Indie Basement: Favorite Albums of the 2010s
What a decade huh? Feels like it was just 2009, when Obama was only halfway through his first term, Williamsburg was still cool, and all of America fell in love with a new TV show called Castle. Those were the days. And now here we are and it's almost 2020, my knees hurt more and all the DIY venues near my apartment are all gone. Sounds like a perfect time to look back with my 30 favorite albums of the last 10 years.
Why 30? It was around that number that, beyond it, there started to be repeat artists, so I capped it. Also, I feel like I"m only just now getting a handle on what was really good from the '00s and my tastes have definitely changed a lot since 2010. So: there's only one 2019 record here, and some things that ranked very high in the early part of the decade have dropped considerably (I'm looking at you, Foals). The best year for music according to this list was 2014 (six albums made it), and the worst not counting this year was 2017 (only one).
This should in no way be seen as any sort of definitive Best Indie Albums of the 2010s, because I"m just one guy and who knows what "Indie" even means anymore. You mileage will probably vary and as noted culture critic Yukon Cornelius once said, "You eat what you like, I'll eat what I like."
1. Destroyer – Kaputt (2011)
Dan Bejar has made amazing records with acoustic guitars and cheap keyboards, but the widescreen soundscape he created for Kaputt is like the glamorous, shabby chic world of his lyrics come to widescreen life. Here we get saxophones, flutes and trumpets, soulful backing vocals, and layers upon layers of synthesizers on which Bejar hangs his stream-of-conscious lyrics, sounding all the more romantic with this lush backing. It's a musical snapshot of a city where the streets are always rain-slicked and reflecting neon, drum machines power the taxis, and the fire escapes are populated with have a saxophonists. One imagines this is the sound Bejar always hears in his head when he's writing songs like "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker," "Chinatown," "Blue Eyes" and "Downtown." It’s Bryan Ferry in a rumpled suit. It’s Al Stewart fronting New Order. Or as Bejar puts it on the glorious title track, “It all sounds like a dream to me.” It still does. Kaputt came out in January 2010, I got an advance a couple months before that and immediately knew it would be my #1 of that year. It has stayed at the top since.
2. Klaus Johann Grobe – Im Sinne der Zeit (2014)
Swiss duo Klaus Johann Grobe burst into my world with their second album, Im Sinne der Zeit, a pure groove machine built on the world's greatest basslines, lithe, understated drumming, and funky old-school organs. It's sung in German, sounds like it was recorded in a cave and I can say without a doubt that I have listened to this record more than any other this decade. There is something immensely satisfying in its minimalism and mystery: six years and a thousand plays later I still have no idea what the songs are about, and don't care, but the badass grooves on "Kothek," "Between the Buttons," "Aufstand," "Les Greks" and "Wir Zwei" always make me want to dance. The groove is universal.
3. The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme (2010)
The Radio Dept have always felt a little like a secret club but Clinging to Scheme finds the enigmatic Swedish group at their most inviting. The album's a showcase for everything they do so well -- hushed dreampop, baggy Madchester-style dance numbers, echoey dub, synthpop -- in 10 perfect songs. "Heaven's on Fire," "Never Follow Suit," "This Time Around" and "Domestic Scene" are all instantly catchy, but behind the half-whispered vocals and warm melodies is a fiery protest record that sets its sights on capitalism, organized religion and fascism. There are tales of romance too, but The Radio Department bring their "speak softly and carry a big stick" approach to everything, adding layers of depth to this wonderful album.
4. Baxter Dury – Prince of Tears (2017)
With Prince of Tears, Baxter Dury perfected the sound he introduced on 2011's almost as terrific Happy Soup -- a mix of pub rock, Studio One reggae, Serge Gainsbourg grooviness, and the type of nervy new wave his father, Ian Dury, made in the late '70s. Add in Baxter's weary, thick London accent and affinity for, as Jarvis Cocker put it, "creative swearing" and you've got Baxter in a nutshell. The magic missing ingredient, though, turned out to be string arrangements, which add an air of sweeping romance to his tales of sleazy fringe low-lifes, love gone wrong, and classes up lyrics like "I'm the turgid fucked up little goat pissing on your fucking hill / And you can't shit me out / 'Cos you can't catch me / 'Cos you're so fat / So fuck ya."
5. Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right (2014)
Post punk sounds and industrial towns go hand in hand. Detroit’s Protomartyr have a sense of urgency and anger that could’ve sprouted from somewhere like Manchester or Cleveland in 1979 but frontman Joe Casey’s lyrics could’ve only sprung from one time and place. With a half-sung, half-shouted delivery, Casey is a true original, spewing literate bile that is usually funny, bleak and thoughtful all at the same time, while his three talented bandmates match his words with dark, powerful, exceptionally well-crafted music. Their second album, Under Color of Official Right, has them firing on all cylinders with Casey pointing his lens at, among other things, coastal invaders of his Detroit, absentee dads, local politics and inter-band dynamics. Best new band of this decade.
6. Purple Mountains - S/T (2019)
It’s impossible to separate David Berman’s debut as Purple Mountains, with its songs about loneliness, depression, heartbreak and existential crises, with his suicide less than a month after its release. It hurts all the more as this is one of Berman’s best-ever records, with the onetime Silver Jews frontman’s eloquence, wit and humanity in full display on these 10 twangy tunes. Ultimately, Berman left us with one last wonderful gift which lyrics like this from “Snow is Falling in Manhattan” remind us not to take for granted: “Songs build little rooms in time, and housed within the song’s design / is the ghost the host has left behind / to greet and sweep the guest inside.”
7. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (2012)
Though they released American Specialties in 2011 (originally just as a tape), it was their second album, Light Up Gold, that announced Parquet Courts as a major force and DIY indie rock flag-flyers. The album’s killer one-two punch opening salvo of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time,” was also the band in a nutshell: ultra-hooky, highly quotable (“Socrates died in the fucking gutter!”) arty punk that could be both snarky and sentimental, and bristled with high-tension energy. Written by Texas transplants Andrew Savage and Austin Brown and energized by their new home, Light Up Gold is also a classic New York record, telling tales of “billionaire buses on my unlit streets” and being stoned and starving in Ridgewood, Queens. Parquet Courts have continued to make good on Light Up Gold’s promise but it’s this first impression that sticks with you.
8. The Soundcarriers – Celeste (2010)
Operating in the same orbit as Broadcast and Stereolab, UK group The Soundcarriers came into their own on their second album, 2010's Celeste. It's a fully realized work, from the packaging that recalls jazz records of the early 1960s, to the immaculate production and arrangements which recall Scott Walker, Ennio Morricone, Serge Gainsbourg, The Free Design and The United States of America. The Soundcarriers really make it all their own, with a strong West Coast feel, prodigious use of flute, and a seriously groovy rhythm section. Plus, the songs are just fantastic, from zooming psych workouts like "The Last Broadcast" and "There Only Once," to deep shag funky tracks like "Broken Sleep" and Celeste's title track. Broadcast and Stereolab were, for the most part, absent this decade, and The Soundcarriers picked up the torch, and found their own very worthwhile path.
9. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time (2014)
Originally known for his disco edits of other people’s tracks, Norwegian producer Todd Terje finally got around to making an album 10 years into his career which showed there was a lot more up his sleeve than vintage synths. It's Album Time is lush with Terje's many charms, pulling as much from '70s and '80s prog soundtracks and '60s Tropicalia as it does from house, techno and disco. Terje puts it all in a blender with a little lime juice and coconut, for fun and frothy cocktail complete with an umbrella. There are bangers like "Inspector Norse," "Strandbar" and "Delorean Dynamite," but also prog numbers ("Leisure Suit Preben"), tiki lounge kitsch ("Preben Goes to Acapulco," "Alfonso Muskedusker"), and the gorgeous cover of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary" featuring Bryan Ferry. It all flows together, owing to no one time period but all born of the same place.
10. Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls (2012)
Veronica Falls were the great indiepop hope of this decade, embodying everything that was great about the jangly, cardigan-wearing genre born out of NME's C-86 tape, Creation Records, Cherry Red and Flying Nun. Co-leaders Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare, met at a Comet Gain show, wrote songs about The Pastels and crafted minor chord pop that rivaled their heroes. "Found Love in a Graveyard," their debut single which also opens their debut album, is the template for what's to come: dual male/female vocals, a gothy romantic streak that owes to Emily Dickinson and Morrissey, and a massively catchy chorus. all played with bouncy verve. Veronica Falls features 11 more variations on the theme, all of which are just as memorable.
11. Beach House - Teen Dream (2010)
Teen Dream is one of these records that, after 10 years of listening to it, I don't think I could sing you a single lyric, yet I love every song. (OK, one lyric: "Norrrrrrwayayay!") Beach House have always been about setting a mood, and Victoria Legrand's powerful, husky, ethereal voice -- flying atop swirling guitars and spooky organ -- puts a lump in your throat even when you have no idea what she's singing about. You just get it.
12. Metronomy – The English Riviera (2011)
Purveyors of twitchy, decidedly British disco, Metronomy widened their reach on their third album, embracing sweeter melodies and mellowing things out in the best, most charming ways. There was still the twitchy, nervous nu rave of Nights Out (see "The Bay," "She Wants," "Corrine") but main man Joseph Mount also dabbles in guitar pop on "Trouble" and "Everything Goes My Way" (a duet with Veronica Falls' Roxanne Clifford), '70s soft rock ("Some Written") and more. Best of all is the shuffling "The Look," which is Metronomy's best ever single and one of my favorite songs of the decade. Mount comes from such a deeply weird, unique creative space that no matter what style he's playing with, it ultimately just sounds like Metronomy.
13. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers (2014)
The last great New Pornographers, and the last (as of this publication) to feature Dan Bejar and drummer Kurt Dahle. The album takes its name from the Brill Building that, in the '50s and '60s, was famous for its songwriting farms that included such talents as Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, and Carole King; Carl Newman and company deliver a similar level of pop hooks and polish. Armed with more keyboards than usual, Brill Bruisers is packed with earworms, including "Champions of Red Wine," "Dancehall Domine," "Backstairs" and "Marching Orders.' It's Bejar, though, who contributes two of the album's best songs, "Born with a Sound" and "War on the East Coast," and keeps Newman's sugary tendencies in balance. A joyous delight.
14. My Bloody Valentine - mbv (2013)
Which was the bigger shock -- that noted noise perfectionist Kevin Shields actually said “I’m done” and released the first My Bloody Valentine album in 22 years, or that it he still had the power to blow minds. (Eardrums, we never had a doubt.) Many, many other groups have cribbed from Loveless and Isn’t Anything, but nobody else does it quite like this. Beautiful, crushing, and innovative, m b v proves some things are actually worth the wait. Bring on the next album...whenever you’re ready, Kevin.
15. Saint Etienne – Words And Music By Saint Etienne (2012)
Saint Etienne were pop-ologists before they ever formed a band, and 2012's Words and Music (their first in seven years) takes that obsession to heart with a concept album about the power of music. Warmly nostalgic, there are songs about going out dancing, getting lost in the sounds of a brilliant DJ, walking in the city with headphones on, and pouring through online message boards for info on cult groups. Underscoring the lyrics, they created POP in all caps with help from mega-producers Richard X, Tim Powell and Nick Coler (who between them wrote hits for '00s-era hits Annie, Kelis, Sugababes, Girls Aloud and more). "Tonight the sound is breaking like a wave," Sarah Cracknell sings on "Tonight." "Wish it could always feel this way, and life will never be the same." Words and Music captures that feeling and shows you don't have to be 17 to feel it still.
16. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (2010)
It would be hard to top the year Bradford Cox had in 2008 that gave us both Deerhunter’s Microcastle/Weird Era Continued and Atlas Sound’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, but his hot streak continued with this joyous record that plays with ideas of memory and nostalgia both lyrically and musically. For all the Cox classics here (“Revival,” “Helicopter,” the Jay Reatard tribute “He Would Have Laughed”), Halcyon Digest also announced Lockett Pundt as a songwriting force of his own, in particular with the soaring “Desire Lines” which is the record’s biggest earworm.
17. Hollie Cook – Twice (2014)
The daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and Culture Club backup singer Jeni Cook, Hollie Cook spent the late '00s in the final lineup of The Slits. When Slits singer Ari Up died in 2010, Hollie struck out on her own, working in a style reminiscent of Jamaican lovers rock, that she described as "tropical pop." That breezy vibe is perfect for Hollie's honey-sweet voice that, when layered in harmony, could melt the ice caps. She also found the perfect collaborator in Prince Fatty, who not only has a great ear for classic reggae production but also pop. Their second album together, Twice, is where it all comes together, avoiding reggae cliches (no sax, sparing use of steel drums) and brilliantly pairing Hollie's voice with swooning strings. Pure bliss.
18. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited (2018)
For years, U.S. Girls were, for all intents and purposes, Meg Remy and a sampler. And it was great. With In a Poem Unlimited, however, she took her vision -- a mix of girl groups, disco, new wave and searing feminism -- and gave it the full band treatment. Backed by Toronto collective Cosmic Range (that includes her husband, Slim Twig), Remy sounded more powerful and assured than ever, with her best batch of songs to date. A mad as hell call to arms, the album proves that sonically, there can be strength in numbers, too.
19. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs (2018)
Indie rock is alive and well and and can still thrill, as evidenced on the debut album from Melbourne, Australia band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Armed with three very talented singer guitarists and an abundance of infectious energy, Hope Downs rarely slows down across its 10 tracks. There's a joy to the playing, with guitars blazing and vocals being traded off between Tom Russo, Fran Keaney, and Joe White, that recalls groups like The Feelies, R.E.M. and The Dream Syndicate, and songs like "Talking Straight," "Mainland" and "Exclusive Grave" back that up. Best of all: they're really just getting started.
20. Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum (2013)
Cate Le Bon really came into her own with her third album. Written in Wales after the death of her dear maternal grandmother but recorded after she moved to Los Angeles, Mug Museum, embodies both states of mind -- melancholic introspection as Cate wonders about her place in her maternal lineage, but also the sunny promise of California’s West Coast. The boggy skronk that was all over 2012’s Cyrk remains, but is smoothed out just a little with poppier melodies. Cate’s unique voice brings everything together, whether it’s dueting with Perfume Genius on “I Think I Knew” or just the sighing ahhs of “Are You With Me Now?” Mug Museum continually hits a happy/sad sweet spot whose vibe sticks with you. As she sings on the title track, “I forget the detail but know the warmth.”
21. Field Music – Commontime (2016)
Nobody else makes makes music like brothers David and Peter Brewis, a brainy brand of prog pop that has over the years incorporated elements of new wave, post punk, folk, chamber pop and more. David and Peter each have their distinctive songwriting styles -- Peter is poppier; David more angular -- but their fifth album, Commontime, feels like a true collaboration and the songs are all better for it. Both Brewises are also insanely talented musicians, and, with a distinct '70s influence this time around, there's a welcome air of Steely Dan / 10cc sophistication. The noisy days may be over, as they sing on the album's opening cut, but as they prove across the next hour, that's not a bad thing.
22. La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin (2014)
The album title basically says it all. Parisian band La Femme mix surf rock, psych and Krautrock / synthop into their homeland's '60s ye-ye styles. With 16 tracks at just over an hour, Psycho Tropical Berlin feels a bit like they blew their whole wad (2016's Mystere was nowhere near as good and they haven't made an album since) but there's no denying this record's brilliance: a manic, memorable party album with banger after banger that could even get freedom fry lovers dancing.
23. The Babies – Our House On The Hill (2012)
Kevin Morby is now a well established solo artist with songs in Volvo commercials and five terrific albums under his belt, but I pine a bit for his band The Babies which was a collaboration with Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls. Their second album, Our House on the Hill, remains my favorite thing he's ever done. You can hear the more accomplished song craftsman he'd become, but here it's in a more unfussy Americana indie rock setting. There's also an energetic band vibe that his solo material really doesn't aim for (and that's ok), and a special chemistry with Cassie on songs like "Mess Me Around," "Moonlight Mile" and "Alligator" that just can't be replicated.
24. Stealing Sheep – Not Real (2015)
Into the Diamond Sun, the debut album from Liverpool's Stealing Sheep, was a charming update of early '70s psych folk. but the band really clicked with its follow-up, Not Real. The trio kept their quirky folk songwriting and infections harmonies intact but added synthesizers and drum machines to the mix, for sound closer to Hot Chip or Metronomy than Vashti Bunyan or Wendy & Bonnie. It's amazing how well it works on Not Real, but the key isn't so much in the production (which is fantastic) as the collaboration between these three talented musicians, singers and songwriters who here sound like one amorphous, musically gifted being.
25. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard (2018)
After 25 years of being willfully arch and obscure, Stephen Malkmus started saying what he meant on Sparkle Hard. That is not to say he still doesn't drop great tongue-in-cheek bon mots, but he's also dropping his guard and incorporating them into more relatable songs about getting older, being a dad and even a little social injustice. Sparkle Hard is also his catchiest, most immediate -- I'll just say it, best -- batch of songs since his solo debut, and includes a fun country duet with Kim Gordon, and even a little autotune. All with that offhand charm Malkmus has always possessed. He makes sparkling hard look effortless.
26. Hospitality – Hospitality (2012)
They faded off into parenthood and other jobs, but Hospitality were one of Brooklyn's best indie rock groups of the late '00s and early '10s. It took five years to get their debut album, but it was worth the wait. Erudite and hook-filled, prim but not afraid to rock when necessary, and with serious musicianship powering the whole thing, Hospitality is in the great tradition of UK indiepop classics like If You're Feeling Sinister and Underachievers Please Try Harder but with an urbane wit and sophistication that could only come from New York. I wish they were still around.
27. Crystal Stilts – In Love with Oblivion (2011)
Of all the Brooklyn bands who played Cake Shop and Death by Audio constantly in the latter part of the '00s, Crystal Stilts were the best. (Also on that list: Vivian Girls, Pains of Being Pure at Heart.) With a swirling sound that pulled from Flying Nun indie rock and '60s psych, Crystal Stilts had the most style, the most talented guitarist (JD Townsend), a perfectly disaffected frontman in Brad Hargett and, for a while, some of the best musicians filling out the rest of the band (Frankie Rose, Kyle Forster and Andy Adler). In Love with Oblivion improved on their debut album in every way, with better songs, performances and production. It's a mastery of mood...and reverb.
28. Dick Diver - Melbourne, Florida (2015)
Melbourne group Dick Diver have a surplus of talent, featuring members of Total Control and Boomgates, and carry on in the tradition of jangly indie rock that includes Aussie icons The Go-Betweens and contemporaries Courtney Barnett (who's a fan). While all four members write and sing, Dick Diver are a cohesive unit, and never sharper than on their third album which incorporates keyboards and horns into the arrangements. There are moments of true beauty ("Percentage Points"), droning melancholy ("competition"), rousing rock ("Waste the Alphabet") and '70s-style sophistication ("Private Number"), all with a dusty, sad charm. Melbourne bands seem to work at their own pace, I hope this was not the last we'll hear from Dick Diver.
29. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here…Thank U 4 Your Service (2016)
Everything about this record was unlikely, not the least of which being that a) it exists at all, and that b) it is as genuinely awesome as it is. Made in secret, and dropped just days after the 2016 election, We Got it From Here…Thank U 4 Your Service feels like ATCQ had access to a time machine or a medium to write it, as "We the People," "The Space Program" and other tracks felt as of-the-moment as the evening news. Likewise, the beats are both classic Tribe Called Quest in style and the sense of urgency extends to the performances as well. Q-Tip, Jarobi and the late Phife Dawg, who died during the making of the record, recorded around the same mic as much as possible which is a vibe you can't assemble on Pro-Tools or Logic.
30. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (2011)
Based on a study of alzheimer’s disease and using samples of ‘20s and ‘30s ballroom jazz, James Leyland Kirby’s first exploration of the connection between music and memory remains his most affecting. A lot of records get called "haunting" but when you understand An Empty Bliss Beyond This World's concept, the decayed, looping samples can shake you without a single lyric.
20 MORE RECORDS I LIKED A LOT FROM THE 2010s
Baxter Dury – Happy Soup
The Radio Dept – Running Out of Love
Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be
Jon Hopkins - Immunity
Liars – Mess
King Krule - 10 Feet Beneath the Moon
Total Control – Henge Beat
Shrag – Canines
Ultimate Painting - Ultimate Painting
Younghusband – Dissolver
Woods - Sun City Eater and the River of Light
Sheer Agony – Masterpiece
Quilt – Plaza
audiobooks – Now! (In a minute)
Slowdive - Slowdive
Low – Double Negative
Ty Segall - Manipulator
The Besnard Lakes - Are the Roaring Night
Foals - Total Life Forever
Minks - Tide’s End
Here's a playlist with a song from all the albums on this list, minus My Bloody Valentine, The Caretaker and Saint Etienne (their respective albums aren't on Spotify), and any artists I had on here twice (Baxter Dury, Radio Dept).