Philadelphia was fortunate to witness the ascent of a talented independent music scene in the 2010s. The artists who emerged from Fishtown and Delco crafted records that not only packed local venues, but also broke out nationally. Philadelphia indie bands navigated a decade that saw the rise of streaming by putting out albums that spun best on vinyl.
In creating this end-of-decade list, I re-indulged in great works from Bleeding Rainbow, Queen of Jeans, Chelsea Sue Allen, Dr. Dog, Hop Along, Low Cut Connie, et al. So many of their records made for great 10A candidates. The following are the Philadelphia indie albums that will mark the last decade. I cannot wait to see what the next one has in store.
Best Philadelphia Indie Albums Of The 2010s
Out In The Storm, Waxahatchee – Katie Crutchfield came to Philadelphia via Alabama and cut four albums in a five-year span. 2017’s Out In The Storm is never mired in one sound for too long. The record’s ten tracks barely creep over half an hour. The single “Silver” is the most infectious track. Despite a hopeful arrangement, the song’s lyrics take an interesting twist as Crutchfield turns into a “shag carpet” who is more than willing to leave a relationship on the brink.
Plastic Soul, Mondo Cozmo – The debut record for Josh Ostrander’s current moniker is an oddity. The gospel-tinged ‘Shine” bumped Kings Of Leon off the number one spot on the charts. The rest of the album sounds nothing like the single.
Plastic Soul’s greatest attribute is that it sets the table for a phenomenal live show. Tracks like “Automatic,” “Chemical Dream,” and “Come With Me” are energetic anthems that pump life into any room. Mondo Cozmo are brilliant live and perform with Springsteen-like conviction that can take over a venue.
Slave Ambient, The War On Drugs – The second album by The War On Drugs seamlessly weaves songs together. In large part due to instrumental tracks “Original Slave,” “The Animator,” and “Come For It,” Slave Ambient feels like a hazy dream. Outside of work on Wagonwheel Blues, they are the only pure instrumental tracks to appear on a War On Drugs record.
Wakin On A Pretty Daze, Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo is a great record, but Wakin On A Pretty Daze is the Kurt Vile album that resonated most with me. The songwriter is uncannily adept as a passive observer. He brilliantly spins lyrics that feel like a prescient gaze in his fifth LP.
The beautifully strange “Air Bud” best defines his style. Weird, but melodic ramblings make his voice a unique part of the arrangement. The lyrics underscore the constant trip that is a Kurt Vile album, “Strange, strange days inside/my mind is daily changing/and it’s charged by the shifting tones of time flying./Just in case you were wondering where I. Was.”
Waking On A Pretty Daze also had one of the coolest possible promotions. A mural of the album cover decorates a wall in Philadelphia, making it a rare LP with a physical impact on the city’s art.
The Unseen In Between, Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather may contain the most celebrated track from Lansdowne’s Steve Gunn, but The Unseen In Between shows the essence of the underrated Philadelphia musician.
The introspective LP alludes to his father, reflects a performer’s nomadic lifestyle, and channels his virtuosity as a guitarist with a pair of unbelievable jams. Both “New Familiar” and “Lightening Fields” are incredible moments that define Steve Gunn: shredding guitar balanced by constant intimacy.
Love Sign, Free Energy – The biggest enigma of Philadelphia bands of the 2010s. They released two records that achieved positive acclaim: Stuck On You and Love Sign and logged an appearance on Letterman. Love Sign, released in 2013, was filled with fun pop tracks like “Dance All Night” and “Hangin.”
Despite being poised for a breakout, the group never dropped another album. 2016 posts on social media teased a new album, however, the band has yet to either release a new record or formally break up.
Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast – Michelle Zauner’s band struck gold on their second album. The record’s title appropriately describes its first track. “Diving Woman” has a deft touch and intuitive arrangement that feel otherworldly. The jam sounds like a Space Age Cranberries track with six-plus minutes of a catchy-as-hell groove.
It is not just “Diving Woman” that sounds like it comes from a different orb in the solar system. “Machinist,” “Boyish,” and “Body Is A Blade” all have an interstellar vibe that bring out the best qualities of Japanese Breakfast’s spacey LP.
Horse Heaven, Creepoid – There is no greater explosion of musical energy from the past decade of Philadelphia music than Creepoid’s “Spirit Birds.” The track spends three minutes slowly coiling like a tightly wound spring before unleashing raw guitar and drums. According to singer Anna Troxell, the song is about a dream. The origin also shows as you listen to the entire LP.
The record is complete psychedelic smog. Troxell and Sean Miller brilliantly trade vocal duties throughout. Their combination is equally laid back and engrossing. Horse Heaven is more than just a one-track crescendo, but those glorious few seconds of “Spirit Birds” are a terrific memento of Creepoid, who played their list gig in 2018.
Eraserland, Strand Of Oaks – Timothy Showalter begins his band’s latest album by crooning “I – I don’t feel it anymore. Somehow I see clearer than before.” The simple introduction underscores the vibe of Eraserland, a record that channels his newfound clarity with breathtaking songwriting. Every chord, lyric, and guitar lick is an impassioned piece. Eraserland is the third album in three years from Strand of Oaks, who saved their best for last in 2019.
Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs – Philadelphia bands produced a lot of terrific albums in the 2010s. Of all the records to come from the City of Brotherly Love, Lost In The Dream is the masterpiece that deserves a spot in the decade’s time capsule. Adam Granduciel’s melancholy yielded anthems whose lyrics are tinged with poignant wistfulness. His constant longing is only trumped by the brilliant arrangements on every track.
More than any album on this list, Lost In The Dream is ironically the most challenging to write about. It is an album filled with songs that I have listened to hundreds of times. I admittedly overplay it. I cannot stop finding new joy in the crescendo of “Under The Pressure,” the infectious rhythm of “Red Eyes,” and the slick guitar of “Disappearing.”
The challenge is not finding any superlatives, but the ones that define how well this record fills a headspace. Little occupies time on an open highway better than Adam Granduciel’s voice and the lush sounds of his talented bandmates. Instant classic is an overused term, but Lost In The Dream is anything but fleeting.
The death of the album is often bemoaned as a lost art in the streaming era. Like many artists on this list, The War On Drugs debunk that myth by filling their sonic canvass with brilliant songs. At least in Philadelphia, the art of the album was alive and well throughout the 2010s.