Music

The Best Indie-Pop of 2011

Girls

Perhaps some of the bands on this list aren’t indie-pop in a literal way, but they most definitely are in heredity, influence, or spirit. They prove that our most interesting musicians can express themselves within the essential form of a pop song, while also changing how we think about songs and what they do to us.

Indie-pop seems like a niche but also a broad category. DIY musicians are sprouting up everywhere you turn, on your block and on your Facebook. Pop music is in everything; it is all encompassing. There are persistent strains of pop in “indie” music of all genres, in your electronic, rock, ambient, singer-songwritery folk, even hip-hop. Yet when I think of indie-pop as an entity, it’s music that’s predominantly pop (versus predominantly rock or folk) that also has an inherent interest in the classic format of a song.

This year, the indie-pop music that made me stop and take notice wasn’t necessarily the high-energy splice-and-dice hybrids or the cutesy, catchy super-melodic stuff, though there still were fetching examples of both. Call it a sign of our (hard economic) times if you will, but in 2011, the most memorable pop songs, while colorful and big and romantic, tended to keep a lot of gray around, to portray the world as one big melancholy ball of confusion.

None of this is political music, in an overt way, but the weight of the hardships of the world often hung in the air, standing as a reminder not just of our particular moment, but of the universality of human suffering, frailty, and uncertainty. The fogginess of life is expressed in various ways within the confines of this list -- be they grand, reaching-out-to-the-audience statements or small, individual ones.

Some of these bands might not be “indie-pop” in a music history way, though most definitely are, in heredity, influence, or spirit; for example, the #2 band on this list just released a heart-shaped 7”-vinyl single dedicated to their hero “Lawrence”, of Felt. But that’s crucial to the mutability of pop music, the way our most interesting musicians can express themselves within the essential form of a song, while also changing, even upending, how we think about songs, about what they are and what they do to us. Dave Heaton

 

Artist: Bart and Friends

Album: Stories with the Endings Changed

Label: Lost and Lonesome

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/b/bart_and_friends.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 10

Bart and Friends
Stories with the Endings Changed

Bart Cummings, of the Cat’s Miaow and other great Australian bands, started his Bart and Friends project, which includes various members of other good bands as “friends” changing with each release, with an album in 1998 that stands for a few of us as an under-recognized classic of the era. Last year’s release of a new CD, nine years after the previous one, was a joy. This follow-up is at least as good: a collection of charming, melodic, tender, happy, and sad little pop songs about life and love and the fleetingness of it all. That temporality is mimicked by the brevity of the songs and of the CD itself, considered a “mini-album” sometimes but feeling to me like an album. Style-wise, what he’s doing isn’t much different from what he did over ten years ago, but that’s something to celebrate, as his songs are affecting and immaculate as ever.

Bart & Friends - Who Am I to Say No by Lost And Lonesome

 
Artist: The Bats

Album: Free All the Monsters

Label: Flying Nun

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/b/bats_monsters.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 9

The Bats
Free All the Monsters

New Zealand’s Flying Nun Records and its related bands get written about like something of the past, an influence more than a musical entity worthy of our attention now. Yet here, in 2011, we’ve got a new, eighth album by the Bats (plus another stellar David Kilgour album). The basics of what they’re doing hasn’t changed much since 1987: melodic guitar-pop, with a lot of atmosphere and feeling wrapped up in melodies that will haunt you, and keep coming back at you when you aren’t paying attention. And yes, newcomers will hear in their songs, the old or the new ones, traces of a lot of bands you’ve come to love over the last couple decades. The Bats were here first, and they’re still here, and in great form.

 
Artist: The Ladybug Transistor

Album: Clutching Stems

Label: Merge

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/t/the_ladybug_transistor-clutching_stems-2011-fnt.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 8

The Ladybug Transistor
Clutching Stems

Four years have passed since the last Ladybug Transistor album, which came four years after its predecessor. That, combined with frequent lineup changes, is enough to make each album feel like a comeback and a reinvigoration, even if the band’s ‘60s-influenced, lazy-autumn-day, orchestral-pop sound hasn’t changed that much since it started out back in 1996. Gary Olson’s songwriting is consistent in approach, and consistently good. Still, their seventh album does feel like a rebirth -- not because it’s drastically different from their other albums, but because it’s livelier in tone than the last couple, somehow particularly emotional in the lyrics and delivery, and as good overall as anything they’ve done before. It’s a cliché to say that certain contemporary pop music sounds timeless, but somewhere in its fabric, timelessness seems integral to what the Ladybug Transistor does, and does well. It’s music evocative of places and people, and the way we link emotions to the memory of them.

 
Artist: Seapony

Album: Go with Me

Label: Hardly Art

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/seapony.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 7

Seapony
Go with Me

The young Seattle band Seapony combines in its sound a few of my favorite indie-pop styles of the last couple decades: amateur songwriting in the Beat Happening tradition, pretty melodies over drum machines (à la forgotten bands like Alsace Lorraine), and a woman’s voice sweetly singing about sad things, like -- what else? -- heartbreak. The album flies by in about a half-hour, like a summertime fling that leaves behind both romantic memories and a bitter aftertaste. They’re too sincere about sentimental matters to be fully embraced by the music press; both the PopMatters and Pitchfork reviews were on the low end of the spectrum and they’re the likeliest band this year to be derisively referred to as “twee”. Yet they’re a classically indie-pop band whose minimalist, breezy style puts a fresh face on beloved formulas.

 
Artist: Amor de Días

Album: Street of the Love of Days

Label: Merge

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/amor_de_dias.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 6

Amor de Días
Street of the Love of Days

Amor de Días was treated by largely as a side project of the Clientele, and maybe it is, but if so it’s also a side project of the less famous but equally great band Pipas. Since neither band is making music right now, is it really a side project at all? It has neither the slightness nor the dead-end-road quality that the phrase implies. Musically, it weds qualities from both of the other bands -- the melancholy surrealism of the Clientele, the spunky transient pop melodies of Pipas -- but also feels like something completely new, taking mystical folk music and dreamy pop wandering, and building off them into something strange and beautiful. The marriage of the two styles would be welcome enough, but there’s also a quality here that says much more musical territory is waiting to be explored. There is both depth and openness in this music, not to mention images, melodies, and sounds that keep calling us back to them.

Next Page
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.