10 Best Indie Concept Albums
With the digital sea change in how music is produced and consumed, singles have made a resurgence in popularity with music fans, especially among the more casual listeners. Services like iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Instant Streaming — as well as outlets like Pandora, YouTube and Slacker Radio — enable people to buy a song the first time they hear it, and without really even thinking about it.
Before the digital waters rose, though, LPs went through a sort of golden age. Concept albums were the norm and they set the standard by which all that came after would be judged. This era really bloomed in the late 1960s, with releases like the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in 1967, the Who’s ‘Tommy’ and the Kink’s ‘Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire),’ both in 1969.
There are still artists around today, though, with the passion and attention span required to produce an album as a whole, rather than focus solely on the hits. Below, check out our picks for 10 of the Best Indie Concept Albums:
This is Wax Fang’s ‘The Astronaut,’ a space rock opera swirling through the air from your speakers, awash with the sounds of stars living and dying. That might be a bit overdramatic, but listening to this album can push a person into a dramatic state of mind. “Epic” is a word that is often misused these days — tossed around without a care for the true scope of the word. This is not one of those times. Wax Fang’s ‘The Astronaut’ is epic.
Fortune favors the bold, and releasing a double-LP concept album as your second record is definitely a bold move. But that’s what hardcore pioneers Hüsker Dü did with the release of ‘Zen Arcade.’ It’s the story of a would-be prodigal son who imagines leaving home, only to find the world to be harsh and cold. Bummer, sort of, but ‘Zen Arcade’ ranks among the cream of the crop of rock albums.
How many times can a music blogger use the words “unsettling” and “catchy” in one blurb? I need to know so I can do justice to Ween‘s nautical-themed album, ‘The Mollusk.’ While “strange” is another word one could overuse to describe this disc, don’t let that fool you into thinking there are no hits here. One song, ‘Ocean Man,’ was so brilliantly catchy that it was featured on the soundtrack for the Spongebob Squarepants movie. Well, one of them, anyway.
Very few people ever get the chance to live out their childhood fantasies. But Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl realized that he was in the position to accomplish many of his. He wrote an album’s worth of songs, each one in the style of one of his favorite bands from his adolescence. Then he gave each song to the singer from each of the bands he mimicked and told them to do what they wanted. The result is ‘Probot,’ an album of metal history as conceived by Grohl and his idols. The whole album is great, but the Motörhead-inspired track, complete with Lemmy vocals, and a bass solo, is a definite highlight. The video below is a touch NSFW, by the way.
‘Southern Rock Opera’
Don’t think that the rock opera is the exclusive purview of hoity-toity art rockers. Athens’ own Drive-By Truckers are about as far away from hoity-toity as they get. But that didn’t stop them from releasing a concept album titled simply ‘Southern Rock Opera.’ This ambitious double-LP is a vaguely autobiographical story of a man’s rise to glory, and, of course, his fall.
“Going glam” has turned into a bit of a cliché over the years. But glam in the right artist’s hands can make for an excellent listening experience. Such is the case for the first solo outing from former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. ‘Hesitant Alien’ weaves a story of science fiction intrigue told in outer space. Of course, we expect nothing less ambitious from Way.
Sometimes an album is held together less by a concept and more by a theme. This is, of course, splitting hairs. But we felt it worth mentioning with our inclusion of Trans Am’s ‘Futureworld.’ The album sounds like the soundtrack to a cheesy ’80s Mad Max knock-off, but only if that cheesy movie had the most kick-ass soundtrack ever. ‘Futureworld’ moves seamlessly through a bleak world full of distorted guitars, machine-like drums and motorcycles with exhaust pipes that shoot flames. Welcome to Futureworld.
‘Songs for the Deaf’
Queens of the Stone Age graduated from underground heroes to bona fide rock legends with the release of ‘Songs for the Deaf.’ This album is tied together with the sounds of someone searching FM frequencies on the radio between the songs. Band leader Josh Homme said that he wanted to recreate the feeling of listening to the radio while on the long drives he and the band would make to get to shows. In his fictitious world, every track from ‘Songs for the Deaf’ can be heard on the radio. If only the real world was that cool.
Legendary rapper MF DOOM is one of music’s most clever and creative artists today. Case in point: his 2004 album ‘MM.. Food.’ By mixing up the letters in his moniker, DOOM created a concept he used to explore a wealth of subjects. Each song on the album uses food metaphors to discuss issues like fake friends, snitches and not getting busted. Included throughout are old sound clips from TV shows and dialogue from some old guy who eats and drinks, well, some weird stuff.
‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’
Neutral Milk Hotel’s epic ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ has developed one of the most dedicated and enthusiastic group of fans ever to proclaim love for an album. While band founder Jeff Mangum hasn’t confirmed it, many Neutral Milk Hotel fans believe the album to be about Anne Frank hiding away in an attic. Whether this is true or not, this album possesses emotional gravity almost every artist strives for, but that few ever achieve. ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ is a bit of a sonic treasure that has the ability to reach inside your chest to your heart, eliciting profound sadness and poignant joy at the same time.