No genre had a better year in 2008 than indie rock. Last year, I had to group alternative albums together into one list, but things are different this year. Indie rock has its own guide, and no list had more competition than this one. Some tough sacrifices had to be made, and believe me when I say that all ten of these albums are great choices for any fan of indie or alternative rock.
In the Future
In the Future can be described almost as a progressive psychedelic indie rock album, and anyone who thinks that sounds as awesome as it is does to me will likely love this album. It doesn’t have the staying power of Deerhunter’s Microcastle, the creativity of TV on the Radio’s Dear Science, or the lyrics of The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive, but In the Future is one of 2008’s hidden gems that got far less attention than it deserved. Regardless of where it stands on the long list of great indie rock albums from 08,
If looked at as a shoegaze record, Deerhunter’s Microcastle is the best album in the genre since My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. However, Microcastle is far more than just a shoegaze album. This is one of the most unique indie albums you’ll find, and it combines shoegaze, ambient, rock, and punk influences together to create something that walks the line between noise rock, indie rock, and shoegaze. If you know what those genres are, chances are you’re a fan of more obscure indie rock, and Microcastle will be exactly what you’re looking for. However, you don’t need to be an indie rock fan to enjoy it. This is a very unique album that is unlike anything else out there, but it’s also the most accessible album in Deerhunter’s discography. In what turned out to be a phenomenal year for indie music, Microcastle is one of the best indie rock albums of 2008, and it’s an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.
Compared to many of the other albums on this list, Dr. Dog’s Fate is a bit basic. It’s a fairly standard indie rock album laced with dream pop and psychedelic influences, and it’s one that rarely goes beyond solid. Regardless, Fate is an example of quality indie rock that is consistent throughout and original enough to separate itself from the legions of generic indie rock groups flooding the market. Dr. Dog is a band that’s easy to like, as they have a very accessible and simple sound that is without a ton of flaws. It’s what the band doesn’t do that makes Fate a merely good album, but very little of what is here can be faulted. It’s a solid indie rock album that fans of the genre should enjoy.
My Morning Jacket
Rarely is a band criticized for becoming more experimental, but it’s happened to My Morning Jacket. What were once a southern rock group have turned into a full experimental indie act with traces of psychedelic, funk, country, and progressive rock. They’ve certainly changed, but the criticism of their change is more based on how great they were before, not how they sound now. In all actuality, My Morning Jacket have created another excellent album, and one that can be wholeheartedly recommended to anyone who understands that this band has changed. They’ve matured, become more intelligent songwriters, and have opened up their sound to more than just southern rock. It’s really a brilliant album indie album that if looked at it objectively, is really quite stunning.
Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
Rook is yet another great album from Shearwater. If you like your indie rock beautiful, epic, and powerful, then Rook is the album for you. It’s quite a simple album, but like indie music should be, it’s wildly creative within its simplicity. Rook is the type of spine-tingling tense album that does an excellent job of creating an emotional connection between the artist and the listener. On the surface, Shearwater doesn’t do anything particularly different in sound than their peers, including frontman Jonathan Meiburg’s former and much more generic project,
Sons & Daughters
This Gift was one of the first great albums released in 2008, and 11 months later it still stands out as one of the best indie rock albums of the year. Sons & Daughters do a fantastic job of mixing male and female vocal harmonies in ways that are reminiscent of indie bands varying from Sonic Youth to Rilo Kiley to even Sleater-Kinney from strictly the perspective of the females vocals. This Gift doesn’t necessarily take a lot of chances, as it features the same upbeat sound with emotionally varied lyrics that has become typical of indie rock, but the album uses that as more a positive than a negative. Sons & Daughters clearly have a formula that they build off, but they’ve made their formula by taking the best of their influences and putting their own spin on it. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but a safe pick that delivers the goods for indie rock fans.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
Real Emotional Trash
Real Emotional Trash is a different type of Stephen Malkmus album, but it’s still a solid indie offering that should please any fan of the genre. The former Pavement frontman, also aided by former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, focuses more on jamming and experimenting instrumentally here than he has in the past, and it’s safe to say that this album is pretty much the opposite of classic Pavement. Malkmus does show why he’s a legend though, both in his songwriting abilities and in his incredible musicianship. While he still hasn’t quite found a distinct sound, Malkmus uses the lack of a focus to his advantage, and creates some truly remarkable moments that seem to come out of nowhere. Real Emotional Trash isn’t the best album Stephen Malkmus has been a part of, but it’s another very good that indie fans should not miss.
The Hold Steady
Simply, The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive is a masterpiece in every respect. The album as a whole is a masterful collection of stories that come together to paint a beautiful picture of life. On their own, each song is a masterpiece, as each contains a poetic story full of vibrant characters dealing with genuine issues, but the concept that the stories make is even better. Stay Positive is an album that anyone can relate to, and it’s unique musically as well. The lyrics are deep and poetic, and it’s easy to get lost in thought interpreting the stories and metaphors. This is an album for music lovers, poetry lovers, and intelligent listeners, and if you fit into one of those categories, make sure to get yourself a copy.
TV on the Radio
How good is TV on the Radio’s Dear Science? Let’s just say that if you buy one album in the next ten years, I recommend this one. Years from now, this very well may be the record that defines this decade in indie rock. Dear Science is the modern day equivalent to the Pixies’ Doolittle and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. That is to say, it’s a jaw dropping masterpiece of creativity, lyricism, poetry, and experimentation. It exemplifies what modern indie music is all about, and in a year where dance-punk has been the major indie trend, TV on the Radio have introduced just enough of that into sound to show how much better than the rest of the indie rock crowd they really are. Dear Science is an unbelievable masterpiece, and it belongs in the collection of every music fan.