The Roundtable’s Favorite Indie Albums (2010-19)

Determining the “best” album of a single year is hard enough, let alone a whole decade. Though I have amassed a great collection of musical experiences over the past 10 years, it’s only fair that I relegate these posts as “favorites” in lists that follow my own arbitrary rules.

“But there’s a comfort in failure
Singing too loud in church
Screaming my fears into speakers
‘Til I collapse or I burst
Whichever comes first”

Julien Baker, “Shadowboxing”

10. Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

Year: 2018

What value we put upon the petty plights of the celebrity. Jay-Z (allegedly!) cheated on Beyonce! Taylor Swift wrote a song about another break-up! Justin Timberlake – he held someone else’s hand – oh no!

Meanwhile, us common folk are going through real troubles that fail to show up in headlines. Some of us make music about it.

My foray into the world of true independent music is relatively newfound, but revelatory all the while. This is more of a blanket statement for all that you are about to read, but Anna seems like she would be cool to shop for loose leaf teas with. Taylor Swift would rather right a song about rejecting me for asking.

Defining Moment: I am assuming Anna loves loose-leaf tea from the video, so that is our natural bond.

9. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Year: 2014

We could all use some more music telling us how to deal. Adulting is hard and some relationships make it even harder. Thank you, Angel, for basically telling me my life is not so bad floating like dust amid the grand scheme.

Defining Moment: If you would have told me “White Fire” was a Leonard Cohen cover, I would have believed you. That song is ghastly.

8. Foxing – Nearer My God

Year: 2018 (The Roundtable’s No. ? album in 2018)

This is a very odd group. From my review last year:

“Using those thoughts of uncertainty and self-loathing as the basis of the album seemed like a decent start for a raw record, except that the band almost called it quits in the middle of recording. As it turns out, trying to reconcile what’s going on in the world and filling a studio with all of that gunk is detrimental to the psyche.

“So the band took the approach of, ‘Well, this is what it’s like to live in this world,’ unburdening themselves from trying to solve whatever they read in the news that morning.”

– The Roundtable in 2018

Defining Moment: This album was inspired by the “Doomsday Video,” which is one of the creepiest things I have ever seen. Look up that backstory.

7. Emily Wells – This World is Too _____ for You

Year: 2019

Ooh, a fill-in-the-blank album title! Let’s give it a try – think of an adjective:

  • This world is too wet for you.
  • This world is too round for you.
  • This world is too endurable for you (I used a random adjective generator for this one and had to chuckle).

I did not know this before writing this post, but look at that girl go on that video! She plays everything.

Defining Moment: One of the best lines of the year comes from “Your Apocalypse Was Fab”: “What’s better than understanding? Don’t you dare say ignorance.”

6. Eliza Shaddad – Future

Year: 2018

I have not found out much about this girl, but she has made at least three songs that stopped me in my tracks. Her dark lo-fi melodies are at once haunting and refreshing, lulling me into certain danger.

Defining Moment: Even though it seems to be about cheating, “My Body” is so filthy good:

“I’m well aware that there’s a danger in the games I play
Pretending he is here with me
Still I twist and turn until I’m tired enough that I can blur the empty space with my reality”

Eliza Shaddad, “My Body”

5. Torres – Sprinter

Year: 2014 (The Roundtable’s No.7 Album of 2015)

An album of somber awakening and identity. The album is filled with hollow solitude, which is sometimes the beginning of becoming part of something else.

Defining Moment: “Sprinter” has to be on my shortlist for favorite songs of the decade, describing singer Mackenzie Scott’s departure from her Baptist upbringing. The bridge both empowers to the suppressed and disarms institutions:

“There’s freedom to, and freedom from
Freedom to run from everyone
Well, what I did, is what is done
The baptist in me chose to run
But if there’s still time to choose the sun
I’ll choose the sun, I’ll choose the sun”

Torres, “Sprinter”


4. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Year: 2017

As much of a downer as you might find this album, I choose to see the optimism in it. Julien Baker was barely 20 when she wrote this album, which proves that she is wiser than her years. At what cost, I am afraid to ask.

In all the pain, Julien knows who she is and what her problems are: herself. This is half the solution. The solution to what, I am not sure. But from where I stand, most of the issues we face in the world originate from within, so many of us have much to learn in this area.

Julien refrains from lashing out at anybody but herself, who is the only person she can actually fix. Perhaps there is beauty in the vulnerability.

Defining Moment: Julien is open about her drug and mental health issues, and it all comes to a head in “Happy to Be Here.” As she wonders if she is even able to fix herself, she delivers a realistic blow:

“I know I should be being optimistic but I’m doubtful I can change
Grit my teeth and try to act deserving
When I know there is nowhere I can hide
From your humiliating grace”

Julien Baker, “Happy to Be Here”

3. Bryde – Like an Island

Year: 2018 (Reviewed previously on The Roundtable)

One of the great powers of an artist is to acknowledge the reality of one’s psyche. We are flawed and damaged and uncertain. When that awareness sets in, be that from mental health issues, addictions or just a bad day, I find solace in strangers who sing about it. Putting on a mask is just too much work.

Serendipitously, Bryde, AKA Sarah Howells, is the lead singer of Paper Aeroplanes, a band I have come to enjoy over the past 10 years. Although I often admire songwriting, I hardly show envy. I envy Sarah.

Defining Moment: “To Be Brave” stunned me on the first listen (thank you Discovery Weekly).

2. Father John Misty – I Love You Honeybear

Year: 2015 (Gloriously reviewed as the Roundtable’s No. 5 Album of 2015)

If not my spirit animal, then the sensual devil who croons comedic cynicism on my shoulder. This man is a gem.

FJM put out four fabulous albums this decade with distinct themes: 1.) origin story; 2.) love; 3.) the folly of man; 4.) mental breakdown.

The “love album” version of Father John Misty is the most interesting out of the four. He is not delicate with his words, yet he is sweet in the way a bird spits food into the mouth of its young. It is all about that end result, which, in this case, is pure art.

Defining Moment: When “The Ideal Husband” starts to shred, around the 2:30 mark:

“I said, ‘Baby, I’m finally succumbing!’
Said something dumb like, ‘I’m tired of running
Tired of running, tired of running’
Let’s put a baby in the oven!
Wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?”

Father John Misty, “The Ideal Husband”

1. Emma Ruth Rundle – House of Gold and Bones (1&2)

Year: 2018 (Previously featured on the Roundtable’s top 10 albums of 2018)

That megaton tumbleweed you hear above is not for the feeble among you.

I mentioned earlier in his post about songwriting envy. I want what Emma has, but I want nothing to do with how she achieved it. This woman writes music with the fires of Hell and finds a way to bestow it with holy luminescence. I have found no worthy comparison, so you will have to experience her work for yourself.

Defining Moment: As I mentioned in the 2018 review, it is “Darkhorse,” a song about two siblings overcoming an oppressive father. The build in the chorus over the course of the song is a triumph worthy of tears.

“It’s the darkhorse we give legs to that I am proud to ride
In the wake of weak beginnings, we can still stand high
It’s you and I, you and I still try”

Emma Ruth Rundle, “Darkhorse”

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