best indie pop albums 2011
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The 10 Best Indie Pop Albums of 2011

The 10 best indie pop albums of 2011 prove that our most interesting musicians can express themselves within the essential pop song form while changing how we think about music.

5. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine [Domino]

Scottish singer-songwriter King Creosote, Kenny Anderson is ridiculously prolific, releasing somewhere around 40 albums since the late ‘90s. They are interesting, exciting, and erratic. Diamond Mine feels different, and it is. A collaboration with electronic musician and producer Jon Hopkins, whose 2009 album Insides rightly received a lot of critical acclaim, Diamond Mine has one consistent sound and an alluring one at that. Hopkins created the musical backdrops for Anderson to sing over. The music presents an inviting, comforting, and strange atmosphere, with bittersweet tones melding with field recordings to create a sonic place we feel like we’re visiting.

4. Architecture in Helsinki – Moment Bends [V2]

For their fourth album, Australian pop group Architecture in Helsinki dial back from the manic tendencies of their previous album, without diluting the focus on rhythm that also marked that album as different from the ones before it. Moment Bends has an abiding interest in both the moment, represented by super-hummable, could-have-been-radio-hits-in-the-‘80s tunes and an overall dance-club atmosphere and the ways we could build moments into something greater, marked by a lyrical interest in the notion of paradise and in creating one. Musically, the album has an island vacation feeling that matches that theme; it’s airy, bouncy, and pretty. Of course, there’s disappointment and regret woven into the album, as with any actual vacation. Yet overall it’s also a distinctly hopeful album, one where everyone is dreaming of something greater and the music seems to be striving to fulfill that vision.

3. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong [Slumberland]

For their second LP, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart worked with Flood and Alan Moulder, men behind the boards for numerous classic albums in the greater “alternative rock” world. It’d be easy to make too big a deal of that, but they did no doubt help the band achieve the fuller, bolder sound of Belong. Befitting their influences, their songs have always had a shy, quietly witty personality along with catchy melodies. Here that’s true, but it’s all painted with brighter colors, turning their songs into the big-stage anthems we didn’t know they could be. What once were cute little choruses now feel like bigger statements; nice melodies now seem like something with broader appeal. This isn’t just because of the production. It’s growth in songwriting, in musicianship, in the whole package of how the music is put together. More than just reminding us that they’re not a flash in the pan, Belong should make listeners excited for the future of the band.

2. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost [True Panther]

Look at Girls quickly, and you might take them for a buzz band or stylish fad. The videos look like ads from a hipster marketing firm. They’ve been hyped by many run-of-the-mill music blogs, after praise from Pitchfork, the tastemaker those blogs follow. Take all of that, and throw it away. Girls are special. Christopher Owens has not just a knack for writing melodies and witty, open-hearted lyrics; not just a way of taking music of the past — especially, but not only, early rock and its pop precursors; not just a distinct slant on life and his own way of expressing it.

But he also an advanced understanding of the effect that music has on listeners and an even more developed way of tapping into that, so you can feel like a song is speaking to you, while also knowing that the singer is telling you that’s what he’s doing and that he knows it’s all part of the beautiful trick that is pop music. In that context, sometimes he will sing the banalest sentiment, and make you feel it as truth. Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the band’s spacier, more muscular second album, takes all of that to the next level, making a serious mark on us while advancing what the band’s music sounds like

1. The Caribbean – Discontinued Perfume [Hometapes]

Washington, DC trio, the Caribbean don’t fit snugly into the genre of “indie pop”, in the sense that you imagine it as a genre with neatly drawn boundaries. They don’t fit into any genre, really, yet they’re working in the realm of pop songwriting, in the world where a band sets a mood, a singer takes words and sings them melodically, and the listener takes it all in while unconsciously tapping his foot and singing along. The Caribbean work in that realm, but they do it like undercover agents. They’re living it, quietly, outside the attention of most people, and also changing it up. Their music is seemingly nondescript — they’re not flashy enough, young enough, or hip enough to get significant press — but filled with corners that fascinate, confuse, touch, and stalk you.

Their fifth album is especially puzzling and emotionally affecting. Like scientists, they’re quietly experimenting, but like journalists or novelists, they sing of ordinary people who, of course, aren’t really that ordinary, and their life crises, which resonate strongly with our own. It’s an album of people stuck between what they want to do and have to do, of people who find themselves at an existential crossroads though no one around them notices. Not that many people are noticing the Caribbean, either, but their music has the power to sneak up on you and take you firmly by the hand.

This article was originally published on 5 December 2011.