2014 is half over, and even though there are still some upcoming releases for the back nine of the calendar that are sure to make many critics’ year-end lists (looking at you, Broncho) we've compiled a group of ten records that have made their stamp already in this year's indie world.
Between a group of relative unknowns, comeback captains, and sophomore successes, the indie (whatever that word even means these days) circles have found themselves in a fine situation partially into the year.
Even though the concept of an album (read: but not a "concept album") is dwindling in favour of hit singles, any of the following will be perfectly suited for your summer road trip; even Mogwai, although that one might only be for the pilgrimage you're taking to visit the ghost towns of Virginia.
The Fresh & Onlys - "House of Spirits"
Between being Rodriguez' backing band, and lead man Tim Cohen moving to Arizona, the Fresh & Onlys upped their worth with a lateral move on "House of Spirits." Sidestepping the jangly tone that has been so in vogue over recent years, and making the piano present on certain songs, suits the band perfectly. Out of certain scenes rise some sincerely talented songwriters, and Cohen should be remembered as one of this period's finest. Featured track: "Bells of Paonia"
The Mary Onettes - "Portico"
The Mary Onettes are a band that has never gotten the admiration they have deserved, at least in this country. They execute all the dreaminess that Wild Nothing gets credit for, but add in the songwriting prowess that comes from almost everything out of Sweden. "Portico" is a precise seven songs, which continues their legacy that will hopefully be reminisced about in the coming decades when we all look back on this era in pop music. Featured track: "Silence Is A Gun"
The Shilohs - "S/T"
Name-checked by Real Estate and the earlier mentioned Fresh & Onlys, The Shilohs made a powerful statement with their latest effort, but in a gentle way. Sometimes it's as simple as a song and a guitar, and when a band possesses the talent that The Shilohs have, and an affinity for original Kinks hits, the result can be a warm success. Featured track: "Student Of Nature"
Devon Williams - "Gilding The Lily"
Devon Williams' newest release for Slumberland has positioned his spot atop the list of those who are actually referencing the 1980s earnestly. It's shocking that more acts don't ape '80s dream poppers, The Jazz Butcher, like Williams did on his previous full length, with its twelve-string guitars and synth pads. On "Gilding The Lily," he takes another step deeper into the throwback pond, having the songs rival the score from any John Hughes movie. This is something you've heard from critics before, often to disappointment, but try and trust us on this one time. Featured track: "Flowers"
White Lung - "Deep Fantasy"
In their debut for Domino, Vancouver's White Lung are finally realizing their full potential, and it’s more than deserved. A virtual shoe-in for next year's Polaris Prize short list, "Deep Fantasy" does more than idealize an era in which Courtney Love briefly reigned. Guitar player Kenneth William has a particular style that has most likely never been heard before, which is the trump card White Lung has over every other band that makes even the mildest of references to '90s post punk. Featured track: "Face Down"
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - "Only Run"
With a debut heard in every hip bar in the first world, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah truthfully let down large factions of fans with their second effort, to the point where they were forgotten fairly quickly and their third didn’t make much of an impression. What a treat it is to hear them back in original form. "Only Run" urges you to continue listening, with Matt Berninger of The National guesting on one of its best tracks. Featured track: "Coming Down"
Mogwai - "Rave Tapes"
A decade and a half ago, Mogwai ruled a lot of bedrooms and live venues with their brand of post-rock, and rightfully were the kings of the genre for several years. Meandering through some releases over that time, which never quite captured what the band was originally known for, they still managed to continue writing dragging, sludge epics, while experimenting with electronic instruments and programming. Much like Radiohead prepared for "Hail to the Thief," by recording "Kid A" and "Amnesiac," Mogwai’s "Rave Tapes" appears to be the culmination of the direction they have been preparing for years. Some cuts could be companions to a song like "Computer Love" by Kraftwerk, but there’s still enough on this album to please the fans of Mogwai's trademark “step on all the pedals, but still be beautiful" style. Featured track: "Simon Ferocious"
Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Days of Abandon"
Brooklyn's Pains of Being Pure at Heart released their third album in 2014, and just like 2011's "Belong," "Days of Abandon" sounds nothing like the record that came before it. Staying true to their soulful messages and their narratives and fanbase being not unlike cult favourites Belle & Sebastian or the Smiths, this album keeps the band's stock high in the indie world. Featured track: "Simple and Sure"
Relations - "Songbirds"
Although they began as a Modern Lovers cover act, Brooklyn's Relations have very little in common with Jonathan Richman's long-defunct band, at least when it comes to the sound. The songwriting, however, is equally on point, and if their debut release is any indication, they should find some success once the EDM scene gets trapped in its own festival Port-o-Potty. Featured track: "Comes"
Tobacco - "Ultima II Massage"
America's most talented weirdo musician, and leader of Black Moth Super Rainbow, released his third solo effort in May and it is easily his best work to date. With programming that any rap outfit would sell their supply of lean for, twisted, analog voices throughout, and a video directed by absurdist comedian Eric Wareheim, Tobacco came out of the gates strong with this release. Featured track: "Streaker"
Best Indie Albums of 2013
10. The Dirtbombs - "Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey"
Detroit veterans The Dirtbombs decided to shine their light on '60s pop act Ohio Express and they did so with such accuracy that it almost plays like a parody album. Putting away their often-used fuzz lines and pinpointing the idea of drums functioning as hooks, this record is also on par with anything done by the Archies or Sha Na Na. Standout track: “Hot Sour Salty Sweet”
9. Connan Mockasin – "Caramel"
If you’re the kind of person who still pitches woo by making mixed tapes, go in strong by including Connan Mockasin's single off his most recent release, "I'm The Man, That Will Find You." It's smooth and romantic and just weird enough to be intriguing. The album plays like a less obtuse Ariel Pink, if Dean Learner delivered it from his talk show. If this is where psychedelic music is moving towards, start paying attention. Standout track: "I'm The Man, That Will Find You"
8. War Baby - "Jesus Horse"
Any listener will give this record an obligatory Bleach comparison, and that's fair but with EDM ruling the airwaves as well as the live industry, it's a healthy reminder to re-discover your spastic guitar roots. With frontman Jon Red's House-Of-Guitars-style of absurdist humour in their videos and social media, and a live show that makes them sell out of merchandise nightly, expect big things from this rising act in the next two years. Standout track: "Horseless Headman"
7. Louise Burns -"The Midnight Mass"
It's mildly en vogue to switch lanes from dreamy, guitar pop into a more electronic realm, but Louise Burns' second record did it with more aplomb than her contemporaries. Instead of attempting to become a radio sensation by getting hyper-billboard producers and writers on board (which we’ll call "The Liz Phair Manoeuver") Ms. Burns enlisted The Raveonettes' Sune Rose Wagner to man the controls on a darker record than one might expect from her. Also with the help of indie all-stars Sandra Vu (Dum Dum Girls), Gregg Foreman (Cat Power), Darcy Hancock (Ladyhawk), Brennan Saul (Brasstronaut), and James Younger, Louise Burns is in an indie episode of Hollywood Squares, and she's in Betty White’s seat. Standout track: "Don't Like Sunny Days” Featured song: "Emerald Shatter"
6. Yuck - "Glow And Behold"
Yuck had a mountain to climb with their follow-up to their scorching, self-titled debut and they nailed it by doing something we don't see in music that often anymore: parity. All the songs have different styles to them, instead of just trying to make a sequel to the album that got them so much attention. "Rebirth" might be the most obvious "Loveless" tribute ever made (and that's saying something), "Middle Sea" could be on any Placebo full-length, and "Nothing New" belongs on Ash's 2001 release "Free All Angels." Standout track: "Middle Sea"
5. The Ballantynes – "Liquor Store Gun Store Pawn Shop Church"
Northern soul was the original rave music. That beat can make any wallflower turn into a stomping, sweaty mess, and the fact that it's under-utilized is one of the great shames of fashionable music. Vancouver's The Ballantynes may be one of the only acts doing a straight-ahead version of this style, but they're not lazy about it. With vintage Hammonds and powerful backups vocals, they are being true to the genre and making even young fans nostalgic for a time they don't remember. Standout track: "No Love"
4. Teenanger - "Singles Don't $ell"
Toronto's Teenanger released their third full-length this year and it's made some long strides in securing them as the country's finest garage-punk act. Without falling into the trap of being a tribute to the decades-old genre, "Singles Don't $ell" has seen their songwriting go beyond what many fans thought they could, and coupled with some of the most interesting production on guitar-based music since Grinderman, Teenanger have stepped up another full plateau. Standout track: "Singles Don't $ell"
3. HAIM - "Days Are Gone"
The Haim sisters get a lot of backlash, mostly from stylish, talented, young women, in the same way that hip men in the early part of the century quickly turned on the White Stripes after they went all MTV on us. It should be noted that HAIM are definitely not a "put together" band unless you count their parents training them up from a young age to be a juggernaut live act, complete with top shelf charm and Este's now famous “bass face." Standout track: "Forever" Also see: <a href="http://youtu.be/OlN9AJkgeYk" target="_blank">David Letterman fall deeply in love with them</a>.
2. The History of Apple Pie – "Out of View"
We're living in a time of '90s revisionism with the popularity of acts like the Weeknd and Sleigh Bells being both critical stars and touring machines, and London's The History of Apple Pie are one part <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Records" target="_blank">Sarah Records</a> act and two parts <a href="http://youtu.be/VW15vdcNSSk" target="_blank">The Rentals</a>. If your soul is empty because there hasn't been a new Pains of Being Pure at Heart record in two years, fill it with "Out of View." Standout track: “Mallory”
1. Cut Copy - "Free Your Mind"
It looked a little bleak for Cut Copy recently. With the massively underwhelming release of 2011's "Zonoscope," the fact that band members were living in different hemispheres, and the somewhat boring first single off Free "Your Mind," they looked like they might sink in the same way peers MGMT and Bloc Party have. However, their latest album is rich with texture in the variety of songs, and indie-meets-deep-house production. Cut Copy is back, and this might be their best album yet. Standout track: "Meet Me In a House of Love"