As we’re approaching the last quarter of the year, I’m updating all the main charts of the blog and in particular those referring to the main genres that are reviewed in these pages. One of the categories that has seen an important number of new releases is pop music, which here includes a wide range of sub-genres spanning from synth pop to indie, and which features often a relevant group of songwriters. In the last few weeks, in particular, there were a couple of major publications which have literally spoiled the previous charts and we can see the results by just looking to the top three positions. If this grouping of albums may appear at first as less homogeneous and coherent with respect to other genres (such as rock and metal, for example), it’s easy to recognize that there are distinctive features that accomunate all the entries of the list: these are the search for beautiful melodic lines, the care for the arrangements, the desire to use music to draw poetic or melancholy paintings.
Let’s see then how the chart has been updated after the important releases of the last few weeks and – as usual – I hope it may be the opportunity for many of you to engagé with new artists and new types of music. Enjoy!
#1) Sleep Well Beast by The National
Last In First Out. It’s just arrived on the shelves and it immediately captures the top of the list for its genre. Sleep Well Beast, the seventh album by American indie art rock The National, was one of the highly anticipated and most awaited albums of the year, and it delivered what expected. It’s not by chance, then, that the LP topped in a few days some of the most important music charts in US, UK and Canada.
Born as college rockers and post-punk revivalists, these four guys from Cincinnati developed with the years a unique musical style where delicate melodies and intimate atmospheres dominate over every other element. One of the best characteristics of the album is how the band managed to introduce a bunch of new elements and innovation in their style but without reinventing their overall musical approach, which is still dominated by a profound melancholy but with some nice and appreciated relatively energic inserts (as it’s evident in the beautiful single Day I Die).
As it’s typical with every albums of The National, a few songs are a notch higher than the average level, which is however very high, making the experience of listening to the whole LP as a really enjoyable journey.
#2) Silver Eye by Goldfrapp
Silver Eye is the seventh studio album by legendary English electronic duo Goldfrapp and as it happened to many of their previous releases, it sees the band exploring new musical directions. After experimenting with with folktronica (Tales of Us) , 80’s pop (Head First), and downtempo (Seventh Tree), the duo has now moved towards an intriguing and enjoyable synth-pop.
The album offers to the listener an impressive number of very good songs, maybe a bit “basic” with respect to some of their previous productions, but with same level of elegance and delicacy, something that’s unfortunately become a rare thing nowadays in pop muisc.
Whether you’re just looking for a soft musical background during the working hours, or to “unplug” yourself for a moment of relaxation, this record can truly be your loyal companion and it will hardly disappoint your expectations. And it’s still among the best releaes of its genre even after many months from its publication.
#3) Native Invaders by Tori Amos
Released on early September, Native Invader is the new beautiful album by American singer-songwriter Tori Amos. This is the 15th studio album by the poliedric artists and it is impregnated – as usual – with his fantastic voice and the delicate and heartbreaking melodies of the piano.
Tori Amos explained that most of the songs of the LP are inspired partly by a road trip she took on last winter through North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, and partly by a number of critical events which happened in the same period (two seismic events, the result of US Elections and a severe stroke which was suffered by her mother). These elements of inspiration are often blended together and give depth and passion to the songs of the album, which are executed with a class and elegance that have become a trademark of Tori Amos’ production.
From a musical point of view it is interesting to see how the artist constantly tries to innovate her own sound without ever abandoning that enjoyability and class that distinguishes her style. We find delicate elements of country music, recalls of pop rock, flashes of electronic, a lot of piano and symphonic elements, everything at the service of her wonderful voice.
#4) Dark Glow by Choir Vandals
Often referred to as the modern reincarnation of The Smiths, Choir Vandals is a new wave and indie pop band from Missuouri, in the U.S.
After a relevant number of very good EPs and live recordings, the four-piece band eventually released their debut album, named Dark Glow, which contains a good number of great songs moving in a suprisingly natural way between pop and alternative.
As a debut album from a relatively new band, this work seems to anticipate great things for these musicians, which become now of one of the indie groups to track carefully in anticipation of their next steps.
#5) Little Fictions by Elbow
For many months since the beginning of the year, most of the best indie pop songs that we could listen were coming from the last beautiful album released from The Elbow. This band of English alternative rock veterans published early in February the seventh studio LP of their long career, named Little Fictions. In absolute continuity with their latest works, the album contains a refreshing compilation of elegant and enjoyable pop & soft rock songs (“tastefully simple tracks”, as someone says). Simple but not trivial, because every song on the album shows an evident effort from the group to enrich the melodies with focused arrangements and – where necessary – some moderate experimentation.
The Elbow has always shown an undeniable talent for songwriting. This is fully confirmed here and even the abrupt departure of drummer Richard Jupp – who left the band after 25 years – didn’t affect too much the style and the sound of the band. When it comes to craft melodic and intimate pop rock songs, these guys are still one of the best groups around.
#6) Capture by Thunder Dreamer
Thunder Dreamer is a relatively new dreamy rock formation from Indiana, in the US, and Capture is their second album, released two years after their debut LP.
The style of the band is located on the exact point where indie pop meets with post rock, and this album – considered as a whole – stands out as one of the best indie songbooks that have been released so far in 2017.
The songs of Capture reflect the main elements of the US midwestern heartland from where these guys come from. All the tracks of the album feature poignant melodies, moody arpeggios, and also some very good musical escalations typical of post-rock and shoegaze. This is for me one of the most nice surprise of the year in this genre, in particular because I missed their debut work and therefore I was totally unprepared to the skills and the expressive abilities of these guys.
#7) Cigarettes After Sex (S/T)
At the seventh position in the chart we evenutally arrived to the first debut album of the list. Cigarettes After Sex is the beautiful self-titled work by this new ambient pop group (or project) led by Greg Gonzalez, an artist from Brooklyn, who has been supported for this LP by a number of different members and collaborators.
Cigarettes After Sex contains 10 delicate and elegant tracks, minimalistic as the front cover of the album and typically built on simple but beautiful melodies. The songs are based on very slow rhythms, dreamy electronics and reverbered guitars. We are in front of a special kind of pop which sometimes crosses the border with ambient and meditative music.
This album was for me a great surprise. I’ve read on the Internet that a few years ago their EP became a sort of online phenomenon – which I missed. Today, however, the experience of listening to the album without any previous reference probably provided me with an even bigger emotion than what I could have had by already knowning the particular style of this musical project. Listen to this disc without any preconception and it will give you really strong feelings.
#8) Out in the Storm by Waxahatchee
Waxahatchee is the indie music project formed in 2010 by the American singer and songwriter Katie Crutchfield. Out in The Storm, her last release, is a marvellous album which sees the artist conveying an uninterrupted flow of emotions throughout all the 10 tracks of the album.
Musically speaking, the LP shows a remarkable level of maturity and excellent songwrting skills and it’s not difficult to say that this is the best result she has reached so far. The songs of Out of The Storm contain many references to other great pop artists (Silver could easily be confused with a song by The Cranberries), but the final result is definitely unique and exciting
#9) Lust For Life by Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey has a voice that you can’t never forget after you hear it, and when the music is as sublime and elegant as her singing, the result can only be a great album. Lust for Life, the fifth studio LP by the american pop singer, is indeed another collection of superb songs, simple but emotional little poetic pieces.
The album sees a number of brilliant collaborations with other artists including Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd, Sean Lennon, and American singer – songwriter Stevie Nicks. This is an absolute novelty in her musical production and introduces a further element of interest for the disc.
Musically speaking, the album features the artist’s characteristic cinematic and dreamy pop music, with atmospheres that are maybe a little less melancholic than in her previous productions – in particular in the first part of the LP. Lana Del Ray’s songs have been always enlighted by superb melodies, and this is definitely confirmed in her last production.
#10) In Between by The Feelies
The musical production of The Feelies has been 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 more full-lenght studio albums, i.e. Here Before in 2011 and In Between in the early 2017.
The new album holds all the distinctive and characteristics elements of the band, and in particular 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 cohesion among the musicians of this group, something that you achieve only after many years playing together. And it’s quite surprising how they managed to keep their style and sound throughout the years, despite all the musical revolutions and the infinite new trends that have taken place since the beginning of their career.
Other relevant releases of 2017 in pop / indie pop / pop rock:
- Colliding by Design by Acceptance
- A Deeper Understanding by The War On Drugs
- Relaxer by Alt-J
- Hot Thoughts by Spoon
- Something Else by The Cranberries
- Goths by The Mountain Goats
- Different Days by The Charlatans
- Spirit by Depeche Mode
- Venn by Clock Opera
- I See You by The XX