If you’ve got a connection to the Internet, one thing you can do with it is take an entire evening and dedicate it to reading think-pieces about indie’s most popular (and female-fronted) arrivals this year: Haim, Lorde and Chvrches—the holy trinity of indie-pop in 2013.
Take a minute, goandgiveit a whirlalready.
It wouldn’t be fair to say there’s a one-note approach to the pieces—the above links (some still good reads) jump from defining the fuzzy, pitch-corrected line between indie and pop, then circling back to ponder whether they’re aware of whether their own pop-leaning tunes are in vogue. Some eventually touch on the legitimately awful treatment these artists see online—but we’re not even out of the blogs yet, people. The Wild West that is social media awaits, and it’s nasty there. The point is that, in a year when indie’s most arena-worthy act drops its most ambitious, genre-blurring album to mixed reception, in a year when a dude puts out a song called “I am a God,” the only questions I hope to not see again for a while in a blog—if based on sheer repetition alone, and as a dude whose job is to be tethered to a laptop daily—are of the indie legitimacy (or defending the legitimacy) of new artists who have just released three exceptional debut albums. And as 2013 wraps up, can’t we just remember them for that? So, without the noise, let’s hear it one last time for these three great breakout acts who earned their own spots:
“We’ve been playing music our whole lives,” Danielle Haim told Paste last January. And while Danielle didn’t emerge from the womb with guitar-in-hand, she’s not lying, either. Music started as a family affair for Este, Danielle and Alana, who cut their teeth in a classic rock cover band cleverly dubbed Rockinhaim, formed with the help of their parents. The group would take time away to pursue their own interests later, with Danielle and Este joining up for a short stint in a Columbia-signed act called Valli Girls.
Danielle would later take on guitar duties for Jenny Lewis and Julian Casablancas, but the Haim sisters “always assumed we’d start a band, but we never really took it seriously. Then we all just started writing together. We compiled a couple songs and decided we should just probably get them out. So it kind of just happened organically.” For Haim, organic would be better than good enough—they’d score possibly the most wonderful debut of the year, Days Are Gone, an album filled to the brim with radio-ready singles like “The Wire,” “Falling” and “Days are Gone.”
Much like Haim, the overnight explosion of Glasgow’s Chvrches had little to do with chance—but that’s where the comparisons end musically between the two. Where Haim’s brand of indie-pop leaned on a two-guitar, bass and drum setup that produced lines that were jarringly hook-laden, Chvrches took to a darker blend of synth and sample-based music, informed more by recent artists like The Knife or Purity Ring. “It was the fresh challenge or the idea of composing music that, in the beginning, didn’t have any definite direction and no constraints and no rules,” keyboardist Martin Doherty said last March. “You didn’t have to adhere to the indie or shoegaze format that you have to follow to some extent if you want to be accepted in those worlds. But, it really didn’t go to the next level until we started working with Lauren. The three of us had something when we got together.””
But with such a modern sound in tow, it’s easy to forget the band’s genesis goes back nearly a decade, formed when synth masterminds Iain Cook and Martin Doherty met as students in Scotland. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry would fill out the trio, who unsurprisingly would take a music-first approach to songwriting that would grant the band its first big hit with “Recover” late last year.
“Neon Gold asked us to write a blog about what the band was and we were just like ‘I don’t know,’” Doherty explained. “We had like three lines because we didn’t want to be like ‘it’s this guy from this band and that guy from that band and it’s Glasgow.’ That’s just not what we were about and it’s still not what we are about. We want the music to document it.” And they did that with the release of The Bones of What You Believe if year-end lists or Metacritic ratings are any indication (not to mention one’s ability to hum along to half of the tracks after a first listen.)
Even Lorde—an artist hand-plucked by Universal based on her already-developed low-croon at age 12—was recognized years ago. And after a few failed collaborations at the suggestion of manager Scott Machlachlan, Lorde’s own writing and experimentation with producer Joel Little would lead to her penning one of the year’s most unexpected smash singles with “Royals,” which would eventually make it to the top of the Billboard charts with tales of celebrity excess. And although Lorde had record ties at an early age, she told Paste last October that the recorded end result still felt true to her:
?“I haven’t compromised being an honest songwriter, which is cool,” she said. “I was like, surely it’s going to be embarrassing, or weird, but I’ve managed to keep my process personal and that was important to me for this album and these pop songs…I think the album offers a pretty good introduction into my world.”
For as damning and head-scratching as the Internet can be for this set of young women, it’s also the place that was pivotal in the momentum of these three acts after years of hard work developing their own sound. Each scored their respective singles—Lorde’s “Royals,” Haim’s “Falling” and Chvrches’ “Recover”—based on the strength of listens on streaming sites like Soundcloud or Bandcamp. And for all three, it meant developing a full-length effort in the spotlight of an already-eager fanbase, which quickly exploded.
“No one expected the reaction that the music got from people passing it around to their friends,” Doherty said. “It was all very organic and steamrolled very quickly and people kept asking ‘a show? A show? A show? A show? Gonna play live? Gonna play live?’ and we’re like, ‘how?’
Alana Haim echoed the weirdness of being Internet-famous months later, telling Paste of the first time she was recognized on the street: ““We were like, ‘Why do you care? Why do you know my name?’ We’re just three Jewish girls from the valley playing music.”
For the New Zealand-rooted Lorde, Pure Heroine’s release (and subsequent online blowup) hardly affected her home life: “It’s quite easy for me to be normal here,” she said. “I’ve only released my music quite recently, and I can’t go to the bars or anything. Most people are surprised about my age. I look older than I am, so I’m not like, ‘It’s crazy, she’s making music, she’s so young!’ you know? Maybe there’s a scene here for some types of music, but not for mine. It’s a weird scene here.”
Then again, this is the Internet that’s spawned some of these careers, and anyone who’s clicked the wrong link at the wrong time knows the horrors that can be around the bend. Probably the most explicit tale of Internet reaction (at least that’s out in the open) comes from Mayberry, who in October took a stand against some disgusting comments sent to the band through social media. “Why should women ‘deal’ with this?” she wrote. “I am incredibly lucky to be doing the job I am doing at the moment—and painfully aware of the fact that I would not be able to make music for a living without people on the internet caring about our band. But does that mean that I need to accept that it’s OK for people to make comments like this, because that’s how women in my position are spoken to?”
No. And after a while, they shouldn’t have to answer to the rest of the Internet’s questions—like what genre they fit into, or explaining what might look like an overnight success: “There were these conspiracy theories [before the Recover EP was released] that we’d ‘already secretly signed to a major label and not told anyone,” Mayberry told us earlier this year. What is for certain is that Haim, Chvrches and Lorde have all released exceptional debuts in 2013, and the only explaining we’ll remember in years to come will hopefully be the tunes that are left.
Original reporting for Haim by Sarah McCarty, Lorde by Hilary Hughes, Chvrches by Philip Cosores.