14 Indie Rock Records That Would Make a Great Gift

Posted by Billy Gil, December 15, 2014 12:11pm | Post a Comment

Gift Ideas Indie Rock

There have been tons of records released under the nebulous indie rock genre this year that find new things to say within the confines of rock 'n' roll (The War on Drugs), or throw out the rules while still remaining pleasing to listen to (Ariel Pink). Here are 14 widely appealing records from this year that would make a great gift for just about any indie rock fan. 

the war on drugs


The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

The War on Drugs’ dreamy country-rock music evokes slow motion, even as its songs move at a sprightly pace. The driving rhythm behind "Under the Pressure" is caked in heavily reverbed guitars and washes of synthesizer, even as real-life guitar solos and Adam Granduciel's vocals come through more clearly than ever before. Similarly "Red Eyes" is like some lost '80s collaboration between The Highwaymen and The Cure, effusing brilliant colors with its bright synths and yelping vocals, but the most stunning moment comes in the minute or so in the middle of the songs when a third of the sound is stripped away, leaving a gorgeous, introspective bridge before Granduciel's yelp brings everything crashing back, while the rhythm stays insistent as always. Lost in the Dream invites repeat listens—atmospheric pieces like "The Haunting Idle" keep things spacious, yet the band comes back for the Bruce Springsteen-vibing "Burning" in the albums latter half. As its title would suggest, it's an album to get lost in. It feels like seeing the entire open road ahead of you, coasting yet seemingly to move in place while the sun sets and middle-of-nowhere stations play Bruce and Tom Petty in the background.

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ariel pink pom pom lp

Ariel Pink - pom pom

Forget everything you’ve read about Ariel Pink. His public persona has nothing to do with his music, which has never been more remarkable than it is on pom pom. “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” begins the album by approximating decades of children’s music, family VHS tapes and video game music into a multicolored parade of half-remembered sounds. On tracks like “White Freckles,” Pink taps into similar territory of outdated interstitial music and lyrics and sounds inspired by advertising, pouring his exaggerated lothario presence all over them and ending up with sticky-sweet concoctions that leave you feeling titillated and slightly nauseated. Nothing that could possibly be interesting gets thrown away in Pink’s world—“Lipstick” could be based on an adult contemporary jam you never learned the name of; “Nude Beat A Go-Go” is like a perved-up version of a Frankie & Annette movie theme song. This means there are a few tracks you’ll skip past, but it’s better to have the full Pink treatment, making pom pom feel more crucial than 2012’s somewhat cleaned-up Mature Themes. And the singles are killer. “Put Your Number in My Phone” is a new cheese classic in silk pajamas. “Black Ballerina,” like its precursor, Before Today’s “Round and Round,” is a sick roller rink jam, with a disjointed narrative flowing through. And “Picture Me Gone” takes Pink’s simmering Beach Boys influence into a gossamer synth ballad. So he’s kind of a creep. But pom pom is proof that for all his off-putting proclivities, Ariel Pink still makes some of the most fascinating and entertaining pop music around.

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she & him classics lp

She & HimClassics

It's just what it sounds like—Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward take on the standards, from "Unchained Melody" to "Time After Time," with their trademark charm and classy arrangements. Here's my review:

Recorded live with an orchestra, Classics sees M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel beautifully interpret a classy set of standards. She & Him’s attitude can run the gamut from charming to cheeky, but here, they’re pretty reverent of the source material, which was probably the smart way to go. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s “Stars Fell on Alabama” gently sways, yet it conveys just how strong Deschanel’s voice has gotten over the years, nailing the nuances as well as the big finish. Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s soul classic “Oh No, Not My Baby” is sumptuously rendered. A couple of tracks are a little too mellow, but none is badly done. The best tracks show Deschanel and Ward’s particular chemistry and style, such as when Ward joins Deschanel to duet on Frank Sinatra’s “Time After Time,” while Ward’s languid take on “She,” originally written by Charles Aznavour and Herbert Kretzmer and performed famously by Elvis Costello for the “Notting Hill” Soundtrack, gives the album a needed international diversion, while Deschanel provides glorious backup sighs and coos. Remarkably, Classics doesn’t feel needless—even a nocturnal take on “Unchained Melody” feels pretty fresh—but rather a natural extension of the sound She & Him have been cultivating over several studio albums. It feels like a new way to enjoy these songs, which, when some of them are as well-worn as they are, says a lot.

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the twilight sad nobody wants to be here & nobody wants to leave lp

The Twilight Sad - Nobody Wants to Be Here & Nobody Wants to Leave

The Twilight Sad are masters of misery, plying heartbreak directly into their guitars on their stunning fourth album. “There’s a Girl in the Corner” is an epic breakup song, with James Graham’s repeating “she’s not coming back,” his Scottish brogue piercing through sheets of minor key noise. “Last January” is propulsive with a perfect layering of synths, displaying at how well The Twilight Sad have folded their recent new-wave leanings into their core noise-pop sound. The band also continue to show an uncanny ability to repurpose familiar influences like R.E.M., Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine and still come out with something fresh and enjoyable on tracks like “It Was Never the Same,” touching on these influences without being beholden to them, or letting Graham’s voice soar over a Suicide-style drum machine on the title track. The band has often been noted more for its atmospherics than hooks, but “Drown So I Can Watch” is one of their catchiest songs yet, with a relatively light, lilting melody that eases some of the downer mood. And they allow for more space on Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave than on previous albums, ending on a pair of spare, beautiful tracks. It’s the best thing they’ve done since their electrifying debut.

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zola jesus taiga lp

Zola Jesus Taiga

Taiga is a pop album, but its creator has made that way intentionally while retaining, and perhaps improving upon, her artistry. Rather than cashing in, the album finds Zola Jesus (aka Nika Rosa Danilova) returning to her roots of sorts, as she largely wrote Taiga on Washington’s Vashon Island, as though returning to the rustic forests where she was raised in Wisconsin, singing “do you wish you could go back to it all?” on the creaking opening title track, which erupts into a jungle beat. From here, we head into powerful pop songs like “Dangerous Days” that find Danilova singing clearly and boldly over dance-pop beats, but with the same paralyzing strength her voice has always commanded. “Go (Blank Sea)” is a little sultrier, built on a slower beat that swells into big, booming pop chorus and disintegrates into fluttering synthesizers, while Nika Roza Danilova’s voice rises and falls with soul and precision. “Hunger’s” hyperkinetic beat and incisive synth riff make for some of the album’s most grabbing moments. And though “Lawless’,” beautiful melodies sound buried under the ice, they’re still firmly pop. Perhaps because of the way in which it was written, the album has a certain isolation to it that comes through on tracks like “Ego,” in which Danilova undergoes thorough self-examination (she pairs similarly painful reflections “I fought against the ego, I know it brought me closer to losin’” and “I fed into the ego, I knew it brought me closer to hubris”), while synthesizers and strings quietly battle around her, sounds creaking cavernously in the background. On Taiga, Danilova sounds as though she’s faced her inner demons and come through on top with an album of powerfully moving pop music.

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allah-las worship the sun lp

Allah-LasWorship the Sun

On Worship the Sun, L.A.’s Allah-Las get some dirt on their boots by scuzzing up their surf-garage sound.  Mountainous static gives way to a Western sunset on opener “De Vida Voz.” “Had It All” finds a gnarly groove nestled in the woods, like a bittersweet mushroom trip. The dusty “Artifact” gives the guys’ instrumental prowess room to shine, kicking up rattling guitar solos. Mostly Allah-Las are happy to let their cool, laid-back surf licks do the talking, as a couple of instrumental tracks thrown in the mix show, while Miles Michaud’s Dylanesque vocals and lyrics hint more at quiet introspection. But, interestingly, Worship the Sun seems ease into itself, grabbing your attention more the further you get into the record. “Buffalo Nickel’s” stonery groove is eased with some rhythmic backup vocals and an eternal chorus (“only for you, girl”). “501-405” gets your head spinning with its jangly guitars, tilt-a-whirl groove and sleepwalking vocals. And stay tuned for late-album tracks like the simply stunning “Yemeni Jade,” the country-fried jangle pop of “Better Than Mine” and ferocious surf cover “No Werewolf.” “I know where I belong ’cause I worship the sun” they sing on the gold-flecked title track, nicely summing up the surfers-in-the-desert feel the Allah-Las effortlessly evoke on their sophomore album.

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interpol el pintor lp

InterpolEl Pintor

It’s great to be able to say with confidence that El Pintor is Interpol’s return to form. One of the early aughts’ brightest bands, Interpol’s past couple of releases found the band slipping a bit. Not so with the stirring El Pintor, which roars out of the gates with “All the Rage Back Home,” which at first sounds like Antics’ stately opener, “Next Exit,” cool and atmospheric before going for it with one of their best galloping post-punk jams in ages. Similarly, standout “Ancient Ways” lets Paul Banks and Daniel Kessler spraypaint surging shoegaze guitars all over the place while Sam Fogarino keeps the swaying song afloat. The trio gets sultry for “My Desire,” masterfully layering guitars and weary vocals over Fogarino’s pulsating backbeat. “Same Town New Story” wraps a Mad Men episode’s worth of ennui and despair around its buoyant, jazzy riffs. That all may sound like familiar territory, and it largely is, but the quality of the songs here more than makes up for a lack of expansion in Interpol’s sound. And when they do go beyond the dour, fitful post-punk they’re known for, the results can be equally stunning, as when singer Paul Banks rises above his dark croon into a surprisingly effective falsetto on the goth Beach Boys-style “My Blue Supreme” and cathartic pop-rock of “Everything Is Wrong.” Interpol, how we’ve missed you.

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ty segall manipulator lp


Ty Segall Manipulator

Yes! This is the Ty Segall album we were hoping for. Though there have been a lot of Ty Segall releases and side projects over the years to keep up with, there’s been such a surfeit of quality to his work that it hasn’t felt like a chore. But albums like his last solo release, Sleeper, was great but left you missing the rock-out Ty of his best previous release, Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse, while the latter album was superb yet felt too short. On Manipulator, we get both the songsmith Segall and the guy who’ll beat you over the head with a big fat Sabbath riff in doses that add up to a perfect concoction. Songs like “The Singer” find Segall indulging his inner acoustic Cobain and orchestrating finely tuned power balladry, while tracks like the jangling “Tall Man, Skinny Lady” and blistering “Feel” unleash bluesy garage-rock mayhem that feels grown up yet never stuffy. Maybe the best thing about these songs is how classical they feel even while discovering new riffs and melodies locked within the simple confines of blues-inspired rock, like how the frenetic acoustics and unusual arrangement of “The Clock” don’t really sound like anything you’ve heard while retaining all the same elements. It’s sometimes like he walks into a place where everyone’s been hanging out for years and finds a door no one saw before. Maniuplator’s the kind of release you hope a Black Keys or Jack White fan picks up and comes to cherish, devouring the rest of his catalog and his many associates in the forever blossoming L.A./S.F. garage scenes.

Be sure to check out Ty Segall's recently released $ingles$ compilation, too!

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foxygen ...and star power lp


Foxygen... And Star Power

Foxygen’s new album is a sprawling double-length opus that packs as many great psych-rock melodies and eccentric ideas as will fit onto one album. Foxygen’s songwriters, Sam France and Jonathan Rado, turn their talent and rivalry into something truly strange and special. The album still relishes in turning classic rock on its head, with Bowie-esque loungey pop songs like “How Can You Really” that sound instantly memorable while still remaining idiosyncratic, coy even. There’s a real sweetness to tracks like “Coulda Been My Love” and its Stonesy whispered nothings, while “Cosmic Vibrations” reimagines The Beatles’ “Long, Long, Long” as a languid sungazing weed jam that explodes into a hippie romp. The band’s lyrics cut through the lazy cool with real emotions, asking “if you don’t love me anymore, how come you never say it to my face?” on “You & I” and finishing desperately with “Why doesn’t anybody help me? Why doesn’t anybody care?” From there, the album gets wilder, delving into piano-laden suites with beatnik delivery and Flaming Lips-ish psychedelic breakdowns (“Star Power I-III”). The album becomes like a hall of mirrors in both scope and sound, as songs fade in and out, turning from organ-fueled kraut pop to lo-fi synth ballads and everything in between, mixing Link Wray and Suicide and The Clean and whatever else until it sounds kind of like three mixtapes glued together with weird little melted intros and outros barely holding it together. It goes without saying that this is not an album that was made with the iPhone generation in mind. You miss a bit of their last album’s brevity and ease. But what would a Guided By Voices album be without its odds and ends, for instance? What …And Star Power is, is never boring. Lots of things pass for psychedelia these days, but this is the real deal, an album guided by unbridled thought and passion and dream logic rather than aged constraints.

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king tuff black moon spell lp

King TuffBlack Moon Spell

When King Tuff released his breakthrough self-titled album in 2012, he came off as a successor to T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, alone and stoned in his room and writing perfect power-pop gems. But like Bolan before him, who started with a few English folk albums before going glam, King Tuff aka Kyle Thomas seems to have set his sights higher this time around, filling out the sound with full-bodied heavy rock riffs and pushing his nasal wail into a wolf’s howl. Like King Tuff’s “Anthem,” “Black Moon Spell’s” big fat riff sounds pulled out from the ether, like it was always there, judging by the way it nestles into your skull. “Rainbow’s Run” calls to mind another garage-rock luminary, Ty Segall, in the way it takes a simple glam structure and pours acid all over it, impossible distortion and flailing solos flying off the edges. Though there’s a winking hair-metal touch to Black Moon Spell, songs like “Headbanger” (complete with demonic opening) don’t stray so far from the glam-garage foundation that it’s jarring—and Thomas’ voice is too cartoonish and the songs are too damn catchy to really scare off any garage kids, anyway. Even a song called “Demon From Hell” is more fey and punk than hellish, despite pushing the sound into the red. If there’s one thing Black Moon Spell is, it’s a great guitar album, as songs like “Eyes of the Muse” prove, starting with a ’70s AM radio gold jangle and moving into psychedelic, searching riffs, while Bobby Harlow’s production practically places the drums in your living room. There hasn’t been a better album released this year to play air guitar and drums to than Black Moon Spell.

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the growlers chinese fountain lp

The Growlers Chinese Fountain

The Growlers had previously announced their fourth album would be “more grown up, well polished.” Would our rabble-rousing O.C. kids who were Hung at Heart on their last album ditch the garage for something mature? The answer is a half-yes. On Chinese Fountain, the band successfully adds new elements to their sound while retaining their core garage-rock appeal. After throwing their fans a few bones with the saloon jangle of “Big Toe” and heartbreak rock of “Black Memories,” the title track introduces swirling synths and funk guitars to the mix, a bid at stadium rock ‘n’ roll although still with a nice grit to it and non sequiturs about our retro-obsessed yet technologically saturated society (“even disco seems pop”; “every little kid wants a computer in his pocket”; “the Internet gets bigger than Jesus and John Lennon”). These prove welcome additions to their sound, as the band gives a light reggae touch to “Dull Boy” and makes nods to ’80s bands like Blondie, The Cure and the Pixies (on the surging “Good Advice”). Brooks Nielsen’s vocals and lyrics, in particular, feel improved, as Nielsen proves he has more to say than the average SoCal garage dude—“that ain’t a home; it’s a furnace in need of some matches” he sings weerily on “Magnificent Sadness,” while “Good Advice” suggests, “there’s nothing as depressing as good advice, nobody wants to hear how to live their life.” It may not be quite as cohesive as some of their other work, but Chinese Fountain finds the band in top form, nonetheless. Maybe maturity ain’t such a bad thing after all.

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the new pornographers brill builders lp

The New PornographersBrill Bruisers

The New Pornographers are back in a big way with Brill Bruisers. While the band’s past couple of outings have struggled to match the energy of their roof-burning early work, Brill Bruisers comes roaring out of the gate right away with AC Newman’s School House Rock-style title track. Neko Case takes the lead on a few sublime tracks, like the scenic “Champions of Red Wine,” while Destroyer’s Dan Bejar’s songs carry just that right amount of oddity to make the whole album a bit more magical, as on the swirling new wave of “War on the East Coast.” Songs like “Family Fools” are some of their best Fleetwood Mac-style aural dreamscapes of layered vocals and lush synths, and gorgeous harmonies abound, as on the pretty “Backstairs.” Occasionally New Pornographers fall into the trap of their songs being more clever than emotional, but even still, those songs keep you interested by finding new ways to approach the same old power-pop, using vocal aerobics on “Hi-Rise” and giving a lovely sentiment some quizzical melodicism for added depth on “You Tell Me Where.” It’s perhaps their strongest work since high-water mark Twin Cinema, a return-to-form that longtime fans will no doubt find to be a gift from the gods.

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mac demarco salad days lp

Mac DeMarcoSalad Days

Mac DeMarco wrongly gets called “slacker rock.” At only 23 he’s releasing his third album, and it’s one of the best things we’ve heard all year. The title track is a swaying, gleefully glum blues track, its charming, singalong quality masking some quarterlife crisis (“Always feeling tired, smiling when required/write another year off and kindly resign,” suggesting some darkness behind DeMarco’s goofy grin). “Brother” features DeMarco sumptuously singing while milky guitars dance beneath the surface. It’s one of the loveliest tunes he’s ever produced. Songs like “Goodbye Weekend,” with its woozy, intoxicating guitar line and lovely jazz tones, speak to what a strong songwriter DeMarco has always been beneath it all. And while he’s all the better for ditching some of the affectations he sported on the still-great Rock and Roll Night Club in favor of a streamlined sound he’s dubbed “jizz jazz,” DeMarco can still pull some conceptually striking songs, like “Passing Out the Pieces,” which uses heavily effected harpsichord and booming synth-bass to create miraculous millennial psychedelia, pulling in some of the good ol’ Beatles/Kinks/Beach Boys influence he’s seemed to (probably smartly) avoid showing thus far in his career. Salad Days shows DeMarco to be a classical songwriter with the ability to turn an amiable, if not immediately memorable, voice and intricate yet mangled guitarwork into tunes that pull at you in unexpected, emotional ways. So he can’t be bothered to shower or cut his hair—we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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future islands singles lp


Future IslandsSingles

It’s a gutsy move to call your album Singles, but in the case of Future Islands, their fourth album and first for 4AD, it’s appropriate. The album is packed with songs that are both immaculately written and catchy as hell, as Future Islands mine new wave and pop-rock for all they’re worth. Just as lead singer Samuel Herring’s dynamite performance style and swingin’ dance moves have won people over (David Letterman, famously), the band gives it their all on songs like “Seasons (Waiting On You).” Herring’s emotional, throaty tenor, which can warp into a growl in an instant, is given the perfect backdrop of stargazing new-wave rock that should bring together fans of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Cure to The Killers with lighter-waving glee. The synths of “Spirit” bring up memories of B-Movie's “Nowhere Girl,” but Herring’s unique voice keep Future Islands from ever veering into purely nostalgic territory. “A Song For Our Grandfathers” is dreamy yet packs an emotional punch. Herring seems to get more and more insistent over the sprightly “Light House,” almost completely out of step with the band, yet it works so much better than it would have if he played it straight, getting in your face and making it impossible to merely have the song on in the background. On “Like the Moon,” a sexy, pulsating groove gives Herring the chance to kill it vocally, crooning romantically. But his best vocal performance comes next, on “Fall From Grace”—over a simple waltz, Herring goes deep into the bowels of his voice to deliver a performance somewhere between Tom Waits, The National’s Matt Berniger and a black metal singer. Charisma like his doesn’t come around all the time, and as a band, Future Islands are smart enough to stay out of the way while crafting terrific songs that stand on their own. Before you know it, you’ve listened to Singles like five times and still can’t wait to hear it again.

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Relevant Tags

The Growlers (12), King Tuff (16), Foxygen (13), Ty Segall (41), Interpol (11), Allah-las (27), Zola Jesus (24), The Twilight Sad (5), She & Him (7), Lists (63), Ariel Pink (33), The War On Drugs (14), Indie Rock (9), Gift Ideas (14), The New Pornographers (5), Mac Demarco (35), Future Islands (10)