Indie dance is one of those genres that has an identity problem, and there are too many people that seem to be confused with it. Many use the name as a catch-all, where Bedroom Producer #110 wants to put their hot new beat on Beatport or Traxsource. After all, they’ll have a better chance of it showing up on a chart if they put it in “indie dance,” right? For others, the genre is one and the same with nu-disco, because that’s how music retailers like to organize themselves. There is some overlap, but overall, the genres are distinct.
I posted one of my indie dance charts to Reddit recently and had a reply from someone who was notably excited. “Wow, I haven’t heard any of these,” they said, but edited their comment later, saying, “is it me, or are these more rock than dance?” The story of my life.
I’m here with a mission, and that is to bring the focus back to what made indie dance a genre in the first place. I pay very close attention to the sound a song makes, and I try to adhere to what I think those boundaries are. What are those boundaries? For starters, the song has to reference a notable definition of what indie dance was, such as music from bands like Two Door Cinema Club, Phoenix, MGMT, and Foster the People. Prior to that, we had LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, Franz Ferdinand, among others.
Ultimately the indie dance genre is an extension of alternative dance, just as the indie genre was born from the alternative movement. Rooted in bands like Bauhaus, The Cure, and The Smiths (you can go even further back – The Velvet Underground, MC5), every few years we can find another wave. Some larger, some smaller, some electronic, some acoustic, but all overlapping and rooted in danceability, having an independent spirit, whether signed to a major label or not.
As a music junkie and someone who evaluates what has happened in indie and alternative dance music over the course of each year, this year – 2018 – is so remarkably memorable, it’ll have a lasting effect on my music taste in the years ahead.
Enjoy this list. Embrace this list. Debate this list. Most importantly, let's maintain the definition of indie dance and keep the genre a focus moving forward.
1. Clairo – 4EVER
I was not ready or prepared for Clairo’s track, “4EVER,” at the time of my track roundup in May, and I didn’t put it on the list back then because honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The impact of her music on the scene is undeniable, and the simplicity in her music is what I find most attractive. Bedroom diary pop has taken over Spotify playlists everywhere, but “4EVER” exceeds all of it because it has a groove, a thickness in its sound, and a mood that hugs you.
2. The Knocks – Ride or Die feat. Foster the People
What a feel-good tune. The Knocks are already the masters of nu-disco, so it brings a completely fresh perspective when they work with a notable "indie" band like Foster the People. Mark Foster raises the question posed to a lot of us, "Are you going to grow up?" We rush to grow up, but I'd argue that you can live a lifestyle without skirting responsibilities. Does growing up have to be no fun? Go ahead and play! "We can live this way every day, be my Ride or Die."
3. Half Alive – Still Feel
A wonderfully upbeat dance track, “Still Feel” by Half Alive is most famous for its accompanying music video. Taking a page from other music videos recorded in a single take, the band had a bonding experience over choreographing and filming in a large open warehouse under the glow of an illuminated ceiling grid. It’s not only entertaining to watch, but it’s also a song about hope inside hopelessness, finding passion and purpose despite being unrooted.
4. Wallows – Pictures of Girls
This is one of those catchy and danceable indie rock songs that grab you. A life without personal interaction is no life at all. Why look at pictures of girls when you can have a meaningful relationship? But listen to me - you still can't cling to the past when there is a future ahead. That girl you spent time with? That girl in the suburbs way back when? She isn't the one for you. So get up and out, meet someone who isn't as dramatic as her. She belongs in Hollywood.
5. Bakar – Million Miles
Bakar sounds so extraordinarily lazy when he's crooning about stars in space, yet he has that pure garage grit, and my mouth is open, listening on repeat. This is one of those rockets the DJ should throw into the middle of a set to get that extra kaboom out of the dancefloor, and it's not just the tempo. The vocal intensity during each verse elevates everything. Bakar must be looking through his telescope while pondering relationships with dance-punk in the cosmos.
6. Boy Pablo – Feeling Lonely
For a song about feeling lonely, this is one of the most upbeat sounding tracks you can get right now. It’s a contrast of mood to sound that left the spirit while you’re feeling down after a relationship falls apart. You can’t help from missing someone you’ve spent that kind of time with, and this is one of those songs to raise you up and keep you above water in times like these. The guitar work is lighthearted and percussion persistent to keep you moving forward.
7. Mickey Kojak – Get Out
Another “best of” that didn’t make my June list this year. The percussion is attractive, especially the hi-hat cymbal sound. There’s a contrast between the clarity of the plates and the muffled nature of the music’s harmonic elements. There is a woodblock-like quality to the accentuating bloops that are intriguing and remind me a lot of RAC’s production style. The vocals are harsh in the topic, but are well produced, pull you into the story, and are thankfully easy to understand.
8. APRE – All Yours
This song is APRE’s very first released song ever. It's a song about love and devotion, a subject that by nature should be apparent and inherent between two people but is so commonly complicated. Often confused within a one-way street scenario. Songs like these tell a story. You can fully insert yourself into it yet remain open enough to make your own interpretation based on your past, your history, and your experience. These songs are rare, and this is one of them.
9. Kero Kero Bonito – Only Acting
I've been in love with Kero Kero Bonito since they released "Flamingo" over three years ago. Out with a new EP, they're surprising us with the rock side of the band and it works so well for them. For all I know, they could just be "Only Acting," ready to go back to their bubbly pop roots, but I'm looking at them. This is a performance that they steal with their whole body and soul. I'm just going to take this performance and believe it, embrace it, and enjoy the moment.
10. Alice Merton – Lash Out
Alice Merton's "Lash Out" is at its core a pop radio hit. While there isn't any new ground being paved with the song, it's purpose is to be catchy, well-mixed pop-rock music. The guitar is filtered for cleanliness, the bass is warm, and the drums are crisp. The attention earned here is that Alice is lashing out with her vocal. She sings with a clarity we don't often find in our current climate of bedroom pop. Her voice is a pleasure to listen to, and I'm excited to hear more in the future.
11. Filous – Bicycle feat. Klei
I am enamored by the way this song is presented. I thought this was a cover song from some SoundCloud rapper, with distinct yuh’s, yep’s, and yeah’s terminating verses. But what rapper would repetitively muse about riding a bicycle? Correct me if I’m on the right track with this, but I couldn’t find an example. Now that Klei and Filous have brought us this wonderful, beat-driven track full of vibraphone and acoustic guitar, it’s time to bring on the hip-hop version.
12. Mating Ritual – Light Myself on Fire
Any song that starts with a simple drum beat and rhythm guitar with an echo reminiscent of Bauhaus is going to immediately catch my ear. Well-mixed, gritty vocals in the style of Caleb Followill always get my attention. So here we are with a catchy indie rock song with impressive guitar riffs and punchy catchphrases like, "light myself on fire," "hit rock bottom," "turn the TV up," "beauty queen," and the rest. Enjoy it for what it is, a fun rock song to make your own.
13. Mr. Gabriel – Tambourine
Gabe Simon and Mark Pontius know how to make people shake it. This is upbeat jangly dance rock with steady garage grit and audio production reminiscent of 60s psychedelic jams. If you've been waiting your whole life for an indie dance version of "Tax Man" by The Beatles mashed with The Byrds version of "Mr. Tambourine Man," your day has finally come. It's coming into focus that this is a for-fun project based unconventional song topics. I'm loving every minute.
14. San Mei – Wonder
This tune starts with a guitar riff that totally pulls you into the song. San Mei has certainly pinpointed her sound over the last two years, her voice is welcoming and makes you pay attention. The wonders of love and the feelings associated is the theme here. The guitar really keeps things going, making a statement. This is the kind of melodic indie rock that pulls me into that place of infatuation with others in my youth when I was still trying to understand love.
15. DD Walker – Malibu
An up-tempo jam with beautifully written rhythm guitar lines that keep the momentum flowing. This thing clocks in at 184 BPM. There are similarities to recent works by Twin Shadow, but DD Walker's sound is decidedly more open to the sky. It's beautifully produced with a simple arrangement of instrumentation. "Malibu" is his solo debut. He's been a part of several other bands, but he's ready as a solo artist. The coast is clear, DD Walker takes us out of here.
16. Joywave – Blastoffff
The guys from Rochester, New York certainly got a blastoff of their own this year, having this single featured with the year’s hottest video game, Fortnite. The theme of the track fits well with the game, pondering distant lands with mysterious qualities, but we’ll start the count and dive into heavy guitar riffs, making everything that much more awesome. The moment we realize we have somewhere to be is clear, yet distorted, so away we fly into space and time.
17. Penguin Prison – Keep Coming Alive
If there's anyone who consistently puts together well-considered pop songs with the groove and clarity that I really enjoy, it's Penguin Prison. This is the kind of song that pairs perfectly with jams like "When the Night Falls" by Chromeo, and in beer terms I'd call it that 80's funk mouthfeel with the crispness of the finest rocky mountain water, except in Chris Glover's case it would have to be ozonated and chilled post extraction from upstate New York reservoirs.
18. Leyya – Heat
Heat is a song that, on its surface, seems nonchalant, but it's not all blue skies and rainbows. There is some serious business happening here. The band explores feeling pressure, taking risks, setting sails, and putting your feet to the fire. The tug and pull of emotion in the lyrics are remarkable, but you wouldn't know it without paying attention. Entering their fourth year as a band, Leyya creates clear, simplified beds of pop music with a style that’s a pleasure to hear.
19. Twin Shadow – Saturdays feat. Haim
Despite charting the song in March, I didn’t give it a lot of praise. My commentary was a disservice to a song that is not just worthwhile, also but significantly buoyed by featuring Haim, the Californian trio of sisters. Yes, the track sounds like Springsteen, but as I often say, what’s wrong with wearing influences visibly on your sleeve? These are badges of pride. The crooning, the clarity of production, and the guitar are all a pleasure, so let’s experience this together.
20. Eckhardt and the House – If You Cannot Talk
This is a song that has strut and swagger. This is a song that makes me want to get out a plate, a fork, and slowly eat a piece of cake. The vocals have a layer of mystery. The bass guitar is juicy and thick with the funk. The flute accent adds value. Listening, we hear the story of this girl. She's 16, she doesn't say much, she's on the greatest journey. She only has fifty bucks and she's taking a bus across the country. But things go wrong. Her phone is stolen. What is she to do?
21. Me Not You – Chemical Cure
I was immediately drawn to this song because it reminds me so much of the great alternative sound I enjoyed in the 90s. The beat is clear, the vocals are passionate with a sultry smoothness, and the mood is depressing in that almost-gothic, pre-trip-hop style that I wish more artists still sang in the style of. It's a song for lying flat on your back in your room, palms up, candles burning, speakers around you, soaking in every guitar strum and lyric on repeat.
22. Still Corners – Black Lagoon
The guitar strums in the introduction of this song set a perfect mood, while chords from the organ subtly drone in the background. We open ourselves into a dreamland, turning into tides, watching beaches from afar. Its wet and the moon is overhead, everything is mysterious and beautiful, and you are here with me. But you're not supposed to be, this situation should be forbidden. I'm drawn to you, I can't escape. We run headfirst into this place, the black lagoon.
23. Jaguar Dreams – A Real Woman
I’m nostalgic for the mid 00’s indie dance aesthetic pretty much constantly, so when a band like Jaguar Dreams comes along, I find myself instantly in love. “A Real Woman” has just the right amount of swagger and disco groove to make you nod your head and smile, and that rhythm guitar throws in just a sprinkle of INXS spice. The guitar solo itself completely shreds, bridging together the song’s repetitiveness.
24. Skylar Spence – Cry Wolf
I appreciate the sound of Skylar Spence, previously known as Saint Pepsi, and the direction the music is going in. This is a self-help anthem, when comes a time in your healing process where you realize you're in a low place and you need to pull yourself out of it, so you do what you need to do to get help, but not everyone around you thinks you need it. However, the music itself is light and playful, a contrast to the depth of the topic, a high circling around, lifting you.
25. Cola Boyy – Have You Seen Her
Immediately at the start, the bass groove in this song is just plain sex. On first listen I was caught off guard with the vocals, they’re quirky and could be adjusted for adjustment's sake, but it's also what makes Cola Boyy unique. The addition of noise elements brings attention-grabbing texture to the song, while the piano really brings a positive element, taking us to that head bobbing chair groove you like to do. The guitar solo tops this off like a cherry on a sundae.
26. Aaron Taos – Control
Such an upbeat gem from Aaron Taos, singing about the challenges of staying in control in the life of a social butterfly who would rather stay at home in bed binge-watching Game of Thrones. The song opens with parallel guitar and bass and a simple up-tempo drum loop that really emphasizes the speed and momentum inherent in such a lifestyle. The droning synth throughout the track maintains the calm under the chaos that keeps demanding the pace.
27. The Golden Age of TV – Beast
While the band uses terms like "whip-smart" and "gloriously fuzzed" to describe their music, The Golden Age of TV bring their best work to date with "Beast." Bea Fletcher delivers her story passionately, while stellar "disconcertingly swirling" guitar riffs build throughout the song. The production clarity is accomplished well throughout the song, and comes to a satisfying climax, with memory-inducing compressed bass guitar and drums at the end, just for good measure.
28. Vacances – Callin’
With "Callin'," my favorite of the music released from the band’s EP, Strangers, I feel like the sound Mr. Lannon has been searching for has finally come into focus. While he repeats the word "callin'" too many times (39!?!), this is a sound that works for him. Where The Frail was more Postal Service, Vacances, and particularly this track, is more INXS. Less drum machine, less falsetto (it's still there), with excellent use of rhythm guitar. The synth is just what’s needed.
29. Just Loud – Electrified
We’re immediately drawn into this track with perfectly resonating acoustic drums, it creates the atmosphere for a bright and open song that uplifts the high-pitched synth chirp sound. There is a noticeable air and influence of MGMT and Foster the People in this music. The compression is a bit much at times, but the vocal performance is awesome. The duet fits this song perfectly. The chorus is one that’s going to get stuck in your head for days, if not weeks.
30. Strange Talk – Cosmic Synchronicity
It is wonderful to have Strange Talk back in my speakers. I’ve been a huge fan of theirs since “Eskimo Boy” was released way back in 2011, and “Cosmic Synchronicity” doesn’t stray from what makes this band such a joy to listen to. The track prominently features Stephen Docker’s voice in the foreground as is expected at this point, with some groovy bass guitar laying a foundation, compressed drum fills, and satisfying synth stabs, twinkles, and chord progression.