The long and checkered history of the Best Alternative Album Grammy is filled with years in which the category seems embarrassing, irrelevant, and almost comically out-of-touch. It's, annually, confusing. 2014 is, however, not one of those years. Aside from the odd placement of an inessential comeback album for Nine Inch Nails —a band the Grammys have long honored, but never known exactly where to put— this year's crop of indie names is weirdly credible. Not merely for the fact that The National, Neko Case, Tame Impala, and Vampire Weekend are here, but that they all put out really good records.
Who: The National
From: Brooklyn, New York
LP: Trouble Will Find Me, their sixth
Story: For those who haven't watched The National's strange, endearing documentary Mistaken For Strangers: the Brooklyn-based band-of-brothers has patiently plotted a path from obscurity to popularity for over a decade.
Why the nomination?: Because Trouble Will Find Me found The National taking the final step from top-line indie band to bona fide stadium-rockers. It debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts. And it did so without forsaking the band's sound, nature, or demeanour.
Chances of winning: Pretty, pretty good.
Neko Case 'The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight...'
Who: Neko Case
From: Virginia, Vermont, Vancouver...
LP: The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, her sixth
Story: Alt-country chanteuse Neko Case landed on the Grammy radar when 2009's Middle Cyclone unexpected crashed the Billboard charts at #3. After it was nominated, somewhat awkwardly, as Best Contemporary Folk Album, Case seems more at home here.
Why the nomination?: Obviously not for the artwork. Instead, Case's LP was a daring, soul-baring exploration of depression that took her to odd, unexpected places: including a haunted cover of Nico's Afraid, and the emotionally-brutal a cappella Nearly Midnight, Honolulu. Oh, and it debuted at #12.
Chances of winning: Since Sinead O'Connor won the first Best Alternative Grammy in 1991, no other woman has won the award. So, let's say Neko's a long-shot.
Nine Inch Nails 'Hesitation Marks'
Who: Nine Inch Nails
From: Los Angeles, California
LP: Hesitation Marks, their eighth
Story: The Grammys have never known exactly where to put Trent Reznor and co., the iconic industrial act having been stuck the Rock, Hard Rock, Metal, and Alternative categories over the years. This year, the roulette wheel landed here, in a category Nine Inch Nails last appeared in for 2000's The Fragile.
Why the nomination?: Because after 25 years together, NIN are a known commodity. And the Grammys love those.
Chances of winning: Reznor may've won for something called "Best Metal Performance" in 1993 and 1996, but this time he feels like a long-shot; an elder statesman here to pad out the nominations.
Tame Impala 'Lonerism'
Who: Tame Impala
From: Perth, Australia
LP: Lonerism, their second
Story: Wildly psychedelic Australian outfit Tame Impala were one of the great surprises of the Grammy nominations. And a pleasant one! Lonerism continues the woozy, warped, warm-hearted retro-pop they first showed on 2010's Innerspeaker.
Why the nomination?: Tame Impala's two albums have been wildly acclaimed, taking the band from the globe's most isolated metropolis unto the world.
Chances of winning: The band's beloved Fremantle Dockers (whose club song sister-band Pond memorably covered) are favourites to win Australian football's premiership in 2014. Tame Impala are, on the contrary, rank outsiders. But it sure is nice to be nominated.
Who: Vampire Weekend
From: Brooklyn, New York
LP: Modern Vampires of the City, their third
Story: Once an overhyped buzz-band whose 2008 self-titled debut threatened to divide the internet, Vampire Weekend have, across an increasingly-impressive discography, started to approach sainted status, becoming a band who gets better as they get bigger.
Why the nomination?: The Grammys love a bankable commodity, and with back-to-back #1 debuts and 3/3 Gold Albums to their credits, VW well-and-truly fit the bill. Oh, Modern Vampires of the City is also their best album, something that may or may not interest Grammy voters.
Chances of winning: Let's call them the favorites.