Indie rock is often ironic or sarcastic or absurd — but truly funny indie songs can be hard to find. That realization struck us recently, while listening to “Our Riotous Defects,” from of Montreal’s fantastic new album, False Priest. Against a P-Funk backbeat, frontman Kevin Barnes deadpans the story of his relationship with a “crazy girl,” in hilarious details like, “as punishment, you killed my beta fish, just threw it out the window” and “I participated in all your protests, supported your stupid, little blog, got a Bowflex, wore color contacts to match your dresses.” In celebration of this track, we present this list of 10 more indie songs to make you laugh out loud. Because even the sullenest of hipsters has to laugh once in a while.
Pavement – “Cut Your Hair”
Sure, “Gold Soundz” may have been the Best Song of the ’90s, but we were always partial to “Cut Your Hair,” Pavement’s goofy send-up of rock ‘n roll posturing. As an unfailingly solid (and often brilliant) band that never dressed up and didn’t even bother to make a show of getting along, no one could accuse them of being hypocrites for picking on their trendier contemporaries. “Look around, around/The second drummer drowned/His telephone was found,” Stephen Malkmus drawls (and his signature monotone is part of the hilarity). In the next verse, he really breaks it down: “Music scene’s crazy/Bands start up each and every day/I saw another one just the other day/A special new band/ I remember lying/ I don’t a remember a line/ I don’t remember a word/ But I don’t care, I care/ I really don’t care/ Did you see the drummer’s hair?”
The Magnetic Fields – “California Girls”
There are a lot of songs called “California Girls,” but only one is funny. (Make that “intentionally funny.” Sorry, Katy Perry.) In a airy, stretched vocal befitting of an album named Distortion, Claudia Gonson launches into an invective against the kind of ladies Brian Wilson loved best. She calls them “faux folks sans derrieres” and says, “They come on like squares, then get off like squirrels.” And then she makes plans to murder them. Brutally. With a battle axe. Deconstruction of ideal complete!
The Vaselines – “I Hate the ’80s”
Most Vaselines songs are funny, in the so-silly-it’s-hilarious way. Perhaps their proudest moment, though, is “I Hate the ’80s,” a single from their great, new comeback album Sex with an X. It’s a song-length slap in the face to 20-somethings who idealize the decade of excess, a three-and-a-half-minute rebuttal to the VH1 series I Love the ’80s. MTV and day-glo and Rubik’s Cube all get shout outs. But it’s the chorus that’s worth 20 years of waiting for new Vaselines material: “What do you know?/ You weren’t there/ It wasn’t all Duran Duran Duran Duran…/ You want the truth?/ Well, this is it/ I hate the ’80s ’cause the ’80s were shit.”
Jarvis Cocker – “Running the World”
Jarvis Cocker is a master of social satire, from Pulp’s blistering “Common People” (the #2 Song of the ’90s, in case you were wondering) to its pointed “Cocaine Socialism.” But the class-war anthem that appeared on his first solo album, Jarvis, is another entry in his “funny (and depressing) because its true” canon. “Did you hear… That the cream cannot help/ But always rise up to the top?” he asks, before telling us, “Well, I say… shit floats.” The song’s very folksiness is what makes Cocker’s refrain — “Cunts are still running the world” — so effective as comedy.
The Dandy Warhols – “Bohemian Like You”
When your band name is a portmanteau involving pop’s greatest art star and your one mainstream hit was called “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth,” chances are you have a pretty decent sense of humor. As funny-sad as that track was, “Bohemian Like You” is just plain hilarious. An epic send-up of your stereotypical hipsters, the song starts out with some pseudo-spiritual Eastern sounds before kicking over to a slacker monologue featuring such gems as “If you dig, um, vegan food/ Well, come over to my work/ I’ll have them cook you something that you really love.” We like the part about the girl who still shares a bedroom with her ex-boyfriend, though he’s courteous enough to sleep on the couch when our narrator stays over — we totally know those people. If you know the song but haven’t seen the wonderful, karaoke parody video, be sure to check it out below.
Belle & Sebastian – “Step Into My Office, Baby”
Workaholics need love, too, and that’s the premise of this Belle & Sebastian hit. This romance is told entirely in office jargon, filled with quips like, “She’s got an Out Tray full of guys” and “She gave me some dictation/ But my strength is in administration/ I took down all she said/ I even took down her little red dress.” We don’t recommend you share this one with your co-workers, unless you fancy sexual harassment charges.
The Dismemberment Plan – “The Ice of Boston”
Travis Morrison has a story to tell, about moving from D.C. to Boston and feeling lonely on New Year’s. That doesn’t necessarily sound like the setup for a hilarious tale, but — without ruining the song for those who haven’t heard it yet — we will say this: By the time you get to the shout-along chorus, “Oh, fine, Mom! How’s Washington?!”, you will be in stitches. If self-deprecating humor is your thing, then “The Ice of Boston” is your song.
Art Brut – “Formed A Band”
Like the big, dumb younger brother to “Cut Your Hair,” Art Brut’s “Formed A Band” could satire or self-parody or totally serious — but perhaps the Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup cans in the video is the real key to the band’s motives. Either way, the hyper repetition of “Formed a band/Look at us, we formed a band!” seems like a brilliant inversion of every buzz band’s hot debut single. If you listen hard, you’ll pick up the mumbled asides, which are also very funny.
LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge”
James Murphy’s smash-hit first single as LCD Soundsystem is an obvious pick here, but it’s also a track that is still funny after hundreds of spins and thus richly deserves its place on this list. Less a parody of hipster types than of High Fidelity-style hardcore record nerds, “Losing My Edge” in its very inception is also a spoof of both its creator and its audience. If you don’t understand what’s funny about bragging that you were “there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in 1974… working on the organ sounds” or “in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan,” then the song won’t do much for you. If you do get it, then the joke is kind of on you, too.
Black Kids – “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You”
Sometime between the release of their debut EP and the release of their debut album, Black Kids became something of a punchline. And considering how awful that full-length was, they kind of deserved it. But no one can take away from them the runaway success of their breakout single. What’s funny here isn’t any individual lyric (in fact, that cheap bit of gender confusion in the line, “You are the girl that I’ve been dreaming of/ Ever since I was a little girl” does nothing for us) but the entire scenario. If you don’t quite get the drift on first listen, Black Kids frontman Reggie Youngblood explained, in an interview with Tiny Mix Tapes: “Christ, I don’t know how many times I would go out and be minding my own business. Having a dance by myself… to ‘Common People.’ I’ll stop gazing at my feet and catch some girl looking at me and we’ll start getting into it. We’ll shut the place down and then she’ll walk off with some guy who I thought was lurking, but was apparently her boyfriend.”