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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.


Matt Baker


Matt Baker commented…

The best new folk indie artist you've never heard of is George Kamel. Record is called The Great Coward, and it is fantastic.

Franc Timmerman


Franc Timmerman commented…

I like the fact that you adress the folk-overload, about time! :)

It's not a sin, but be careful about how you judge The Shins. They may have moved away from the fame that came with the hype, but they're are a terribly, terribly good band that transcend the OK bands in this list by miles and miles. I'm not a real fan of The Shins - and one doesn't have to be, but see them live and you know what I mean. Incredible stuff.

Doug Jolly


Doug Jolly commented…

Other than "New Slang", can you really call the Shins a "folk band"?



Sophia replied to Doug Jolly's comment

I agree. I wouldn't call The Shins. Great band to follow nonetheless

Brian Geis


Brian Geis commented…

See also Portlandia...Battle of the Gentlebands.

Jonathan Mitchell


Jonathan Mitchell commented…

Fave "folk" band has to be The River Empires. Fave "folk" artist has to be Sufjan Stevens. Just my opinion.

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