Indie music is diverse. It’s sort of a catch-all genre for artists who you wouldn’t define as classic rock, pop or rap. For that reason, even for longtime indie listeners, there are always artists who go unheard.
Whether this is your entrée to indie, or you’re just looking to explore a new corner of the genre, this list is a good place to start. From indie pop and folk to rock, there is variety.
Soccer Mommy is one of the most prominent faces of up-and-coming indie rock. Her often bright, catchy riffs and tunes are overlaid with honestly profound lyrics expressed with a certain ambivalent nonchalance. Her most recent album, “Color Theory,” is biographical, and its hit track, “Circle the Drain,” is a testimony to her songwriting skill.
Pinegrove joined the indie rock scene in the early 2010s and quickly gained a fanatical following. Their sound is characterized by gentle rock influences and a slight country twang. Songwriter Evan Hall’s lyrics are direct and sincere. Their latest album, “Marigold,” was released earlier in 2020. Situated among a set of great tracks, “Hairpin” features their distinct brand of slow-tempo rock and poetry-like lyricism.
Band of Horses moves in the direction of folk-rock. Known for their 2005 hit “The Funeral,” the group has since released four full albums, the most accomplished of which is arguably “Infinite Arms.” Always focused on well-supported acoustic energy, the group has found success with rock-oriented ballads (“The Great Salt Lake”), gentle, atmospheric acoustics (“Detlef Shrempf”) and everything in between.
Phoebe Bridgers has been a topic of conversation lately, as her sophomore album, “Punisher,” is set for release in June. Her emo-rock vein of indie is concerned with a Dylanesque discussion of upsetting and mundane experience. One of her most recent singles, “Tokyo,” discusses a troubled father relationship in a frank tone distinctly her own. Tracks like “Motion Sickness” and “Scott Street” are dripping with musical talent and lyrical genius, all underlined by a deep anxiety. Be sure to check out “Boygenius,” her collaboration with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus.
J Ember is probably the least recognizable name on this list, and perhaps that is because he has yet to release a full-length album. J Ember’s catchy and immersive tunes make you want to put on a wry smile and just enjoy his smooth, hypnotic sound. His EP, “Green Eyes,” was released last month, and the title track is a catchy pop-like song about inexplicable attraction.
Eden is quintessential indie pop. His songs are generally composed of tenor and falsetto vocals over a complex electronic backdrop, the effect of which is to claim the experience of listeners and transport them into a world of yellow-lit tunnels and long camera exposures. Occasionally, a delicate acoustic sound will break through, and Eden’s emotional profundity is put on full display. His second album, “No Future,” dropped in February.
Alt-J has one of the most distinctive voices in indie. Their debut album, “An Awesome Wave,” feels perfect when listened to as a whole, and lead vocalist Joe Newman’s almost whiny voice is hauntingly beautiful. Praised for their lyrics’ historicity and poetical qualities, their sound is a combination of spot-lit vocals, quirky drum, guitar and bass pieces and an overall somewhat psychedelic atmosphere. See “Matilda” or the classic “Left Hand Free.”
Alvvays moves back toward indie pop, their sound harkening to the British Shoegazing genre of the late ’80s for inspiration. Their melodies drip with sweetness, and the backdrops are a full palette of sound that makes you want to close your eyes and just rock to the music, or gaze absently at your shoes, as the subgenre name suggests. Their most recent album, “Antisocialites,” is hit after stunning hit.
Death Cab for Cutie forms a major cornerstone of the definition of indie rock, and they’re likely the most-recognized act on this list. Lead singer Ben Gibbard’s voice oozes unforgettable sincerity. Whether it’s their most heartbreaking acoustic track or an intensely immersive rock ballad, DCFC will find a place in your playlist with their steady bass lines and gentle chords. Each album is markedly distinct from the last, but “Kintsugi” and “Transatlanticism” are two recognizable highlights.
Sharon Von Etten has carved out a distinctive sound in indie rock and folk. Her lyrics are emotive but not overtly sentimental. Her voice is a little hard-edged but flows with a rugged beauty. Her musical backdrop is heavily harmonic and often a little dissonant. Von Etten’s song “Seventeen” (there also is a version with Norah Jones) is a work of intergenerational insight and wonderful composition.
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