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From Big Black to Radiohead: our guide to the best Indie Rock

For all those who still miss Melody Maker...


Indie rock (or 'alternative rock', if you're from North America) once referred to rock music made by bands signed to smaller, independent record labels. Nice and simple. The concept was based on a do-it-yourself approach: making music on minimal resources, without the support of expensive studio time, expensive producers, and million-quid marketing campaigns. It was the antithesis of the mainstream, and existed in a culture where the merest hint of ‘selling out’ lessened the value of the music being made.

Things change, to the point where the likes of Radiohead could sell millions of copies of the sound of Thom Yorke running his bath. But despite being harder than ever to determine what is and isn’t ‘real’ indie rock, or even whether 'real' indie rock can be said to still exist in its previous, more purist form, there is an indie ethos that is still very much thriving today. It still, with exceptions, exists without bothering the charts and big tour venues too much. It still, with exceptions, retains the tribal suspicions of expensive studios, expensive producers, and expensive marketing. It still, with exceptions, fears the accusation of "selling-out" above all.

Some of the bands, albums and songs that started the ball rolling still struggle to get the credit for bringing the indie rock sound to the world. Seasoned customers of Norman Records don't need to be told about the likes of Sebadoh, Deerhoof, or any number of other great bands who deserve more recognition. But some of the indie rock pioneers also struck lucky, managing to carve out varying degrees of actual commercial success whilst also retaining varying degrees of indie credibility. And some of them simply stuck around for so long that they became part of the mental furniture of indie rock. Whatever, no self-respecting vinyl collection would be complete without at least a showing from these artists.  

Best indie rock bands

The Fall

If Mark E. Smith - RIP - were still alive, and if he was minded to pay even the slightest bit of attention to what a minor vinyl-floggin' website had to say about his band, then he would surely rail against being lumped into a guide to indie rock. But we're kicking things off with The Fall, because maybe more than any band The Fall kicked things off.

They don’t make frontmen like him anymore, a once-in-a-millennium performer who made an art form out of growling at audiences he often seemed to despise. His rambling, stream-of-consciousness lyrics could be as impenetrable as the densest bits of a Joyce novel. His rule over The Fall was absolute - "If it's me and yer granny on bongos, it's the Fall" - and he drove musicians out of his band with legendary ruthlessness.

But there was always method. Repetition was the mantra, with melodies - yes - working like clockwork while Smith attacked the mic in whatever mood he was in that day. Countless post-punk, indie and even straight-up rock groups are indebted to his vision of what a band could be. He will be sorely missed. But pity the poor beginner trying to make any sense of a back catalogue as intimidating as he created.


Joy Division

There must've been something about Greater Manchester at the arse-end of the 1970s, because just as The Fall were barking into life with their own unique take on punk so were Joy Division with theirs.

True, Joy Division took post-punk in a totally different direction to Mark E. Smith's crew. Moody and contemplative rather than angry and scratchy, knitting together the tragic with the beautiful was their signature, with two stunning albums – Unknown Pleasures and Closer – that went on to influence artists as far apart as Interpol and Danny Brown.

Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris: a meeting of minds that was maybe always destined for greatness. Self-built synths placed next to machine-precise kicks and snares, complemented by twitchy guitars, melodic bass runs and the existential dread of Ian Curtis’'s lyrics. So clearly destined for greatness, in fact, that even after Curtis's suicide the remaining members found the strength and togetherness to form a band possibly even more influential than their first.


Big Black

Across the Atlantic, Big Black were being forged in the fires of US punk. Cleaving to the most austere reading of the indie ethos imaginable - Steve Albini probably still books his own motel rooms to this day - their relentlessly aggressive approach set the tone for countless bands that followed.

Two albums in six years - Atomizer and Songs About Fucking - is hardly prolific, but then Big Black were destined to burn brightly and quickly. 'Intense' doesn't quite cut it. Musically, there were few taboos. Out goes the drummer in favour of a machine. Violent things done to guitars. Studios seen as a barely-necessary evil ("If a record takes more than a week to make, somebody's f’ing up", as Albini memorably wrote to Kurt Cobain).

And lyrically, there were even fewer taboos - none, to be precise. But whilst a band like Big Black would struggle in today's more sensitive environments… well, that was kind of the point of Big Black. They did what they liked, took nothing for granted, and ripped the heart out of entire genres. The Big Black attitude is why Albini's production credits - not that he accepts them, of course - read like a Who's Who of indie rock.


Sonic Youth

There are a lot of people who owe a lot of thanks to Sonic Youth. One listen to 1988’s Daydream Nation is all it takes. A visceral dive into extended jams and off-kilter instrumentals, it's the album that probably marked the end of their peak period of rock experimentation. It largely defied convention – and anything resembling standard guitar tuning – and there's barely a single note that sounds forced or try-hard.

But Daydream Nation is just one cog in the hugely influential back catalogue that made Sonic Youth the pioneers so many continue to look up to: EVOL and Sister play their part in their defining noise rock trilogy, while Goo has become as famous as a piece of iconography as it has for its rugged, disdainful grunging.

Look into the future of the band and you can see other interests take hold: they produced a series of musique concrète collaborations with notable contemporary pioneers, seemingly losing interest in the conventional aspects of songwriting. It makes sense that Sonic Youth couldn’t go on being the band we know them as -- they were wrestling themselves out of rock music from the moment they started making it.


Hüsker Dü

A combination of sweet pop melodies and breakneck punk rock set Hüsker Dü apart from their contemporaries heading into the early 80s.

While others were still thrashing around in a cacophony of noise and punk, Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton were crafting their songwriting ability, looking for ways to forge things new from things old. Their three albums between 1983-85 – Zen Arcade, New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig – saw them slow their velocity to let the melodies shine through, an era thought of by many to be their finest.

But it's not, maybe, the music that makes them so significant. They were also one of the first indie rock acts to sign to a major label, which wasn't so much a bit of no-no in the moral workings of mid 80s indie as the kind of thing that saw you cast from the tribe entirely. In retrospect, however, Hüsker Dü now get the respect they deserve for laying down the blueprint for a sizeable chunk of the indie rock scene that would soon follow.


Pixies

A case in point for Hüsker's influence, Pixies were a force of nature who seemed to arrive fully formed, launching a blistering assault on the alt-rock scene during the late 80s.

They sounded like nothing else that had come before, and their weird influences - from Hüsker to Larry Norman to Peter, Paul and Mary - are about as close as you'll get for an explanation for the weird racket they produced. Their now famed quiet/loud switch technique set the template for the genre for at least the next 20 years, and their debut album Surfer Rosa is as baffling today as it was then (not least because it somehow spawned only one single - Kim Deal's anthemic 'Gigantic').

It was Steve Albini who produced ‘Surfa Rosa’, of course, and he was only interested in capturing them at their rawest, whether that meant channelling Black Francis's already deranged voice through an amp or interspersing Kim Deal's studio chatter in amongst the tracks. But it was a sound that would eventually evolve in their next album, the brilliant Doolittle, which itself built a musical and cultural framework for grunge to arrive shortly after.

Further albums didn’t quite recapture the same brutal magic, but the die was already cast and Pixies had invented a sound that was a huge influence on so much that followed.


Nirvana

Within a few short years of the 90s starting, commercial rock and big-hair metal was wiped from popular consciousness and replaced by grunge. Its indie rock antecedents - the likes of The Melvins and Green River - had been knocking about for years. But by 1991 there was only one band in town, and only one town: Nirvana, and Seattle.

They dressed like lumberjacks, but they severed rock's umbilical cord to the dreary immediate past of the 80s with clear-eyed precision, retaining their underground roots whilst muscling onto mainstream radio playlists. Rap was beginning to do something similar, and REM had moved from college radio stalwarts into platinum album territory. But Nevermind wasn’t just an album that changed the musical landscape, it was a once-in-a-generation cultural phenomenon - the closest thing to Never Mind The Bollocks since Never Mind The Bollocks.

To some it wasn't even their best album, sandwiched as it was between the raw brilliance of Bleach and the caustic, anti-radio swansong that is In Utero. And that's maybe the thing that gets lost amidst all the Nirvana hype: like Cobain's heroes The Beatles, superstardom overtook them - but their legacy rests on some real musical brilliance.


My Bloody Valentine

The term ‘shoegaze’ may have been cooked up as a derogatory term by jaded British music journalists to describe the host of Home Counties bands who spent the early 90s staring at effects pedals whilst producing shards of noise from guitars and mumbling into microphones. But lost amongst the sneering is the fact that one of the most influential and original bands in rock history are a shoegaze band.

Not just any old shoegaze band, of course. My Bloody Valentine aren't only - by many miles - the most important shoegaze band. They were its pioneers, its chief innovators, its standard-bearers. They didn't just put shoegaze on the map, they effortlessly swatted away any pretenders to their crown. They remain, possibly, the one shoegaze band that survived the reputation-breaking label: shoegaze band.

The now-legendary Loveless is the album that sealed their reputation, making its way onto so many best-of lists that it's almost become the easy point-scoring choice for any critic eager to show off some indie creds. But Loveless doesn’t quite hold the same significance, the same basic shock, of the earlier Isn’t Anything. This was the album that defined the very idea of what came to be called shoegaze. Plenty of earlier bands had married noise to melody - Cocteau Twins, Hüsker Dü, Jesus and Mary Chain, A.R. Kane, Blissed Out Fatalists, even Spacemen 3 - but on Isn't Anything MBV laid down the template.

It was, and still is, superlative headphone music - thirty-eight minutes of sheer originality that marked Kevin Shields as one of the true geniuses of indie rock. The kind of genius that can disappear into legend for decades before releasing, in absolute secret, a long-awaited follow-up (2013's m b v) that once again obliterated what little competition was still around.


Pavement

Pavement made distinctly effortless performances into an art form, single-handedly inventing ‘slacker-rock’ in the process.

Perhaps they were the definitive slacker group because they never seemed too bothered about achieving success. They were always just happy doing what pleased them best. Yet from their extremely lo-fi beginnings they achieved near-mainstream recognition. Their debut, Slanted and Enchanted was a genuine, stone-cold classic - an album whose influence on indie music after its 1992 release is impossible to overstate. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and the single - ‘Cut Your Hair’ - could've been the moment that changed it all. World domination was there for the taking.

And then came Wowee Zowee, pretty much sabotaging any chance of Pavement had of hitting the real big time. But that's just what indie stars back then did. And do you see Stephen Malkmus complaining about it, ever? No. That's a man who supports Hull City for you.


Blur

Britpop was the awkward moniker attached to both some genuine British indie powerhouses of the 90s and all their crappy copyists. For every Suede, a Menswear. But even with a lead singer as annoying as Damon Albarn - and he was only their second-most annoying band member - Blur struck out as the most interesting of the Britpop lot.

Their early bandwagon-jumping was legendary, but constant reinvention was just natural to Blur. Eyes always on some prize or other, they finally struck commercial gold with 1994’s Parklife as Albarn turned in a Mockney performance only bettered since by Jamie Oliver. The recipe was simple: take British pop of the 60s, give it a British 90s spin, and slather on an extra layer of performative Britishness for good measure.

That’s where the massive success came from at least. But underneath it all, Blur were never happy playing any role for long, and their creative restlessness told as they ditched the cheeky indie shtick and continued to evolve their sound. Britpop was jettisoned in favour of experiments in lo-fi indie, psychedelia, and electronica. Going their separate ways after the critically-lauded Think Tank in 2003, Blur broke took a 12-year hiatus with their 2015 return The Magic Whip. Not their finest moment, to our ears at least, but more thoughtful and interesting than most comeback records.


Radiohead

Putting a label on a band as chameleonic as Radiohead? Radiohead have relentlessly experimented from album to album, never squandering the success of their debut Pablo Honey (and, of course, its breakout song ‘Creep’) which sent them into the alt-rock stratosphere and gave them the freedom to grow as they have.

A couple of albums later they delivered OK Computer, an album so dense with musical and conceptual themes that people are still picking it apart over 20 years later. Then came Kid A, which saw Yorke, Greenwood and co. stick two fingers up at the idea of becoming the biggest rock group on the planet… and by combining electronica and rock music, they also created their masterpiece.  

From then on the band has remained creative and ahead of the game, each album hotly anticipated while never pandering to fads or fashions. They are one of the few modern day bands who manage to be both wilfully experimental and extremely popular.


Low

Labelled by many as slow-core, there is a melancholic beauty to Low that finds form in the harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. They are both practising Mormons from Duluth - one of the coldest places in the USA, which goes some way to explaining the spiritual themes and imagery that linger over almost everything they release.

Things We Lost in the Fire was haunting yet soothing, their ability to make something almost of out nothing to create truly beautiful music is felt in every pore of their fifth album. You’d have to be made out of stone not to be deeply moved by its 54 minutes of majesty. But each Low album slightly redefines and reworks their sound pushing it into new places whilst retaining their core aesthetic. Never has so much been produced from seemingly so little.   


Arctic Monkeys

For the past decade, it seems as if the record industry has been desperately searching for another Arctic Monkeys to arrive. Except, the overwhelming success of the band has ensured the line between indie and mainstream in the UK no longer exists, with every guitar-led band since being placed straight onto the commercial Ferris wheel.

What separates Arctic Monkeys from the slew of bands that have followed, though, is Alex Turner’s sly way with words and the band’s willingness to keep venturing down new musical avenues. Every album, from debut Whatever People Say I Am… to 2018’s superb Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino has demonstrated an evolution of their sound and and unwillingness to sit still, rare in the usual conservative climes of stadium indie-rock.


Yo La Tengo

It’s hard to think of a group that has remained together for three-and-a-half decades and yet still possess the ability to reinvent themselves to continue releasing such vital music.

Since 1985 Yo La Tengo have moved through folk, college-rock, pastoral indie-pop, psych, rock and electronica effortlessly, taking in a multitude of influences along the way. Their standout album Electr-O-Pura is a great microcosmic example of this genre-hopping band where anything goes but it all comes together to sound like, well, Yo La Tengo.

Their back catalogue is daunting in scope and yet still accessible enough to find an entry point to satisfy most eardrums. Their legacy and importance to the indie rock scene is not something they’ll ever be interested in claiming, which is just another reason why they are loved by so many.


Sleater-Kinney

Olympian punks Sleater-Kinney continually redirected guitars and words into a brilliant, poetic spiral of sound that was coming and going at the same time. With angularity and attitude, the trio made quick, blistering records like Call the Doctor, proving that ‘90s alt rock could be both fast and intricate. With its sardonic, Kinks-homaging album art, Dig Me Out proved to be an early artistic peak, the classic line-up of Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss coalescing on a record of self-excited energy.

It sounds stupid, but the only indie rock record that’s been as frantic and incensed since, is, to my mind, their most recent record, No Cities to Love. Coming off an archetypical indefinite hiatus, the band came roaring into 2015 with an album of elastic riffs, consulting the indie rock landscape with the fiercely political musings they’d been making in secret. Actioned, it was proof that they could take the knottiest themes and song structures and turn them into the best indie rock in years.

All this is of course forgetting the records they made in the interim: 2002’s One Beat is a wall-to-wall masterclass in making rock music, its verses and choruses trading in the same restlessness, while The Woods was a deeply experimental moment for the band, ironically biting back at a classic rock sound with daring and embittered ideas. On each of their records, they were like a band playing a little faster, a little more passionate -- a little better.


R.E.M.

To fully understand the significance of R.E.M. in indie rock history we must firstly look at what American ‘indie’ or ‘college rock’ was in 1980/81.

Sorta nothing. Sure, you had the B52s and Pylon and strange new wave bands like Devo or Wall of Voodoo. But there wasn’t really even a thing called 'indie' at that stage. R.E.M very quickly developed a highly melodic style of songwriting that took some of the attitude and obtuseness of punk and new wave but added a 60s chime and some much-needed poetic mystery.

Their sound is best described, perhaps, by guitarist Peter Buck’s summation of, “minor key, mid-tempo, enigmatic, semi-folk-rock-balladish things”. Also: they toured and toured and toured, building up a fan base via sheer, DIY hard work. This paid off with their debut Murmur - a near perfect way to start things out. It was both commercially viable and shrouded in a cloak of foggy mystery, finding a new way to present the age old format of guitar rock.

If The Smiths in the UK set a blueprint for what would become indie pop in the UK, R.E.M. did the same in the US as scores of mumbling college kids started jangling their guitars and singing about fields. Each of the first four R.E.M. albums refined their blueprint in one way or another. The last of which, Life’s Rich Pageant, hinted that with a bit of tweaking (and singer Michael Stipe opening his mouth properly), they could become a stadium band.

The subsequent Document and Green easily realised this notion, and by that time they had escaped indie-dom by signing for Warner Brothers. Through the 80s many bands got lost on major labels, but REM just sort of did what they were going to do anyway. And what they wanted to do worked. You could have stopped the clock in 1986 and R.E.M. would still be seen as one of American indie rock’s most pivotal bands, marking the point where post-punk/new wave turned into the alternative rock movement. But when they decided not to tour, or do interviews, with Out of Time and Automatic For The People they became more popular than ever. They were unstoppable, until drummer Bill Berry’s aneurysm caused his departure and they were never quite the same unit again.


Best indie rock albums

Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Marking a short-lived shift towards a more accessible sound, Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain features one of the band’s most enduringly popular tracks, ‘Cut Your Hair’, a sardonic takedown of the focus on appearance in the music business. Securing a top 20 place in the UK charts, it captured wider listeners in a way their lo-fi debut Slanted and Enchanted didn’t manage (despite the latter being superior to many ears). In a collection of ‘must-listen’ lists that puts most other albums to shame, you’re doing yourself a disservice not seeing what the fuss is all about.


The National - Boxer

The turn of the last century brought with it paranoia and uncertainty and The National were just the right shade of melancholy people needed at the time. Their sound evolved through the years, finding its stride with the release of 2007’s emotional, yet sombre, Boxer. Featuring tracks that range from the aching melancholy of ‘Fake Empire’ to the jerky, drum-driven ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ there’s a lot to love here for those that like their indie moody.


Arcade Fire - Funeral

Arcade Fire were transformed into rock icons when Funeral was unleashed like a force of nature. A stellar musical achievement in its own right, the record also crafted a template for a stream of bands to follow in their wake as Arcade Fire made big stadium music sound great. Packed with uplifting anthems including ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ and joyous celebrations of noise like ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’ yet weighed down with grief in Win Butler’s emotional delivery.


Yo La Tengo – I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One

A seminal album from a band that refuses to get comfortable with its sound, I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One marked the first time that Yo La Tengo entered the charts despite being critical darlings since their debut LP Ride the Tiger. With influences spanning bossa nova, krautrock, trip-hop and beyond, the band’s eighth album somehow manages to be one of their more musically coherent releases.


Pixies – Surfer Rosa

Though they’d started making waves with the earlier mini LP Come on Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa was the landmark moment where it was clear to anyone with ears that this band was something special. Though these ears were battered with a brutal guitar sound, howling feedback and Black Francis' gut-wrenching screams, the album contained stunning bursts of pop melody that showed that Pixies were more than just experimental racketeers. Brilliant songs like ‘Gigantic’ and 'Where Is My Mind' have since become indie rock standards.


The Jesus and Mary Chain - Psychocandy

As one of our customers put it, The Jesus and Mary Chain "lashed feedback to doo-wop and stared at the floor whilst pretending to be on heroin". In 1985 that just wasn't normal. 1985: the year of Live Aid,  'Brothers In Arms', 'No Jacket Required', and 'Holding Out For A Hero'. The year of 'Tarzan Boy'. The year Paul McCartney's sodding Frog Chorus was re-released after ruining Christmas in 1984. Luckily, then, we had the likes of 'Meat is Murder', 'Hounds of Love' and...Psychocandy. Compare and contrast. History. Nothing more to write here.


Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Drawing from genres as varied as Eastern European folk and jazz, the expertly-executed unpredictability of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea has ensured it a well-deserved lasting legacy. Much of the appeal comes from the raw, lo-fi sound of the record led by a terrific vocal performance from songwriter Jeff Magnum. The challenging blend of haunting synths and organs, an unruly horn section and in-your-face guitar work make this an album that is at times hard to pin down, but almost impossible to turn off.


Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights

Turn on the Bright Lights was one hell of an introduction to the sound of Interpol. The more you hear it, the less inclined you’ll be to make the tired Ian Curtis and Joy Division comparisons. The NYC group’s debut is filled with dark, mysterious soundscapes and a deep emotional undercurrent laced with apathy and loneliness. From the angst-driven strains of ‘Obstacle 1’ to the transcendent guitar riffs of ‘Hands Away’ and the brilliantly catchy ‘PDA’, it’s a masterclass in ambient post-punk and remains their high water mark to this day.


Slowdive – Souvlaki

Though not appreciated at the time by the music press bigwigs, Slowdive’s music found an audience anyway largely due to records like Souvlaki. It’s a classic bit of shoegazing indie drawing influences as disparate as Joy Division and Aphex Twin. It took some time to gain the praise it had always deserved and this divine slice of dream pop with glorious vocals, dubbed out electronica and luscious guitar play remains a fan favourite to this day.  


Radiohead – OK Computer

The third album by Radiohead is essential listening for anyone looking to explore the potential of alternative rock. Experimental, unashamedly arty and at times challenging, OK Computer saw the group successfully distancing themselves from the guitar-driven, grungier sound of their earlier releases. Loaded with iconic tracks including ‘No Surprises’ and ‘Karma Police’, Thom Yorke’s unique vocal delivery coupled with Jonny Greenwood’s multi-instrumental mastery pushed boundaries. Even at the time of its release, OK Computer was considered a landmark album – a view which rightly hasn’t changed.


Low – Things We Lost in the Fire

A masterclass in minimalism, Low’s 2001 album Things We Lost in the Fire took full advantage of the arresting vocal harmonies between guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker. Excelling in creating dark atmospheric soundscapes, the Minnesotan trio may never shift their tempo above walking pace, but if you’re looking to get carried away by a beautifully composed 53 minutes of indie and dream pop – they’ve got just what you need.


Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

Widely considered to be the best example of Sonic Youth’s output, Daydream Nation is a true indie darling of an album. It captures the manic improvisational energy of the band’s live performances and distills it into a stellar track list dominated by driving guitar riffs and impassioned vocals – they set the tempo in ‘Teen Age Riot’ and are mostly happy to keep it that way until the last notes of their closer, ‘Trilogy’ (‘The Wonder’, ‘Hyperstation’ & ‘Eliminator Jr.’). As if critical and popular acclaim wasn’t enough, in 2005, the Library of Congress added the album to its National Recording Registry, cementing its place in music history.


My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything

The album considered to have kicked off the shoegazing subgenre, My Bloody Valentine’s debut full-length album Isn’t Anything resulted from vocalist and guitar-botherer Kevin Shields’ desire to move away from jangly C86-y fare and towards a more avant-garde approach.

The result was a sometime comforting, sometimes overwhelming blanket of noise capped off with languorous vocals which give each track a dreamlike quality. Fluctuating from moody torch songs such as ‘Lose My Breath’ to the seminal distortion of 'Feed Me With Your Kiss', it's one of those albums that has since been overshadowed by its successor (Loveless) but that just possibly remains the more interesting recording.


The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

Never has a band’s reputation rested on one album as much.

The Stone Roses may not have been 'bigger than Picasso' as a hyperventilating Damien Hirst put it, but their self-titled debut album became the cornerstone of the Madchester movement, which in turn laid the groundwork for the arrival of Britpop a few years later.

Alongside Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches by fellow drug hoovers The Happy Mondays, it's therefore fair to say that it's an album representative of an entire, if short-lived, historical moment. Bringing 60s psychedelia back to the mainstream, and giving legions of people disaffected by the 80s something to cling to, 'The Stone Roses' may not have conquered the world in the same way as, say, Nevermind did. But it did conquer Britain, chiming with the times in a way that millions of people will never forget.


Fugazi – Repeater

Fugazi’s Repeater is loud and angry, distinctly post-hardcore with a chaotic approach that somehow made complete sense. Melody and discord clashed together to make what has been described as a precursor to the alternative rock sound that went on to inform grunge royalty such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana. If you’re a fan of top-notch angst-driven music, you could do a lot worse.


Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand

Guided By Voices had been quietly putting out albums for years before the critical success of their Bee Thousand album took even them by surprise. They continued to revel in their unapologetic lo-fi sound, with the album being laid down on four-track systems and other low-grade recording devices in band members’ homes. Despite this decidedly DIY approach, the glorious guitar-pop magic heard throughout this release was undeniable on every track and even landed them a contract with Matador for their next two records.


The Breeders  - Pod

Black Francis’ attempts to mute the songs of Pixies bass player Kim Deal backfired on his own band, as Deal went straight into the studio with some very talented pals, got Steve Albini back in on production, and came up with something so much better than anything Pixies ever managed post-Doolittle.

It's probably fair to say that they never quite lived up to the 'indie supergroup' expectations that surrounded them. But Pod is a standalone record in the history of The Breeders and a landmark piece of 90s indie. Brilliant, inventive, skewed rock with all the sparse, guarded and angular inflections you might expect from a band comprising not just a Pixie but a Throwing Muse and a Slint. Just imagine if some of these Deal songs had been added to the Pixies lexicon. How powerful could they have been?


Even more indie rock

Had we listed all of our indie rock faves from down the years, you would still be sat here this time in 2019. When you’ve rattled through our essential suggestions and found that you’re hungry for more indie and alt-rock variety, take a look at our honourable mentions below: