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The 100 Greatest Indie-Rock Albums Ever


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Mumbled lyrics, couldn’t-care-less strumming, white dudes in sweaters — what’s not to love about indie rock? Born 25-odd years ago in suburban garages and spread via college radio, it has made distortion into something hummable, boredom into something thrilling and aimlessness into a raison d’être — and these days, thanks to blogs and the fine people at Grey’s Anatomy, it’s more popular than ever. From Kurt to Sufjan, Stipe to the White Stripes, Blender presents the definitive indie-rock user’s guide.

By Jon Dolan, Josh Eells, Will Hermes, Jonah Weiner and Douglas Wolk

Blender, December 2007

100. The Shaggs, Philosophy of the World, Third World, 1969

Despite/because of zero aptitude, the Wiggins sisters made an accidental masterpiece of screwed-up, desperate self-expression.

Download: “My Pal Foot Foot”

99. Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses, Ruby/Slash, 1982

These L.A. amp torturers loved druggy late-’60s rock, but their pouty new-wave aspect made the throwback seem cool.

Download: “Tell Me When It’s Over”

98. Palace Music, Viva Last Blues, Drag City, 1995

Will Oldham warbles oddly over country-blues. So freaky, R. Kelly cast him in “Trapped in the Closet”!

Download: “The Mountain Low”

97. The Mekons, Rock ’n’ Roll, Twin/Tone/A&M, 1989

The smartest band to come out of first-wave U.K. punk — you can almost hear the quotation marks in their voices.

Download: “Memphis, Egypt”

96. TV on the Radio, Retun to Cookie Mountain, Interscope, 2006

An arena-scale vision of indie rock broadcast straight from some grimy Brooklyn loft.

Download: “Wolf Like Me”

95. The Dismemberment Plan, Emegency & I, DeSoto, 1999

Travis Morrison’s upper-class critiques meet these off-kilter jams like he’s trying to cram three albums of smartness into a single CD.

Download: “Gyroscope”

94. Half Japanese, Greatest Hits, Safe House, 1995

Undeniably difficult and trium*phantly messy, it’s a 69-“song” treatise on why talent is for suckers.

Download: “Charmed Life”

93. Big Black, Atomizer, Homestead, 1985

Steve Albini’s guitar sounded like sheet metal being torn in half, his lyrics concerned bored suburban self-immolators and his band played at plane-crash volume.

Download: “Kerosene”

92. Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, Alternative Tentacles, 1980

San Francisco anarchist Jello Biafra sang about modern atrocities with an absurdist irony. The shtick worked.

Download: “Kill the Poor”

91. The Chills, Kaleidoscope World, Homestead, 1985

This New Zealand band’s alternately hopeful and shattered early singles revisited the abandoned halls of ’60s party music.

Download: “Pink Frost”

90. Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam, Domino, 2007

These New York weirdos fashion deceptively hummable melodies out of burbling, buzzing, fidgety synths.

Download: “Peacebone”

89. Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, Fierce Panda, 2005

Eddie Argos is indie rock’s finest stand-up comic. While his bandmates chug along punkishly, he reels off fantastic one-liners.

Download: “Formed a Band”

88. Daniel Johnston, Yip/Jump Music, Stress, 1983

This mentally ill Texan’s homemade tapes, championed by the likes of Bowie, Beck and Matt Groening, are so lo-fi they make Guided by Voices sound like Jefferson Starship.

Download: “Speeding Motorcycle”

87. Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary, Sub Pop, 2005

Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug bellow like existential carnival barkers over desperate skronks.

Download: “I’ll Believe in Anything”

86. Flipper, Album—Generic Flipper, Subterranean, 1982

The slowest, heaviest hardcore-punk band; Will Shatter’s dogmatic optimism turned stage dives into trust falls.

Download: “Sex Bomb”

85. The Clean, Anthology, Merge, 2003

This two-disc set spans the bright-eyed bashes of their teenage years, their ’80s breakneck jams and their ’90s psychedelia.

Download: “Odditty”

84. Beat Happening, You Turn Me On, K/Sub Pop, 1992

For onetime childish primitivists, their final album was the sound of growing up, with all its pain and joy.

Download: “Godsend”

83. The Misfits, Walk Among Us, Ruby/Slash, 1982

Fronted by a rabid Glenn Danzig, this crew of Jersey kids channeled their obsession with vintage horror flicks into fist-in-the-air hardcore.

Download: “Skulls”

82. The Embarrassment, Heyday 1979–83, Bar/None, 1995

The Wichita wiseacres yelped ironic choruses like “I’m a Don Juan!” over nervy power pop, as if being regular was way weirder than being weird.

Download: “I’m a Don Juan”

81. The Vaselines, The Way of the Vaselines, Sub Pop, 1992

Sky-high on their own hormones, trading jabs and uncertain har*monies, this Scottish duo bounced through songs like they couldn’t wait to get back to making out.

Download: “Son of a Gun”

80. Feist, The Reminder, Cherry Tree/Interscope, 2007

Chicken soup for the indie-rock soul: sweet but not precious, warm and inviting like a flannel duvet.

Download: “1234”

79. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, ClapYourHandsSayYeah.com, 2005

Alec Ounsworth’s voice is pinched and ugly, but he wrings pretty melodies from it, moaning about child stars and glam androgynes over ramshackle dance-rock.

Download: “Over and Over Again”

78. The 13th Floor Elevators, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, International Artists, 1966

They frightened flower children with their garage-rock freakouts, then met a sad end when singer Roky Erickson was committed.

Download: “You’re Gonna Miss Me”

77. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Domino, 2006

This debut dazzles with lyrics about dead-end geezers and Saturday-night punch-ups so excellent that cynics suspected 21-year-old Alex Turner of thievery.

Download: “The View From the Afternoon”

76. Le Tigre, Le Tigre, Mr. Lady, 1999

Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna bought a drum machine and gave her asshole-smiting feminist punk a disco makeover.

Download: “My My Metrocard”

75. Galaxie 500, Today, Aurora, 1988

Lullabies for people who get too much sleep anyway

Formed at Harvard (they borrowed their first drum kit from dorm-mate Conan O’Brien), the original “slow core” band transported the urban roar of the Velvet Under*ground to quiet leafy New England. Future Luna frontman Dean Wareham’s singing found the sweet spot between a whine, a yawn and a meow, while the lolling riffs blanketed him in pillowy beauty.

Download: “Tugboat,” “Instrumental”

74. The Fall, 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong, Beggars Banquet, 2004

Acid-tongued poet’s greatest riffs

Where to begin with the hyper*prolific Fall, mush-mouthed Mancunian poet Mark E. Smith’s repetition-crazed band? Try this impeccable retrospective of their first quarter-century (featuring an excellently cheeky Elvis gag of a title), surveying the chaotic grind of their early years—material that would later inspire Pavement — their late-’80s flirtation with dance-pop and their more recent stabs at electronically augmented punk rock.

Download: “Totally Wired,” “Free Range”

73. Meat Puppets, Up On the Sun, SST, 1985

Bummed bros let the sun shine in

The Kirkwoods followed the haunted country of Meat Puppets II with the sunny, oddly contented jams of this jangling paradise — they even whistled their way through the bucolic “Maiden’s Milk.” Musing on subjects like God, rivers and swimming grounds, and even throwing in a goofy dick joke, this is freewheeling summer fun, *tailor-made for beach parties in quarry pools.

Download: “Up on the Sun,” “Maiden’s Milk”

72. The Mountain Goats, We Shall All Be Healed, 4AD, 2004

Lyrics about drugs, jail, hospitals and redemption, but not in that order

High-strung literary genius John Darnielle enlisted a driving, agile folk-rock band to help shape his brilliantly detailed depictions of American castoffs who refuse to cave in when the cosmos craps in their Wheaties. (Note: the Wheaties are often amphetamines.)

Download: “Letter From Belgium,” “Palmcorder Yajna”

71. Stereolab, Refried Ectoplasm, Drag City, 1995

Hallucinatory drones, utopian politics

Their second singles compilation hits a lot of their career high points — a harmonic convergence of galloping grooves, singer Laetitia Sadier’s airy Francophone utopianism and guitarist Tim Gane’s command of retro-futuristic easy-listening tones.

Download: “French Disko,” “John Cage Bubblegum”

70. Mudhoney, Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles, Sub Pop, 1990

A flannel blueprint for the Seattle Sound

This singles compilation is named for a distortion pedal and, indeed, Mark Arm’s sociopath screeds wouldn’t carry as much menace if it weren’t for the overdriven guitar: rusty and scabrous and hellishly loud. Listen to just one song and you’ll want a tetanus shot.

Download: “Touch Me I’m Sick,” “You Got It (Keep It Outta My Face)”

69. Nick Drake, Pink Moon, Island, 1972

The granddaddy of whispery wimp-folk

This English hermit didn’t record much before he died from an overdose of antidepressants, but his sainted image looms over anyone who ever shut their bedroom door and strummed the world away.

Download: “Pink Moon,” “Free Ride”

68. Descendents, Milo Goes to College, New Alliance, 1982

Good at science, less so at life

Milo Aukerman lashes out at girls, parents and the SoCal suburbs in red-eyed rants that sounded great echoing off half-pipes.

Download: “Suburban Home,” “Bikeage”

67. Hüsker Dü, New Day Rising, SST, 1985

Midwest hardcore survivors in punk-vs.-pop death match

In which Bob Mould’s howling guitar fought Grant Hart’s sensitively surly songs about girls and books to a tense, thrilling stalemate.

Download: “I Apologize,” “Books About UFOs”

66. Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth, Rough Trade, 1980

The quietest punk band ever

Alison Statton sings just above a murmur; the Moxham brothers barely brush at their instruments. But their songs are mostly about things left unsaid, and there’s enormous tension lurking in all that empty space.

Download: “Include Me Out,” “N.I.T.A.”

65. Various Artists, No New York, Antilles, 1978

The original document of no wave

The four bands on this long-out-of-print compilation, produced by Brian Eno, formed the core of the New York “no wave” scene. Mars, DNA, the Contortions and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks approached music as an extension of experimental visual art — raw, gnarled, spooky and disgusted with flesh.

Download: The Contortions, “Dish It Out”; Mars, “Puerto Rican Ghost”

64. Cat Power, The Greatest, Matador 2006

A mopey It Girl stops freaking, finds groove

Chan Marshall raised the stakes of her unrooted roots music with the help of vintage Al Green session men and made an indie-rock Mary J. Blige album.

Download: “Living Proof,” “Lived in Bars”

63. Nirvana, Bleach, Sub Pop, 1989

Seattle band offers relatively *promising debut

Nirvana proved how indie they were by listing the rock-bottom cost of recording their debut ($606.17) on its sleeve. But even this skeletal, Dave Grohl–less version of their popwise scuzz-rock showed heart and hooks well beyond the band’s grunge peers. Kurt Cobain’s alienation was just too people-friendly to be hemmed in by cultural or budgetary restrictions.

Download: “About a Girl,” “Love Buzz”

62. The Feelies, Crazy Rhythms, Stiff, 1980

So geek-chic that Weezer stole their album-cover art

Indie rock’s original jam band obsessed over their piled-up Velvet Underground riffs like freshmen cramming for a physics final. Tucked away in sleepy Haledon, New Jersey, their distance from a “scene” let them pursue their epic geek power.

Download: “Crazy Rhythms,” “The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness”

61. LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem, DFA/EMI, 2005

Self-lacerating scenester extraordinaire

James Murphy speaks for every record collector who ever wanted to start a band. Here, he played both the punk and disco ends of the field, sometimes simultaneously — borrowing from the icons of hipster culture while mocking them mercilessly.

Download: “Losing My Edge,” “Daft Punk Is *Playing at My House”

60. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois, Asthmatic Kitty, 2005

A love letter to the land of Lincoln

Stevens’s fifth album is geekily ambitious (each song explores a different aspect of Illinois history) and overstuffed with theatrics. But the arrangements tend toward hypnotic drones, and Stevens sings in a captivating hush.

Download: “Chicago,” “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!”

59. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, TVT, 1989

The national anthems of industrial music

If you abuse mascara and/or cut yourself, you are legally obligated to own this record. The first album by Trent Reznor, its gunpoint coupling of new wave and raw noise became a mission statement for all subsequent industrial rock.

Download: “Head Like a Hole,” “Terrible Lie”

58. Built to Spill, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, Up, 1994

Idaho friggin’ rocks!

Frontmen don’t come much more unassuming than Doug Martsch, a balding nostalgic with a quavery Neil Young falsetto. But he wields his guitar like a flamethrower, enlivening tales of lovelorn teenagerdom — getting baked, making out and staring at the stars.

Download: “Big Dipper,” “Car”

57. Bikini Kill, Pussy Whipped, Kill Rock Stars, 1993

The original riot grrrls: cute when they’re angry

For a moment in the early ’90s, punk-rock feminism was everywhere, and Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail’s furious, blazing band was its figurehead. Their first full-length album is pissed-off, funny, touching and very loud.

Download: “Rebel Girl,” “Star Bellied Boy”

56. Archers of Loaf, Icky Mettle, Alias, 1993

Southern boys spitting mad about other people’s trust funds

Indie rockers love complaining about indie rock. These North Carolinians did it with unwarranted urgency, delivering bow shots at the jaded scene in air-punching basement anthems.

Download: “Web in Front,” “Might”

55. Bad Brains, Bad Brains, ROIR, 1982

Decimating the punk-rock color line

These monstrously skilled reformed jazz-fusionists couldn’t get work in their native D.C., being a black band that sounded like the Sex Pistols (but faster and with reggae). So they decamped to New York and made the spiked-collar competition look like yapping poodles.

Download: “Pay to Cum,” “Attitude”

54. Unrest, Imperial F.F.R.R., Teenbeat, 1992

Jangly songs about sex, with a highbrow edge

Mark Robinson’s Teenbeat label, whose flagship band was this constantly touring trio, brought a designer’s consciousness to indie pop: high-concept, witty, occasionally arch and equally fond of both dense detail and negative space. Their most radiant album is divided between exuberant, sex-obsessed batter-and-strum and dreamy, near-ambient meditations.

Download: “Cherry Cream On,” “June”

53. Smashing Pumpkins, Gish, Caroline, 1991

Grunge’s prince of pain, before he got too poet-y

While his Gen X contemporaries were down in their basements whining about their dads, Billy Corgan was dreaming of filling stadiums. The Pumpkins’ debut, helmed by superproducer-to-be Butch Vig, was arty and self-consciously epic: six-minute guitar jams, Eastern metaphysics, song titles in Italian. It’s sweeping, exquisite melancholy, minus all the heroin.

Download: “Rhinoceros,” “Siva”

52. Bright Eyes, Lifted or The Story Is in The Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, Saddle Creek, 2002

Child prodigy comes of age, launches 100,000 collegiate crushes

Omaha, Nebraska’s poet laureate of youthful disaffection, Conor Oberst was 22 when he made this set, which defined not just his own baroque emo-folk, but the whole arty-retro aesthetic of the Omaha scene — nearly all the members of which played on this record.

Download: “Bowl of Oranges,” “The Big Picture”

51. Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights, Matador, 2002

Because depressives need dance parties, too

If you’re going to spend an album licking wounds, at least play really fast. That’s the lesson of this New York foursome’s debut, in which gloomy Paul Banks broods about slit throats and masochistic romances. There are a few lullabies, but the band mostly hits the ground running with interlocking riffs and giddyap grooves.

Download: “Roland,” “Obstacle 1”

50. Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous, Brute/Beaute, 2004

Hollywood kids kiss with their teeth

Ex-actress Jenny Lewis found her finest role yet: stone indie fox. Comprising bittersweet torch songs, sexy protest songs and just plain come-fuck-me songs, her band’s third album presented Lewis as a honey-voiced, poison-tongued alpha girl.

Download: “Portions for Foxes,” “It’s a Hit”

49. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight, Merge, 2002

An underrated indie-rock gem about underrated indie-rock gems

Hooray, slackers! On his bespoke crew’s jittery breakthrough, singer Britt Daniel outlined a battle cry for the underdogs: “Small Stakes” glorifies life on pop’s ramen-fueled margins, and the jaunty “The Way We Get By” celebrates getting stoned and flying blissfully under the radar. Then, one year later, they showed up on The O.C. Oh, well.

Download: “The Way We Get By,” “Stay Don’t Go”

48. Mission of Burma, Vs., Ace of Hearts, 1982

Dissonant anthems from Boston trailblazers

Boston’s most fondly remembered punk band, MOB’s only full-length studio album is packed with grinding dissonances and wound as tightly as a coil of DNA.

Download: “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate,” “Trem Two”

47. Green Day, Kerplunk, Lookout!, 1992

The American idiots, before they were American idols

Billie Joe Armstrong brimmed with goobery brashness as the bristling, attention-deficient tunes gave Sex Pistols riffs a cocky Cali sheen.

Download: “2000 Light Years Away,” “Welcome to Paradise”

46. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand, Domino, 2004

Bi-curious? Buy Scottish!

Imagining the choppy grooves of the Gang of Four and Talking Heads as last-call makeout jams, FF made flirty a postpunk appellation to strive for. Frontman Alex Kapranos was a mercenary shag-hound of the highest order, wooing girls and boys alike with dada come-ons like “you can feel my lips undress your eyes.”

Download: “Take Me Out,” “Michael”

45. Fugazi, Repeater, Dischord, 1990

D.C. punk activists so ethical they make Ralph Nader look like Akon

In ’80s straight-edge bomb throwers Minor Threat, Ian MacKaye shouted vein-popping jeremiads against drinking, drugs, conformism, even sex. His equally strict adult band Fugazi took on corporatism, but with a nuanced introspection as elastic as their moody punk. Some head scratching goes nicely with the fist slamming.

Download: “Repeater,” “Merchandise”

44. Various Artists, Wanna Buy a Bridge?, Rough Trade, 1980

The 14 commandments of postpunk

Long out of print (hunt it down on the Web), this survey of circa-1980 postpunk singles is a magnificent snapshot of radical sounds, off-center grooves and earnest politics — the singing voices alone are a survey of alien beauty.

Download: Delta 5, “Mind Your Own Business”; Kleenex, “Ain’t You”

43. Black Flag, Damaged, SST, 1981

The hardcore-est hardcore band of the ’80s

Muscle-bound yowler and future IFC personality Henry Rollins found his voice fronting Orange County, California’s angriest youth brigade. SST Records founder Greg Ginn electroshocked his guitar while Rollins yelled about graffiti, beer, cops, depression and other highlights of a “life of pain” he shared with thousands of Mohawked rejects the nation over.

Download: “Rise Above,” “TV Party”

42. Brian Eno, Another Green World, E.G., 1975

The beginnings of “post-rock”

Former Roxy Music star Eno started pushing the boundaries of songs, music and ambient sound. His third studio album included only five (exquisite) songs with vocals; the rest of it played with instrumental timbre and rhythmic stasis, clearing a path for the entire post-rock move*ment’s fascination with rich sonics.

Download: “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “I’ll Come Running”

41. Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West, Up, 1997

A great road-trip album, especially if you’re planning on driving off a cliff

Isaac Brock visits malls and sees ghost towns. He imagines God and sees a deadbeat dad. In other words, his band’s second album is one sublime bummer. Through it all, Brock is our wide-eyed tour guide, switching from a boozy roar to a sweet lisp while guitars snarl and swerve gorgeously around him.

Download: “Doin’ the Cockroach,” “Truckers Atlas”

40. New Oder, Power Corruption & Lies, Factory, 1983

World-changing disco-punk jams

The remaining members of Joy Division bounced back from Ian Curtis’s suicide and made a beeline from the funeral home to the club. Their moody guitars, hopeful synths and pasty disco beats influenced thousands of dance bands, but few have come close to the pathos in Bernard Sumner’s voice, which cracks with promise.

Download: “Blue Monday,” “The Village”

39. Pavement, Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain, Matador, 1994

Snarky emo boys denounce big hair, Smashing Pumpkins

Wanting to have their cryptic, wiseass, underground cake and eat it, too, the band benefitted from an under-the-table distribution deal with an evil major label, with predictable losses and gains. The result was a handful of brilliant songs, and a mass-culture blip.

Download: “Silence Kit,” “Cut Your Hair”

38. The Strokes, Is This It, RCA, 2001

Making pop radio safe for Nu Yawk hipsters

They had the awesomest spoiled-rich-kid names, the coolest too-bored pouts, natty tie-and-denim-jacket combos for every day of the week and, oh yes, girls seemed to find them attractive. But these LES PYTs got over on their sleek, sugar-sharp ’70s punk-pop, topped off with Julian Casablancas’s impeccably sloshed croon.

Download: “Last Night,” “Hard to Explain”

37. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell, Interscope, 2003

They pummel you, then sing you to sleep

This album is one raucous garage-rock tantrum after another — it frequently sounds as though Karen O is wrestling a trash compactor. And then — wham! — we get “Maps,” the power ballad Kelly Clarkson wisely ripped off for “Since U Been Gone” — and which scored countless hipster mating rituals and eyeliner-smeared breakups.

Download: “Rich,” “Maps”

36. Elliott Smith, Either/Or, Kill Rock Stars, 1997

Doomed singer-songwriter’s muted rage

Smith had seen the roughest parts of life, and his third album (on which he played all the instruments himself) transmuted its evocations of substance abuse, nihilism and crushing despair into something poignant and resonant. His career got a boost when three songs from Either/Or resurfaced on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack.

Download: “Between the Bars,” “Ballad of Big Nothing”

35. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville, Matador, 1993

An angry, one-woman masquerade

Her debut made two things clear: One, she loved to play with made-up, sexually provocative personae. Two, she was a brilliant songwriter, dissecting complicated emotional states and writing twisted hooks.

Download: “Divorce Song,” “6'1"”

34. Superchunk, On the Mouth, Matador, 1993

A clever punk band with a great head for business

The “indie”-est band of the ’90s, they released records on their thriving Merge label and cranked out hyper, distortion-buzzing pop so loud singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan practically went hoarse shouting over the racket.

Download: “Precision Auto,” “The Question Is How Fast”

33. The Shins, Oh, Inverted World, Sub Pop, 2001

Like old Simon & Garfunkel records, minus the annoying grooviness

In this worried, gorgeous ’00s update on ’60s fireside folk, anxiety-poet James Mercer sang shy la-la-las and ghostly woo-woos in songs with titles like “Weird Divide” and “Caring Is Creepy,” ideal for dates in psychoanalyst waiting rooms.

Download: “New Slang,” “Caring Is Creepy”

32. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Merge, 1998

Southern neo-hippie loves Anne Frank

Crazy, yammering poetic genius Jeff Mangum made a Dalí-influenced freak-rock album rife with banjo, Uilleann pipes and flugelhorn based on his dreams about a Jewish family in World War II. Then he vanished, leaving worshippers like Arcade Fire in his wake.

Download: “The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two and Three,” “Holland, 1945”

31. Guided by Voices, Bee Thousand, Matador, 1994

The crown prince of the lo-fi scene

Robert Pollard fantasized that he was a rock star, and it came true, sort of. GBV were barely known outside their Bud-soaked, Dayton, Ohio, basements when they patched together their seventh album from 20 home-recorded fragments (launched from an unstoppable song machine); before long, they were indie heroes.

Download: “Smothered in Hugs,” “Gold Star for Robot Boy”

30. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Nonesuch, 2002

This is Americana … on drugs

At the time, Wilco’s cracked mas*terpiece was obscured by a label-drama backstory. Unburdened by history, its pleasures are clearer: Jeff Tweedy’s warm, meandering melodies and a chilly sense of despair that hangs over the album like a Vicodin haze.

Download: “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Jesus, Etc.”

29. Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes, Slash, 1982

After beer and Bob Vecker, what made Milwaukee famous

Mangling acoustic instruments while pumping their shame-crazed folk-punk with the teen angst of a thousand Holden Caulfields, Wisconsin’s wimpiest came on like exploding human pimples.

Download: “Blister in the Sun,” “Add It Up”

28. The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs, Merge, 1999

Maybe the greatest old-fashioned tune whiz never to have a hit

Indie rockers usually eschew conventional songcraft; melody geyser Stephin Merritt is addicted to it. On this three-disc testament to pop’s primary obsession, the resplendently gay, devilishly smart, hilariously deadpan NYC crooner cycled every style of the 20th century through his synth-pop aesthetic, rhyming Ferdinand de Saussure, kosher and closure in the process.

Download: “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure,” “A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off”

27. M.I.A., Arular, XL, 2005

Hip-hop recast as internationalist rebel music

M.I.A. makes a point of her Third World roots and revolutionary politics, and the first rule of Third World revolution is that you make weapons from whatever’s at hand. So her debut was a DJ-grenade lobbed into the disco, with sharpened fragments of dancehall, electroclash, jungle and new wave flying everywhere.

Download: “Galang,” “10 Dollar”

26. Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister, The Enclave, 1996

Songs about girls who like boys who like boys who like …

Stuart Murdoch made it cool to be a sexually confused aesthete for the first time since the Smiths. On his septet’s second album, populated by messed-up teenagers straight out of J.D. Salinger, he distilled the blithely tuneful indie-pop aesthetic into intoxicatingly potent songs with elegant, formal orchestrations.

Download: “The Stars of Track and Field,” “Seeing Other People”

25. Sebadoh, III, Homestead, 1991

Do not let your kid sister date this man

Leaving Dinosaur Jr., where his bass playing and atonal prattling were clearly not being appreciated, Lou Barlow became indie’s preeminent sensitive male — James Taylor with a bong, a crappy tape recorder and free time to translate his girl-scarred soul into rattletrap hate-folk.

Download: “The Freed Pig,” “Scars, Four Eyes”

24. The New Pornographers, Mass Romantic, Mint/Matador, 2000

The power-pop studio experiment that came crackling to life

It was originally an ad-hoc trifle, recorded over the course of almost three years: frontman Carl Newman’s vivacious power-pop project, with additional songs written by Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and occasional vocals by alt-country singer Neko Case. Then it caught on, and suddenly the Pornographers were a real band.

Download: “Letter From an Occupant,” “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”

23. Yo La Tengo, Painful, Matador/Atlantic, 1993

Feedback that wraps you up like a favorite fall sweater

Husband-and-wife team Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, foster parents to a million heartwarming squalls, spent the sweetest record of their 20-year career mumbling about the strangeness of love over haunting distortion, meditative folk and droning organs. A garage-rock version of domestic bliss.

Download: “From a Motel 6,” “Big Day Coming”

22. Meat Puppets, Meat Puppets II, SST, 1984

Country rock for easily agitated stoners

Brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood were Arizona acidheads who fingerpicked hillbilly solos and loved hardcore punk, so they accompanied their mumbled country visions of desert alienation with psychedelic sun-stroked noodling. Singing about the devil, drugs, “living Nixon’s mess” and their own spacious stupidity, they imagined the Southwest as a boundless dead end.

Download: “Lost,” “I’m a Mindless Idiot”

21. The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers, Berserkley, 1976

Jonathan Richman’s art-brut magnum opus

Recorded in 1972 and released after the band had broken up, these crude demos became a landmark: the bridge between the Velvet Underground (whom frontman Jonathan Richman idolized) and punk rock. Richman had no time for fancy stuff — he was too busy being in love with “the modern world.”

Download: “Roadrunner,” “She Cracked”

20. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday, French Kiss, 2005

Lyrics about Catholic guilt and drug abuse: a timeless combination

If Johnny Rotten was raised on classic rock in Midwestern mall parking lots and looked more like a CPA, he could be Craig Finn, whose band treats the sounds of Bruce Springsteen and Hüsker Dü like they’re the most natural double bill in the world.

Download: “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” “How a Resurrection Really Feels”

19. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out, Kill Rock Stars, 1997

Riot grrrls show the dudes how to kick butt and mean it

As pissed as the Clash and as joyously poppy as the Go-Go’s, the Portland, Oregon, trio had more faith in the world-remaking power of rocking out than any band of the ’90s. In a time when “slacker irony” was all the rage, screaming demon Corin Tucker’s fiery passion made the cool kids look cowardly.

Download: “Dig Me Out,” “Words and Guitar”

18. Joy Division, Unkwon Pleasures, Factory, 1971

Most depressing band ever to use the word joy in their name

In keeping with their moniker (slang for a Nazi-concentration-camp brothel), Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis played out an Everyman’s flailing attempt to find human warmth and connection in an emotional wasteland. Yet despite the menacing metallic echoes, the band’s melodic drama made his Kafkaesque squirming positively heroic. Wallowing was never so inspiring.

Download: “Disorder,” “Interzone”

17. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001

Minimal band, maximal sound

Jack and Meg White’s third record transformed them from garage revivalists to saviors of rock. Its secret is that it aims high — Jack’s trying for nothing less than a place in the classic-rock canon — and they pull it off with the absolute economy of means they picked up from electric blues.

Download: “Fell in Love With a Girl,” “Little Room”

16. Slint, Spideland, Touch And Go, 1991

They practiced until they got very skilled, and apparently quite depressed

Mathematic time signatures? Uncool. A song about a depressed sailor, based on Coleridge’s The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner? Mega uncool — unless you’re Louisville, Kentucky’s Slint, whose knotty, amebic tempos and steely guitar rumble engulfed their songs’ distraught heroes.

Download: “Breadcrumb Trail,” “Good Morning Captain”

15. X, Wild Gift, Slash, 1981

Los Angeles punks make a record that reads like a great pulp novel

Thrift-store poets in black leather jackets, singer-bassist John Doe and his soon-to-be ex-wife Exene Cervenka set stories of love on the rocks against the City of Angels’s skeezy backdrop. Billy Zoom’s rockabilly switchblade guitar made the heavy subject matter sizzle.

Download: “We’re Desperate,” “In This House That I Call Home”

14. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising, Tommy Boy, 1989

Suburban fans of Johnny Cash and Schoolhouse Rock invent indie rap

As their contemporaries were declaring themselves “hard as hell” (Run-D.M.C.) or plotting revolutions (Public Enemy), these complicated Long Islanders came out of the gate with cryptic jokes and Day-Glo flowers, while producer Prince Paul took sampling to obscure new realms.

Download: “The Magic Number,” “Me, Myself and I”

13. Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade, SST, 1984

Hardcore warriors dive-bomb *psychedelic pop

A concept double LP about a runaway kid’s heartbreak? By a hardcore band? This Minneapolis trio’s fiery plunge into arty psychedelia was risky. But both Bob Mould and Grant Hart had enormous range as songwriters, and their idea of “arty psychedelia” was still hammeringly intense.

Download: “Something I Learned Today,” “What’s Going On”

12. Dinosaur J., You’re Living All Over Me, SST, 1987

Ugly, lonely and blissfully loud

These long-haired Massachusetts punks couldn’t talk to girls — they could barely even talk to one another — so they poured all their angst and longing into these sludgy, warbling jams. And it turned out that frontman J Mascis was hiding his love of Neil Young–style songcraft under all that volume.

Download: “Little Fury Things,” “Tarpit”

11. Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime, SST, 1984

Lefty hardcore, supersized

The 45-song masterpiece from this awesomely unglamorous trio of self-described SoCal “corndogs” spews revelations in the disjointed babble of Everydude confusion and rage. Bighearted, beefy D. Boon rifles through punk, folk, jazz, a Steely Dan cover and the Jackass theme song as if trying to encompass the whole world. A year later he’d die in a van accident.

Download: “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing,” “History Lesson — Part II”

10. The Smiths, The Smiths, Rough Trade, 1984

Wusses of the world, unite!

Guess what, boys: It’s OK to be miserable. That’s the lesson to be drawn from this debut, wherein guitarist Johnny Marr jangles merrily and Morrissey swoons like a heartbroken lady-in-waiting whose corset is too tight. It set the lilac-scented stage for years of sexless yearning that would follow.

Download: “This Charming Man,” “Hand in Glove”

9. Big Star, Third/Sister Lovers, PVC, 1978

Ex–teen idol makes nervous breakdowns something to aspire to

Alex Chilton is indie rock’s first folk hero, and this is his most mythic moment. Raggedly gorgeous, his band’s third album is full of weary power-pop, shaky guitar and piano chords that seem less played than slumped on. Proof that “perfection” is overrated.

Download: “O, Dana,” “Take Care”

8. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless, Creation, 1991

The gold standard of shoegazing

Kevin Shields’s warm, lavishly detailed torrents of guitar noise and Bilinda Butcher’s androgynous purr spawned a generation of followers.

Download: “Soon,” “Only Shallow”

7. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground, MGM, 1969

The original indie band? Sure

Lou Reed, a shades-wearing, heroin-liking poet of urban doom, traded wailing amps for clear, pastoral beauty on the VU’s third album, opening up his cold New York heart to sing about the search for salvation in a fallen world.

Download: “Beginning to See the Light,” “Pale Blue Eyes”

6. Arcade Fire, Funeral, Merge, 2004

Indie rock’s Max Fischer Players

Throughout this Montreal troupe’s debut, cataclysms (snowstorms, blackouts) set the stage for Win Butler’s fantasies and nightmares of adolescent freedom. There are multipart chorales and metaphors purpler than Barney, but the spirit is pure punk.

Download: “Rebellion (Lies),” “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)”

5. Pixies, Surfer Rosa, 4AD, 1988

In a playful way, one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite bands was as crazy as he was

The frumpy Bostonians had psychotic surf guitars, surrealist sex-starved shrieking and clangorous, eardrum-punishing noise. But their full-length debut also cranked out tune after tune of bizarre bubblegum fun. The loud-quiet-loud dynamics and Black Francis’s warped-teen scream rattled walls, but bassist-vocalist Kim Deal’s chalky, cheery singing added the right pinch of cuteness.

Download: “Bone Machine,” “Gigantic”

4. R.E.M., Mumur, I.R.S., 1983

With jangly riffs and emotive mumbling, Georgians invent college rock

Coming in like a radio station from a strange, faraway land (Athens, Georgia), R.E.M.’s full-length debut arrived just as postpunk was dead-ending into arty weirdness and dopey new wave. The songs were often downright beautiful, and Michael Stipe’s impassioned mush-mouthing injected emotions besides “hate” and “alienation” into underground rock, even if you had absolutely no idea what he was saying.

Download: “Radio Free Europe,” “Perfect Circle”

3. The Replacements, Let It Be, Twin/Tone, 1984

Booze! Boners! Insanely great underdog punk songs!

Spraying pathos like Bud from a longneck, these Minneapolis fuck-ups hurled themselves through a garbled mess of hardcore, hair-of-the-dog metal and DTs piano ballads and emerged like wobbly conquistadors. Credit Paul Westerberg’s dumbfoundingly great songcraft: “Unsatisfied” can still spur catharsis (and occasionally binge drinking) in even the numbest of underachievers.

Download: “Unsatisfied,” “Answering Machine”

2. Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation, Blast First/Enigma, 1988

Arty New York punks hallucinate a youth revolution with de-tuned guitars

If Slanted and Enchanted was indie’s Sgt. Pepper’s, this was its version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland: a double-LP psych-out that exploded like a car bomb. Befitting Reagan-era Manhattan, its acid punk is bad-trippy. But original MILF Kim Gordon made it sexy, and its majestic, alien-transmission guitar sound shaped a generation (see Pavement).

Download: “Teen Age Riot,” “Silver Rocket”

1. Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted, Matador, 1992

The album that lit the quietest pop-cultural explosion ever

Forming after college in Stockton, California, recording in their crazy, 40-something drummer’s home studio, Pavement were low-key geniuses casually turning the random noises in their heads into pop perfection. Eighties indie rock often felt like a safe space for desperate castoffs. These were well-adjusted suburban boys from good schools; they seemed drawn underground because they loved the sounds, not because they needed the subculture. The casual vibe gave their music a sense of style and grace, a detachment that felt like freedom. Singer-guitarist Stephen Malkmus hummed alluringly opaque poesy like, “Lies and betrayals/Fruit-covered nails/Electricity and lust” in songs that mixed the screwed-up buzz of English art-punk with the easy catchiness of ’70s am radio. Slanted sounded cheaply made, but the elegant, layered guitar static and crosscutting melodies were lovingly pastiched, like a hip-hop record. Sad but sexy, breakup-tape dramatic but leisurely and fun, it came out of nowhere and touched a nerve, quickly selling 100,000 copies and inspiring scores of bands to strive for a similar mix of beauty and brains. Indie rock’s insular scene and harsh sounds often scared people away. Pavement said in their tossed-off, übercool way: Forget that, let’s party.

Download: “Summer Babe (Winter Version),” “Trigger Cut/Wounded Kite at :17,” “Here”

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WOW Jahfin, what a find. Thank you, I'll investigate these. I've got some already; The Mekons, Dead Kennedys, The Misfits, The Vaselines, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Arctic Monkeys, Nick Drake, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Violent Femmes, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground and R.E.M., but looking forward to hearing the 'key track' from the others.

thanks for another great post. :notworthy:

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And the real number one!! The Soft Bulletin- The Flaming Lips

I can't believe they left that out.... :(

Slanted & Enchanted is a fantastic album though, I noticed they spelled the other Pavement album wrong though, it's "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" not "Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain" >_<

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I think "Is This It" by The Strokes should be a lot higher. Mostly because of the influence it's had on the music of the same vein that proceeded it. You could hear the change once that had come out.

EDIT: You know what...I was reading the list backwards. :lol:

I wondered why they'd put "Bang Bang Rock N' Roll" so high when nobody's really had time to step back and think about it (has Art Brut's music been featured in some US TV show or something? They seem to suddenly be cropping up in these lists an awful lot. I mean, I think they're ace, but still...)

I was also wondering why Joy Division and The Smiths had managed to get put so near the bottom.

So yeah....The Strokes. Could still be a few places higher, I think.

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