Ever notice what bizarre instruments indie rockers have been using on stage? It may enhance the sound at times, but whipping out a melodica or tuba always makes me wonder what the hell were they were thinking. Artists like Sufjan Stevens and Modest Mouse need to cut back on their dorky obsession with weird instrumentation, unless it serves a concrete musical purpose. With that in mind, let's take a look at some particularly egregious gear mistakes and why the musicians should refrain from them.
1. MIDI Keyboard
The MIDI keyboard is the staple of every band that wants an analog synth/vocoder hook in their performance. It doesn't hurt that it's tiny and looks vintage--therefore, everyone from French electronic duo Justice, to Canadian experimentalists Crystal Castles to mainstream Kings of Leon and art rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs use it to death.
Why it's overused: There are only so many presets you can use.
The banjo is a fine instrument with a long musical heritage, and it features on much of the best folk, country and bluegrass recordings of the past century. Unfortunately, this heritage, along with the its twangy, plaintive sound, has inspired many an indie rocker (Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens and Iron and Wine) to employ it in order to attempt to add a down-home flavor to songs that didn't really need it to begin with.
Why it's overused: In the wrong context, the sound of a banjo sticks out like a sore thumb.
Using a saw as a musical instrument is more of a cool trick than something that should be encouraged in popular music. The musical saw is capable of interesting, even other worldly sounds, but some artists have taken it way too far like the Black Heart Procession. Even Korn got into the act on their Unplugged performance.
Why it's overused: It's really not even a musical instrument in the first place.
This is one of the most beautiful-sounding instruments in the world. A mainstay of Celtic and other folk/indigenous music, a master harpist can coax heavenly tones from its strings. Recently, oddball artists from Bjork to Joanna Newsom to the Polyphonic Spree have added the harp to pretty up their sound.
Why it's overused: Too much harp makes everything sound like the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.
This is a fairly new instrument to the indie scene. The melodica in its current form was only invented about 50 years ago, and it's a somewhat awkward-looking amalgam of wind instruments and with accordion-style keys. Hipper-than-thou bands like Gorillaz, Franz Ferdinand and Clinic have broken out the melodica on stage and on record.
Why it's overused: No matter how cool you are, you look like an idiot playing the melodica.
A descendent of the lute, the modern mandolin has been around since the 18th Century. prized for its of its distinct, trebly tone, eclectic musicians like Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Jack White have employed this small stringed wonder on record.
Why it's overused: Unless you're a musician on the level of a Peter Buck or Jack White, you should master the guitar first.
Renowned for being the largest and lowest-pitched brass instrument, the tuba can usually be found in large orchestras or marching bands. Nevertheless, some intrepid (or foolhardy) artists have attempted to add the tuba to rock, like Jellyfish, XTC and Austin band Drums and Tuba.
Why it's overused: Even high school band geeks know the tuba is not cool.
Technically a keyboard instrument, the accordion often appears in the folk musics of Central and Eastern Europe. It had its heyday in popular music in the mid-20th Century, but never really infiltrated rock, outside of "Weird Al" Yankovic's pop parodies. Krist Novoselic changed all that with Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance of "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam," however. Since then, countless rock musicians have added the mellifluous sounds of "the box" to their recordings.
Why it's overused: Using an accordion is OK occasionally, but it's really no fun at all to watch someone play it. It just looks ridiculous.