Among the many genres Indie Rock has created over this decade, none is more confusing than Indie Folk. With its different varieties and tiny differences, it gets overwhelming.
Indie Folk basically is the influence of the folk music scenes from the 60s and early 70s such as artists like Bob Dylan, Crobsy, Stills, Nash, and Neil Young along with the combination of contemporary folk, country, and indie rock. This genre, then known as lo-fi indie in the 90s, began with artists likes Elliot Smith and Beck.
Mostly an American thing, indie folk bands have an interesting incorporation of trumpets, violins, ukuleles, multi voiced harmonies and whatever is necessary for the song be it an accordion or African hand drums.
Because indie rock is such a vague genre, where Band of Horses and the Strokes are labeled indie, searching for indie folk groups online, it gave a list of bands but no time figure of when this genre gained regard. It seems to grow popular year by year. The first band that I can remember being Indie Folk was Bright Eyes. Even though forming in 1997, they broke into the scene in 2005 with their albums, the folk-y "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and the electro sounding "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn." With singer Conor Oberst's superb lyrics, he gained comparison to Bob Dylan even more than before when he played the political song "When the President Talks to God" on "The Tonight Show." Since then his band has made great tunes such as the romantic "First day of my Life," and the honest "Four Winds." Bright Eyes are on hiatus while Oberst releases his solo albums and currently plays on tour with his new project Monsters of Folk which consists of M. Ward and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.
In this list of "Indie Folk" artists, you would think I would find Arcade Fire and Death Cab for Cutie, but apparently they are not of that genre, but their very similar counterparts The Decemberists are. Formed in 2000, with their upbeat pop and the use of accordion and organ, they make whimsical indie folk with interesting lyrical touches. They became an indie hit in 2005 with the viral video "16 Military Wives" with its tribute to the film "Rushmore" and they gained a record deal with Capitol Records. They have recently released "The Hazards of Love," but if you are a beginner to this band, check their early stuff such as their Capitol debut "The Crane Wife" with the ultimate Romeo and Juliet tribute song "O Valencia!"
The poster boys of Indie folk right now are Fleet Foxes. Fleet Foxes are a difficult band to decipher. They look like mountain men from the Appalachian Mountains with scruffy beards, long hair, and winter clothes who should be cutting wood for the upcoming winter in their log houses. They don't look like a group of guys that sing such astonishing vocal harmonies and surprisingly catchy tunes. I think, they themselves do not believe that they never put themselves in their music videos. Forming less than three years ago in Seattle, their debut gained a hit from the music critics and their popularity sent them all the way to "Saturday Night Live" looking out of place with their mountain men attire. If you want to get into this band, the best suggestion is to watch their music videos first for their songs "White Winter Hymnal" and "Mykonos" to see the lengths they go to not show themselves on video, and instead show intricate claymations and origami artistry.
Other recommendations of Indie Folk bands would be Beirut, hailing from New Mexico who combine Eastern European Folk and Western Pop music. Check out "Postcards from Italy" among their many brilliant songs. Iron and Wine which consists of singer Samuel Beam, hails from Texas making lots of interesting indie folk tunes such as "Such Great Heights" which was featured in the indie film "Garden State."
Sufjan Stevens from Michigan is most famous for his song "Chicago" which was featured in the film "Little Miss Sunshine" but he has gained curiosity when he stated that he would make an album for each state in the United States. Called the "50 states Project," he has completed only two, "Illinois" and "Michigan." One indie folk group not from America is Noah and the Whale. From England, they add ukuleles and Wes Anderson influence for songs like "5 years Time" and "Shape of my Heart."
From this genre it becomes even more confusing with genres such as Freak Folk with artists like Devandra Banhart and Psychedelic Folk like Grizzly Bear. But if you do not mind researching good indie folk music, good luck on your music voyage.
Check out outtheear.blogspot.com for interesting indie folk videos.