When it comes to rock music, the nickname “indie” is confusing. Originally used to refer to bands that operated with a do-it-yourself philosophy, outside the mainstream and away from the gaze of major labels, it has come to refer to a certain sound – loosely defined by catchy lead guitars, energetic drum beats and wordy lyrics. .
In our list of the best bands in the indie rock spectrum, we’ve focused on bands that define sound rather than mentality, though that’s not to say there aren’t examples on our list that embody both.
We’ve mapped the titans of indie rock, from the genre’s heyday in the 80s and early 90s to its revival in the 2000s.
15. The Jesus and Mary Channel
East Kilbride’s Jim and William Reid 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’s a lot to discover in the band’s diverse and multifaceted catalog, with seven studio albums, six EPs and plenty of compilations to master. As hilarious as it sounds, Peep Show’s Jez summed up the band’s appeal perfectly when he compared them to his and Mark’s complicated new boiler: “It’s like the Jesus and Mary chain of control systems. central heating – hard to understand at first, but then so much to explore.
14. The Maccabees
The Maccabees are another defining band of 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 dodgy haircuts, and frontman Orlando Weeks had one of the most distinctive. voice in the scene with its quivering vulnerability. Over the years, the band’s sound has matured, moving away from frenetic post-punk energy towards more reflective rock art.
“Angular” has become a cliché when it comes to indie rock, but Pavement’s wonky melodies and cutting 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 songwriting and their talent for killer choruses. After their split in 1999, frontman Stephen Malkmus cemented the band’s legacy with a string of stellar solo albums, but fans still held out hope for a soon-to-be Pavement reunion.
12. Echo and the Bunnies
Ian McCulloch’s Echo and the Bunnymen established themselves as one of the truly alternative voices to come out of Merseyside in the late 70s and early 80s. Their brand of indie pop saw them experiment with psychedelic influences on tracks like The Cutter, one of the highlights of their extensive catalog. The group isn’t lacking in self-confidence either: McCulloch called their 1984 track The Killing Moon “the greatest song ever written” in an interview with the Guardian and claimed that it “contains the answer to the meaning of life”. Modesty may not be their forte, but their impact on British indie rock cannot be overstated.
Boston’s Top Pixies pioneered the loud/quiet rock dynamic that had a huge influence on the ’90s alternative scene. The band also understood the importance of simplicity better than any of their contemporaries. . Zero frills didn’t mean zero thrills: the band left their own lasting mark on the musical landscape and tracks like the haunting Where Is My Mind and the absurd Monkey Gone To Heaven are some of the greatest anti-anthems in the world. era.
10. Neutral Milk Hotel
Few indie records capture raw, unfiltered emotion quite like Neutral Milk Hotel’s signature record, The Airplane Over The Sea. The Louisiana band etched their name in rock history with the 1998 album, which featured lo-fi productions with distorted acoustic guitars, heartbreaking lyrics and some of rock’s most impassioned vocals thanks to frontman Jeff Mango. The singer’s performances on tracks like Two Headed Boy are utterly captivating and seem incredibly direct – as if cutting out 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 cult hits to this day.
9. Nativity scenes
To put it plainly, any band that Johnny Marr wants to join has to be considered a really good band. The Smiths guitarist teamed up with the best of Wakefield to record an album, Ignore the Ignorant in 2009, adding sophistication to the Cribs’ jagged, punk-fueled indie rock. Their previous three albums were filled with catchy, scathing guitar lines from Ryan Jarman, backed by brother Gary’s no-frills bass playing and cousin Ross’ throaty drumming. For a while they were darlings of the indie rock world, but even as the scene began to stray, the band’s cult following remained just as fervent.
8. Sonic Youth
New York noise rockers Sonic Youth, consisting of Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo, first found a cult following among the “no wave” art scene in the early 80s. They reached a new generation of fans after signing with major label DGC in 1990, but they never lost their edge. Despite more mainstream success, their constant experimentation led them to cover works by experimental composers such as John Cage and Steve Reich, pushing the boundaries of the genre and redefining what it meant to be an indie rock band over the past four decades. .
REM was one of the main alternative voices in American rock before becoming a mega star thanks to the 1992 album Automatic For The People. REM was one of the main alternative voices in American rock. Their 1983 debut album Murmer heralded them as one of the most exciting talents of America’s independent years before they became stadium mainstays. Guitarist Peter Buck is arguably one of the most underrated musicians of his generation too – his shimmering, jangly style was key to the band’s sound alongside Michael Stipe’s unmistakable vocals.
6. The Libertines
Deified by certain sectors of the British music press and undoubtedly magnified by the celebrity of frontman Pete Doherty, The Libertines are nevertheless one of the essential groups of the movement. Their music was sloppy and infectious with choruses that were as at home in a rowdy, booze-soaked pub as they were in front of thousands at a festival. Can’t Stand Me Now, the lead single from their self-titled second album stormed to number 2 on the UK Top 40 in 2004 – when the charts still meant anything – and became the band’s ultimate single, electrified by the intra-band tensions that would eventually come to derail them.
5. Stone Roses
Much of what the Stone Roses did was iconic: the choppy bassline of Fools Gold, the bold religious appropriation of I Am The Resurrection, even the opening line of the first song from the band’s debut album (“I don’t have to sell my soul, it’s already in me” remains one of Ian Brown’s most memorable lines). They embodied the Madchester movement – an explosion of sound, fashion and substance – and popularized the psychedelia that would find its way into the music of so many great British bands in the 90s.
4. The Remedy
The sound of The Cure is sprinkled with glitz and sadness, linking euphoric pop highs with dark and captivating artistic rock. Listening to their catalog is like disappearing down the rabbit hole: there are a multitude of ideas and musical forms to discover, from the most austere albums like Pornography to the technicolor indie pop of The Head On The Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Their magnum opus Disintegration 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 biggest bands in the mid to late 2000s was astounding. Debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is the fastest selling album in UK history and an indie-rock staple: boldly clever lyrics, massive choruses and unforgettable hooks. They never stood still and weren’t afraid to risk alienating part of their fan base in order to progress – the totally unexpected sound and vibe of 2009’s Humbug, their third album, was the prime example. . Alex Turner’s lyrics, meanwhile, went from Mike Skinner’s observations to those concerned with galactic hotel bookings when they last came out. That said, every album they’ve released has been more successful than most bands could hope for in a career.
“I just wanted to be one of the Strokes.” So goes the opening line of the latest Arctic Monkeys album, a clear indication of the influence of the New York quintet. Their debut album Is This It, released in 2001, was the earthquake that shook the next decade of rock music on both sides of the Atlantic. Its sultry guitars, seductive hooks and swaggering observational lyrics set a blueprint that countless other bands would follow. The record that followed it, Room on Fire, was almost as brilliant. The rest of the band’s discography varies in quality, but the enduring appeal of Is This It cements The Strokes’ place as one of the best.
The Smiths have become arguably the most influential British band since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones when they emerged in the early 80s, influencing and inspiring entire generations of fans and musicians. Geoff Travis, head of iconic indie label Rough Trade, took a punt on the band after receiving a tape from teenage Johnny Marr and signed the band in 1983. Within just four years, the band released four of Britain’s most influential. albums of the decade and left an indelible mark on the musical zeitgeist. The unique vocal and guitar styles of Morrissey and Marr respectively along with the underrated and underrated rhythm section backing of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce made them one of the most compelling bands of the era. . Marr remains an almost messianic figure for British guitarists and although Morrissey’s history of controversial commentary has caused some to question the band’s reputation, their musical heritage has never been in doubt.