re: Stacks of indie music

I’m bundled up in my hipster gear for the winter! Photo illustration by Jennifer Lee. Original photo taken from Jagjaguwar.

I’m bundled up in my hipster gear for the winter! Photo illustration by Jennifer Lee. Original photo taken from Jagjaguwar.

Jennifer Lee

Circa October of 2011, I decided I needed to refine my taste in music. I was irritated with Rihanna, tired of Taylor Swift and generally found the idea of “the underground” appealing.

And thus began my fateful journey into hipsterdom. Step one: reject anything and everything mainstream.

So I tracked down a friend whom I’d long acknowledged as culturally savvy and in general a paradigm of the worldly, glamorous individual I wanted to become. This friend was more than willing to provide me with a list of her favorite songs. Soon I was listening to bands like Vampire Weekend, the Strokes and Passion Pit. In other words, all the hipster music quintessentials. That week my poor Mac — another hipster quintessential — must have swollen with half a gigabyte of indie music.

But the music my friend had recommended still wasn’t enough. I wanted my iPod full of arcane music right away! So I turned to Pandora for help.

It did not disappoint. In no time I had expanded my musical range to include artists with names like Au Revoir Simone, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Faded Paper Figures and my personal favorite: Does It Offend You, Yeah?. Being able to scroll through my iPod playlist — which I tastefully titled “Indies Potpourri” — and not recognize half of the artists, or songs for that matter, was a milestone I regarded with pride.

But there was a less encouraging development: I didn’t understand any of the lyrics. Especially those of Bon Iver, AKA the king of all bewildering indie lyrics.

I’m bundled up in my hipster gear for the winter! Photo illustration by Jennifer Lee. Original photo taken from Jagjaguwar.

I still remember my first encounter with Bon Iver fondly. My first impression was of a bunch of gargling, unintelligible wails set to the melancholic strumming of a guitar. I had to resort to SongMeanings just to decipher what he was even saying; and afterward I still couldn’t grasp what the lyrics meant. “Skinny Love” puzzled me for ages until I blankly decided it was 1) about a breakup, and therefore 2) deeply profound. In fact, most of my now-bloated Indies Potpourri playlist fit those categories as well. Usually both. Huzzah, progress!

I’ll be honest here, though: Most of the time when iPod Shuffle sent such songs my way, I would simply skip them. I just didn’t find them catchy or even all that relatable.

I did assume that, like “Skinny Love,” all were sure to be extraordinarily nuanced and layered with deep meta-symbolism. But I never connected on a personal level with most of the songs, either musically or personally. Mostly I just took everyone else’s word for it that Mumford & Sons embedded pearls of wisdom into their lyrics and that Beach House was spine-shiveringly good.

Did I improve my ability to extrapolate political metaphors and (at least what I assumed was) the subtext? Sure. But nothing beyond that.

But I was still satisfied, because just by having songs nobody knew on my iPod, I was well on my way to becoming an insightful, thoroughly sophisticated hipster with impeccable taste in music. And isn’t that basically what everyone wants out of life?