This audiophiles playlist is dedicated to indie rock’s contemporary virtuosos, whose prowess stands out among the legions of apathetic, gauzy and obscured players in their dreamy other-worlds, and the “so-bad-it’s-good” DIY “budget rockers” too. (Though, to be clear, there’s a major part of my heart in that music as well.) Though shredding has become marginalized and quarantined to certain genres for special interest groups, every once in awhile there’s a diamond in the rough, and one of these virtuosos slips through the cracks.
1. Zach Hill, Wavves — “Cool Jumper”
Hired-gun Zach Hill (Hella, Marnie Stern, Death Grips) was briefly the better half of Wavves’ duo incarnation during 2010. Allegedly, Hill and Wavves-founder Nathan Williams recorded an album that was never released. “Cool Jumper” is a stunning display of Hill’s technical fury paired with Williams’ unrefined lo-fi pop-punk. Pre-Zach Hill, Wavves’ lineup was an unremarkable two-piece, and post-Hill, Williams teamed up with the late-great Jay Reatard’s bassist and drummer. Having a pro like Hill on drums offset the banal tendencies of the lo-fi genre Wavves plays in, and also elevated the band way beyond the imitators. Some their collaborative tracks have found their way online, but the entirety of the unreleased album has unfortunately not appeared anywhere yet.
2. Annie Clark, St. Vincent — “Cruel”
I saw Annie Clark last year when she was touring with David Byrne in support of their album “Love This Giant,” and one of the highlights of the entire night was Clark’s spastic guitar playing. Perhaps better known for her vocal talent, Clark’s abilities as a guitarist — punctuating the end of her coolly controlled vocal runs with bursts of fuzzy, skittish micro-solos — deserve special attention. Clark began playing guitar at the age of 12 and went on the study at Berklee College of Music for a few years before dropping out and joining the Polyphonic Spree.
3. Marnie Stern — “Female Guitar Players Are the New Black”
Marnie Stern’s frenetic guitar sound has everything to do with her tapping technique. Tapping — using both hands to play notes by hammering on and pulling off notes on the neck with the hand usually used for picking (This). It’s a style of playing used in a lot of metal and math-rock. While Stern leans toward the latter, her sound isn’t so easily categorized in that box. Her music is ultra melodic, energetic and even approaches poppy at moments. The effect of her technique is often dizzying, and her wailing, high-pitched vocals give the music an overall disorienting feeling. Stern’s a shredder in the truest sense of the term.
4. Joanna Newsom — “Only Skin”
Joanna Newsom probably belongs somewhere in the top 25 indie-folk harpists, right? Her instrument, typically reserved for angels and medieval minstrels, is her not-so-secret weapon. That, and her elfin voice that puts the ‘freak’ in freak-folk. Newsom is a classically trained harpist, and on this particular 16 minute song she proves that she’s the only one really killing it in the harp game right now.
5. Josh Fauver, (ex-) Deerhunter — “Nothing Ever Happened”
So often the role of the bassist seems delegated to poor guitarists (or dropped completely), so it’s always great to see someone slay the bass. I wrote about Josh’s playing when news came that he left Deerhunter, and now that Deerhunter’s post-Fauver album is out, I miss his playing even more. His driving and deliberate picked bass lines gave Deerhunter’s music a deep undercurrent that, when paired with motorik drum lines provided a solid foundation for guitarist Lockett Pundt’ lofty ambient work and singer Bradford Cox’s delay-laden vocals. This wide sonic spectrum all over “Cryptograms“(2007), “Microcastle” (2008) and “Halcyon Digest” (2010) is absent on the band’s new album “Monomania” (2013) — a pretty noisy and concentrated “nocturnal garage” rock record.