dirty Projector's Stillness Is the Move as a prime example. Which I said calls more attention to Aaliyah than anybody, but when the "ooh ooh oohs" vocal parts come in, you'd be hard pressed to say that it's not pretty soulful (at least, for these white indie kids). Real recognizes real, and Solange has even covered Stillness Is The Move, adding the much needed black stamp of approval, and providing a reference track for what these indie bands NEED to be sounding like. Another band hinting at getting it right is The xx. They're not even blatantly R&B but they have covered Aaliyah already (again with the Aaliyah obsession?), and Shelter sounds pretty close to an R&B ballad with the way a lyric like "Can I make it better, with the lights turned off?" comes off sounding like "Can I make it bet-ter-er...with the lights turned ah-ah-offff..." like a black girl would say it. It's a marvelous delight on the ears and it shows just how big the crossover appeal for this non-existent subgenre really is.

Finally, these last couple groups I will mention have the right mindsets, but the execution is way off. Swedish duo jj loves Lil' Wayne but makes drugged out dreamy pop style jams instead of slick and smooth soulful ones. And while the duo Telephoned has an EP of modern R&B/rap covers they end up sounding like lazy generic club remixes of them, rather than full-on meat-and-potatoes song covers.

Even though it's frustrating that a band hasn't come out yet with songs that make you wonder "Was that Chris Brown? Was that Rihanna?" it still a pretty damn good start. I will be keeping my ear to the ground and maybe in a year this subgenre will come to fruition and we'll be able to call this stuff, truly, indie r&b.

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