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The RELEVANT Guide to Telling Indie-Folk Bands Apart

The folk revival is starting to get crowded. Here's how to keep things straight.

Justin Bieber? Oh, please. Lady Gaga? Move on. These days, music’s surest bets are bands that look like they wandered off the set of Cold Mountain. The guys are decked in long hair, bushy beards and suspenders. The girls have flowers in their hair and, likely as not, no shoes on their feet. Telling which banjo-strumming, boot-stomping, sepia-toned music act is which is a daunting challenge for even the most seasoned music-lover. But never fear. Just commit this handy guide of "How to Keep Your Indie-Folk Bands Straight" to memory, and you’ll never get lost.

The Head and the Heart

You can’t miss them. There are approximately a million people in the band. They barely have room on stage for all their unwashed, Urban-Outfitters-approved, indie-band, male tank tops.

The Lumineers

They’re exactly like the Head and the Heart, but with less people and more commercials.

Mumford & Sons

Check the volume. If the song starts off so quiet you can barely hear it and then ends up breaking your speakers, you’re listening to Mumford. Also, one of them’s married to Carey Mulligan. Also, look, if you don’t know Mumford, there’s no way you’re even reading this right now.

The Civil Wars

They sound the least like a “war” of any band on this list.

Of Monsters and Men

For experts only. These guys are very difficult to tell apart from the Head and the Heart, but they are from an Icelandic city that no one in the Head and the Heart can spell. Also, listen to the lyrics. No other band on this list will sing “Howling ghosts they reappear, in mountains that are stacked with fear, but you’re a king and I’m a lionheart” anytime soon.

Blind Pilot

They have a telltale habit of recording in old barns instead of music studios. (Just kidding. Every band on this list probably does that.)

The Low Anthem

Like the Lumineers, but for naps.

The Shins

You remember the Shins. They were the only reason you watched Garden State, and everyone stopped listening to them after Zach Braff stopped blogging about them.


Easy. No beards. (As of this writing.)

The Avett Brothers

To our knowledge, the only indie-folk band to model for the Gap.

The Lone Bellow

If you think you’re listening to Nickel Creek, and then you think you’re listening to the Civil Wars, and then you think you’re listening to Mumford & Sons, you’re actually listening to the Lone Bellow.


Matthew Spano


Matthew Spano commented…

I thought this was hilarious because it's pretty much true. I listen to half the bands on here but it's really fun to make fun of them.

Michael Kennedy


Michael Kennedy commented…

This is fun, but it does have a point.The danger - if that is the right word - is that in sounding so similar, and looking so serious, and in presenting themselves as "artists" they will simply fade away. This happened with the "folk music" of the late 50''s and early 60's because it became so homogenous that it couldn't hold a candle to Motown, the British Invasion, and all of those go-for-broke garage bands. The folk musicians locked themselves into some sort of delusional idea of purity and tried to block the growth of the genre. As for the others, it was all about the music. The Beatles, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, The Temptations and dozens of other musicians had energy, drive, and they were clearly having fun. They didn't take themselves too seriously. If this current crop of Americana bands can loosen up, have some fun, and go for broke, they might really develop into an important genre. I suggest a strong diet of music from "Goodbye Babylon" on Dust-To-Digital and Harry Smith's amazing "American Anthology of Folk Music". Go to the real roots, absorb what you can, and then see what happens to make the tree grow.



JamesPLong replied to Michael Kennedy's comment

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs were "all about the music." Unintentionally hilarious. Made my day.

Phil Hardy


Phil Hardy commented…

The Low Anthem's description is absolutely perfect. And ya can't beat the Avett Bros!

Kyle Brooks Robinson


Kyle Brooks Robinson commented…

Personally, I'm tired of the foklification of indie rock. Can we please have more bands rooted in the Dinosaur Jr./Pixies/Pavement/Sonic Youth sound? Like, indie rock bands that actually rock?

Kyle James Unger


Kyle James Unger replied to Kyle Brooks Robinson's comment

There are plenty of bands like those, gotta look in the right places ;)

Chris Limbaugh


Chris Limbaugh replied to Kyle James Unger's comment

Of Monsters and Men reminds me more of a Sugarcubes redo than a straight up folk band, though many of their songs have that feel (maybe I'm just a sucker for Icelandic music). Music fads come in waves and some trends stay around past their expiration date, case in point late 90's boy bands. This isn't the worst trend.

Chris Limbaugh


Chris Limbaugh replied to Kyle James Unger's comment

Didn't mean to reply directly to you.

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