PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Best Indie Pop of 2015

In 2015 indie pop, there are recurring appearances by the Dunedin Sound, brevity, the changing of the seasons, and the spectre of childhood that hangs over our adult lives.

Indie-pop has become such a wide-ranging descriptor used to describe everything from cutesy, Target-ad-ready tunes full of sickly-cute, faux-happy tunes to rough-and-rugged DIY stuff soaked in noise and the smoldering embers of punk. The “indie” part of it still seems relevant, as an artistic signifier and perhaps an economic one, even as the world has moved beyond the importance of the latter, taking for granted their globalized corporate reality.

In 2015 a broad range of significant music could be considered “indie pop” through some lense. Yet for this list I’ve set aside music that might be most likely placed under another easily recognized musical genre -- for example, the most punk-leaning, country-leaning or R&B-leaning ‘indie’ acts. As it turns out, that may have meant I’ve set aside wide-ranging eclecticism, in favor of a more focused, idiosyncratic creative approach. This list is still full of torment, strangeness and extreme emotion, but generally speaking it’s within a comforting realm of melody-based pop. There’s a lot of atmosphere, many gorgeous guitar or synth passages, and -- alas -- plenty of infatuation, self-doubt and heartbreak.

The comforting side of the music represented here is deceptive. Within a lovely demeanor, there’s a lot of mystery, desire, fear, worry and even evil thoughts. The album in the #1 spot is essentially a horror movie in indie-pop form.

In 2015 there were a lot of familiar, heavy-hitters who put out amazing music beyond what appears on this list. Belle & Sebastian released a ninth album which felt like a brilliant summation of everything they’ve done to date, even though it (oddly) was greeted by critics as a one-off stylistic diversion. The second solo album from Sarah Cracknell of St Etienne bested the first, 18 years later. Yo La Tengo brought Dave Schramm back for a minimalist, really beautiful sequel to Fakebook. Christopher Owens of Girls did a surprise release that wasn’t perfect, purposely, but had some gorgeous retro-current pop-rock numbers. Momus’ Turpsycore was a truly eccentric three-disc set, two of them tributes to other eccentrics (David Bowie and Howard Devoto). Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey of Talulah Gosh/Heavenly returned as the beautifully low-key the Catenary Wives. Darren Hayman released an album of socialist chants, a delicate, intimate solo work and the beginnings of a musical travelogue through small English towns. Seapony released a super-consistent third album and then broke up.

Some of the ten albums I settled on were by musicians who have been making music for a long time, though on the whole they feel more under the radar to me. A few are debuts. There is a lot of overlap among them, in terms of both musical influences and lyrical themes. There are recurring appearances by the Dunedin Sound, brevity, the changing of the seasons, city vs. country life and the spectre of childhood that hangs over our adult lives, carrying within it promises of innocence, feelings of hope and memories of horrible things.

Artist: SPORTS

Album: All of Something

Label: Father/Daughter

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/s/sports-album-2015-200x200.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 10

Display Width: 200

All of Something

The second album from the Ohio-based band SPORTS reminds me of so much great noise-soaked female-fronted indie music of the ‘90s. First-person narratives with titles like “Getting On in Spite of You” that channel disappointment and hurt into high-powered, angry but incredibly tuneful anthems. It feels 100 times less retro than a lot of the more acclaimed bands working in this general terrain, while still conjuring up memories in my brain of late nights watching loud bands play in basements. It’s likely that few of those bands from my memories generated as many great melodies as SPORTS cram into under 30 minutes.

Artist: The Mantles

Album: All Odds End

Label: Slumberland

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/m/mantles-album-2015-200x200.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 9

Display Width: 200

The Mantles
All Odds End

The Mantles are one of three bands on this list that can readily be described as sounding like New Zealand bands like the Clean, the Bats, the Chills, et cetera. It’s a great sound to emulate. Hailing from San Francisco, they populate their third album with impeccable jangle-pop melodies powered by restrained but driven energy. There are a lot of bittersweet sentiments, expressed by the songs’ narrator or projected onto others. Often those feelings are embodied by an image, like the person “standing in a doorframe all day.” That general air of melancholy makes an impression beyond the surface. But the songs themselves are above all else showcases for melodies and the power to drive them into our brains.

Artist: The Hermit Crabs

Album: In My Flat

Label: Matinee

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/h/hermit-crabs-album-2015-200x200.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 8

Display Width: 200

The Hermit Crabs
In My Flat

Over about nine years now the Hermit Crabs have released some great EPs and now two great albums. They may sound like a band, but it’s essentially Melanie Whittle of Glasgow, Scotland, and whoever is making music with her at the time. For this eight-song album, that “whoever” lives in Boise, Idaho: Jeremy Jensen and Jake Hite of the Very Most. Their diverse contributions do give this a different feeling than past Hermit Crabs records, but at the center of it all is Whittle’s singing and songs. Here there’s one letter to a loudmouth and then seven songs to get to the real heart of the matter: heartbreak’s aftermath. Feeling like a fool, feeling like a sculpture who’s alone at home doing nothing in particular, feeling confused and regretful and sad and like you have more time on hand than you want to. All of that is articulated cleverly and sweetly, within great little bouncy, fun and bittersweet indie-pop songs.

Artist: Stutter Steps

Album: Stutter Steps

Label: Wild Kindness

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/w/wild-kindness-album-2015-200x200.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 7

Display Width: 200

Stutter Steps
Stutter Steps

There’s probably nothing entirely new within the musical DNA of Stuttering Steps’ self-titled debut, but it’s a glorious, deeply rewarding dive through classic guitar-pop sounds. In particular, it recalls New Zealand bands from Flying Nun records, Luna/Galaxie 500 and a slightly rockier Ladybug Transistor. I thought of those before knowing Dean Wareham plays a solo on one song and Jeff Baron of the latter band’s in the band. The ‘band’ here is mostly one person, Ben Harrison of Pittsburgh, PA. His songs are perfect slices of atmosphere that in lyrics and sound reflect a voice expressing recognizable truths to us, if not always pretty ones. The songs themselves are pretty, in an expansive, riding-a-guitar-rhythm-to-conjure-endless-mood sort of way.

Artist: Girlpool

Album: Before the World Was Big

Label: Wichita

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/g/girlpool-album-2015-200x200.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 6

Display Width: 200

Before the World Was Big

The drummerless LA duo Girlpool had me early on in one listen to Before the World Was Big. It might have been when they titled a song “Dear Nora”, and then by the next track reminded me again of the brilliance of Dear Nora the band and the unreported but I believe massive influence they’ve had on the current crop of DIY indie-pop acts. With guitars, bass and two perfectly anxious voices, they deliver hushed, raw, intimate expressions of worry about life that make the title and title track, expressly about the feeling of being a child, seem appropriate for the whole beautiful endeavor. “I am nervous for tomorrow and today”, they declare on one song, and it’s hard not to nod in understanding..

Next Page

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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