Indie music fans had a lot to be thankful for in 2015, with some amazing albums released this year.
This is not the list for those albums. Instead, this list is for great songs that were on otherwise good-but-not great albums from 2015.
- Modest Mouse – The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box
Modest Mouse released their sixth studio album Strangers to Ourselves in March, and it reaffirmed that Modest Mouse have yet to release a bad album. However, it also did not really reach out in many new directions, and sounded fairly similar their previous release We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank that came out all the way back in 2007. “The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box” is the longest song on Strangers to Ourselves (the video above is abridged – the full song is 6:12), but it certainly doesn’t feel like it thanks to its constant pounding energy.
- Nick Diamonds – Ungrievable Lives
Nicholas Thorburn, who goes by the stage name Nick Diamonds, is best known as the singer of indie pop bands The Unicorns and Islands. If you’ve ever listened to the podcast “Serial” you also have him to thank for the music. His solo work on the other hand has received much less attention – 2015’s City of Quartz currently only has 1,596 listeners on last.fm. It wasn’t a groundbreaking album, but its tracks are as good as anything Islands have released in the past few years and strongly resemble tracks from their electronic-based album Vapours. “Ungrieveable Lives” in particular stands out due to its dark sound and prominent synthesizers that make it a memorable song after one listen. Nothing else on the album is quite as catchy, but I’d still say City of Quartz deserves more attention.
- Desaparecidos – MariKKKopa
You probably know Conor Oberst for being either the angsty singer of Bright Eyes or for his somber, folksy solo work. Lesser known is that he also fronts punk rock band Desaparecidos, which released their debut album Read Music/Speak Spanish in 2002. A sophomore album seemed unlikely until they began releasing a few singles a decade later, and 2015 finally gave us the full length follow-up Payola. The album was full of chaotic guitars and shouts of angry, political lyrics, and the track “MariKKKopa” aimed at Maricopa County, AZ sheriff Joe Arpaio really epitomized this. It’s the only song on the album where Oberst really screams and lets it all out, and it’s one of the few tracks where the guitar riffs really stand out to create a unique melody. It’s sung from the perspective of an Arpaio supporter, and you can practically hear Oberst’s disgust as he sings “cause it’s their turn for someone to get hurt.” It almost seems strange to include this song on the list though, since the “MariKKKopa” single was originally released in 2012 and a whopping total of six songs that made it to the 14-track Payola were released from 2012-2013.
- Everything Everything – Distant Past
Everything Everything are a fairly divisive band, with unconventional melodies that blend electronic music with more straightforward indie rock, and a lead singer (Jonathan Higgs) who spends most songs singing in a distinctive falsetto. Their 2015 album Get To Heaven was overall a very strong release that dealt lyrically with some heavy topics including the 2015 UK elections and the rise of ISIS, but it was also a little too overwrought at times and hard to follow. “Distant Past” is the most straightforward and likely the most accessible song on the album, with Higgs going between falsetto singing and borderline rapping over a pulsating rhythm that evolves into a breakbeat with a simple guitar part.
- !!! – Every Little Bit Counts
The band !!! (pronounced chk-chk-chk in case you ever want to Google them) are known for creating some of the most danceable rock songs imaginable, and calling them “disco-rock” wouldn’t be a stretch. Their studio albums have been consistently decent, generally with one or two exceptionally strong tracks per release, and their sixth album As If that came out in October is no exception. It’s musically all over the place, going between thumping drums, various electronic noises, and singer Nic Offer providing either a falsetto or distorted baritone vocals on most tracks. It seems like the band has slowly been moving away from the “rock” part of the “disco-rock” equation, which makes it all the more surprising that they included “Every Little Bit Counts,” a sunny, guitar-driven pop song that has Offer using his natural voice. It’s not just simple and catchy- it sounds nothing like the rest of the album or like anything !!! has done before.
- Belle and Sebastian – Play For Today
Back in January indie stalwarts Belle and Sebastian released their ninth album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance to relatively little fanfare. Aside from having the most Belle and Sebastian album name ever, the music was relatively straightforward indie pop that sounded fairly similar to their previous album Belle and Sebastian Write About Love from 2010. As with Modest Mouse above, it wasn’t a bad album but also didn’t go in many new directions. The only noticeable new feature is a modest movement toward synthpop on a few tracks. “Play For Today” is the most prominent of these, with its instantly catchy synthesizer line and guest vocals from Dum Dum Girls singer Dee Dee Penny trading off with Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch throughout. It’s the longest song at the album, clocking in at over seven and a half minutes, but easily justifies this runtime as the album’s best track.
- Hot Chip – Huarache Lights
Hot Chip have emerged as one of the more distinguished indie electronic acts, their music crossing between pounding dancefloor beats and more quiet, introspective moments with ease. Their sixth album Why Make Sense? came out in May, but lead single “Huarache Lights” came out in February and blew listeners away. As Hot Chip are known to do, the song slowly builds from a simple beat into a pumping synthesizer-driven dance track that never lets up. Singer Alexis Taylor meanwhile contemplates aging, his vocals interspersed with a sample from a disco song. It’s a terrific track that set the bar high for Why Make Sense?, but unfortunately it turned out that nothing else on the album came close to matching its intensity.
- CHVRCHES – Clearest Blue
CHVRCHES have really taken the world by storm since their debut album The Bones of What You Believe came out in 2013, mostly because they do straightforward synthpop really well. If this sounds strange, just know that their use of strong synthesizer melodies matched with Lauren Mayberry’s vocals allowed the band to create a really distinct sound in the span of one album. When their sophomore album Every Open Eye came out in September, it didn’t really change much about this sound, and if anything reined in the synthesizer parts that had previously defined so many tracks. Only on “Clearest Blue” is there a portion of a song dedicated to letting the synth lines take over, forming an excellent dance-music interlude that’s as lively as anything the band has done previously.
- Beach House – Somewhere Tonight
Beach House have become almost synonymous with the “dream pop” subgenre, their songs all having a very mellow and ethereal feel to them. This duo of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand has managed to create some incredible albums that consist solely of a couple keyboards, occasional guitar notes, and Legrand’s crooning vocals, and they surprised everyone when they released both their fifth and sixth albums in 2015, less than two months apart from each other. The first of these, Depression Cherry, was a masterpiece of what simplicity can accomplish. The second, Thank Your Lucky Stars, was likewise great but unfortunately lived in the shadow of its predecessor. Despite the band’s insistence that it be enjoyed as an independent album, comparisons to Depression Cherry were inevitable and the bar had been set too high. However, the closer of Thank Your Lucky Stars “Somewhere Tonight” is a really amazing track that recalls a 1950s slow dance tune. It’s hard to compare it to anything else Beach House has done, and ensures that Thank Your Lucky Stars won’t be too overshadowed by Depression Cherry.
- Foals – What Went Down
Foals have gone through quite the style change since their inception, starting with technical yet disheveled sounding math rock and more recently moving into a fuller yet straightforward rock sound that seems at home in arenas and festivals. This transition really became noticeable in their 2013 album Holy Fire, and their 2015 album What Went Down solidified the change. It was an album full of anthemic tracks with earnest and contemplative lyrics, and while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t one of the more memorable releases of 2015…except for the title track. Just like “Huarache Lights” above, the song “What Went Down” was released months before the album and gave a false impression as to what it would be like. While most of “What Went Down” was fairly mild, the title track is easily the heaviest and most aggressive song Foals have ever done. Its intensity builds slowly but steadily until exploding at each chorus, and Yannis Philippakis’ vocals are at their most raw and brutal when he shouts “give up my money, give up my name, take it away” during the final buildup. It’s the ultimate “shit’s going down” song of 2015, and is easily the best part of the album What Went Down.