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Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2014

Corey Beasley

Some of the heavy hitters may not have made the cut for the best indie rock of 2014, but newer acts did more than just fill the vacuum left by the usual suspects.

If you'll allow a bit of subjective experience to weigh on this otherwise objective and completely irrefutable list, I've had quite a few friends tell me 2014 hasn't been a good year for independent rock music. I, with typical composure and articulate patience, respond: "Bruh." It's been a banner year for guitars, provided you're happy to do some digging. Many of the year's best indie rock releases are from new, or newer, groups -- some here aren't even proper albums, and some are self-released. And no, a few heavy-hitters didn't make the cut. You might ask, who am I to snub the War on Drugs, or Sun Kil Moon, or St. Vincent? (I'm someone who didn't like those albums very much, that's who.) The good news: with many of these bands just getting started, we've got plenty to look forward to when we're finishing out the decade.

 
Artist: Christian Fitness

Album: I Am Scared of Everything That Isn't Me

Label: self-released

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/c/christianfitness1.jpg

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Christian Fitness
I Am Scared of Everything That Isn't Me

To call Andrew Falkous's other projects, the legendary Mclusky and forever underrated Future of the Left, "cult bands" is to mean the term literally: Falkous makes demented, evil, brilliant music -- to hear his Word is to join his ranks and spend the rest of your days evangelizing, wandering the blasted heath to convert your neighbors under pain of shredded eardrums. Christian Fitness features Falkous and only Falkous, playing every instrument on an album that belies its dissonant squall with its author's keen pop sensibility: his layered hooks and ricocheting vocal melodies add heft to these compositions. Falkous makes more than his share of noise, but he's never been one to do it for noise's sake. Whether indicting xenophobic know-nothings in "I Am Scared of Everything That Isn't Me" or spitting devastatingly dour poetry in "The Earth Keeps Its Secrets", Falkous's pen is as sharp as any buzzsaw riff here. Cast off your earthly bonds. Follow us into the horrible, horrible light.

 

Artist: Ex Hex

Album: Rips

Label: Merge

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Ex Hex
Rips

For anyone still waiting for a band from Washington, D.C., to carry Fugazi's torch into the new millennium, Mary Timony has had you covered for about two decades now, building one of the most consistent, axe-grinding discographies you'll ever find. The former Helium frontwoman has made a career -- under her own name, with the Mary Timony Band, with Soft Power, and with Carrie Brownstein in supergroup Wild Flag -- as a guitar hero, forever mixing gnarled, fleet-fingered riffs cloaked in a slightly stoned, pop-friendly haze. Ex Hex trades the post-punk of Wild Flag for barnburning power-pop, with plenty of room for Timony's shredding solos. Galloping drums propel volleys of garage chords into liquid leads, all in the service of fist-pumping exhilaration.

 

Artist: Weaves

Album: Weaves

Label: Buzz

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Weaves
Weaves

Toronto's Weaves packs more excitement into an EP than most rock bands in 2014 managed in a year's worth of LPs. From the lurching groove of "Buttercup" to "Take a Dip", which toes the razor's edge between anthemic pop and caterwauling dissonance, to the sexy slow burn of "Hulahoop," the group's songs are as restless as frontwoman Jasmyn Burke's livewire vocals. There's something for the whole family here: Dad wants a generous slice of noise; Mom wants R&B flavor; little Timmy wants skuzzy sleaze; you're looking for huge beats to drown them all out. It's rare for an EP to offer such a feast. Dig in.

 

Artist: Hospitality

Album: Trouble

Label: Merge

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Hospitality
Trouble

Hospitality came into this world a sweet-natured, charming indie-pop band, with a self-titled EP (2008) and self-titled LP (2012) that garnered lots of NPR-flavored buzz for the Brooklyn group. But Amber Papini's band, judging by this year's Trouble, will leave quite a different legacy behind. Trouble's sharpened edges glint like a knife, the kind you don't see until it's sticking between your ribs. Songs like "Nightingale", with its guitar-and-synth workout, or "I Miss Your Bones", sure to nest in your head for weeks to come, show a more assertive, less polite Hospitality, and Trouble is all the better for it. Papini's voice, flecked with just enough rasp, lends weight to her precisely vague lyrics, all balanced against the staccato chords or punched-up leads uncoiling from her guitar. If the leap between records this time around is any indication, album number three will be a monster.

 

Artist: Spoon

Album: They Want My Soul

Label: Loma Vista

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Spoon
They Want My Soul

Writing about a Spoon album in 2014 is like writing about peanut butter. You don't need me to tell you: at this point, you know whether or not this shit does it for you. They Want My Soul combines vintage Spoon -- tightly interlocking riffs, a rhythm section seemingly of one mind and six limbs, Britt Daniel's ultra-cool, emotive vocals -- with enough subtle experimentation to keep things interesting nearly 20 years after Spoon's first release. "Inside Out" sees the band's first (!) real use of sampling and programming to create a gorgeous soundscape, while the synth textures of "New York Kiss" hint at Daniel's recent work in Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Operators). Spoon's never been a flashy band, which means it's always been easy to take them for granted, sure they'd drop another stellar record in our laps every couple of years or so. But pound for pound, they're the reigning kings of rock music in America, and Soul hits highs as stratospheric as anything in their tenure.

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The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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