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Top 100 Greatest Mellow Indie Songs of All Time

Updated: Feb 6

Top 100 Greatest Mellow Indie Songs of All Time

Pictured - Wilco (2011 Solid Sound Fest)

In our continuous quest to delve into the world of indie and alternative music, we wanted to take on the project of exploring the mellower side of indie music. With indie music seldom venturing down softer and more emotional paths prior to the new century—or at least venturing down those paths much less frequently—the majority of the songs on this list were released post-2000. With expanding recording technology increasingly accessible to many more artists than ever before, a new array of creativity has been injected into indie music, particularly with the rise of indie folk and the dream pop revival. Over the last 25 years or so, indie has become a more deeply emotional and frequently mellow style of music, aside from its more rock-forward side. For the purposes of this list, we are including any songs primarily considered indie pop, dream pop, indie folk, or soft indie rock. Songs on this list may be up-tempo, although most of them are on the slower side. The primary factor uniting them all is a general mellow and soft sound, with none of these songs being particularly "loud," although some may have their occasional moments. Alternative rock bands who are seldom considered indie (or were not considered indie for most of their careers), such as Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, R.E.M., or Radiohead, have been excluded. With that said, if our criteria were broader, songs like Nightswimming by R.E.M., or No Surprises by Radiohead would have been included, so fear not, alternative rock fans; the greatness of those bands is heavily noted but outside our current scope. For a broader look at indie rock as a whole, be sure to check out our ranking of the Top 100 Indie Rock Songs of All Time.

1. New Slang - The Shins

New Slang has been a frequent flyer on many of our 'best of' lists for indie and alternative music. It's not just us who hold this fantastic song in high regard, though, with the song scoring well in publications including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NPR, and The New York Times. James Mercer's heartfelt, emotional lyrics have resonated with millions of listeners in the 22 years since its release. The relatively minimalist, lo-fi track is as hypnotic as it is touching, frequently being considered one of the finest indie tracks of all time, and we can confidently call it the finest mellow indie track of all time. Released as the first single from the highly-acclaimed band's first record, Oh, Inverted World, New Slang found its place in indie music relatively quickly but has since created a unique legacy around it, alongside the growing legacy and impact of one of the finest indie rock bands of all time, The Shins.

2. Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying - Belle & Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian's whisper of a debut album, Tigermilk, was met with critical acclaim, but where the band truly left a mark was with their second album, If You're Feeling Sinister. In keeping with their underground indie charm, the band released no singles from the record, but there was one song that certainly shined the brightest: Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying. This gentle and emotional track exposed millions of first-time listeners to the gifted vocalist Stuart Murdoch, as the song gained traction on college radio, although never crossing over into the mainstream. Elegant and graceful vocals paired alongside soft guitar remain a treat for listeners. Belle & Sebastian's impact on a post-Smiths indie world in the '90s was nothing short of revolutionary. The band's second studio album has since become regarded as one of the finest indie albums of all time, introducing listeners to a new, encapsulating side of indie.

3. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 - The Flaming Lips

Marking the comeback for the early indie rock pioneers, The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 tells an intriguing psychedelic tale wrapped together in a mellow indie bow. The slow-tempo, space-age track injected a lot of life back into the longtime reveered band, often being considered one of the most sonically progressive indie rock tracks. Although the track may not be quite as well-known as some of the other songs in the top ten, its legacy and its greatness are just as strong, if not stronger.

4. Cigarette Daydreams - Cage the Elephant

Cigarette Daydreams was released off of Cage the Elephant's 2013 masterpiece, Melophobia, from which we at Melophobe may or may not have gotten our name. Cigarette Daydreams has since become Cage the Elephant's most popular song for its uniquely emotional and refined sound. The track remains immensely popular on indie and alternative rock radio and playlists, being instantly recognizable to any fan of the genre. Although the band is primarily known for their trademark garage rock sound, Cigarette Daydreams exposed millions of listeners to a softer and more touching side of the band.

5. Between the Bars - Elliott Smith

Released from the critically acclaimed album Either/Or, Between the Bars remains Elliott Smith's most popular song following his tragic 2003 death. Composed solely of Elliott and his guitar, this dark tale of alcoholism resonated with millions of listeners, receiving an even stronger sense of meaning after his 2003 suicide. One of many emotional songs on this sentimental album, there is no doubt the track leaves a spine-chilling impact. The song has since been covered by countless artists, from Metric to Madonna.

6. Jesus, etc. - Wilco

This well-known indie-country hybrid has since become the most popular track by Wilco. The somber aura created by the band on Jesus, etc. incorporates traditional country elements, including pedal-steel guitar and fiddle-style violin, along with elements of indie and art rock. The poignant lyrics touch on themes of uncertainty, love, and existentialism, offering a raw and vulnerable look into the human condition. Jeff Tweedy's rock-solid vocal style serves as the perfect, comforting guide through the emotional song.

7. Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl - Broken Social Scene

Released from the 2002 critically lauded indie rock/progressive rock album You Forgot It in People, Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl tells an emotional tale in the style of a poem. The powerful, repetitive lyrics leave a strong, relatable impression of youthful thinking. With the entire song being made up of just three lyrical phrases, this youthful tale of longing and love is incredibly impactful. In true Broken Social Scene style, an army of musicians backs up the vocalist with instruments ranging from banjos to guitars to violins.

8. I Will Follow You Into the Dark - Death Cab For Cutie

Making up the midpoint of Plans, what we would consider the finest Death Cab album, I Will Follow You Into the Dark was a one-take impromptu recording consisting of only frontman Ben Gibbard and his guitar. Although being the simplest and least produced song on the album, it has since become the most streamed song from the group, and by quite a bit. The song takes traditional emo-esque lyrics with a simple guitar melody to create one of the band's finest songs. As simple as this somber song is, it hits on a level of simplistic perfection that few indie artists have been able to achieve since.

9. Zürich Is Stained - Pavement

Zürich Is Stained was the sixth track on Pavement's revolutionary debut album, Slanted and Enchanted. This mellow, guitar-forward song has become a fan favorite among Pavement listeners, becoming the most streamed song from the band's debut album. The moody guitar playing over Stephen Malkmus's subdued and monotone vocal delivery creates a reflective and somber aura surrounding the track, making the song as timeless as any Pavement track. Once again, Pavement's catchy guitar playing, and unique vocal delivery showcase the brilliance of this band. As short as the song is, it's brilliance and infectiousness are known to many.

10. Oh Comely - Neutral Milk Hotel

Released from Neutral Milk Hotel's monumental 1998 album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the eight-minute-long track Oh Comely has become the fan favorite from the album. Made up primarily of frontman Jeff Mangum and his guitar, the track shockingly produces more sound than almost any song on this list, yet he immediately counters it with soft and mellow indie gold. Jeff takes listeners on a hauntingly emotional journey, leaving much of the lyrical matter up to interpretation. Even in its simplicity, Mangum's vocal might still comes through before the beautiful, yet simple, guitar interlude.

11. This Is The Day - The The

12. First Day of My Life - Bright Eyes

13. This Night Has Opened My Eyes - The Smiths

14. Motion Sickness - Phoebe Bridgers

15. The Night We Met - Lord Huron

16. Streets of Your Town - The Go-Betweens

17. Autumn Sweater - Yo La Tengo

18. Brothers on a Hotel Bed - Death Cab For Cutie

19. The Boy With the Arab Strap - Belle & Sebastian

20. Once Around the Block - Badly Drawn Boy

21. When the Stars Go Blue - Ryan Adams

22. Fourth of July - Sufjan Stevens

23. I Wanna Be Yours - Arctic Monkeys

24. The Crane Wife 3 - The Decemberists

25. Mykonos - Fleet Foxes

26. All My Little Words - The Magnetic Fields

27. Piazza, New York Catcher - Belle & Sebastian

28. Gone For Good - The Shins

29. I Need My Girl - The National

30. When Company Comes - The Feelies

31. Never Meant - American Football

32. I Need Some Sleep - Eels

33. Darklands - The Jesus and Mary Chain

34. Chamber of Reflection - Mac Demarco

35. Sugar For the Pill - Slowdive

36. The Book of Love - The Magnetic Fields

37. Soulfight - The Revivalists

38. Silver Lining - Rilo Kiley

39. The Girl - City and Colour

40. Sea of Love - Cat Power

41. Gravity Rides Everything - Modest Mouse

42. Bloom - The Paper Kites

43. Tommy's Party - Peach Pit

44. My Silver Lining - First Aid Kit

45. Visions of Gideon - Sufjan Stevens

46. Flightless Bird, American Mouth - Iron & Wine

47. Range Life - Pavement

48. We're Going to Be Friends - The White Stripes

49. Random Rules - Silver Jews

50. Inside Out - Spoon

51. More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley

52. Love is All - The Tallest Man On Earth

53. California Stars - Wilco & Billy Bragg

54. Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want - The Smiths

55. Wordless Chorus - My Morning Jacket

56. Angelina - Pinegrove

57. No One's Gonna Love You - Band of Horses

58. Emmylou - First Aid Kit

59. For the First Time - Mac Demarco

60. Androgynous - The Replacements

61. Suffering - The War on Drugs

62. Step - Vampire Weekend

63. Real Love Baby - Father John Misty

64. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes

65. Kettering - The Antlers

66. Paul - Big Thief

67. Love Love Love - Of Monsters and Men

68. Paint - The Paper Kites

69. Mary - Alex G

70. Lua - Bright Eyes

71. Naked As We Came - Iron & Wine

72. Dagger - Slowdive

73. Katy Song - Red House Painters

74. That Look You Give That Guy - Eels

75. Dress Up In You - Belle & Sebastian

76. A Comet Appears - The Shins

77. Say Yes - Elliott Smith

78. Casimir Pulaski Day - Sufjan Stevens

79. Heart To Heart - Mac Demarco

80. The Absence of God - Rilo Kiley

81. Seaside - The Kooks

82. I Summon You - Spoon

83. Sleep - The Dandy Warhols

84. I Wish I Was the Moon - Neko Case

85. Only Ones Who Know - Arctic Monkeys

86. Trains Across the Sea - Silver Jews

87. Treehouse - Alex G & Emily Yacina

88. The Mall & Misery - Broken Bells

89. Across the Universe - Fiona Apple

90. Reel Around the Fountain - The Smiths

91. Ramshackle - Beck

92. Bukowski - Modest Mouse

93. The Gardener - The Tallest Man On Earth

94. You Don't Know How Lucky You Are - Keaton Henson

95. Should Have Known Better - Sufjan Stevens

96. Sleep The Clock Around - Belle & Sebastian

97. Loro - Pinback

98. Young Pilgrims - The Shins

99. The Voyager - Jenny Lewis

100. Angeles - Elliott Smith

Whether you agree with our picks or not, one thing that is undeniable is that these are 100 fantastic songs. All of the picks from this list have been compiled into a streamable Spotify Playlist below entitled Mellow Indie. For a broader look at indie be sure to check out The Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Songs of All Time.

Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Artists of All Time


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