Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
It’s that time of year again—the time when little children dream of a bearded old man in a red suit breaking into their homes, when your loved ones gather together to share cookies and milk while A Christmas Story plays on repeat, and we write about our favorite albums of the year. Okay, all of that already happened, but we still need to talk about our favorite debuts of the indie rock variety. See, promising debut albums in the underground often go unrecognized at the year’s end, mostly due to their lack of a following among fans and critics, even if they’ve piqued their interest with prior EPs. With that in mind, we’ve deliberately kept these albums off of our huge collective EOTY piece so that we could discuss them in their own segment, just as we did last year. So without further delay, it’s time to dive back into the indie/punk community at large and look back at our ten favorite full-lengths from the underground’s freshest faces.
- Oso Oso – Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters
Forming an emo/pop-punk band in Long Island isn’t exactly a novel endeavor. Virtually everyone and their drunk dad has done or is doing it, so you better find some way to stand out lest the public brand you a Taking Back Sunday ripoff. Luckily Oso Oso mastermind Jade Lilitri knows this too, opting for a scaled-back approach complete with jangly guitars and raw, introspective lyrics. As the ridiculously long title suggests, Lilitri spends the album reevaluating his relationships, youthful nostalgia, and current stagnation with surprisingly naked cynicism. The subdued production brings out a humble sweetness in the guitars that smoothes out, but never sugarcoats, Lilitri’s disillusionment as he laments that, “With every photo I have to look underneath, ‘cause nothing is ever as it seems.” Oso Oso leaves nothing unexposed here, and Real Stories revels in its brutal honesty.
- Sea Ghost – SG
The youngest band on this list recorded their debut album in a friend’s basement and released it while most of the members had barely finished their first semester of college. But make no mistake, in just under two years they’ve established a huge presence in the Atlanta underground, and SG is the culmination of all that momentum. Within their well-worn LoFi indie/punk framework, frontman Carter Sutherland’s 80s synth keyboards give the record a fun nocturnal vibe more akin to Casper the Friendly Ghost than a tortured spectre. His detached, dreary vocals do mellow out some of the band’s otherwise raucous sections, but it only serves to heighten SG’s ethereal atmosphere. Plus, the jangly guitars and bright keyboards are just short of bursting with the same youthful excitement Sea Ghost brings to every show, allowing SG’s serene nighttime melodies to haunt you in the most fun way possible.
- Wildhoney – Sleep Through It
Released way back in January, Wildhoney’s debut full-length album has amassed quite a following as the year has gone by. They also released a new EP called Your Face Sideways after joining Topshelf Records a few months ago. While it’s worth checking out, it packs nowhere near the wallop Sleep Through It does. Blending dream-pop and post-punk with just enough fuzz to kick their choruses into overdrive, Sleep Through It is a wonderful escape from both the dreary Boston winter and your friends who still obsess over Lana Del Rey. From the dreamy haze of lead single “Seventeen” to more lively tracks like “Super Stupid” and “Maybe You’re Crazy,” this record bursts with a personality far beyond the Baltimore quintet’s shoegaze leanings. Breezy and upbeat but still brimming with energy, it’s the lightly fuzzed wake-up call you didn’t know you needed.
- Pope – Fiction
Community Records has long served as a launchpad for the southeastern indie/punk underground’s upper crust, and NOLA punk trio Pope is no exception. With a LoFi aesthetic akin to Pity Sex and Cloud Nothings, Fiction is a swan dive into suburban ennui, apathy, ruined relationships, and even an existential crisis while delivering pizza. Though somewhat overshadowed by the release of their other band Donovan Wolfington’s new album, this record’s tighter focus, and leaner composition give it a vitality that quickly brushes the glaring aesthetic similarities aside. With fuzzed-up guitars that would bring J. Mascis to tears and songs filled with as much raucous energy and infectious melodies as physically possible, Pope has quite the debut on their hands. Expect to see them rocking a basement near you in the coming months.
- Runaway Brother – Mother
Plenty of indie/emo acts sprinkle bits of dark humor and neuroticism into their music, but Cleveland, OH’s Runaway Brother sound has been bred from an unholy mixture of Motion City Soundtrack’s Commit This to Memory, Say Anything’s …Is a Real Boy, and a lethal dose of black coffee. With only fun, danceable keyboards to balance out the buzzsaw guitars and warbly vocals, Mother feels like it could dissolve into an awkward mess at any moment. Much of the record deals with the ugly side of displacing and dissuading negative emotions, hence the exasperation in the line “For the lack of a better phrase well… YOU SUCK,” that illustrates the struggle with self-doubt in all its horrid beauty. Few albums handle these neurotic tendencies with such finesse, and all the nervous energy further highlights Runway Brother’s knack for jittery emo jams that will warm your heart even after they accidentally step on it.
- Westkust – Last Forever
Hailing all the way from the gray skies of Gothenburg, Sweden, Westkust takes their cues from many of the Swedish panda-poppare bands of yore, adding in traces of 80s new wave/early post-punk and shoegaze-heavy guitars. When combined, it all gives their debut full length a blistering urgency while maintaining the sunny, carefree atmosphere that permeates Last Forever, and getting swept up in the watery haze is all too easy. True to the album’s namesake, co-vocalists Gustav Anderson and Julia Bjernelind sing mournful duets of days gone by with darker tones than the shimmery guitar lines buzzing about, grounding the record in the somber reality that all summers eventually succumb to the gray skies they call home. But Last Forever isn’t about the weather, it’s about the mentality. Sure, dark clouds might loom overhead, but no amount of rain can drown out Westkust’s breezy indie/punk bliss.
- Beach Slang – The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us
We know you’re rolling your eyes and groaning at seeing yet another band with “Beach” in its name. Hear us out. Imagine if Lex Luthor poured the essence of Jawbreaker, Japandroids, and Dave Grohl into one punk superboy, who then grew into one of the most earnest and heartfelt songwriters alive. James Snyder, Beach Slang’s frontman and longtime veteran of the Philadelphia punk scene, is that superboy. Equal parts romantic and realist, he sings with scorched lungs of playing loud, joyous punk rock in a basement with his closest friends, but he’s also aware of the limitations that come with age, noting how he’s still “always that kid, always out of place,” despite pushing forty. Packed full of crisp, lush guitars and high-octane rhythms, The Things We Do draws its emotive pedigree not from a lament of youth gone by, but in Snyder’s unashamed sincerity and firm belief in the music’s everlasting vitality. So make all the dad rock jokes you want. Sooner or later you’ll be screaming along.
- All Dogs – Kicking Every Day
Another emotionally charged indie rock act with a woman at the front, another review comparing them to a cheesy 90s teen drama soundtrack, so the cycle goes. But Columbus, OH’s All Dogs goes far beyond recycling jangle-pop melodies and lovesick woes, as Maryn Jones explores levels of personal despair and interpersonal decay that feel more like a Sylvia Plath poem than Sixteen Candles. Jones is unflinchingly self-critical throughout Kicking Every Day, with lead single “That Kind of Girl” serving as a biohazard sign for her current relationships, while tracks like “Sunday Morning” and “Leading Me Back to You” recognize that she’ll have to confront these issues herself, that kicking around in the water is no substitute for learning to swim. However, as she quietly admits in the record’s final moments, “There’s always something new in the garden,” and the warm, sun-kissed indie rock that constitutes Kicking Every Day hints that perhaps brighter days are closer than she once believed.
- Dogs On Acid – S/T
“Supergroup” sounds a bit too ostentatious for a band at this level, but for the Philadelphia punk scene, this is essentially the Avengers popping up in their backyard. Formed from the ashes of past emo heavyweights Algernon Cadwallader, Glocca Morra, and Snowing, Dogs On Acid poses a much sunnier perspective than all of their past projects. Gone are the manic drums and bouncing math-rock guitars, replaced by a more streamlined relying more on infectious hooks than blistering instrumentals. Lest you fear they’ve completely abandoned their roots for Weezer-esque punk/pop, the clever lyricism and fervent vocals of Peter Helmis that fueled Algernon’s best moments return in full force, and the band proves track after track that the straightforward approach fits their rowdy brand of indie/emo just fine. Those hoping for an unofficial sequel to Parrot Flies or Just Married might feel disappointed at first, but Dogs On Acid’s first outing is still a boatload of bummer punk fun.
- Adventures – Supersonic Home
Given the band contains three-fourths of metalcore behemoth Code Orange, the lack of pummeling riffs, disturbed background mumblings, and Reba Meyers’ hoarse growl might shock some newcomers. However, those who’ve been following the Pittsburgh quintet during their brief three-year lifespan will find little if any reason to feel disappointed. Lyrically there’s still some darkness lurking about, as the band discusses the cyclical nature of unhealthy relationships (“Your Sweetness,” “Heavenly”) and isolation fueled by low self-esteem. (“My Marble Hole,” “Absolution, Warmth Requited”) But once the serene melodies and rich vocal harmonies between Meyers and keyboardist Kimi Hanauer hit, all that negative energy falls away. Boasting the strongest material the band has released to date, Supersonic Home is one of the most unabashedly warm and bright emo records of the past few years and a tremendous introduction to the lighter side of Meyers and co.’s songwriting prowess.