The moment I got ready to prepare this list I could realize how many good records were released for indie pop this year. And in the end it was not easy to choose those to reward. Looking back to the ranking of the best 10 releases of the year, it is also possible to appreciate the fact that alongside established artists there are a number of intresting new musical groups, and the balance between well-known names and musical surprises is really balanced.
In order to better appreciate the quality and variety of the songs that were released this year, I prepared a mixtape with all the best bands that released their albums in 2017. The result is a mix with more than two hours of incredible music, which in my opinion allows to fully evaluate the current status of indie pop music.
Finally, at the end of the chart you will find a link to the playlist on Spotify that collected during the year many of the songs that were released by the artists mentioned in this post. My suggestion is to register as a follower of the playlist because new songs will be added regularly.
Cigarettes After Sex (S/T)
The Top Ten of indie pop starts with a debut album. Cigarettes After Sex is the beautiful self-titled work produced by the new ambient pop project founded 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, all of them minimalistic and essential as the front cover of the album, typically developed 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. But maybe the experience of listening to this album without any previous reference contributed to give me an even stronger impact. The music played in this album is definitely out of the ordinary and if you are ready to accept its particularities and to tolerate extended times and slowed down rythms, you can really get in return the pleasure and the feelings of a unique musical experience.
Cigarettes After Sex work in a sub-genre where atmosphere is often allowed to trump melody, but Gonzalez’s tunes are uniformly fabulous, to the point where it’s hard to pick out a highlight. Addictive, memorable and with the potential to reach an audience far wider than the cult following that normally awaits this kind of stuff, they’re the reason why an album where every track’s sonic components are more or less the same never feels monotonous or boring. (The Guardian)
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 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.
Thunder Dreamer have found their sweet spot with this love letter to the circular roads and deserted workshops of middle America, the heat and despair that bakes itself deep into its buildings and its people and forms its own desolate, lonely beauty. Why ever leave. (Sputnik Music)
This was for me one of the most nice surprise of the year in pop, in particular because I missed their debut work and therefore I was totally unprepared to the skills and the expressive abilities of these guys. Certainly I will be more attentive to the next steps of this very interesting band.
LITTLE FICTIONS by Elbow
Given the fact that this beautufil album by Elbow was released early in the year, we had the opportunity to speak about it many times in this blog. And as a matter of fact, for many months this LP was the source of many of the tracks that were included in our pop playlists and mixtapes.
Little Fiction is the seventh studio album produced by Elbow, which is an historical and appreciated band from England. These musicians play together since more than 25 years, and you can feel it from the cohesion and balance that these guys have reached for their music. In absolute continuity with their latest works, the new album features 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.
In all of their long discography, Elbow have always shown an undeniable talent for songwriting. This is fully confirmed here and even the abrupt departure of drummer Richard Jupp 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.
Through a labyrinth of limb-twisting time-signatures, treated tones and weird choral counterpoints, the Mercury-winning band’s elaborate scaffolds of rhythm and harmony have rarely sounded more driven by the joy of creation. (Rolling Stone)
DARK GLOW by Choir Vandals
Often referred to as the modern reincarnation of The Smiths, Choir Vandals may be described as 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 rock.
From a musical point of view the music from the band is definitely centered around the two guitars played by Josh Cameron and Micah Kelleher. The guitars’ layers give the song a clear rock’n’roll feeling, which is however blended with soft and introspective melodies.
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.
Dark Glow is a great debut full-length offering from Choir Vandals with a lot of appeal for both mainstream alternative rock fans and those who prefer a slightly more underground leaning. It’s obvious that a lot of deliberate work went into the music without it ever sounding forced, and the payoff is big. (Out From the Pine Box)
V by The Horrors
It tooks only a few days from the release of V, the fifth LP produced by the English band The Horrors, that the album established itself as one of the most important releases of the year in its genre. This is mostly because of the impressive number of good tracks that are collected in the LP, for sure not because of the cover of the album, which I believe it’s maybe one of the worst we could see this year.
The Horrors have a unique capacity to sound “commercial” but keeping at the same time a style and creativity that are typical of the best indie groups. There are many influences here which bring a lot of variety to the songs, and because of the many sub-styles that alternate one after the other, at the end the LP stands out both for the single tracks but also as a whole. There are many moments in the album where the atmospheres turn decidedly towards harder and more abrasive sounds, and this is for sure a pleasant surprise.
The band’s basic formula—simple, languid melodies, traditional verse-chorus structures interrupted by guitar and synth wig-outs—hasn’t changed, but the surfaces are grittier, the drums smack harder, and the vocals sit louder in the mix. (Pitchfork)
NATIVE INVADERS by Tori Amos
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.
Native Invader is not one of Tori’s sexier albums, nor is it as playful as she’s demonstrated herself capable of being. But it’s strong and unwavering in its commitment to being muse-driven and unafraid. There’s a warm melancholy throughout, like being inside on a rainy day – things may look bleak, but for a moment, there is a safe haven in sound. (Paste Magazine)
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.
DARK HORSE by Biggi Hilmars
I came across to this incredible album by Icelandic composer Biggi Hilmars with some delay with respect its release on last September. But as soon as I started listening to the first tracks of Dark Horse, it became immediately clear to me that I was in front of one of the most interesting records of the year – and not only in pop music.
The name of Biggi Hilmars is probably not among the best known of today’s music scene, but this musician has however already achieved a certain consideration not only as a pop artist but rather as a composer of music for film scores and trailers for both television and commercials.
Icelandic by birth, but international by nature, Biggi has lived and worked in London, Reykjavik, Paris, Berlin, New York and Los Angeles. His film work includes the music score for ‘Beeba Boys’ the crime thriller written and directed by Academy Award Nominee Deepa Mehta, the official movie trailer for ‘I Smile Back’, starring Sarah Silverman and music for the trailer for Thomas Vinterberg’s 2015 movie ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ starring Carey Mulligan. Recent commissions include the original score to Thomson Holiday’s ‘Moments’ advertising campaign, recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the London Chamber Orchestra. Biggi has also recently composed for Apple, Skoda, IBM, Mercedes Benz and Chevrolet, to name but few. (from the artist’s webpage)
Dark Horse, Biggi Hilmars’ third release as a solo, seems to summarize in a single disc most of the artist’s production and styles, floating in an unstable balance between commercial, classical and meditative music. But beyond the many influences and mixes of styles that generated the album, what’s really important at the end is that the songs on this record are absolutely beautiful, poetic, delicate and elegant in a way that is really difficult to find today. From a musical point of view, the 10 tracks of this album flow on a main vein of timeless melodies, on top of which there are delicate musical arrangments and ejoyable vocals. Everything is graced by an excellent production that managed to enhance the individual elements of the pieces but without affecting consistency and pleasure of the album as a whole. That’s really one of the most lovely releases of the last months, a precious gem that shines with elegance and simplicity in an increasingly chaotic music scene.
SILVER EYE by Goldfrapp
Silver Eye is the seventh studio album by legendary English electronic duo Goldfrapp and as it’s typical with their works, 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 unfortunately has become a rare thing nowadays in pop music. In some tracks the band decide to venture along darker and nebulous passages, and in this case the atmospheres take more obscure connotations. But there is always a perceptible light at the end of the road, something whicheventually brings us back to brighter and more positive territories.
In the right frame of mind, Silver Eye will take you on a journey through distant and nebulous corners of space, where humans and machines are intertwined, reality is not quite defined, and everything is cloaked in shadow that seeps into your headspace. Sure, it’s a scary place to be, but sometimes exploring the dark side of the force pays dividends as long as you keep the faith and don’t let your silver eye burn out. (Popmatters)
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 not by chance that it remained in the top three even after many months from its publication.
REST by Charlotte Gainsbourg
Rest, the new LP by British / French singer and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of legendary singer and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg) is a little gem of contemporary pop, a collection of lovely, poetic and emotional short pieces which leverage the skills of all the artists who collaborated for the record (Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Paul McCartney and Owen Pallet) but which also showcase the impressive talent of Sebastian Akchoté, the man behind the mixer and who also composed most of the tracks.
The record charmingly marries modern electronic pop and Kate Bush-like feminine art-pop vocals. Gainsbourg’s voice, along with French DJ and remixer Sebastian’s production, brings a sophisticated gloss, unsurprising considering the influence of Gainsbourg’s mother, British fashion icon Jane Birkin, and Charlotte’s own glamorous career in the spotlight. (Under the Radar)
The talent of Charlotte Gainsbourg as a singer emerged more or less a decade ago, when in the timeframe of just 3 years she released a couple of incredible albums (5:55 and IRM) which received both critical acclaim and good commercial success. After a relatively weaker passage (2011’s Stage Whisper) and the participation to the provocative Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac movie, she’s now back with a new album which seems to summarize in one single place all the best things she’s ever done in music so far.
Rest is an album that develops its full potential after repeated listens, which allow you to appreaciate the delicate and dark atmospheric layers of sounds on top of which the beautiful voice of Charlotte is free to float.
SLEEP WELL BEAST by The National
As many could imagine from the first moment when American band The National announced the recording of a new album, this was going to be a major hit in the music scene. And in fact it delivered. Sleep Well Beast, the seventh album by American indie art rock The National, was in fact one of the most anticipated and awaited albums of the year and 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 last 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 permeated by a profound melancholy but with some nice and appreciated relatively energic inserts (as it’s evident, for example, in the beautiful single Day I Die).
The National might be the closest thing America has ever had to The Smiths: a dexterous guitar band with a magnetically morose frontman who’s able to complain about the government and his love life in the same breath with the same eloquence and the same dark humor. (Consequence of Sound)
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.
As promised at the beginning of this long post, here is the link to CRESTS OF WAVES, which is the Spotify Playlist which collects the best indie pop songs of the last months. Enjoy and follow the playlist in order to remain up-to-date with the new releases.