When it comes to rock music, the nickname “indie” is confusing. Originally used to refer to groups that operated with a do-it-yourself philosophy, outside of the mainstream and out of the eyes of the majors, it has since become a reference to a certain sound – loosely defined by upbeat guitars, rhythms of music. energetic drums and wordy lyrics.
In our list of the best bands across the indie rock spectrum, we’ve focused on the bands that define the sound rather than the mindset, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few examples on our list that embody both.
We’ve listed the titans of indie rock, from the genre’s heyday in the ’80s and early’ 90s until its rebirth in the 2000s.
15. The Jesus and Mary chain
Jim and William Reid of East Kilbride became the prominent voices of Scottish indie after forming in 1983, releasing their debut album Psychocandy in 1987 and recording a handful of influential John Peel sessions. There is a lot to discover in the diverse and multifaceted catalog of the group, with seven studio albums, six EPs and many compilations to master. As hilarious as it sounds, Peep Show’s Jez perfectly summed up the group’s appeal when he compared them to his and Mark’s complicated new boiler: lots to explore.
14. The Maccabees
The Maccabees are another band that defines their era – the lingering bass note that opens the band’s 2005 debut single X-Ray is enough to bring back memories of skinny jeans and questionable hairstyles, and frontman Orlando Weeks had one of the most distinctive voices in the scene with his trembling vulnerability. Over the years, the band’s sound matured, moving away from a frenzied post-punk energy into a more regarded rock art.
“Angular” has become a cliché when it comes to indie rock, but Pavement’s wobbly melodies and sharp guitar lines epitomize the description more than most. The California band embodied a lazy spirit throughout the ’90s, but there was nothing lazy about their makeup and talent for deadly choruses. After their split in 1999, frontman Stephen Malkmus reinforced the band’s legacy with a series of brilliant solo albums, but fans are still hoping for a Pavement reunion soon.
12. Echo and the Bunnymen
Ian McCulloch’s Echo and the Bunnymen established itself as one of Merseyside’s truly alternative voices in the late ’70s and early’ 80s. Their indie pop brand saw them experimenting with psychedelic influences on tracks like The Cutter, one of the highlights of their extensive catalog. The band isn’t lacking in self-confidence either: McCulloch called his 1984 track The Killing Moon “the greatest song ever written” in an interview with the Guardian and asserted that it “contains the answer to the meaning of life”. Modesty might not be their forte, but their impact on British indie rock cannot be overstated.
Boston’s top Pixies were pioneers in the strong / calm rock dynamic that had a huge influence on the alternative scene of the ’90s. The group also understood the importance of simplicity better than any of their contemporaries. Zero frills didn’t mean zero thrills: the band carved their own enduring mark in the musical landscape, and tracks like the obsessive Where Is My Mind and the absurd Monkey Gone To Heaven are among the greatest anti-anthems in the world. ‘era.
10. Hotel with neutral milk
Few indie records capture raw, unfiltered emotion like Neutral Milk Hotel’s iconic record, The Airplane Over The Sea. The Louisiana band made their name in rock history with the album in 1998, which featured lo-fi productions with distorted acoustic guitars, heart-wrenching lyrics and some of rock’s most passionate vocals with the kind courtesy of leader Jeff Mangum. The singer’s performances on tracks like Two Headed Boy are utterly captivating and seem incredibly straightforward – as if he’s removing all distractions and addressing the listener directly. The band never released another album, but the strength of The Airplane Over The Sea means they retain one of indie’s biggest followers to date.
To put it plainly, any band that Johnny Marr wants to join should be considered a very good band. The Smiths guitarist teamed up with the best of Wakefield to record a 2009 album, Ignore the Ignorant, adding sophistication to The Cribs’ ragged, punk-fueled indie rock. Their first three albums were filled with Ryan Jarman’s fake guitar hooks and lines, backed up by the no-frills bass playing of his brother Gary and the raucous drums of their cousin Ross. For a while, they were the darlings of the indie rock world, but even as the scene began to lose its way, the band’s cult band remained just as fervent.
8. Sonic Youth
New York noise rockers Sonic Youth, composed of Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo, first found a cult following among the ‘no wave’ art scene in the early 1980s. They reached a new generation of fans afterwards. having signed with Major DGC in 1990, but they never lost their advantage. Despite more mainstream success, their constant experimentation has led them to cover works by experimental composers like John Cage and Steve Reich, pushing the boundaries of the genre and redefining what it means to be an indie rock band over the past four decades.
REM was one of the leading alternative voices in American rock before becoming a mega star with the 1992 album Automatic For The People. REM was one of the leading alternative voices in American rock. Their debut album Murmer in 1983 heralded them as one of the most exciting talents of the American indie years before they became stalwart in stadiums. Guitarist Peter Buck is arguably also one of the most underrated musicians of his generation – his shimmering, jangly style was the key element to the band’s sound alongside the unmistakable voice of Michael Stipe.
6. The libertines
Deified by certain sectors of the British music press and undoubtedly magnified by the celebrity of the leader Pete Doherty, The Libertines is nevertheless one of the essential groups of the movement. Their music was sloppy and contagious with choruses that were as comfortable in a rowdy, alcohol-soaked pub as they were in front of thousands of people at a festival. Can’t Stand Me Now, the first single from their self-titled second album, stormed number 2 on the UK Top 40 in 2004 – when the charts still meant something – and became the ultimate singalong of the electrified group. the intraband tensions that would eventually come to derail them.
5. Stone roses
Much of what the Stone Roses did was iconic: the undulating bassline on Fools Gold, the bold religious appropriation of I Am The Resurrection, even the opening line of the first song from the group’s debut album (“Je do not have to sell my soul, it is already in me ”remains one of Ian Brown’s most memorable lines). They embodied the Madchester movement – an explosion of sounds, fashion and substances – and popularized the psychedelia that would find its way into the music of so many major British groups in the 90s.
4. The remedy
The sound of The Cure is peppered with glitter and gloom, bridging euphoric pop effects with dark, captivating rock art. Listening to their catalog is like disappearing into the rabbit hole: there are a multitude of ideas and musical forms to discover, from the most daring albums like Pornography to the indie technicolor pop of The Head On The Door and Kiss. Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Their magnum opus Disintegration also remains one of the most revered double albums of all time, with Robert Smith representing one of the true visionaries of British indie.
3. Arctic monkeys
Nothing less than a British phenomenon. Their rapid rise from an unknown quartet to one of the country’s largest bands in the mid to late 2000s was astounding. Something People’s debut album Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is the best-selling UK history and a staple of indie rock: boldly clever lyrics, massive choruses and unforgettable hooks. They never stood still and weren’t afraid to risk alienating part of their fan base for the sake of progressing – the totally unexpected sound and vibe of 2009’s Humbug, their third album, was in it. the first example. Alex Turner’s words meanwhile moved from Mike Skinner’s observations to those concerned with galactic hotel bookings on their latest outing. That said, every album they’ve released has more success than most bands could hope for in a career.
2. The blows
“I just wanted to be one of the Strokes.” So goes the first line of Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, a clear indication of the New York five-piece’s influence. Their debut album Is This It, released in 2001, was the earthquake that rocked the next decade of rock music on both sides of the Atlantic. Its sultry guitars, alluring hooks, and swaggering observational lyrics set a pattern that countless other bands would follow. The subsequent record, Room on Fire, was almost equally brilliant. The rest of the band’s discography varies in quality, but the enduring appeal of Is This It solidifies The Strokes’ place as one of the best.
1. The blacksmiths
The Smiths have become arguably the most influential British group since The Beatles and Rolling Stones when they emerged in the early 1980s, influencing and inspiring entire generations of fans and musicians. Geoff Travis, head of iconic indie label Rough Trade, took a kick out of the band after receiving a tape from teenage Johnny Marr and signed the band in 1983. In just four years, the band released four of the most influential Britons. albums of the decade and left an indelible mark in the musical tune of the times. The unique vocal and guitar styles of Morrissey and Marr respectively, along with the underrated and underrated rhythm section support of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce made them one of the most compelling bands to perform. ‘era. Marr remains an almost messianic figure for British guitarists and although the story of Morrissey’s controversial commentary has caused some to question the band’s reputation, their musical legacy has never been in doubt.