Beginner's Guide To Indie Rock

A Beginner’s Guide To Indie: 10 Indie Records You Should Own

Indie might be one of the genres that’s harder to define. And the reason is that the term coined as indie simply referred at the beginning to artists who distributed their music independently, outside of the major labels. But as time passed, indie began to be more related to the attitude and aesthetics of those artists more than strictly to the means of distribution or commercial success. While sometimes the genre (especially indie pop) can be seen as cute and tame, indie crossed through styles represented by artists who knew how to show their teeth too.

Choosing just ten records within such a hugely influential and long-standing genre is simply impossible. So I feel like it’s worth mentioning a good bunch of artists and bands who haven’t made the cut but whose records have been hugely influential: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr, Guided By Voices, Galaxie 500, Modest Mouse, Wilco, Low, The Strokes, Red House Painters, Arcade Fire, Built To Spill, Deerhunter, Sleater-Kinney, Sebadoh, Tortoise… And that’s just to name a few!

Yes, everyone has a different idea of what indie means and represents, and that’s OK. With this list, our intention is just to offer an introduction to an endlessly enjoyable genre. Let us know in the comments what’s your favorite indie record of all time is!

Television Personalities

… And Don’t The Kids Just Love It

(1981)

Television Personalities - And Don't The Kids Just Love It

Television Personalities were indies before indie was a thing. The band of Dan Tracey reached success thanks to their hit “Part-Time Punks” and their first LP set the template for many bands to come. Charming, witty, lo-fi, and very DIY. Their influence can be traced in bands as different as Hefner or MGMT.
Buy it on Discogs


Beat Happening

Beat Happening

(1985)

Beat Happening - Beat Happening

Beat Happening incorporated the punk ethic into the indie aesthetics from Olympia, Washington. Instead of trying to hide their DIY recording process and amateur musicianship, they brought it right to the front of their music. Their first LP showed the world the beauty behind lo-fi sound and proved that with passion and love for music, sky is the limit.
Buy it on Discogs


Pixies

Surfer Rosa

(1988)

Pixies - Surfer Rosa

Straight out of Boston, Pixies came into the scene slashing any previous ideas of what alternative rock could or should be. Their twisted imagery and soft/loud songs structure made them almost instantly iconic. But besides the aesthetic choices, it’s also hard to think of a band with better ability to blend seamlessly pop sensibility with quasi-hardcore punk influences.
Buy it on Discogs


Sonic Youth

Daydream Nation

(1988)

Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

Summer in New York can be a truly suffocating experience, and “Daydream Nation” is solid evidence of it. Recorded in the summer of 1988 by Sonic Youth, “Daydream Nation” solidified their status as one of the most defying and exciting bands in the United States. Few bands in history can release five masterpieces in just seven years, but Sonic Youth proved to the world they were ready to break through. “EVOL” (1986), “Sister” (1987), “Daydream Nation” (1988), “Goo” (1990), and “Dirty” (1992) are all masterpieces in their own terms. Hard to beat, huh?
Buy it on Discogs


My Bloody Valentine

Loveless

(1991)

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

Out of Ireland, the second album by My Bloody Valentine was released on November 1991, and it arguably changed music forever. Kevin Shields took his recording techniques a step further and created a new sound that took the scene by storm. Distortion, feedback, delay, and playing the whole time with the tremolo of his guitar were part of the process. The result is one of the most easily recognizable and challenging albums of all time. But you don’t need to hear me rave about how cool this album is anymore, just head to any of the songs of the album on Youtube and read the comments.
Buy it on Discogs


Nirvana

Nevermind

(1991)

Nirvana - Nevermind

If “Loveless” changed the rules of recording forever, Nirvana commanded the assault of the underground to the mainstream the same year. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit‘ took MTV and the world by storm, and allowed “Nevermind” to debunk the by-then number one album in America: Michael Jackson‘s “Dangerous“. And while we can argue this could just be a coincidence, it also marked the very beginning of grunge and alternative rock becoming popular and reaching massive audiences. Whether you have ever listened or not to this album, is there anyone on Earth who cannot recognize the iconic cover?
Buy it on Discogs


PJ Harvey

Rid Of Me

(1993)

PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me

It’s hard to pigeonhole PJ Harvey‘s style. While she’s normally associated with alternative rock, her second album was clearly rooted in the Delta blues tradition and had elements of other genres as well. PJ Harvey‘s rawness was almost unparalleled and “Rid Of Me” felt instantly like a classic. Lust, revenge, loneliness, violence… The thematic palette of Harvey’s breakthrough album feverishly slashed any gender prejudice. Listening to it now, “Rid Of Me” still slaps as hard as it did 25 years ago.
Buy it on Discogs


Pavement

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

(1994)

Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

“Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” started with a sentence that did little to no justice to the Pavement legacy: ‘Silent kid, no one to remind you’. Well, thankfully, Pavement will be remembered by plenty of reasons. One of the pillars of the American underground during the nineties, Stephen Malkmus and company created their own distinctive brand of songwriting blending with ease short bursts of absurd into the everyday common narrative. Also, isn’t “Cut Your Hair” one of the most endlessly enjoyable songs ever written?
Buy it on Discogs


Yo La Tengo

I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

(1997)

Yo La Tengo - I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

Yo La Tengo were not exactly new to the scene when they released “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One“. Actually, this is their eighth album! As good as they’ve always been, Yo La Tengo were unashamed music geeks with the ability to go from the minimalistic tenderness of ‘My Little Corner Of The World’ to the sugary and highly caffeinated noise pop of ‘Sugarcube’ effortlessly. Many bands would kill for this to be a compilation of their whole body of work, Yo La Tengo made it all together in just one record.
Buy it on Discogs


Neutral Milk Hotel

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

(1998)

Neutral Milk Hotel ‎– In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

As I mentioned long ago in the introduction of this post, indie can be considered more of an attitude and aesthetic than a hard genre. And Neutral Milk Hotel are hard evidence of this statement. It’s hard to word this better than my colleague Sean did for our Best Records Of 1998 article:

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was idyllic, melancholy, joyful, obtuse, welcoming, eccentric, endearing, and downright bizarre all at once. From the almost unintelligible hum of guitar on Holland, 1945 to the somber brass on the title track to the bagpipes on Untitled — not to mention the singing saw, zanzithophone, and a shortwave radio! — the album cobbles together castaway sounds to create its own language. In the ensuing decades, many have borrowed bits and piece of Neutral Milk Hotel’s musical DNA, but no one has duplicated it.”

Buy it on Discogs

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5 Comments
  • Dec 23,2018 at 3:14 am

    I don’t think you cannot have a top 10 indie rock list without including the Cardigans! Love them.

  • Dec 19,2018 at 10:37 pm

    The Smiths, New Order, Throbbing Gristle, Rough Trade bands… Etc…

  • Dec 18,2018 at 1:15 am

    Pavement ‘Wowee Zowee’ perhaps my fave. The author’s list focuses on mostly older indie bands. Some mostly newer great bands include Radiohead, Beck, The Jicks (Stephen Malkmus), Spoon, The War On Drugs, TV On The Radio, Fugazi, recent Ariel Pink, recent Thee Oh Sees, The Walkmen, Protomartyr, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Father John Misty, Nick Cave, Queens Of The Stone Age, and The White Stripes. I could keep going.

  • Dec 10,2018 at 5:09 pm

    Sorry for the hiccup! Now the links should be correct. Thanks a lot for your feedback!

  • Dec 10,2018 at 4:34 pm

    All links to “Buy It On Discogs” go to the same J.Cole album wich is not in this indie list :)

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