Best Indie Records of 2010

While getting such a rounded number as 25 wasn’t exactly the goal here, that’s how many ‘best’ indie records of 2010 I’d like to mention. As a disclaimer, this is not a reflection of The Silver Tongue indie team’s collective opinion, but a mere listing of the records that I, personally, have enjoyed the most throughout the year. Some of these I’ve reviewed, some not. All are on regular rotation. In the end, feel free to share your agreements, disagreements, loving and hateful comments. Here we go, favorites first:

New Young Pony Club – The Optimist. The one thing I hated about this year in new releases is that people got so hypnotized by lo-fi goodness that they forgot to appreciate a very well produced record. This is, hands down, my favorite record of 2010. It came out early, the band was touring around more and, then as that Best Coast/Vampire Weekend hype took over, indie bloggers just sort of forgot about NYPC. Well, I didn’t. I think I’ve listened to this one at least once a week since I got it, and it NEVER gets old. A more mature follow-up to Fantastic Playroom (which is still a favorite), it harnesses the fun-loving danceable goodness of that record, but with more sophistication in musical layering. Real, organic drums shine through, and the group plays with harmonies in creative ways. Tahita Bulmer is, at once, the embodiment of punkrock and sexy chic, and I’m convinced there’s nothing more rock ‘n roll than her right now. If 2010 had given me only this one record, I’d be superfluously content.

Crystal Castles – II. My second highest rotation winner is Crystal Castles’ sophomore LP. I mean, this record helps me get ready to go out, helps me get crazy when out, and helps me wind down after a night out. This year I got to cover the live debacle and actually meet Alice Glass – something to mark off my list of ‘things to do before I die,’ but still my unnatural obsession feels unquenched. Putting this exploratory soundscape of electroverse on repeat certainly serves as a fix. The way that Glass uses her vocals as an instrument… the way that Kath mashes up such intensities of sound together… it’s a heavenly slice. To all the reviewers who criticized Crystal Castles for ‘abandoning’ their indie-electro roots, I’ve got just two words – ‘f*** you!’

School of Seven Bells – Disconnect from Desire. Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis went the tour alone this year, after her sister quit the band. I got so tired of how shittily bloggers predicted that the live sound would lose its edge without the signature vocal harmonies that first defined the band and then reappeared on this year’s release. The live show was amazing, I thought, and the live drummer added an edge that wasn’t missed, but was certainly different than on the record. This collection of songs is truly a capture of Deheza and Curtis’ creativities, intertwined. The vocals make it a sing-along, but the sound play and depth give it staying power and the drum and bass drive make it seem like it comes from a timeless era of musical meld.

Best Coast – Crazy for You. I had 1,000 tabs open on my laptop one day, exploring new music, parousing others’ blogs as usual, when out of nowhere, one of the tabs started blaring those words – “The wooooorld… is lazy…” At that very moment, I knew something was about to change, and it certainly did. The band that brought their lo-fi making, cat-loving, laissez faire west coast attitude directly to YouTube successfully made a stamp on the culture of music in this country in 2010 by garnering mad, BFF-wannabe type love from indie bloggers. This record and this band deserve all that attention and more. It’s simple and innovative… familiar enough to be retro but off the beaten path far enough to be fresh. So, rock on, Bethany and Bob! Bring on the 2-minute nu-pop sensations and low budget vids.

Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard. I wanted to love this record from the beginning, but I couldn’t fully understand it until I saw these kids live. If someone told me they were using strings as primary instruments, but that the band had that classic, indie/Tele overdrive and dancey bass hooks, I would have doubted their ability to tow both lines successfully. Now, all I can say is, ‘Listen.’ Adverse to my tendencies toward darker progressions, this is a record that uplifts and turns me on to songwriting again.

Warpaint – The Fool. This record swoops in with warmth and coldness at the same time. The breathiness of the vocals and all instruments puts you in a small room with the band while you listen from a corner opposite them. Warpaint, on the whole, becomes as an intriguing shell of a lover as they play through these tracks. Vastly different – more relaxed, but more sincere – than their EP, this full length hits with the sadness of Carissa’s Weird, but with less whine and a different kind of strangeness and darkness. The songs are constructed outside the confines of traditional structures, allowing dramatic and emotional movement to happen naturally as the string of them pulls the listener around just below the hazy surface of reality. The shameless nakedness of it will keep it in regular rotation for a while.

Hesta Prynn – Can We Go Wrong. An ol’ skool Northern State fan, I can’t tell you how highly anticipated this EP was for me. The second I heard that Hesta Prynn, PhD was working on a solo indie project, my heart raced. It raced more when I learned that she was working with Chuck Brody. The rest is history. This is a 6-song piece of punchy, bass heavy happiness. A piece of it officially has to go on every dance mix I ever make again.

Jaill – That’s How We Burn. This was a SubPop release that didn’t get much press, but it really became a favorite of mine. The opening track, “The Stroller,” was pushed as the single, but this is truly a record to be listened to in its entirety. The simple, driving drums, thick, sincere guitar tones and direct vocal lines make it a great catch.

The Joy Formidable – Balloon Called Moaning. This record takes me straight back to the 90s of alt rock bands. Female vocals that are wrought of smooth simplicity are layered with male backups on some songs. The guitars drive through hooks on near-exploding amps and lots of cool pedals, and the drums sound large. The record is short, but there’s no fat. Keys and airy guitar effects give it a new-wave tinge, and every instrument is rhythmic in nature. It’s pop, but the choruses make me want to throw my body around. It’s contributed to much alone-time, sing-along happiness for me this year – a pleasure that’s not guilty; a sound that I’m not too cool to enjoy.

Stars – The Five Ghosts. This group delivers more of the same, but I eat it up like candy. What might dip into the soft and cheesy on this record is pulled into coolness by 80s inspired quirkiness that is subtle but pop-true at heart. The rest of the songs just rock out in standard Stars fashion.

Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History. On the heels of an Interpol sound, these guys bring that mainstream mainstay to a meeting point by cupping the edges with some trebly, indie guitars and almost shaky lyrical play. Everything is high energy and up tempo without riding on a wall of sound. They toured a lot in 2010, and I’m glad the hype caught on.

Tigers That Talked – The Merchant. These guys’ songs explode into choruses like The Joy Formidable, but with a little more orchestrated, less alternative rock sound. There are some good 4-on-the-floor beats that work within an organic rock, not electro, format.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86. Compare this to Arcade Fire, but these Canadian friends keep the tempos up. In fact, Arcade Fire’s album could’ve been as cool as this if they’d have focused a little more on drive and rhythm. Wolf Parade brings some beautiful new-wave derivatives with this one, while keeping it raw and real. The hard-panned, reverbed out guitars and storytelling lyrical style make it a record to play in entirety.

Sleigh Bells – Treats. That 2010 saw a slight decline in the popularity of electronic based, 80s music makes my heart hurt (I’m just not ready for the hippies to try and take over indie rock, okay?). But that Sleigh Bells produced something like this record makes me hopeful. I think this is the future of the future sound. I don’t know how some of these sounds were recorded and I don’t care – the more mixed up, screwed up, upside down or backwards the process that they chose to get this product, in fact, the better. It really is different, so kudos for that.

Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be. I thought I’d shoot myself if it were possible to have more than one lo-fi record on this list, but Best Coast was a given and Dum Dum Girls will become a staple. Like Wavves, the concept of this band is not just better, but more like ‘only’ conveyed live. I know that’s a stretch, but I mean it. Unlike Wavves’ King of the Beach, I can not only stand to listen to this record, but quite enjoy it as a standalone, independent product. The hookiness of every single track makes me fish for repeat. The cynical nature of the lyrics and general, f**k all attitude puts the Dum Dum Girls right up there with Bikini Kill on an off-night at the bar.

The Bird and the Bee – Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. I know, I know, it’s a cop out to consider ‘tribute’ records on best new release lists. Aside from the fact that I just have a special place in my heart for all things Hall & Oates, I think it’s important that The Bird and the Bee did this record. Two reasons: (1) a direct line of musical influence and distinction needed to be drawn in this way and (2) though a loose fan already, this really made me reconsider the talent and capabilities of the band, and to reexamine their previous releases. The only question is – will there be future ‘Interpreting the Masters’ volumes?

Kitten – Sunday School. This is a band that blindsided me out of nowhere, but I was subconsciously waiting for them. The sound purported on this 5-song debut is a mix of all the r’n’r elements I adore – garagey/indie guitars over driving, small kit beats with tinges of teen angst and queergrrl rock flowing in rivers of raw vocals that scream young talent. The L.A. foursome is fronted by Chloe Chaidez, who wasn’t even 16 yet when the record started leaking. Though the cohesiveness of the tracks gets lost toward the end, it’s a more than worthy intro to a band that hopefully sticks around.

Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love. I get to be like everybody else by putting this on my list (believe me, it was much debated). But there’s something so hooky here, from simple vocals to sharp keys to jabby guitars. It’s a real definition of where music is going in the next decade… sort of lo-fi, but not like Best Coast or Wavves. This is a sound rich in simple instrumentation.

Future Islands – In Evening Air. It took me a long time to fully embrace Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring’s voice. While the music on this record hit me as a quivering quintessence of true new-wave revival from the start, Herring’s vocals struck me as a dramatized dual between Morrissey and Danzig might. The more I listened, though, the more the sound grew on me. Now there’s no question – this record, in the end, was a great addition to my 2010, fit to foot the soundtrack of any legendary, heart-wrenching 80s film, and paced to keep up with the musical times of today.

Yeasayer – Odd Blood. Like Crystal Castles (different genres, mind you), Yeasayer got slammed by a lot of previous, die hard fans for deviating from their experimental roots with this year’s LP release. While there’s still an obvious art shade with these Brooklyners, the record definitely takes them to more of a mainstream pop realm, and that seems to be a good thing. These songs will make compilations that the band wouldn’t have even been considered for previously.

The Fresh and Onlys – Play It Strange. There are so many 60s throwback bands making records this year. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not really a fan. But these guys have won me over. There’s something dark and particularly infectious about the way they write songs. My first impression was a press release with “Waterfall” attached and, since that time, the uniqueness of their sound has stuck. If you embrace the whole retro Vox tonal revolution that’s happening, but hate the verbatim-like song structures, give this record a spin. It’s surprisingly uptempo, too.

Goldfrapp – Head First. I almost forgot that this record came out this year! The synth-pop goodness is so prevalent and the tracks so cohesive that it seems like a long-standing staple. If it doesn’t make you dance, nothing will. And though Goldfrapp’s been at this hooky, beat-making music madness for a while now, this record really stands out from the others.

Bear Hands – Burning Bush Supper Club. Sharp, stabbing bass lines and beat playfulness put this record on the same shelf as Snowden’s Anti-Anti. It’s eccentric but relatable, idiosyncratic but in the pocket. The vocal lines have that monotone thing going, but the lyrics tell stories, straightforwardly so, as the mood bounces from mischievous to serious.

No Age – Everything In Between. In Ramones’ style, half of these tracks bring a punkrock feel that utilizes more than two chords to convey moods – and I mean via progressions that are simplistic, but creatively contrived. I’ve joked that No Age are ‘art punk,’ with all that noise experimentation under the thumb of angsty things to say. Not exactly lo-fi, it’s like a post-90s-hardcore performance with speaker blown amps. Suffice it to say that this is the perfect college radio record of 2010.

Fences – (s/t). If Coldplay could retort themselves to indie rock honesty, they might sound as cool as Fences. This record takes me back to mid-90s, Athens style indie, ala Red House Painters. If I want something slow and down tempo to break up my electro-dance tendencies, I can reach for this one.

J.Criss, Contributor

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