EDIT: I’ve just launched a new series of mixtapes and associated commentaries fully dedicated to pop music (indie pop, pop rock, ambient pop, …), named CRESTS OF WAVES. Look for them from the homepage, I know you’ll enjoy!
Now that the second quarter of the year is approaching we dedicate a special entry of the blog to the Indie Pop and Pop Rock categories, for which we had a few important entries in this initial part of 2017. Let’s see which have been selected as the best five releases in the first months of the year.
Before entering the chart, however, let’s mention a couple of albums that we (as almost everyone) are quite surprised to see excluded from the top positions. We’re talking about the last efforts by the Depeche Mode and The XX. Honestly we listened again and again to the songs from these long awaited albums. Unfortunately, however, we found their music well below the expectations (which were high, in true honesty). Even in absolute terms, leaving aside the expectation, their production today is not at the same level as what we are showing here in this chart. Enjoy the list, and feel free to comment!
#5) Colliding by Design by Acceptance
It may be strange at first to see Acceptance to be reviewed within the Indie Pop category. These guys from Seattle, in fact, started playing about twenty years ago a blend of alternative, indie and punk rock music. But wheter it’s a smart move for commercial success or rather a genuine evolution of their musical tastes, at the end we don’t care since the result is damn good.
But what’s really incredible in the story of this American band is that in such a long time from their original formation, the album they have just published in 2017 is actually only the second of their discography. After their debut album in 2005 (Phantoms), the group broke up and it was only in early 2016 that they started again to play together. Colliding Design, their new release, arrived thus 12 years after their debut and as a kind of magic the grown-up boys have found the same feeling of their beginning.
From a musical point of view, Colliding by Design is filled with catchy melodies, fresh and lively arrangements reminiscent of the early Coldplay. But aside from the musical details, you may perceive the weight and depth of all the different experiences that the five musicians have collected during this decade and wanted to share in this very valuable work.
This is the sound of a band that has struck a balance between its under-appreciated past, and a surprisingly promising future. After a decade apart, Acceptance have caught a new breath of life, one that will hopefully carry them forward for many more years to come. (Sputnik Music)
#4) Hot Thoughts by Spoon
Hot Thoughts is the new album by the American indie veterans Spoon, It is the ninth of their 20 years long discography and comes three years after their previous release, They Want My Soul. The band is not famous for brave musical experiments or dramatic changes in musical directions, but each of their albums has always represented a solid collection of nice and catchy songs. This last album is no exception and in fact it received very good reviews both from critics and their fanbase. Beauty in normality, far from any excess, but supported by a constant research for perfection in the recording studio.
From a musical point of view, the group managed to balance an overall radio-friendly approach with moderate but interesting explorations into electronic, garage rock and sometimes disco music. There is a vivid creativity underlying these songs, and the feeling that you get from listening to the record is that these guys from Texas still enjoy composing and playing good songs, and that twenty years into the music arena have not exhausted their inspiration.
Nothing is certain except death, taxes and great Spoon records. So it really isn’t really surprising that the latest effort from the Austin veterans is great. No, the big shock here is that the band’s ninth record, Hot Thoughts, is the biggest re-invention of their career. Over nearly 25 years they’ve always tinkered with the mould rather than breaking it, experimenting liberally but still keeping the ship steady. (Drowned in Sound)
#3) In Between by The Feelies
The Feelies is another of those groups marked by a long period of silence. Formed in 1976, this band from New Jersey disbanded after sixteen years and four albums. Reunited about ten years ago, they have publised two further studio albums, Here Before in 2011 and In Between in the early 2017.
Their last album holds all the distinctive and characteristics elements of the band, starting with the omnipresent guitars of Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, the two remaining members from the first original 1976 lineup. These guitars operate as the engine of the songs and manage to build enjoyable layers of music. There is clearly a great cohesing among the musicians of this group, something that you achieve only after many years playing together.
The Feelies remain a democratic machine, with each sound snugly complementing the other. They’re masters at weaving their moving parts into a kinetic whole (Pitchfork)
#2) Little Fictions by Elbow
English alternative rock veterans Elbow released in 2017 the seventh studio album of their long career, named Little Fictions. In absolute continuity with their latest works, it contains a refreshing compilation of elegant and enjoyable pop & soft-songs (“tastefully simple tracks”, as someone says). Simple but not trivial, because each one of the tracks in the album shows a certain commitment of the group in enriching the melodies with focused arrangements and – where necessary – some moderate experimentation.
In their long musical career the band always showed an undeniable talent for songwriting, which is totally confirmed here in Little Fictions. Even the abrupt departure of drummer Richard Jupp (he left the band after 25 years of ) didn’t affect too much the style and the sound of the band. And in fact, even in this last beautiful piece of work, the Elbow keep repeating what they know best: crafting and playing gorgeous and sytlistic progressive pop melodies, those who made the band famous and succesfull over the years (on February 2017 Little Fictions topped the UK charts).
There has always been something stubbornly unfashionable about their dense lyrics, jazzy melodies and intricate arrangements. They are like a British Steely Dan, only with a taste for pints and everyman wisdom, instead of cocktails and irony. (Telegraph)
#1) Silver Eye by Goldfrapp
Legendary English electronic duo Goldfrapp published at the end of March the seventh studio album of their career (17 years after their debut!), named Silver Eye. The release was anticipated by a number of tracks that the band shared on the media as early as the beginning of the year (we reviewed them in a specific entry of the blog). The positive impression that we had at that time was definitely confirmed once the full-disc became available on the shelves.
Those who are familiar with Goldfrapp are aware that the band loves to explore different styles and sub-genres of music, and also that until now every album from the duo has been always different from its predecessor. This rule is somehow confirmed with Silver Eye, which sees a clear and decise turn towards synth-pop from the previous experiments with folktronica (Tales of Us) , 80’s pop (Head First), and downtempo (Seventh Tree). It should be said, however, that such perpetual search for re-inventing themselves didn’t bring to the two English musicians the success that they might have deserved so far, and to some extent we don’t believe that this will eventually happen with this album.
Anyway, if we make the exercise to consider and review the album by itself, aside from the overall progress of the group over time, we must admit that Silver Eye collects a number of really interesting, basic but elegant and lovely songs. Whether you want just light musical background during the working hours, or you want to “unplug” yourself for a moment of relaxation, this record can truly be your loyal companion and it will hardly disappoint your expectations.
While perhaps sagging a little towards the end – weighed down by the claustrophobic washes of synth – overall this is a strong album and it compliments the rest of Goldfrapp’s back catalogue well. Alison’s voice still sounds like one of the best things in pop – although in this case, we’re definitely talking about magic of the darker kind. (The National)