The Guardian Indie

Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice
  1. The leather trousers, the cars – it once seemed thrilling but now looks ridiculous. Thankfully guitar sales to women are soaring

    One of the best albums released this year is called Tell Me How You Really Feel. It was created by Courtney Barnett, a 30-year-old singer-songwriter from Melbourne in Australia recently described as “the ultimate paradoxical millennial”.Her writing is fresh, eloquent and full of surprises. One of the album’s best songs is aimed at a male internet troll, and has a chorus that paraphrases Margaret Atwood: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Men are scared that women will laugh at them … Women are scared that men will kill them.” It is called Nameless, Faceless, which has obvious echoes of Nirvana’s 1991 track Endless, Nameless – and highlights the fact that one of Barnett’s clear inspirations is Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who once wrote of “the comfort in knowing that women are the only future in rock’n’roll”.

    At long last, this might finally be coming true. In September the annual Mercury prize was won by Wolf Alice, the London-based quartet whose creativity seems to be chiefly driven by their guitarist and singer, Ellie Rowsell. Any list of contemporary musicians who are doing interesting and iconoclastic things with rock(ish) music ought to be brimming with women’s names: Barnett, Rowsell, the genre-defying American solo artist St Vincent, the Anglo-French group Savages, the all-female Brixton band Goat Girl. And last week there was news of a remarkable development at music’s grassroots: according to the guitar manufacturer Fender, 50% of “all beginner and aspirational players” of the instrument in the UK and US are now women. This apparently chimes with the findings of research in 2016, which were linked to the popularity among girls of Taylor Swift. Though she is not seen with a guitar nearly as much these days, the trend has continued. This is nothing but a good thing, and it would be even better if the gender balance were tilted even more.

    Related:Half of beginner guitarists in US and UK are female, survey says

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  2. The former Pavement frontman will be answering your questions from 12.15pm BST on Thursday 25 October – post them in the comments below

    Coming to fame in the early 90s as co-founder and lead singer of the band Pavement, Stephen Malkmus, 52, has since become an icon of American indie rock. Over Pavement’s five albums, Malkmus’s often eccentric wordplay and off-kilter compositions won them a devoted following. They even prompted the Fall’s Mark E Smith to call them a “rip off” of his band, one that did not “have an original idea in their heads”.

    After the group disbanded in 1999, Malkmus collaborated with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore on their project Kim’s Bedroom, as well as writing music for film and TV, including tracks for Todd Haynes’ unconventional biopic of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There. He also fronts the enduring Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – their seventh album, Sparkle Hard, was released in May.

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  3. Wembley Arena, London
    You can’t fault their energy but, at three hours long and with countless costume changes, the 90s rock gods’ reunion show is all about singer Billy Corgan’s huge ego

    The stage is bare except for a solitary mic stand. When the curtains part, they reveal Smashing Pumpkins’ singer and guitarist Billy Corgan, dressed sombrely, except for some flapping silver fabric that looks like half a skirt. An acoustic guitar slung around his shoulders, backlit, Corgan basks for some moments in the cheers of the near-capacity arena. Then he kicks off the penultimate date of this much-vaunted Smashing Pumpkins reunion tour with – of all things – a solo acoustic track.

    The scene-setter is Disarm, first released on Siamese Dream, the Pumpkins’ 1993 album. It is perhaps the singer-songwriter’s most poignant few minutes, in which he addresses the abuse he suffered as a child. Infamously, the 90s alt-rock titan didn’t write a vengeful grunge kiss-off, but a furred, blithe ache of a tune, that sought to “disarm” his childhood tormentors “with a smile”. Throughout, Super-8 films and childhood pictures flash up, scribbled over, his eyes x-ed out; as the song ends, Corgan, 51, turns to the backdrop and salutes his younger self.

    The absence of Wretszky is either not addressed or, perhaps, dealt with indirectly

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  4. (RCA)

    It was almost six years ago that Danish singer-songwriter Karen Marie Ørsted, known as , first began to pop up on “ones to watch” lists. In 2014 she released her subtle, dark pop debut, No Mythologies to Follow, and since then has racked up global hits in the form of collaborations with Major Lazer and others. Yet there remains a sense that somehow she’s yet to break through in her own right. It’s a sense that, sadly, won’t be dissipated by this much-delayed second album.

    There are great moments: Way Down, about a would-be star in LA who fears they’ve missed their moment, is pure and pulsing Scandipop with new age overtones, and the beguiling, Balearically uplifting Nostalgia, with its cocky half-rap. Most interesting is Blur, whose neurotic acoustic guitar references the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind, with soft-focus synths and dreamy, treated vocals. But beyond those, too much is forgettable: the sunny, 90s R&B-inflected pop of I Want You threatens to “burn this fucking house down”, but does little more than nudge the thermostat. It’s certainly too damp a squib to break Mø out of her strange forever hinterland of almost-there.

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  5. Moshi Moshi

    The Saddleworth songwriter’s brilliant previous album Derevaun Seraun was a suite of hyper-personal responses to favourite pieces of literature; Western Culture is as outward-facing as that was inward-turning. Leonard confronts the failure of basic communication in our age of fake news and entrenched political positions, our paradoxical cultural moment where so much is being said with so little understood. There are some really valuable, even-handed messages: “There is no choice of answer when you’re desperate, when you’re kept from setting the agenda”, he sings on the beautifully episodic Legacy of Neglect. “The subject is left boxed in with the wrong question.” Here and elsewhere he laments how a political and financial class is ultimately to blame for the outpourings of hate and frustration lower down society’s rungs.

    Most of these songs, when they finish, bustle out of a door and evaporate with no hooks left in your head. But played with a straightforward setup of guitars, drums and strings, their garage-y freshness make them a pleasure to fleetingly sit with – a little like the Chicago school of jazz-rock such as David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke, with a Beefheartian energy that sometimes obscures the lyrical messages. That said, there are exceptional songs that do linger, particularly Unreflective Life, one of the best of the year. Its first half soulfully churns through math-rock time signatures, before quelling, Leonard almost whispering: “We are tethered and spent / spinning into the arms of a quiet inside / or a screaming antidote.” Insularity or rage are our only options left. The cathartic, intensely moving guitar solo that follows shows us another: beauty.

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