There have been really many good indie rock albums this year, and it’s necessary to update the charts after the first two editions that were published earlier this year (the first in February and the second in May).
We had a lot of new entries and actually more than the 50% of the list includes band that weren’t included in the first two issues. The rankings are thus completely reshuffled (except for the first position, which remains stable) and there is also a lot of new music to discover.
#1) Titus Andronicus, “A Productive Cough”
There are times when you need to change, restarting from the scratch. For indie rock band Titus Andronicus this moment coincided with the writing and publication of their fifth studio album, A Productive Cough. Started as an irriverent, raw and genuine punk rock act, Patrick Stickles has guided the band through many different areas of the indie rock world and today, after a decidedly sharp turn, they started playing what we could actually define as folk-rock m or “bar-room rock”, as it was also said by someone. The rusult, however, is extremely good.
A Productive Cough reminds us how beautiful are folk acoustic ballads, and how exciting is pure and simple rock music, without too many embellishments or refinements. Two guitars, one bass, drums, simple and cantabile melodies, nice and catchy choruses inspired by popular and street music. This music was stripped down of all that’s superfluous and brought back to its primordial significance: an element of communion and sharing of emotions among different people.
The abum never exceeds in any direction: seven songs – one is a Bob Dylan’s cover – for a little more than 45 minutes of total duration. Fast, simple, essential to the bone, and extremely enjoyable to listen in many different occasions.
#2) Ash, “Islands”
Ash are a Northern Irish rock band, formed in Downpatrick in 1992. They have released so far eight full-lenght studio albums.
Ash, from Northern Irland, have been around for over 25 years in the world of rock. Between highs and lows, the band has released so far 8 full-lenght albums spanning through alternative, punk and britpop (even if the band, for obvious reasons, han never felt comfortable with this last association). Their last LP, Islands, aims without any hesitation towards the direction of an easy to listen version of indie rock, enriched here and there by splashes of pop music.
Beyond the relative and physiological variations of style from album to album, however, in its essence their music has been extremely consistent across their releases: quick-setting and catchy rock and roll. Accordingly, Ash’s new work features a new enjoyable collection of songs that are extremely engaging and funny to listen to. And if their sound is substantially a consolidation of what we heard from them to date, there are also a few elements of innovation that allow their music to remain sufficiently modern and appreciable. Compared to their previous works, today the band lingers a little more on intimate and introspective pieces, but we still have in the LP a good handful of those ferocious and happy songs from which we can extract our daily dose of rock energy.
#3) Modern Space, “Flip for It”
In the relatively short time span of only 4 years, Canadian rockers Modern Space have already gained a good recognition both in their Country and abroad. Their style is basically a light and melodic version of indie rock with some influences from alternative rock: one of the most immediate references for their sound is given by The Strokes, from which they evidently managed to imitate the ability to compose sticky, catchy and “pop banging” riffs and choruses.
Modern Space’s debut album, called Flip For It, is basically an enjoyable collection of songs made to dance, to have fun outside or to shake your head while driving the car. That’s cheerful rock and roll, without any desire to reach particular depths of expression or to use the music for transmitting any universal message. When the premises are so clear and the music is so catchy you can easily forget to look for any element of innovation, even because the absence of any tangible deviation from the canons doesn’t mean that the music of Modern Space is flat and anonymous. On the contrary, the band shows an impressive ability to vary rhythms, melodies and themes among the different songs, whilst maintaining the same level of enjoyability and catchyness across the whole LP. And sometimes is definitely healthy and libetating to leave aside all the complicated things and indulge in pure and simple rock and roll.
#4) mewithoutYou, [untitled]
American rock band mewithoutYou has never followed the trends or moved along the same old tracks that were already marked by others. As a matter of fact, across their career (which now approaches the twenty years) these guys from Philadelphia have always interpreted their role as musicians in the most complete and courageous sense: not only they’ve conducted a continuous research for the spiritual aspect of music, they have also kept experimenting to find the sounds that could match at best their vision of contemporary rock. For this reason it has never been easy to describe the music of mewithoutYou with only a few words. The same applies to their new studio album, called [Untitled], which escapes the simple tags and attributes that we’re used to attach to every band.
Moving with extreme naturalness between exciting and energetic moments and more reflective and spiritual sections, the tracks of [Untitled] travel in a musical dimension that absorbs the improvisation of the prog, the atmosphere of the post rock, the rage of post-hardcore, the riffs of alternative rock and the distortions of indie music, mixing everything with wisdom and elegance.
The availability of a language that’s so varied and free from preconceptions gives the band the possibility to adapt and tailor their approach against the particular theme that’s addressed by each single songs, with results that are generally positive. As often happens for those bands that make the juxtaposition of styles and the experimentation as the fundamental cornerstones of their style, alongside impressive and beautiful songs we may find sometimes a few less convincing tracks. But leaving aside these sporadic (and physiological) drops in tension, the new LP from the band remains a solid release, and also one where they really managed to unite their post-hardcore roots with a more pronounced melancholic sensibility.
#5) Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, “Hope Downs”
After a couple of really interesting EPs, the australian indie rock band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever arrives this year to the release of their first LP, named Hope Downs, which is an extremely promising work from the Melbourne quintet. The release notes say that many of the band members had played so far in a number of local garage and rock bands, garning a relatively good reputation in the Australian underground scene. And it’s not by chance, therefore, that Hope Downs shows a band which is fully aware of their possibilities and surprisingly (given their age) characterized by with a “stable” and solid musical style.
The genre of music played by RCBF is not particularly original or innovative, but the band has undoubtedly the gift of knowing how to instill interest and enjoyability in all of their songs. The tracks of Hope Downs arrive one after the other like a single flow of simple but effective rock and roll. There are no avant-garde ambitions in their music, rather we enjoy a solid collection of genuine and catchy rock tunes. The songs of the album have the minimum necessary quantity of distorted and dissonant guitars to get the interest of indie music fans, but they never result too heavy and introspective to keep away the casual listener.
Many have compared RCBF to a softer and more commercial version of the early years of R.E.M., and I believe that the comparison may be correct. These guys, however, seem to have all what is necessary to develop and consolidate a style that won’t require, in the future, too many comparisons with the sacred monsters of rock.
#6) The Academic, “Tales From The Backseat”
The Academic is one of those bands that owe part of their success to the fact that one of their videos became “viral” (over 1 million views on YouTube in 48 hours). This was the video of their single Bear Claws, shared on the summer of 2017, which used the delay of a live stream on Facebook to create a musical loop where new instruments where gradually added on every loop, one after the other. However, listening to Tales from the Backseat, which is the debut LP that the Irish band released at the beginning of 2018, we recognize that their skills go far beyond the capacity to make interesting videos.
The music played by this quartet of rockers is in fact a very pleasant and cheerful kind of indie rock and the album collects a number of of light-hearted songs that are very enjoyable to hear but at the same time intriguing and particular. This debut works from the Irish young rockers show that these guys grew up with bread, milk and indie music. Their style has incorporated all the characteristics from bands like The Killers and The Kooks and now starts moving along a new and promising direction.
#7) Black Foxxes, “Reiði”
Black Foxxes is a three-piece indie rock band from Exeter, in the UK. Active since 2013, they have published so far two LPs: I’m not well, released in 2016, and the new album Reiði (which stands for “Rage”, in Icelandic), published this year. Since their early steps in music the band has gained the attention of critics and fans for a valid recipe of indie rock where the typical ingredients of the genre are balanced carefully and mixed with nice inserts from progressive rock.
Reiði is particularly relevant also because is shows signs of a clear improvement with respect to their first works. Angry and dissonant sounds are mixed brilliantly with more polished moments of reflection and elegance; the final result is a collection of nice songs that manage to be strong and enjoyable at the same time.
Black Foxxes manifest the genuine desire to experiment with music. They leverage a baseline infrastructure of pretty catchy pop-rock, but in every song there is always a specific element which makes it different from the other tracks. It can be a particularly singable melody, the use of a different effect or a less conventional instrumente. The result is Reiði offers a good collection of modern and catchy rock sols, but it indicates also that the band is following a musical path that sees them to grow and improve year after year.
#8) Turbowolf, “The Free Life”
The Free Life, which is the third and latest album by Bristol indie rock band Turbowolf, continues in that action of shake and revolution of modern rock which these English musicians have already started with their two previous records. Since the beginning of their activity, about ten years ago, the band has educated its fanbase to expect everything from their songs. With a winning recipe that basically can be defined as the result that you get by mixing together a thousand of different rock ingredients (indie, alternative, pshychorock, garage….), the merit of these rockers has been to maintain always a good taste for the final product.
One of their secrets, as a matter of fact, is the capacity to write and play brilliant riffs, interesting melodies and, as already said, to put in the mix a relevant component of innovation and creativity. Their new LP contains the right balance of frenzied rhythms and slower pieces, with a thousand different ideas to enrich the songs. The album maybe lacks only a particularly catchy songs, or an infectious riff, the type of things that you can’t remove from your mind after you hear it. This could have been the icing on the cake for an album which remains, in any case, a solid and valid example of contemporary rock and roll.
#9) No Age, “Snares Like A Haircut”
No Age, the two-person rock band from California, in the U.S., have always demonstrated the gift of knowing how to mix together the rough sounds of noise rock with a style that remains melodic and accessible. And although their music showed some higs and lows from one album to another, each one of their records resulted always enjoyable and interesting to hear. One of the comments in one of their Youtube videos says: “No Age have yet to release a bad record,” and it’s really close to the truth.
Snares Like A Haircut, their new and fifth LP, definitely confirms what has been said so far about the band. The record arrived five years after their last album, An Object, which gave the duo quite an unexpected success. Compared to the previous albums, their new work reduces a little the minimalist approach and – from a musical point of view – their songs have benefited from this shift in style, which looks like the genuine result of an improved maturity (it must be said that both the two artists became fathers before the new album) rather than a maneuver to enlarge their audience.
#10) Franz Ferdinand, “Always Ascending”
I need to be honest: at the beginning of the year I wouldn’t put a bet on the new album by Franz Ferdinand, especially after listening to the first singles that the band shared before the release of the record. Their musical history gave me the idea that the band had already started their descending parable: after the first albums, extremely enjoyable and original, the band seemed to lack a clear musical direction and basically got lost between the inability to keep writing the kind of fresh and catchy songs of their beginning, and the desire to elevate their music to something more authoritative than the easygoing kind of indie rock of their debut.
Unlike my expectations, however, the Scottish group surprised me – and many other music fans, I presume – with a really good and solid record. Always Ascending, their latest album, is full of brilliant and immediate songs as we didn’t hear from them since many years. Their style today is strongly marked by electronic elements and their presence within the indie rock category may be questioned by someone. Beyond the tags, however, we finally have a good album that’s enjoyable to listen from the beginning to the end, and with a couple of really remarkable moments. Good job, and welcome back!
Other notable mentions:
- Lord Huron, “Vide Noir”
- Interpol, “Marauder”
- Typhoon, “Offerings”
- Physical Plant, “What’s Laid Down”
- Editors, “Violence”
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Wrong Creatures”
All of the bands that were included in this chart, together with other great formations, contribute to the playlist INDIE INSIDE, the continuously updated collection of the best indie rock songs. Listen to it, follow it, and spread the word!