While I was assembling this list with the best indie pop albums of 2018 I could realize that this year has been characterized by an impressive number of young and emerging artists. While this is certainly a good sign for the future of the genre, on the other side it shows how it is relatively common and physiological, apart from some rare exceptions, that the most successful bands slowly and progressively lose that spark of innovation and creativity that we find burning and alive in the youngest formations.
In general terms, however, this was certainly an interesting year for indie pop music and together with some confirmations (Metric, Calexico,
Anna von Hausswolff and Soap&Skin) we also had a few intriguing surprises (Postcards from Lebanon, Say Sue Me from South Korea).
Before proceeding with the chart, I’m pleased to inform that there is a special playlist on Spotify which collects the most beautiful songs taken from the albums that are featured in this article. Good reading and good listening!
#10) Metric, “Art of Doubt”
Indie Pop / Synth Pop
Over the past fifteen years the sound of Metric has traveled several times, and in both directions, along the path which runs between synthpop and indie rock. And the new album by the Canadian band, Art of Doubt, seems to be conceived in order to summarize, in one single episode, all the main stages of this travel. In certain songs we have a clear “rock and roll” feeling with guitars, bass and drums in the foreground, but there are many other parts of the album where atmospheres and sounds are definitely “pop”, with triumphs of synthetizers and also many hints to those downtempo and basic melodies which characterized the early works of the band.
As usual, the burden of keeping everything consistent is mostly in the hands of Emily Haines and James Shaw, who’ve been since the beginning the driving forces of the band. Haines, in particular, delivers in the new LP one of her best vocal performances so far, whilst Shaw’s guitar, glossy and sticky, always manages to offer something interesting and catchy to hear.
Art of Doubt won’t be the absolute masterpiece in Metric’s career, but it’s still an absolutely valid and interesting record, with a few songs that that remain deeply impressed in our memory and that populated many of the playlists which circulated this year.
#9) Calexico, “The Thread That Keeps Us”
Indie Pop / Desert Noir / Americana
It’s always a special moment when a band reaches the milestone of the tenth album of their discography and Calexico, the “desert noir” group founded more than twenty years ago by Joey Burns and John Convertino, has achieved this result in 2018 with their new album The Thread That Keeps Us.
The name of the group is that of the city of Calexico, located on the border between the United States and Mexico, and this choice has always reminded of the particular approach that Burns and Convertino have followed in their career by mixing together different genres and influences. Their latest album is no exception, and we can in fact appreciate an enjoyable mix of Americana, folk and the usual references to the Latin musical tradition.
The songs of The Thread That Keeps Us are generally interesting and intriguing, although the duration of the album (fifteen tracks plus seven bonuses) has somewhat diluted its overall intensity. As always, however, we can appreciate in Calexico’s music an elegance and also a desire to experiment that are quite unique in today’s panorama, and for this reason we can certainly tolerate some small drop in intensity and enjoy, on the other side, some of the most fascinating songs among those we could enjoy this year.
#8) Roosevelt, “Young Romance”
Synth Pop / Indie Electronic
There are albums that seem to be made for being played in the background, bringing good feelings and a boost in positivity. Young Romance, the new album from German singer, DJ and producer Marius Lauber (who plays under the moniker of Roosevelt) is definitely one of these records. The music he wrote for his new album is in fact a clean and polished version of synth-pop which takes deep inspiration from the sounds of the 80s, rich of sweet notes and pleasant atmospheres.
Young Romance features a nice collection singable and easy-listening vintage pop songs that manage to maintain a good level of originality and interest. There is in particular a streak of very good songs placed right in the middle of the disk which stand out for the enjoyability and the catchyness of the choruses, something that should guarantee high rotations in many music playlists (including mine).
With his second solo work, Marius Lauber continues his process of progressive departure from the world of indie electronic towards the wider shores of pop music. In doing this transformation he’s increasing the recourse to vintage sounds from the golden age of synth-pop, trying to make his music more fascinating and, in some way, characteristic. In many tracks of the new album this operation was certainly successful, even if there is an tangible gap between the best songs of Young Romance and the remaining ones, and this is perhaps the weakest aspect of Roosevelt’s new work.
#7) The Wombats, “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life”
Indie Pop / Indie Rock / Punk Revival
The Wombats, from Liverpool, have published this year the fourth album of their career, named Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. Since their initial formation in 2003, the band has experienced many changes in their style: from electronic/psychedelic music to post-punk revival, arriving the current sound which blends pop-oriented melodies with elements from indie rock and alternative dance. In short, a mixture of influences and inspirations that has always guaranteed freshness and innovation to their albums, something which is somehow confirmed in their last record.
Despite some gap between the best and weakest parts, the album offers a fine collection of songs that moves with ease between pop and rock, with a few tracks that emerge from the others for their catchy choruses and some particularly intriguing melody.
The style of the band has always tried to find a difficult balance between a “mainstream” sound made for gaining the attention of the general public, and an “indie” approach aimed at keeping their music intriguing and somehow particular. After more of ten years of experience in the studio and on the stages, this challenging goal has been mostly achieved.
#6) David Duchovny, “Every Third Thought”
Indie Pop / Folk / Pop Rock
David Duchovny is one of those artists who likes to challenge himself with different forms of expression and in fact, in addition to looking for aliens and other mysteries, the famous American actor has distinguished himself as a novelist, producer, and also musician. As far as his music career is concerned, it should be said that Duchovny writes and arranges all of his songs, thus showing qualities that go well beyond a nice presence on the stage and an interesting voice.
Although I had initially some skepticism about his music, I had to recognize that Every Third Thought , which is Duchovny’s latest LP, is definitely an interesting and appreciable collection of indie pop songs, and in fact some of them that have been rotating frequently in some of the playlists that I’m curating on Spotify.
Compared with Duchovny’s previous release (2015’s Hell or Highwater) the new album has gained in intensity and also energy: his sound today is definitely more “rock”, and the overall enjoyability of the album has benefited from such evolution. The songs of Every Third Thought won’t be the ones that will revolutionize the indie scene, but Duchovny’s music is definitely extremely nice to listen to, and also much more interesting than what one could expect.
#5) Wild Pink, “Yolk in the Fur”
Indie Pop / Indie Rock
Wild Pink, from New York City, is one of those emerging bands which are trying to find their own space in the music scene by cultivating elegance and style rather than using commercial and marketing stratagems to get the attention of fans and medias in general. Wild Pink define themselves as an indie rock band, and their formation is in effect the typical trio with guitar/vocals, bass and drums. The music composed by these guys, however, travels through the softer and quieter regions of the rock universe, on that blurred border that exists between rock and indie pop; this the kind of music which has as major exponents authors such as War on Drugs, Kurt Vile and, to some extent, Death Cab for Cutie (if you consider their early works).
Formed in 2017, Wild Pink have published so far two EPs and two LPs. Their last full-lenght record, Yolk in the Fur, presents a fairly significant evolution of their style compared to their self-titled debut, especially for the adoption of a more classic and conventional structure of the songs. Compared to their first record, the sound of Wild Pink is slowly drifting towards more placid and quiet musical landscapes, rarely perturbed by guitar distortions and dissonances. It’s like being on a beach at the end of the summer: the climate still carries the scent and the lightness of the sunny days that we enjoyed until a few weeks ago, but there are occasionally breezes of cold winds and also black clouds that can obscure the light for a few minutes.
Musically speaking, Yolk in the Fur is characterized by placid rhythms and simple but intriguing melodies. Most of the songs are built on top of clean guitars, warm lines of bass and delicate layers of acoustic synthetizers. And there is of course the charming voice of John Ross, the leader and songwriter of the band, a singer who never needs to scream to tell his stories, like an old friend who sits beside you and calmly talks about the things he has observed during his absence.
#4) Say Sue Me, “Where We Were Together”
Indie Pop / Surf Rock / Pop Rock
It was pretty surprising for me to find out that Say Sue Me is a band coming from South Korea. When I first listened to their songs, they appeared to me as one of the many North American or European bands who try to find their way into the music scene. I must admit that the particular origin of the band stimulated me to listen with more attention to their LP, Where We Were Together, which is the second disc of their discography (I missed their debut, my apologies). After listening to the whole record for a handful of times I started to get more attracted to their music and, in the end, I’m really happy that I gave them a second chance after my first (inattentive) try.
Where We Were Together features an ejoyable collection of small and luminous musical sketches, all of them cheerful and nice to hear. One of the strongest elements of their song is surely the delicate and angelic voice of the singer, who gives grace and atmosphere to all the record.
Where We Were Together seems to me the perfect music to be heard on my return home on Friday afternoons, when the tension of a week of meetings and commitments slowly dissolves into the promise of a weekend of serenity.
#3) Anna von Hausswolff, “Dead Magic”
Art Pop / Dark Ambient
Anna von Hausswolff, from Sweden, represents one of those cases in which the talent transcends the artist’s age and experience. In 2010, at the age of 24, the eclectic singer and organist released her first album, Singing From the Grave, which already highlighted the first fragments of her genius. In 2018, eight years after her debut, she fully confirms with the new album Dead Magic all the good things that were said about her impressive debut and also the following two records that she published, respectively, in 2012 and 2015.
The style of Anna von Hausswolff is something difficult to explain with just words: it is a sort of mix of dark ambient, avant-garde and art pop. Beyond the tags and attributes, however, the important thing to say is that the five songs of Dead Magic manage to transmit strong and contrasting emotions like peace and anxiety, joy and agitation, trust and loss. The pieces of the album live in an unstable balance between positive and negative elements, with layers of sounds that alternate one after the other following the slow and pulsating rhythm of the music. The artist’s voice, scarcely spread across the LP, makes the tracks even more fascinating and sometimes haunting.
Surely this is not an album made for relax or entertainment, but all those listeners who are ready to venture into the shifting and challenging worlds created by the artist will be rewared with one of the most exciting collections of music that have been published in recent times.
#2) Soap&Skin, “From Gas to Solid / you are my friend”
I remember very well my first musical encounter with Soap&Skin because her debut album, 2009’s Lovetune for Vacuum, coincided with my first purchase on iTunes. At that time I was excited by how it was becoming easy and immediate to discover and acquire music from virtually unknown artist and that excitment, to some extent, had led me to feel a sort of special connection with the album of the Austrian artist. After a short while, however, I realized that despite the LP was for sure a promising debut from a young musician, in the end it resulted less longeve and amazing than what I had felt after the first few listens. The kind of experimental music played by Anja Plaschg was absolutely evocative and also quite original. What didn’t convince me, however, was that alongside some very good songs, objectively emotional and exciting to hear, there were many other tracks that resulted extremely intimate and overly personal: fragments of experiences that for sure represented something very important in the life of the artist but which, once translated into music, resulted not really communicative and poor of emotions for the external listener.
In the recent years I lost sight of this artist and therefore I was a little surprised, and curious, when I received the news of her new album, called From Gas to Solid / you are my friend. But more than the news by itself, I was particularly impressed to discover how Anja Plaschg gained in confidence and maturity in years that have passed since her first two records.
Soap&Skin’s new LP is characterized many positive features. The style is still experimental and also permeated by a general atmosphere of darkness and anxiety. The palette of sounds, however, is much more varied and alongside the usual fragments of piano and other classical instruments we have today chamber choruses, lots of different percussion instruments, ambient noises and delicate layers of synths. Flashes of light come from time to time to illuminate the darkness, and this makes the LP definitely more dynamic and enjoyable to hear. It’s as if a vein of positivity has been grafted into the music of the Austrian artist, and the resulting contrast between light and shadows makes the overall picture much more compelling.
From Gas to Solid / you are my friend is the album that in my opinion marks the maturity of Soap&Skin. Some songs continue to be a bit too cryptic for the casual listener, but for all those who like neoclassical moods and are also ready to embrace dark ambient atmospheres, this album will offer intense emotions and a rewarding musical experience.
#1) Postcards, “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”
Dreamy Pop / Indie Rock
This LP was one of the first indie pop records that were reviewed this year in this blog and therefore is surprising enough to find it firmly on top of the chart now that we have eventually arrived to the final selection for 2018, in particular if we consider that it’s a debut work.
I’ll be here in the morning is the first album released by Postcards, a dreamy-pop & indie rock band formed in Beirut, Lebanon, on late 2012. Postcards describe their music as “hushed, introspective vocals floating over expansive sonic spaces that shift between harsh noise and dreamy soundscapes”. Such definition may be a little too complex and sophisticated, but there is no doubt that the music offered in this debut LP is of absolute value and it contains many elements of innovation, in particular when taking into account the current status of the indie pop scene.
One of the most exciting aspects of I’ll be here in the morning is that the songs seem as they are not completely defined: they move between areas of lightness and tranquillity and other sections which are definitely more dark,meditative, with melodies that initially appear serene and peaceful but, during the development of the songs, start to show also ambiguous and subtly disturbing elements. The album is also characterized by a nice alternation of intimate songs and more angry and polemical moments. In short, it’s a concentration of extremely different moments which are however interconnected by a style of music that remains coherent and effective across the nine tracks of the record.
Finally, it’s worth to say that despite we are evidently looking at the first steps of a promising career, these four musicians from Beirut already show ecellent songwriting skills, togethr with an impressive musical sensibility. If Poscards will confirm these qualities in their future works, they are destined to do great things in music. And I will be there to remind you that I was one of those few who discovered their value since their debut record.
As anticipated at the beginning of the article, you may enjoy the best songs from these albums in a special Playlist that I’ve just created on Spotify! Listen to it and spread the word!