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Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Time

Updated: May 21

Pictured - Neutral Milk Hotel (Late 90's)

An Explosion of independent record labels across The US, Canada and The UK in the early 80’s dramatically changed the boundaries for entry in the music industry. Following post-punk and the growing interest in alternative rock, the term indie rock began coming into the vernacular of music fans around the mid 80’s. Although indie rock and alternative rock are used relatively interchangeably, for the purposes of this list we’ll stick a bit closer to the original definition meaning albums from independent labels. Artists who may have signed over to a major label but either spent a large portion of their career on an indie label or are primarily considered indie rock over any other genre have been included. Artists primarily considered post-punk, new-wave, hardcore, punk-rock, grunge or Britpop have been excluded from the criteria to keep the focus primarily around those considered primarily indie rock. Most college rock bands of the 80’s have been excluded with the exception of some that were signed to indie labels and are tied closely to indie rock. Alternative rock bands who are generally not considered indie rock (R.E.M., Radiohead, Sonic Youth, etc.) have been excluded as well. Following the Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Time, we also included the albums which ranked 101-200 at the end. For a broader ranking of Alternative Albums including many albums excluded from this much more specific criteria, be sure to check out Top 100 Greatest Alternative Albums of All Time.

Leaving its mark on nearly every Indie band post 1986, The Queen Is Dead often finds itself atop many ranking publications also topping our list of The Top 100 Greatest Alternative Albums of All Time. The Smiths tied the guitar to indie rock as a genre, leaving the two almost inseparable over the next 40 years. Filled with some of the most catchy and danceable guitar work of all time, humorous lyrics, undeniably groovy bass playing and creative song layouts The Queen Is Dead finds itself as the staple LP on the bright and joyous side of indie rock. Building upon the growing desire for rock outside of the mainstream, The Smiths and their growing popularity stole the show with this album. Whether this is a band you have a taste for or not, the talent and innovation on this record is undeniable and has made its presence known.

Released with a whisper in 1997, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea found itself as time went by as one of the most iconic indie albums ever. Jeff Mangum, the genius behind the record, filled these forty or so minutes of music with a plethora of poetic emotion, simple yet enchanting guitar work, vigorous horns, and a Spector-like wall of sound. Perhaps the climax of this fantastic record is in an untitled track not surprisingly called [untitled ] with all of its euphoric room-filling sound. The lo-fi-esque feel of the album makes its perfection even more spectacular given the album was recorded in his friend (Apples In Stereo Bassist) Jim McIntyre’s house. The legacy of this album continues to grow every year, as more and more people (granted late to the game) discover it.

Alongside The Queen Is Dead, Pixies masterpiece Doolittle sits among a select few albums that can be largely credited with kicking off the explosion of indie and alternative music in the 90’s. Pixies, who we scored as The Greatest Alternative Band of All Time, best embodied the darker side of indie rock in the late 80’s leaving their mark all over the alternative and indie music realms. Doolittle meshed hellish lyrics, with jangly guitar licks while sounding like a band you would still see in a small setting like a bar, or a club. The album is a Dantes Inferno of music, taking you away with its lyrics while reinforcing the words with top-tier musical talent. The influence of this record is essentially unmeasurable in alternative and indie music.

4. Slanted & Enchanted - Pavement

Released in 1992, this seminal record encapsulates the essence of DIY indie rock with its energetic, yet monotone lyrics and lo-fi aesthetic. With its innovative song structures and DIY production, Slanted and Enchanted pushed the boundaries of indie rock, inspiring a post-Smiths era of indie. Pavement took the standard jangle-pop influenced guitar style of indie and turned it on its head taking equal influence from noise rock and post-punk. Its enduring legacy and status as a cornerstone of the genre of indie rock has very frequently put this record on a well deserved pedestal. Simply put, this is just a really cool album by a really cool band.

The debut studio album of Interpol exhibited all of the best qualities of a great indie rock album. Being released to critical acclaim and even more praise retrospectively, the record was commended for its shoegaze qualities mixed with an upbeat rock feel. The textbook Joy Division-esque vocals by frontman Paul Banks is only the beginning of the comparisons between the two bands adding a pleasant level of nostalgia for early alternative rock fans to the record. Interpol was not afraid to utilize space, and long (by indie standards) instrumental breaks filled with distortion and reverb. Not only will this go down as one of the finest indie/alternative albums of all time, but it will also certainly be among the greatest debut albums of all time.

Perhaps the crown jewel of twee-pop and indie-pop in the 90’s, If You’re Feeling Sinister finds itself as the masterpiece of the discography of a band who has a handful of great albums to choose from. It’s hard not to be tricked by the lightness and upbeatness of the record, but apart from being such a soothing album to listen to, Belle & Sebastian sounds about as tastefully dynamic and tight as could be. Undeniably catchy bass lines pair seamlessly with soft and bouncing guitar on songs like Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying and Like Dylan In the Movies. In true Belle & Sebastian fashion, strings and horns are thrown into the mix adding that textbook chamber pop feel flawlessly.

7. Surfer Rosa - Pixies

Surfer Rosa was the first sonic masterpiece that showcased Pixies fearless experimentation and genre-defying sound. With its blend of punk, noise rock, and surf influences, the album exudes raw intensity, unconventional song structures and a whole bunch of intriguing weirdness. Tracks like Gigantic, Bone Machine, and most notably Where Is My Mind? have become iconic anthems of the indie rock genre. In the same vein tracks like I’m Amazed and Tony’s Theme have become iconic more atypical underground rock tracks. Surfer Rosa's lo-fi production adds an extra layer of underground appeal, solidifying its status as an influential album that paved the way for future indie rockers. Topping an album like this seems like an impossible task but someone they did with the enigma that was Doolittle.

8. Let It Be - The Replacements

Alongside The Queen Is Dead, Doolittle and Surfer Rosa, Let It Be was a cornerstone for 80’s alternative and indie rock. The third studio album by The Replacements found itself at a meeting point for post-punk, college rock, and indie exhibiting a very wide appeal and an even wider array of long-lived influence. Universally lauded, this record has so much to love, from coming-of-age lyrics, immaculate guitar licks and a great sense of uniqueness and importance in each and every song. Paul Westerberg’s iconic raspy voice fits the style perfectly, yet on tracks like I Will Dare and Androgynous a wider and more melodic vocal range is uncovered. Influencing bands from The Goo Goo Dolls to The Cribs, this high-powered, youthful album lives on and on.

Arcade Fire’s third studio album found itself as a youthful, loose concept album embodying the spirit of all of the stories that come with growing up in the suburbs. Topping their prior album Funeral was no easy task (spoiler alert, that album isn't too far behind this one), but the Canadian indie-rockers did just that. Mixing elements of Bowie-esque art-rock, Depeche Mode new wave and Belle & Sebastian-like baroque pop, this record found itself as a 64-minute indie rock diamond. Flawless transitions between most songs turned this collection of songs into one continuous unit in a similar manner to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. This record pushed the boundaries of indie rock, while still being massively accessible to the masses receiving universal acclaim.

Where You Been exemplifies Dinosaur Jr's unique blend of alternative rock, jangle-pop, shoegaze and grunge. Tracks like Start Choppin and Out There showcase the band's signature combination of J Mascis' soaring guitar work, emotive vocals, and infectious melodies. The impact of the record on subsequent indie rock bands is immeasurable, as its fusion of heavy, distorted guitars with melodic riffs became the blueprint for the alternative rock scene of the '90s. Dinosaur Jr's raw energy and introspective songwriting solidified their status as pioneers of indie, influencing bands like Nirvana, Blink-182, and Band of Horses, and cementing Where You Been as a significant milestone in indie rock's evolution.

13. Crazy Rhythms - The Feelies

14. Funeral - Arcade Fire

15. Illinois - Sufjan Stevens

16. Pyschocandy - The Jesus and Mary Chain

17. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain - Pavement

18. Spiderland - Slint

19. I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One - Yo La Tengo

20. The Smiths - The Smiths

21. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco

22. Double Nickels on the Dime - Minutemen

25. Elephant - The White Stripes

28. More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley

29. You Forgot it In People - Broken Social Scene

31. Either/Or - Elliott Smith

32. I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning - Bright Eyes

34. Fever to Tell - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

36. The Moon and Antarctica - Modest Mouse

37. Zen Arcade - Husker Dü

38. Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia - The Dandy Warhols

39. Bee Thousand - Guided by Voices

40. Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground - Bright Eyes

41. Kill the Moonlight - Spoon

42. Return to Cookie Mountain - TV On the Radio

43. Picaresque- The Decemberists

44. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix

45. XO - Elliott Smith

46. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out - Yo La Tengo

47. You’re Living All Over Me - Dinosaur Jr.

49. Screamadelica - Primal Scream

52. White Blood Cells - The White Stripes

54. Moon Pix - Cat Power

55. Emergency & I - Dismemberment Plan

57. Dear Science - TV on the Radio

60. Pleased to Meet Me - The Replacements

61. The Lonesome Crowded West - Modest Mouse

62. Transatlanticism - Death Cab For Cutie

63. The Hour of Bewilderbeast - Badly Drawn Boy

64. Broken Bells - Broken Bells

66. Yoshimi Battles the Big Pink Robots - The Flaming Lips

67. Music from the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Cas - The Olivia Tremor Control

68. Exile in Guyville - Liz Phair

69. Last Splash - The Breeders

70. The King is Dead - The Decemberists

71. 16 Lovers Lane - The Go-Betweens

72. Neon Bible - Arcade Fire

73. Give Up - The Postal Service

74. Tim - The Replacements

76. Ride The Tiger - Yo La Tengo

77. Bossanova - Pixies

78. Wide Awake! - Parquet Courts

79. AM - Arctic Monkeys

80. On Avery Island - Neutral Milk Hotel

81. Viola Beach - Viola Beach

82. Jamboree - Beat Happening

83. On Fire - Galaxie 500

85. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

86. Antics - Interpol

87. Sound of Silver - LCD Soundsystem

88. Without a Sound - Dinosaur Jr.

89. Call The Doctor - Sleater-Kinney

90. 69 Love Songs - The Magnetic Fields

91. Bakesale - Sebadoh

93. It’s Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

94. For Respect - Don Caballero

95. Oh, Inverted World - The Shins

96. Darkland - The Jesus and Mary Chain

97. Bubble & Scrape - Sebadoh

98. Dig Me Out - Sleater-Kinney

99. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon

For a broader look at many iconic alternative albums be sure to check out Top 100 Greatest Alternative Albums of All Time. For a more expansive collection of songs from many of these albums be sure to check out the accompanying playlist.


Jun 16, 2023

Errr….REM? Where the hell is Mumur, or Reckoning, or….

Jun 17, 2023
Replying to

It literally says - Alternative rock bands who are generally not considered indie rock (R.E.M., Radiohead, Sonic Youth, etc.) have been excluded


Jun 07, 2023

So great to see the recognition for belle and Sebastian - such an underrated band


Assuming Radiohead is taken as purely alternative and not indie... otherwise...

2000's alternative & indie rock playlist cover 2.JPEG
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