There have been a couple of very good rock releases in the last few months and it became necessary to update the list of The Best Indie Rock albums of the year. The first edition of the chart was published in this blog on February 2018, this second edition updates the chart by ranking all the best LPs that were released in the first four months of the year. The current update features six new entries, i.e. Editors, Franz Ferdinand, Hot Snakes, Lord Huron, Titus Andronicus and Turbowolf. As you will see, two of these bands immediately reached the top of the list!
We shall of course expect many other albums arriving in the coming months, but I believe that this chart starts to be representative of this year’s indie rock scene. At this time of the year, indie rock charts in 2017 were dominate by Japandroids, Cloud Nothings and Kasabian. In comparison, we can say that the average level of quality for 2018 is definitely comparable, if not even higher, than that of last year.
Before moving on with the list, let me just remind you that all current and previous year successes for Indie Rock are featured in my Spotify playlist INDIE INSIDE, which is updated frequently with new exciting and intriguing singles. Follow the playlist to stay updated wiht the best and latest successes in Indie Rock.
And now, let me introduce you with….
The Top Ten Indie Rock Albums of 2018 (so far)
#1) “Jericho Sirens” by Hot Snakes
Jericho Sirens, the fourth and latest LP by US band Hot Snakes, arrived fourteen years after their previous release. But listening to the album one could possibly think that such a long timespan has passed – musically speaking – in a flash. The energy and the emotions that are emanated in the ten new tracks of the band is in fact based on that intriguing mix of garage rock and hardcore that the Hot Snakes consolidated with their first three albums. The rhythm is always sustained, John Reis and Rick Froberg hit hard on their guitars from the first to the last minute of the album. The emotional charge released by the songs, however, hit you in a surgical way: all the instruments play strong and compact, and the balance between dissonances and melodies reaches in some passages the absolute perfection. The music in Jericho Sirens transmits and make you feel all the effort and committment that the band has dedicated to the album. Nothing here is approximated and we’re far from a purely commercial operation, which is something that someong might have been expected after so many years of inactivity. Good for us, and there is also the feeling that this record will remain among the main positions of the ranking until the end of the year.
#2) “A Productive Cough” by Titus Andronicus
Started as an irriverent, raw and genuine punk rock formation from New Jersey, the creative vein of the leader Patrick Stickles has brought the band Titus Andronicus to explore many different areas of the indie world arriving, with something like a sharp fracture, to offer in their last album a sort of folk rock with an almost-totally-acoustic “barroom rock”, and when listening to their new songs you can visually imagine these musicians unleashing their passion for music through old and new rock motifs. A Productive Cough, the new album from Titus Andronicus, reminds us of how bexciting may be, sometimes, to listen to pure and simple rock music without too many embellishments or refinements made in the recording studio. Two guitars, one bass, drums, simple and cantabile melodies, engaging choruses inspired by popular and street music. In other words: music stripped down of all that is superfluous, brought back to its primordial stage, an element of communion and sharing of emotions
#3) “Tales from the Backseat” by The Academic
The Academic is one of those bands that owe part of their success to the fact that one of their videos became viral. 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.
#4) “The Free Life” by Turbowolf
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 hide 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.
#5) “Snares like a Haircut” by No Age
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 the truth. Snares Like A Haircut, their new and fifth LP, definitely confirms what has been said so far. 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.
#6) “Always Ascending” by Franz Ferdinand
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 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 record, Always Ascending, which is full of brilliant and immediate songs as we didn’t hear for many years from them. The style of Franz Ferdinand 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!
#7) “Vide Noir” by Lord Huron
Vide Noir, the new album by U.S. band Lord Huron, represents the transition of the band to a major record label and, at the same time, it introduces a series of changes to the sound with respect to their previous two records. From the indie folk of their beginning the band has shifted their style towards a darker and more malinchonic version of indie rock. On one side we must appreciate the will of Ben Schneider, who is the founder and bandleader of Lord Huron, to follow his musical inclination despite the wider success which he probably could have achieved so far by imitating that happier and cheerful style of American folk that you typically hear on Spotify and on the radio. On the other hand, however, the “anti-pop” operation that was conducted by the band for the new LP had the collateral effect of over-filling the songs with reverberations, psychedelic sounds, unnecessary distortions, which together with a constant prevalence of the bass over the other instruments, in many sections basically erase all the intrinsinc delicacy of the songs. Taken individually, however, most of the songs on Vide Noir emanate style and inspiration on every note and every chord. The melodic lines which are drawn by the bass guitar are extremely captivating and especially in the pieces with the more sustained rhythms we can really enjoy the intrinsic value of these songs. It would be interesting to listen to the same tunes but played with a more essential style, ideally with an all-acoustic instrumentation. I’m sure that the music would benefit by removing all the unnecessary layer of frills and pseudo-psychedelic effects that are put atop.
#8) “Offerings” by Typhoon
Typhoon is an indie rock band from Oregon, in the United States. The correct wording should be “ensemble” rather than “band”, given that it features eleven members. Because of such a peculiar line-up, which includes two violinist and two trumpeters as stable members, it’s quite disconcerting to discover that the music recorded into their last album, Offerings, is so delicate, light, almost whispered. The atmospheres that we find in the 14 tracks of the album are extremely melancholic, often dark, as the band is showing a sense of suffered abandonment against the difficulties and problems of the real life. Where we would have expected an explosion of sounds we find contained tones, elegant songs and – sometimes – a certain lack of strenght. Taken singularly, however, most of the fourteen pieces of the album are profound and touching songs and they all show a great care for the details and also an overall sense of delicacy and passion.
#9) “What’s laid down” by Physical Plant
The second debut LP to be featured in this chart comes from Florida and has been released by Physical Plant, an indie-psychedelic rock band which arrived however to the important stage of the first full-lenght studio album after many years of underground and local activity in the New College of Sarasota, their city of origin. As it happens with most of the debut works, the album collects the songs composed and perfectioned during the many years of apprenticeship and training in clubs and recording studios. As a result, the LP features an impressive number of styles and it’s plenty of interesting ideas. There is also a good balance between the enjoyability of some of the tracks and the overarching approach of the these guys that are clearly willing to compose articulated and relatively complex songs. From a musical point of view, their style is basically the combination of indie-folk with psychedelic rock, but in many pieces of the album you would really find some problem to tag properly their music. Anyway, what’s important is that the work made so far by the band has been definitely positive and they deserve to be mentioned in the chart. At the same time I believe they’re ready to challenge wider audiences and make their music more easy to be discovered by the casual listener.
#10) “Violence” by Editors
Editors is one of those few bands which – born as an independent act – have managed to achieve the dream of many millions of sales, sold-out tours, and multiple awards. For this category of bands the release of a new album is always associated with high expectations, but also with a certain amount of skepticism. As a matter of fact it is the common though which says that the creative vein of a band can not be completely immune to the weight of the music business, and the history of music is full of rock band that, as they have conquered a greater success, have lost year by year those characteristics that made their sound so unique, catchy and characteristic. Listening to the songs of Violence, which is the new studio album by the Editors, I would say that some of these concerns are confirmed. On one hand it’s evident the band’s willingness to move further into the territory of electro-rock, and hence the collaboration with artists of the caliber of Blank Mass (a musician who’s been always at the opposite end of the concept of mainstream). On the other hand, however, there is a tangible poverty of musical writing which presents, practically on all the songs of the album, the same linear and easy-listening four-stroke structure, with extremely basic and far from exciting chord progressions. The result is that the songs of the album flow gently and quietly, they are perfect as a background for when we drive, work or prepare the table for dinner. The album is plenty of elegant, stylish and somehow easygoing musical motifs that fill the environment with beautiful sounds, but which rarely make us divert our attention from what we’re doing in that moment. Only occasionally we’re engaged by some more brilliant and intriguing musical ideas and it is in these few moments that the band demonstrate that it’s still possible, under certain conditions, to have together enjoyability, accessibility but also excellent value of the music. This is the case, for example, of the title track of the album which is one of the few sublime moments of the LPs.