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Big Sound

Indie rock’s zest for horns and strings explained

Rock bands used to need only a guitar, bass, and drums. For plenty of groups today, the list of required instruments now includes horns and a string section. Along with such indie rock heroes as Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, and Jens Lekman, the orchestral rock trend has been embraced by the Chicago band Head of Femur, which releases a new record March 25th and plays Schubas April 11th, as well as locals The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, who will perform there every Monday night in April (3159 N. Southport Ave.; schubas.com).

On Head of Femur’s new CD, The Great Plains, the band—most of whom grew up in Nebraska—apply orchestration selectively to a meandering mix of off-kilter melody and guitar jangle. “It’s done in a rootsy way,” says singer-guitarist Matt Focht, a vet of Bright Eyes, another large rock ensemble.

The 32-year-old says that it’s a natural progression as members of his generation outgrow the youthful angst and primitivist aesthetic of punk and embrace the more elaborate music of a previous era. “[We] can’t get enough sixties and seventies records,” he says. “You hear what they did with the orchestrations and think, Why can’t we do it?”

 

Photography: Chris Guillen

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