In no particular order, heres an arrangement of artists who decided to pick up an acoustic guitar and front some beautifully minimalist songs chock full of chords reminiscent of the many staples of American music culture. The movement was pioneered by artists including from Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Lightnin Hopkins Big Mama Thornton, Johnny Cash and countless others to create a diverse range of emotions and conversations about the state of life and of the countercultural movement. As a voice of America, the folk rock counterculture continues to be reinvigorated and reimagined today in ways that are more than worth noting.
Elliott Smith may be dead but his presence within the nexus of indie folk fandom is perhaps among the most influential and that does not go unwarranted. Smiths ability as a songwriter showed in the depth and complexity of each of his songs which he managed to compress into a catchy and upbeat style of folk. Combined with the frailty and softness of his multi-layered singing tracks, and his introspective take on life, Smiths legacy remains present in the minds of many folk music lovers thirteen years after his mysterious death.
The Tallest Man on Earth
The Tallest Man on Earth is a solo act by Kristian Matsson, a Swedish-born singer and multi-instrumentalist who began listening to American folk staples at a young age. His playing style is very well-versed and influenced by a rich history of American folk music, and in many ways his music is classically American in spirit. With a voice that almost sounds like that of a young and acoustic-only Bob Dylan, albeit very focused on technical proficiency, Matssons music is influenced by heartbreak, solace, and evokes imagery of the human attachment to nature and the natural world in a way that is utterly down-to-earth and charming.
The brainchild of Denver native David Eugene Edwards, Woven Hand is a music project combining songs with a sole acoustic guitar and Edwards bellowing, deep voice with other creations backed by a full band with blasted electric guitars and a considerably heavy metal influence. Though, even Woven Hands more mellow songs, sometimes involving just a mandolin, have a heavy, harrowing and beautiful gloom to them that evokes a sense of doom in the wake of a coming storm. Woven Hand is an incarnation of country and folk that is unprecedented in the awe-inspiring style Edwards has put forward on seven albums.
Owen is a solo project fronted by Mike Kinsella, whose first claim to fame involves fronting an emo band called American Football. A highly active member of several bands in the Chicago indie scene, Kinsellas folk songs in no way lack the luster of anything hes been a part of otherwise. Really great guitar melodies, songs about hanging onto family, raising kids, and the phases of life people struggle to move on from.
Chelsea Wolfe may be a bit of a stretch to pin down as an inherently folk musician because of her incredibly experimental work sometimes comprised entirely of electronic music, it is without doubt that any of her songs, ranging from a solo guitar to a surreal and haunting soundscape devoid of anything uplifting aside from her voice, have a uniquely neofolk influence to them. With very unorthodox influences, like gothic music, doom metal, experimental electronics, combined with her influences of country and folk music create a ghostly portrait that is somewhat creepy but artistically profound. Some of her work has appeared in both Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats have always been ones to explore the flaws in life and in relationships through very traditional styles of instrumentation and nicely harmonized vocals. Constantly finding the accompaniment of violins, and other traditional folk instruments, The Mountain Goats write some very full-sounding backing music for what can be described succinctly as a lyrical struggle to find the means to keep pushing forward through emotional muck and stress, all while being fun and catchy to listen to.
While spoken word rock can certainly take a bit of getting used to, and the ramblings of Dan Smith are not entirely aesthetically pleasing, the music project Listener provides for some incredibly interesting poetry backed by some neofolk and gospel styles of music which accompany the themes of the imagery Smith blurts out, frantically, spastically, and with bare feet. Thats right, he has never recorded or performed any song with shoes on.
There is something incredibly worthy of mention and straightforward regarding the music made by Jose Gonzalez. His songwriting style is succinct, with just his singing and guitar, very much in the spirit of traditional folk music. However, his technical ability allows him to play some of the most complex and intricate songs within the style of music he has brought forward. And the one guitar is all he needs to produce complete-sounding songs worth listening to many times.
Andrew Jackson Jihad
Fronted by mastermind Sean Bonnette, Andrew Jackson Jihad started out as a two-piece folk punk band with a guitar and stand-up bass and has since evolved into a full band with a more sophisticated and polished style. Every album they put out is a raucous, frenzied collage of crazy, sometimes morbidly shocking imagery, anxieties, and fears, while occasionally devolving into slowed-down, entirely earnest songs that still have the capacity to make you wonder what you just listened to...in a good way. Their songs often involve compelling, nightmarish views about the devastation of various social problems and the nature of humanity.
Sun Kil Moon
Sun Kil Moon is one of the most critically acclaimed folk rock projects today (even if frontman Mark Kozelek is a little abrasive) for their constant ability to write trailing, amazing melodies inspired by classical guitar techniques and styles. Their songs attempt to find some kind of poetic way of explaining the losses experienced in life in ways which can resonate at a relatively universal level. Aside from this, their music at face values cannot be described as anything short of compelling and entirely unique.