-Folk- Coming Soon
-Doom Metal- Coming Soon
-Experimental- Coming Soon
The term “indie” is now being thrown around to describe basically any form of contemporary alternative music. Major label bands with no indie rock influences are being marketed as indie bands, and it’s getting harder to tell what exactly the genre is at this point. For that reason, indie and alternative rock have been put into the same category for this year’s guide. In terms of quality, alternative had a less than stellar year, but there were still some good albums that had to be left off the list. Here are 10 great alternative and indie rock albums released in 2011.
Showroom of Compassion
Compared to their contemporaries, Cake have always been the “mature” part-comedy part-alternative rock band. While Ween were crude, The Presidents were random, and Weezer were full on pop parody, Cake were the more simple and sophisticated of the lot. Their music is simple but wildly unique and creative, and their lyrics range from parody to literary references. Showroom of Compassion is the first Cake album in seven years, and it shows the band growing as musicians. Some alternative fans may be put off by its almost avant-garde oddity at times, especially on tracks like “Teenage Pregnancy,” but listeners who embrace Showroom of Compassion’s mix of the weird and the accessible will find Cake’s best album since Prolong the Magic and maybe even the most consistent album of their career.
DeVotchKa don’t do things a whole lot differently than other indie rock bands. They just do it better. 100 Lovers is a little country, a little gothic, and a little poppy, but the sound it forms is sort of a purer, more polished version of contemporary indie music. The vocals will be especially familiar to indie rock listeners, but there is a beautiful atmosphere to the instrumentals that creates a nice contrast between the clean instrumentation and rough vocals. There are beautiful moments, as well as some heavier rock ones, and the music remains catchy and varied throughout. There are also a lot of different instruments being used, and used as more than just novelty. These includes a full arsenal of string, woodwind, and brass instruments. One of the heavier songs, “The Man From San Sebastian” even uses an accordion in the main riff. If you like indie rock, 100 Lovers is definitely an album worth checking out.
Build a Rocket Boys!
Build a Rocket Boys! takes Elbow’s sound to a more theatrical level. The results are mixed, as the pseudo-operatic vocals, large harmonies, and orchestral arrangements sometimes distract from the indie rock that Elbow has perfected over the years. However, that core sound is still there, and occasionally Elbow’s ambitious songwriting pays off. Unlike a lot of indie bands that sound forced, the passion of Elbow can be heard throughout. Even amongst the often cluttered instrumentals, there is a strong human element that shines through, and that makes this a treat to listen to.
Portugal. The Man
In the Mountain in the Cloud
Portugal. The Man’s major label debut is every bit as good as their independent releases. Much like on past albums, there is a theme to In the Mountain in the Clouds, and stylistically the album is very different from anything the group has done before while still retaining distinct elements of the sound. The vocals are still high and mostly in falsetto, but the music this time around is largely influenced by 70’s psychedelic pop. As such, there are tons of catchy melodies, atmospheric arrangements, and plenty of psychedelic sounds littered throughout the album. It’s maybe a little simpler than past records, but it’s still Portugal. The Man. That is to say, the music is catchy, creative, and even experimental. Portugal. The Man continue to progress, and while In the Mountain in the Cloud is far from their most memorable release, it’s one of the best and most original indie rock albums of the year.
The King of Limbs
While shorter and less revolutionary than many fans were expecting, Radiohead’s The King of Limbs is nonetheless a great album. Stylistically, it has more in common with Kid A than In Rainbows, as most of the tracks are closer to electronic than rock. Radiohead are quite good at that though, and there are some real highlights here. “Give Up the Ghost” makes great use of layering to create a haunting and atmospheric sound. The single “Lotus Flower” is also exceptional, and strikes a perfect balance between being a catchy rock song and a sort of Flying Lotus-inspired dance track. Moments like those could only be created by Radiohead, and even though it’s not as consistent as what we’ve come to expect, this is 35 minutes of quality and occasionally excellent music.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
After the sonic jam-fest that was Real Emotional Trash, Stephen Malkmus and company have returned with a slower, more laid back, and more straightforward indie rock album. Mlalkmus is best known as being the frontman of legendary rock band Pavement, and Mirror Traffic is the closest the Jicks have gotten to matching Pavement’s sound. In a way that’s a little disappointing, as the Jicks were just beginning to find their own sound, one that was heavier and more chaotic than Malkmus’ former group. Mirror Traffic is still a smart and focused album though, and it sees a more mature Stephen Malkmus dealing with political and social issues in a way that only he could. It’s hard to say where the Jicks will go from here, but they’ve made another solid album, albeit a much a tamer one than fans might expect.
Demolished Thoughts is a very interesting album from the frontman of Sonic Youth. The music here is far from being noise rock, as Moore has taken a mellow and contemporary approach. Most of the guitars are acoustic, although it’s far from a singer/songwriter record. There are plenty of other instruments used, including different types of string and percussion, and Moore’s rough voice still has the same passionate feel as it does in Sonic Youth. Despite being mellow, Demolished Thoughts has a heavy feel to it, and any beauty it creates is dark and melancholy. It shows a different side of an incredibly creative and talented musician, and it’s quite possibly the best album Moore has been a part of in well over a decade.
TV on the Radio
Nine Types of Light
While slightly more mellow than past TV on the Radio albums, Nine Types of Light is an artistic triumph and a natural evolution for the band’s sound. There are numerous subtle touches that reward careful listening, and it’s catchy and unique enough for those who just want a straight up rock album. The album starts with the incredible “Second Song,” which opens slowly and builds to an epic atmospheric ending. That song is one of the best of the band’s career, and it’s far from the only highlight on Nine Types of Light. The album as a whole progresses brilliantly, and a movie that TV on the Radio released online shows an alternative order for the tracks that makes the music progress in a different but equally interesting way. It’s clear that a great deal of time and attention has been put into making Nine Types of Light, and it’s paid dividends. This is a varied and consistently entertaining rock album that cements TV on the Radio’s place as one of the elite creative forces in music today.
The Twilight Singers
One of the best storytellers in rock music, Greg Dulli has outdone himself with Dynamite Step. The latest from The Twilight Singers is a dark and beautiful work of art that is catchy and emotionally gripping in equal measure. Dynamite Steps revels in atmosphere, mostly of the dark variety, and it has a more varied and complete sound form the entire band. This is an album that doesn’t just rely on Dulli’s voice and lyrics to convey its story, but has some strong instrumentation and interesting arrangements. Subtle touches like string instruments being introduced in the background halfway through a song and changes in how the vocals are filtered make this a deep album musically, and the same attention to detail can found in Dulli’s lyrics. This is a great album and the best yet from The Twilight Singers.
Wild Flag may be the closest Sleater-Kinney fans ever get to a new album from trio. For some it’s enough just to hear Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss together again, even if Corin Tucker’s trademark vocals are nowhere to be found. Others will have a hard time looking past the Sleater-Kinney similarities and will loose interest in this new project quickly. What’s here is far too similar to classic Sleater-Kinney to avoid the comparisons, but Wild Flag is still worth a listen for any indie fan. The music is aggressive in all the right ways, and Mary Timony does an adequate job of filling Tucker’s void.