By: Sam Kayuha, In The Record Store staff writer.
There was and remains a subset of indie rock that emerged during the genre’s peak in the early to mid-2000's. Bands counting at least ten members, who played every instrument imaginable, gained popularity, even outside the sight gag of triangle players joining guitarists and singers on stage.
Some, like the Swedish group I’m From Barcelona, had an existence that felt like shtick. But the clarinet, kazoo and banjo players it counted among its 28 members are all part of its charm.
When Arcade Fire blew up after their 2004 debut, “Funeral,” the group and its crowded stage at live shows became the cliché perception of the genre. Like The Ramones had everything about it assumed to be punk, Arcade Fire’s every move was assumed to characterize indie.
Local group Electro Cult Circus and its 12 members joined In The Record Store at the end of last year.
“We’ve gone from 12 members to three members to now 74, I think we have,” joked guitarist and vocalist Casey Ward. “We just kept adding people.”
Without a limit on the number of instruments per song, I see the need for a new super group, made up of people deft at instruments far from the conventional.
Joanna Newsom - Harp. She became an indie darling while plucking at an instrument that has been out of style since the Renaissance. It works for her, and she may be cool playing it, but even Newsom isn’t cool enough to bring the harp back to mainstream popularity.
John Popper - Harmonica. Better known as the front man from Blues Traveler, Popper and his fedora hold a strange place in the 90's canon. His band made a couple of the most famous songs from that decade, yet are derided for lacking the cred of more typically critically acclaimed bands. But I say a renewed look at the legacy of Blues Traveler is warranted because I want to hear that harmonica featured on more songs.
“Weird” Al Yankovic - Accordion. Parodist and undeniable genius, Al and his accordion carry his polka covers of demented pop songs. He is the only accordion player I can think off — bless him and the families of the pre-teens he inspired to learn the instrument.
Ian Anderson - Flute. Jethro Tull was one of the first rock bands to be known for the unique instruments it incorporated. It became perhaps too well known for that — I could remember that it had flutist before I could name any of their songs. But rock could always use more woodwinds anyway.
Feist - Vocals. Feist was once a member of Broken Social Scene, a collective of 9 members, before she went solo. It’s not just her airy voice that makes her, but her ability to stand out on a crowded stage.
Annie Clark - Guitar. Before she was the woman behind St. Vincent, Clark was the guitarist for Polyphonic Spree. With their cultish fashion sense (there is something unsettling about matching white robes), the band seemed as likely to be traveling the country in an overcrowded VW van as to be touring. The eccentric band gave the virtuoso her start — Clark’s unique playing makes the guitar less of a conventional instrument and more of a vehicle for experimentation among other less-than-conventional instruments.
With only six members, this prospective group is only half full. Any large indie band worth its salt has double digit members. But this is a start, and maybe an encouragement for anyone trying to decide between the piano and the French horn — they all have their place.