Calling any group a cult artist is faint praise. It implies that while they have a dedicated group of fans, their music will never truly reach the masses. In fact, a cult band’s legend, not to mention the slavish devotion of their fans, can often overshadow their artistic output. Nevertheless, any career in music is better than no career. Here are five indie bands destined for eternal cult status.
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
Reason for cult status: reclusiveness
While the entire Elephant 6 collective fits the bill, there’s no denying that Jeff Magnum’s psychedelic indie-folk project takes the cake when it comes to the devotion of his fans. But that’s what happens when you record one of the most influential albums of the 90s and then promptly fall off the face of the earth. Even while acolytes like Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes, and even Stephen Colbert name checked NMH, in an era of insta-access to our musical heroes, Magnum remained firmly out of limelight. That changed in 2013 when they finally came out of the shadows for a string of shows. It looks like his time in the sun will be short lived though; Magnum recently revealed that their 2015 tour will be their last for the “foreseeable future.”
Where to start: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – “Holland, 1945”
GUIDED BY VOICES
Reason for cult status: prolificacy
While Pavement will always be regarded as the kings of 90s lo-fi, few bands embodied the spirit of the movement the way Guided By Voices did, even if their music owed more of a debt to the Who and the Kinks than Sebadoh. Yet the breakneck pace of front man Robert Pollard’s writing, most of which was good to great, created a deluge of material to feed the hungry legions of fans who would flock to the band’s beer soaked gigs. Yet the club like atmosphere GBV engendered (they even perform under a neon sign that read “The Club is Open”) put off as many potential fans as it brought in. There was just too much music to wade through. Even after reuniting in 2010, the band released six new albums before splitting again late last year. And that’s not counting Pollard’s equally prolific solo career.
Where to start: Alien Lanes – “A Salty Salute”
Reason for cult status: self-sabotage
The Replacements were their own worst enemies. They drank too much, fucked around onstage, often refusing to play their own songs, and generally spent most of their career zigging when critics and fans wanted them to zag. No wonder they were a bit of an acquired taste. Yet, along with Husker Du, Paul Westerberg, the Stinson brother and Chris Mars, they managed to make a case for a different Minneapolis sound, one that mixed punk’s fury with pop hooks and folky introspection, influencing pretty much the entire underground, from Nirvana to Ryan Adams, for years after their early 90s split. Their 2013 reunion brought them back to the spotlight, but their unruly style and attitude continues to make them an acquired taste.
Where to start: Let it Be – “I Will Dare”
Reason for cult status: unwilling to conform to industry expectations
While Broken Social Scene get most of the credit, for many, Constantines were Southern Ontario’s ultimate indie rock band in the 2000s. Fiercely DIY, the band were the untamed flagship act of a scene built around Guelph-based Three Gut Records. But the ethos that gave the band its spark also ensured they’d never truly transcend their underground roots. Constantines charted their own course, flirting with the mainstream, but never fully committing themselves to reigning in both their raw energy and creative impulses. Shifting priorities amongst band members caused their inevitable end, but their spirit lives on in the dozens of bands they helped influence.
Where to start: Shine a Light – “Young Lions”
Reason for cult status: general weirdness
Make no mistake: Björk is a very successful artist. Across the globe, praise is regularly heaped on the Icelandic singer. She possesses one of the most singular voices in modern music and in the 90s her music videos pushed the medium to new heights. But ask the average person on the street and they’d be hard pressed to name a single song from her long career. Moreover, her musical restlessness, which ensures no one album sounds like the last, translates to general weirdness in the eyes of people outside music nerd circles. Then there was that swan dress she wore to the Oscars. Her latest release, Vulnicura, a break-up album, is already posting respectable reviews. But it’s a good bet she won’t be challenging Taylor Swift for break-up-anthem supremacy any time soon.
Where to Start: Post – “Army of Me”