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The 10 Best Albums of Mom + Pop's First Decade

Music Lists Courtney Barnett
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Indie-rock record labels usually have a distinct sound that unites much of its roster. It’s relatively easy to hear a Seattle-based early ’90s alternative rock band and think of Sub Pop. Ditto for 2010’s chillwave acts with a punk edge and Captured Tracks. But with Mom + Pop, things are more complicated.

The label—which turns 10 this week with a massive concert tonight at Brooklyn Steel in New York’s East Williamsburg featuring Courtney Barnett, Neon Indian, Sunflower Bean, Sleigh Bells, and more—isn’t so easy to pin down. Their roster makes up an incredibly diverse set of sounds and genres, from the surf punk of Wavves to the skittish psychedelica of Jagwar Ma to Flume’s irresistibly catchy electronica, without losing any of the authenticity of a smaller indie label. Founded by Michael “Goldie” Goldstone in 2008, the New York label is responsible for some of the most acclaimed records of the last decade, one of the few labels out there with something to offer virtually everyone. In honor of their 10-year celebrations, we’re counting down their 10 best records of Mom + Pop’s first decade.

10. Mutual Benefit: Skip a Sinking Stone (2016)
Opening with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous explosion of noise that recalls Radiohead’s “Untitled,” the album closer on Kid A, Brooklyn’s Mutual Benefit—the moniker of Jordan Lee—released his sophomore album via Mom + Pop in 2016, his first and only record with the label. It’s the kind of collection that’d make Sufjan Stevens jealous; chock full of chamber pop lullabies and beautiful string accompaniments, Lee dropped a cinematic-sounding record, perfect for sipping coffee while watching snow fall on a cold winter’s day. Skip a Sinking Stone features some of this decade’s prettiest songs, completely devoid of percussion, with a knack for creating some of the dreamiest soundscapes in recent memory. —Steven Edelstone

9. Lucius: Wildewoman (2013)
Co-lead singer Jess Wolfe told Paste back in 2013, “We’re two voices singing as one.” And from the first vocal notes of “Wildewoman” on Lucius’ debut, her description couldn’t be more perfect. Wolfe and fellow frontwoman Holly Laessig sing in unison or in close tonal harmony throughout the record, bringing an extra dose of force to an album already fortified by strong song structures, substantive lyrics and precise playing. At times almost country and other times impossibly hip, the band’s influences ring clearly, but not overpoweringly so. Most prevalent is a soulful ’60s vibe, courtesy of Wolfe and Laessig’s matching voices and wardrobes. But Wildewoman’s true success comes by reintroducing retro girl-group swag to the 21st century at a time when it’s most needed. The album offers empathy for the heartbroken and sultry fun for partiers, all backed by fuzzy guitars and polyrhythmic percussion. The Brooklyn band’s infectious melodies, keen self-awareness and shameless authenticity sweep through all 11 songs, making Wildewoman one of the most complete indie pop LPs this decade. —Hilary Saunders

8. Smith Westerns: Soft Will (2013)
They may have burned out faster than their contemporaries Beach Fossils or Deerhunter, but for a few years in the early-to-mid 2010s, Smith Westerns were one of the best indie rock bands around. Complete with catchy-as-hell melodies and building, bubbling guitars that acted as the sleaker and synthier counterpart to Girls’ ’60s-esque retro guitar pop, the Chicago band—led by brothers Cullen and Cameron Omori—were a midday festival mainstay, one of the most fun bands you’d see while roaming from stage to stage in the tail-end of the indie-rock boom. Soft Will, their third and final album, was a collection of sunny tracks that would instantly place the listener on a summer roadtrip to the beach with all of the windows down. “Varsity,” the group’s best track, technically counts as their swan song, their last song on their final album. And what a way to go out; the song’s M83-esque synth flourishes perfectly compliments their trademark sound for a hands in the air, sing-along track that makes the three-year wait to Smith Westerns offshoot act Whitney totally worth it. —Steven Edelstone

7. FIDLAR: FIDLAR (2013)
FIDLAR’s reputation that preceded their self-titled debut was as much for their debauchery as it was for their chops. With Black Lips looking beyond fistfights with fans and full-frontal nudity, FIDLAR proved themselves suitable heirs to the shock-rock throne (their name stands for Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk). While the band came off as 22-year-old boys reveling in their immaturity, as concerned with entertaining themselves as they are others, they actually backed their image up—not that being an authentic drug-snorting, 40-drinking petty thief with little ambition besides playing rock shows and skating with the bros should a point of pride, but as the adage says, write what you know. Their self-titled collection may be narrow in its lyrical scope, but it doesn’t lack in authenticity, and anyone with an inclination to the loud, hooky and irreverent R-rated tunes will find much to like. For the others, the swirly, fuzzed-out opener “Cheap Beer” declares in its chanted chorus “I drink cheap beer, so what? Fuck you.” The album is filled with two-minute romps that systematically tout both their influences and their contemporaries, including the Misfits from the flexed and strutting “Stoked and Broke,” Wavves with the nasal harmonies and clenched fist of “Wait for the Man,” The Murder City Devils with the almost-sexy groove of “Cocaine” and the Pixies’ throaty wails on the bluesy untitled bonus track that finishes the album with a rare moment of introspection; singer Zac Carper claiming “it kind of sucks being.” FIDLAR owes as much to San Francisco garage rock as it does to SoCal surf punk, and though the range hardly creates the sense of a well-balanced dish, the depth of the flavor is enough to satisfy. —Philip Cosores

6. Neon Indian: Era Extraña (2011)
In the first few seconds of Era Extraña, we hear the sound of swirling 8-bit particles rapidly coming to a celestial boil. What follows is what the birth of the universe would have sounded like had the Big Bang occurred inside the original Nintendo Entertainment System. This is the world in which Alan Palomo sets his sophomore chillwave release under the moniker Neon Indian. The opening track, “Heart : Attack” is the first installment in an instrumental trilogy that runs throughout the album, tying it together. This cohesiveness is something that sets Era Extraña apart from its predecessor immediately. Perhaps his newfound focus came from the setting in which the album was created. Palomo wrote and recorded Era Extraña in constant winter solitude in a small apartment in Helsinki, Finland. Still, it features the same lazy summer feel that made Neon Indian’s debut so popular, but this time around, the sun has gone down, and the songs are wrought with expressions of lost love. It seems like the album takes place somewhere between the blow of an overwhelming loss and the eventual letting go. Extraña can mean “strange” or “to long for” depending on the context. And it is a strange time, a strange era, in our lives when we’ve lost something but can’t quite figure out what to do about it. —Wyndham Wyeth

5. Sleigh Bells: Treats (2010)
Treats, the debut effort from noise-rockers Sleigh Bells, is the logical conclusion of the loudness war; it manages to challenge basic assumptions of how music can (and should) sound. You either buy the Brooklyn duo’s central conceit or you don’t: bombastic synth-rock for bombast’s sake, with mixing cranked so high your speakers sound like they’re about to combust. It’s a preposterous juxtposition—Alexis Krauss’ way-past-sweet vocals as the sugary glaze on Derek Miller’s gritty and serrated riffing and beats—until the soaring power chords of opener and single “Tell ‘Em” kick off the album with a thunderclap, and you barrel through a 32-minute sonic rollercoaster that’s totally, gloriously, devoid of subtlety and restraint. “Tell ‘Em” is a fantastic piece of pop, a tightly-wound dash down a cyberpunk Sunset Strip, and it’s only the first volley in Treats’ damn-the-torpedoes push towards sensory overload. “Kids” is a reverb-heavy rave-up that bleeds into “Riot Rhythm,” where martial drums crisscross with hair-metal guitar squeal as Krauss plays fast and loose with bratty, sing-song vocals. On “Infinity Guitars,” the melody erupts into a shatteringly loud catharsis of sleigh bells, bass beats and searing riffs, the kind of album highlight that sends your earbuds flying when you unexpectedly start headbanging. Treats is engrossing and urgent; Krauss and Miller toy with noise and listener expectations with Reznor-esque glee. But obsessing over the album as a technical triumph (though it certainly is) mostly misses the point because its greatest success is how effortlessly it taps into the intangible: Treats is just a whole goddamn lot of fun to listen to. It’s a supremely raw and visceral pop masterwork, one appropriate to rocking out with headphones on, windows-down bumping on car stereos or four-A.M. warehouse dance parties. —Michael Saba

4. Lady Lamb: After (2015)
Aly Spaltro is well-versed in the best kind of honesty: sweet and tempered when you need it, but an unapologetic gut punch when it counts. On her sophomore release as Lady Lamb, Spaltro kicked her candid brand of lyrical prowess into high gear, pairing imagery-rich observations on mortality, family and UFOs with bold, bright arrangements of jangly guitars, jubilant horns and vintage synths. After skips this unease of its predecessor and goes straight for self-assured rock ‘n’ roll, ditching “the Beekeeper” portion of her stage name in the process. “Vena Cava” leads off the album with breezy strums and relaxed vocals before charging into an explosion of fuzzed-out garage rock. Spaltro plays up her strengths as a songwriter by delivering clear, fuzz-free lyrics, while keeping listeners on the edge of their seats via loud, layered pops of punk. The result is a sound that straddles the line between a sunset stroll and a total grunge show—an appropriate metaphor for the album as a whole. The pure-pop of “Billions of Eyes” is more sunset and less grunge, with bouncy ’60s-style guitar licks and a sparkly twee chorus of “da-da-da-da”s. Spaltro shines as a songwriter who doesn’t shy away from pairing her prose with out-there arrangements. While most tracks are easy enough to hum along to, laced with warm banjo and pretty keys, it’s the unexpected explosions of warped guitar solos that make Lady Lamb’s softer moments standout—and the album as a whole succeed. —Carey Hodges

3. Hinds: Leave Me Alone ()
If frolicking on a warm beach in golden light with your best friends had a musical equivalent, it’s the debut album from Hinds. Though the Spanish quartet is said to be at the forefront of a growing indie scene in Madrid—a city much better known for many other things—Hinds could just as easily have grown up in a garage a few blocks from the ocean somewhere in southern California. Co-fronted by Ana Perrote and Carlotta Cosials, who started the band as a duo called Deers before recruiting Ade Martin and Amber Grimbergen and, for legal reasons, changing their name, Hinds play shaggy rock ’n’ roll with a casual, shambling feel. Perrote and Cosials trade lead vocals, and they often give the impression they’re singing through broad smiles of amazement at how much fun they’re having. Their enthusiasm carries over to Martin and Grimbergen, and the quartet plays with a sense of joy that feels genuine and anything but cynical. Although the group sometimes wanders or gets sloppy, precision isn’t the point. Leave Me Alone manages to be a nostalgic album that nevertheless lives in the moment—it’s a moment worth celebrating. —Eric R. Danton

2. Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself (2012)
Andrew Bird  had been a solo artist for a decade and a half before signing with Mom + Pop for 2012’s Break It Yourself, which resulted in his first—and only—top-10 charting album to date. Filled with gorgeous string-filled tracks, his hardest rocking song in “Eyoneye” since Armchair Apocrypha and, at times, upbeat, almost dance-y tracks like “Danse Carribe,” Bird combines the best of his previous records into his sixth solo release, resulting in one of his strongest full-lengths in his storied discography. Break It Yourself really shines in the quieter moments, like in the St. Vincent-aided “Lusitania,” the lovelorn “Lazy Projector” and the adorable “Sifters,” which questions what would have happened had he and his partner been born in separate generations, perhaps the best love song he’s ever released. An incredibly strong late-career record, Break It Yourself is simultaneously Bird’s most listenable yet most emotionally complex album, one with so many twists and turns that it keeps you on the edge of your seat, just to comfortably tuck you in to sleep on the beautiful instrumental finale “Belles.” —Steven Edelstone

1. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Rocketing out of the gate with lead single “Pedestrian at Best,” one of the most self-deprecating songs in recent memory with lyrics like “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you, it was clear that Courtney Barnett was the one of the most self-aware lyrists of her generation. The resulting album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, is a fascinating look into Barnett’s life in Melbourne, Australia as a musician quickly becoming internationally famous. That fame, which she eschews in the aforementioned “Pedestrian at Best,” gives way to hunting for apartments on the charming “Depreston” and staying in on the weekend on “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party.” Ranging from bluesy guitar solos (“Small Poppies”) to catchy as hell indie pop (“Dead Fox”), Courtney Barnett’s first solo outing is a debut release for the ages, one of the most celebrated indie rock albums of the decade. —Steven Edelstone

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