Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Indie Music Year-in-Review

It is the Top 10 List time of year, and I tried coming up with my own Top 10 Best Indie Records of 2007. It proved difficult. For one, there are several albums I have yet to hear. When it comes to indie music, there are too many bands and too little time and money.

Also, this was a year of highly anticipated new releases from artists who are becoming more and more (gasp!) mainstream. As always, there were interesting trends. It was a good year for Canadians, electro-pop, and fittingly, Austin bands, so let's begin:

1. My favorite would have to be .... honestly, Feist. Despite her domination of gadget commercials (video iPods and Chocolate phones), her album The Reminder is masterful in both its lyrical maturity and variations of mood and style. It ranges from downright catchy to ethereal and pensive, her voice always stunning. If this is where mainstream music is headed, I'm following.

2. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky. In a departure from the experimental electronic and static-filled sound of previous recordings, Sky Blue Sky mirrowed its name in a refreshing return to simplicity. From the minute I heard the first single Impossible Germany, Unlikely Japan, I knew Tweedy and company had done something great, if rather Dead-head.

3. Okkervil River, The Stage Names. This Austin act has come into a lovely maturity and created something of a masterpiece with this latest effort. Layered and witty, it takes subtle Southern rock influences and fuses them with an easy indie pop sound. It makes the hometown proud.

4. Architecture in Helskinki, Places Like This. Experimental and chaotic as ever, this Australian band's latest effort seems to be from another planet yet surprisingly accessible. Poppy and catchy, strangely melodic and filled with ethnic beats, it's a 10-track roller coaster ride - quick and thrilling.

5. Iron and Wine, The Shepherd's Dog. With a great departure in style, Sam Beam has miraculously added percussion to his gentle vocals. Lyrically, the love songs are missing, but the story-telling is taken to new heights. While I was initially disappointed I wasn't getting another dreamy lullaby-filled album, I've been quite pleased with the new sound.

6. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away. This one wins for best title of the year, although I still struggle with Wincing's sometimes lyrical ambiguity. However, The Shins gain further credibility by handling mass success brilliantly and creating a stark, jarring album. The proof is this: It came out in January and I'm still listening to it regularly.

7. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible. I was worried about this one. Their first album, Funeral was too genius, too good, too big, too hyped. How could they possibly follow it? By making a powerful album with a lyrical political punch. An all too-telling critique of society, Neon Bible takes Springsteen-inspired rock and mixes it with the art school sound that made Arcade Fire such a hit in the first place.

8. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I can't get the song The Underdog out of my head, and that's a prime example of Spoon's lasting appeal - catchy, solid rock music. I once heard Spoon described as "just a good band that makes good albums" and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga holds to that reputation.

9. Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight. I must admit, this one has grown and grown and grown and grown on me. On first listen, I hated the disco-inspired lyrics and music, but Jenny Lewis' voice can overcome anything. However, it has enough depth and surprises to stand on its own and not on Lewis' hype.

10. Lily Allen, Alright, Still. Okay, this one only technically counts, seeing as her music has been around for a good year and a half and she's a little too huge to be indie. But the album was finally released State-side in January, and her ska and reggae influenced bubblgum seems too sweet on the surface until you realize just how witty and cheeky she is.

Of the smaller acts I discovered this year, the best had to be Bishop Allen and Man Man, both based out of the Northeast with 2006 releases that I only discovered recently. However, they are distinctively different, with Bishop Allen having a lovely pop sensibility matched with creative story-telling, while Man Man is an insane, high-energy conglomeration of shouting and instrumentation. With constant touring and some recognition (Bishop Allen's catchy "Click, Click, Click" has been featured in a camera commercial) both have made it into the larger indie consciousness in 2007.

Overall, it was a good year for indie music, and I'm sure 2008 will be equally entertaining and thought-provoking.

[Note: Several excellent artists have released new albums this year that I have yet to hear, including Beiruit, The New Pornographers, Jose Gonzalez, Josh Ritter, and Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah! When I finally get around to these and others of 2007, I hope I can add a 2007 Year-in-Review, part two. For now, I'll stick to my criticism thus far.]


Sarah said...

I like it Gina. Of course, I think I would have put Neon Bible above Wincing the Night Away, just because the lyrics are freakin' fantastic and I find them a little more moving, but it's all good. ;-)

Unaccustomed to Courage said...


M.Ward. Post-War
Over the Rhine. Trumpet Child

Maybe Regina Spektor.
and some others. :)

Jesse said...

Replace Wincing the Night Away with Post-War, and something else with Blood on the Slacks (Golden Smog).

Outside of that a fine list, though I'd put Sky Blue Sky Higher, and perhaps Ga Ga Ga Ga lower... It just doesn't touch Gimmie Fiction.

Ted Leo may deserve a place, but perhaps you are right.

The Lazy Editor said...

I believe Post-War was released last year. Feel free to correct me, but it would belong on a 2006 Top 10 list.

I stand by Wincing the Night Away, mostly because The Shins proved that mass success hasn't ruined them and they can still create a good album.

And Jesse, I totally agree - Gimme Fiction is Spoon's best ever.

There are a lot of albums I still need to listen to. I freely admit it.

Jesse said...

Ah, you are correct... It is the greatest album of 2006.

Heather said...

so, when are you going to do an austin band review? i want to see that list asap.

Joyf said...

I didn't know you knew Jose! Gotta love him. And I'll have to check these others out - I envy your seemingly effortless knowledge of the indie scene.

P.S., You need to comment more, dork. And I don't just mean on mine. How else are we going to continue this creative feeding off each other? Besides, I love hearing your responses to things ..

Hope you're doing well, dear!

The Lazy Editor said...

It may seem effortless, but a lot of time and money goes into my indie music addiction. I tried to take a break after moving, that's why there are some significant artists not on this list.

Autumn said...

Gina, you should continue in this strain--your review writing is really wonderful! Such good summaries, such excellent descriptive diction.

I'm glad you mentioned The Underdog. It took me weeks to get that song out of my head. But Jonathan Fisk stayed on my brain even longer--I think it's probably their most catchy.

I have tried to listen to most of these albums (Tyler really enjoys them), but I am a lazy listener. I can never get past the first few uncomfortable listens to the point where I can enjoy and appreciate the music. I just always fall back on familiar favorites from years ago. James Taylor, baby! Still the one!