EW):

Why do we love indie rock? Because it shuns everything that is prefab, safe, typical. It’s about freedom, expression, passion — no rules, man! But in order to narrow down hundreds of hours of incredible musical output from the last two and a half decades, we had to apply some … well, rules: 1. Only one album may represent each year (hence the inclusion, in some cases, of too-hard-to-dismiss runners-up, and a number of difficult compromises we had to make). 2. All the bands had to have been signed to an independent label for the given album (ergo, the absence of Nirvana and the Flaming Lips, whose true genius didn’t manifest itself until they graduated to the big leagues, but the inclusion of My Bloody Valentine and the Pixies, who originally signed to small labels in the U.K.). 3. The term ”band” must be taken literally (thus eliminating otherwise unimpeachable artists like Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, and Cat Power).

Let’s start with the past and move inexorably the present:

1984: The Replacements – Let It Be
1985: The Smiths – Meat Is Murder
1986: R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant
1987: Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me
1988: Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
1989: The Pixies – Doolittle

1990: Fugazi – Repeater
1991: My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
1992: Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
1993: Built To Spill – Ultimate Alternative Wavers
1994: Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand
1995: Archers Of Loaf – Vee Vee
1996: Belle And Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister
1997: Modest Mouse – Lonesome Crowded West
1998: Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
1999: Sleater-Kinney – The Hot Rock
2000: Yo La Tengo – And then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
2001: The Shins – Oh, Inverted World
2002: Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
2003: The White Stripes – Elephant
2004: Arcade Fire- Funeral
2005: Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
2006: The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
2007: Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
2008: Radiohead – In Rainbows

Did you guess correctly? One that surprised us was Archers. Great album, but somehow we didn’t expect to see Vee Vee. Then, there are others you can’t argue with — Slanted, Loveless, etc. Bright Eyes in ’05? That seems questionable … or at least open to debate. Radiohead could open a can of worms, too. If you go to EW, they have explanations and sound samples for each.

 
Comments (92)
  1. this list made me feel old.

  2. I hear you. This one especially: 1998: Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

    God, that’s 10 years old now. It only seems like a year or two ago that this wonderful album was released.

    I am surprised at Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga being in there. I would have thought a different Spoon album but not that one.

  3. Nick  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    I’m not the biggest fan of Entertainment Weekly and there are some small quibbles, would’ve picked LCD or National for 07 and probably various others over Bright Eyes but for the most part it’s a pretty solid list.

    • Exactly, “Boxer” just keeps getting better, even after 40+ listens. Every time I listen to Spoon I get the sense that either I’m completeley wrong or everyone is going to forget about them when they retire from the game.

  4. steve  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Why do we love indie rock? Because if we didn’t pretend to, our magazine wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the latest mainstream youth-culture trend.

    • steve  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

      I didn’t mean to post that twice. There’s nothing like an accidental double posting to make a “witty” comment fall flat on its face…

    • Tauna  |   Posted on Mar 25th, 2008 0

      Touché !!! As for Oh Inverted World! it was way too overplayed and not as solid all the way through as Chutes Too Narrow.

      • whatnow  |   Posted on Aug 6th, 2008 0

        oh inverted world may have ended up getting played a lot more that chutes too narrow because of garden state, but overall it is definitely the more impressive album to listen to entirely through.

  5. steve  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Why do we love indie rock? Because if we didn’t pretend to, our magazine wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the latest mainstream youth-culture trend.

  6. Stephen  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Not a bad list, although I’m sure some would argue with some of those bands being on “indie labels” (e.g. R.E.M.–IRS was owned by WB)

  7. lcd’s album was on a major label….

  8. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I am king of all things indie rock, but I know enough. And as I much as I love I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning, I am surprised the 2005 spot didn’t go to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!’s sel-titled debut.

    • mike  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

      I’m sorry, but Clap Your Hands Say Yeah should be nowhere near this or any other list. That’s like saying Neds Atomic Dustbin should be there for the year 1993.

  9. anon  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    z was a lot better than i’m wide awake it’s morning.

  10. Larry Gary  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    I can almost get behind this list, but i think Archers Icky Mettle was the one, but that was 1994 and would bump GBV. they totally overlooked Superchunk self titled, 1990. New Pornographers Mass Romantic for 2000. ah, what the f*ck do i know.

  11. random asshole  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    no zen arcade in ’84… these lists are nothing but pointless name dropping.

  12. not so sure about the bright eyes inclusion, I personally woulda gone with ‘apologies to the queen’ or even ‘aligator’ by the national. its actually not that bad of a list though i’ve missed havn’t heard them all. im young. sue me

  13. good enough, specially coming from EW. i highly disagree with the 2006 pick,though. hold steady is pretty good, but i dont think that was the top album that year.

  14. Yoni  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    A list so safe that not even the readers of Stereogum can argue with it.

  15. Robert  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Just so you know.
    IRS was never owned by Warner Bros.

  16. sarah  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    isn’t Bright Eyes solo and therefore shouldnt be included ala Cat Power?

  17. Kevin  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Yoni, i totally agree
    but i was pleasantly surprised at sleater-kinney, and i would ahve like to see a chunk record

  18. Neutral Milk Hotel is a nice surprise for certain, as well as Spoon but agree with Music Critic, definitely would not have chosen Ga Ga … In Rainbows as number one is a bit rich and I hope as a culture we get over our Bright Eyes fascination soon. Blech.

  19. 2005 was definitely Sufjan instead of Bright Eyes.

    Lots of good bands there with the wrong album. Elephant instead of White Blood Cells? Ga^5 instead of Kill the Moonlight? No Radiohead until 2008?

    • Radiohead’s albums all came out on major labels until In Rainbows, right?

      Although I think the idea of calling Radiohead “Indie” *completely* skews the idea of what independent music is. Madonna’s not on an official label anymore, is she indie now? And what if Metallica just started releasing their albums themselves? Would we start calling them indie?

      Just seems like an excuse to namecheck Radiohead.

  20. Jason  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    I’m all for 05 going to bright eyes..can’t argue with the list much either, with the exception of spoon, 2007 goes to of montreal imo

  21. studly roberts  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    I like the inclusion of Archers of Loaf.

    But they done eff’d up in 2005 and 1999.

    Emergency & I, anyone? The Hot Rock isn’t even the best S-K album. If they wanted to show Sleater-Kinney some love, they should have done it in 05 (even though “Black Sheep Boy” would have been my pick for that year).

    • Hell yes, Emergency and I. That one still comes up every few weeks.

    • aldo  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

      The Woods was released on Sub Pop – not sure if that would count as an indie label (50% owned by warner I think?) That said, the Hot Rock is underrated imho, and is my favorite of theirs.

  22. Bender Bending Rodriguez  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Given their definition of Indie, I’d say that “Is This It?” should replace “Oh, Inverted World.” That Strokes record is undoubtedly the most influential record of the decade, and it’s not particularly close for second (Rush Of Blood to the Head?)

    • mike  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

      I’m not trying to bash your comment but both those records are major label and it clearly states that they therefore cannot be included.

      • Bender Bending Rodriguez  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

        I’m just sayin’. according to their definition of Indie, I think Is This It? qualifies, as it was on Rough Trade (which wasn’t BMG-owned then) in the UK.

  23. Why is this list so impossible to hate on?

  24. @ the j train: as far as i can remember, radiohead have always released albums on a major label, thus disqualifying them from inclusion on this list. that is, until in rainbows. i’m not sure it’s fair to declare 2008 for radiohead, though. i would have declared ’07 for radiohead, since that’s when they released the album and introduced the pay-what-you-want business model (that was 07, right?). i agree with you that sufjan was robbed.

  25. Charlie Kane  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Not a bad list, per se. I think the term ‘indie’, as pertains to label distribution, is not really the point ( Sire was associated with WB, 4AD with Capitol, I think IRS was also associated with one of the majors, I don’t remember which one…). It is a fairly safe list, as well, but that doesn’t mean that many of these records aren’t still top-shelf. I would agree that the Strokes summed up 2001 more than the Shins did, and if a White Stripes record needs including, it’s ‘De Stijl’ or ‘White Blood’, but who cares, really? I wish I could like the Hold Steady, but I just kinda don’t. It sounds way too Master Shake fronting the E-Street Band for my tastes, and I’m very glad that I don’t like any Bright Eyes. Kudos go, I suppose, to EW for not just listing Nirvana, Pumpkins, etc. I doubt that the readers of EW will suddenly start searching the used racks for Built to Spill or Polvo records, but that’s neither here nor there.

  26. bookwibble  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    I like the first two sentences of EWs opening paragraph…NOT.

    Oh, Stereogum, you and your puns…

    And I’d put Sufjan for ’03.

  27. Mac  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    That is kind of asinine that they disqualified Cat Power for not being a ‘band’ but they included Bright Eyes. I hate to say it, but CYHSY should probably be in that spot instead.

  28. Allah  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Radiohead = Not Indie

  29. oh.  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Reading comments on this site now feels like it burns my retinas.

  30. Ben  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    that yo la tengo album is amazing, but i think the sophtware slump by grandaddy should be in that 2000 spot.

    … assuming, of course, that kid a is not a valid answer.

  31. Sar  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Given their criteria they listed (can’t count Sufjan, Radiohead, etc) it seems like a pretty solid list. The choices are a lot more obvious for earlier years; the more recent picks just need a few more years’ perspective. It’s still too early to say which record from 06 or 07 will have the most lasting impact.

    And Radiohead probably should have been 2007, calling that a 2008 release is almost cheating.

  32. DS48  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that EW picked The Hold Steady in 2006 instead of Arctic Monkeys OR TV on the Radio…I guess I didn’t expect them to be right. But ok, let’s set these straight.

    2000: Mass Romantic
    2001: Is This It?
    2005: Z
    2007: In Rainbows

    • Jonathan  |   Posted on Mar 24th, 2008 0

      I was surprised Mass Romantic and Is This It? didn’t make it too, wasn’t the latter on a major label?

  33. I’ve heard Bright Eyes described as a “band with only one permanent member” before, which to me sounds like a fancy way of saying “solo artist” but what do I know. I like Bright Eyes though, so I’m glad to see him included. I agree that they should’ve used White Blood Cells instead of Elephant, but other than that the list looks pretty solid from my point of view.

  34. jb  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People should have been 2003

  35. those stipulations made for some compromising decisions

  36. blackbear  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    2005…. apologies to the queen mary?

  37. Bright Eyes is spot on. Wide Awake is clearly his best work, and it’s good to see it get some recognition.

  38. Panda  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Yeah I agree with Tommy D. Z was great but I still feel like I’m Wide Awake was better. I think that album will be rememered as classic; the whole things is good. If anything deserves that year’s spot more, it’s Wolf Parade, and while that album is pretty great, I don’t think it connected with people the way that the Bright Eyes’ did… And Sufjan Stevens— who cares anymore?

  39. Panda  |   Posted on Mar 20th, 2008 0

    Yeah I agree with Tommy D. Z was great but I still feel like I’m Wide Awake was better. I think that album will be rememered as classic; the whole things is good. If anything deserves that year’s spot more, it’s Wolf Parade, and while that album is pretty great, I don’t think it connected with people the way that the Bright Eyes’ did… And Sufjan Stevens— who cares anymore?

  40. This is just so pointless. Is there anyone in the world who isn’t already aware of any of the albums in the first 10 years? This is more like a list of Academy Award winners for the last 25 years. “Hey! Did you guys know that a band called Fugazi made a good album? Ever heard of the Pixies?! Hey, remember that band the White Stripes, who were so Indie that even we were running blurbs on them in 2003?” This is just an excuse for EW to try to look cool.

    And to consider that the “Indie” bands listed from 2001 on have anything to do with the Independent Bands listed in the first 10 to 15 years is just insulting. And to say that the bands from 2001 on “shun everything that is prefab, safe, typical” is really fucking laughable. The whole Indie genre is safe, typical, and fashionable. So much so that, surprise surprise, they use it to sell cars, clothes, gourmet foods, and movie tickets.

  41. Bender Bending Rodriguez  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    Can’t have an Indie list without Superchunk, the indie-est band of them all. Give them either 1991 for No Pocky For Kitty or 1995 for Here’s Where The Strings Come In.

  42. Roos  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    1999 – 69 Love Songs (duh)

    what a glaring exclusion

  43. Roos  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    1999 – 69 Love Songs (duh)

    what a glaring exclusion

  44. Old Davy  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    At the time that “Life’s Rich Pageant” was released, IRS was distributed by A&M. IRS was never a part of Warner Bros. REM moved from IRS to Warners for the GREEN album. At about the same time, A&M sold IRS to Capitol/EMI.

  45. Rich K  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    Broken Social Scene, Superchunk and Teenage Fanclub are obvious misses, but I’m old so, heh, these too:

    1985 – Husker Du – New Day Rising
    1986- The Feelies – The Good Earth

  46. kidacomputerok  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    Built To Spill is one of my favorite bands, but “Ultimate Alternative Wavers” is an average album at best. Since “Siamese Dream” and “In Utero” are major label releases, the album for 1993 should be Seefeel’s “Quique.”

  47. Richard  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    So glad to see someone give VEE VEE props.

    where’s Superchunk?

    and it seems like someone wanted to give Bright Eyes a place on the list, should have given FEVERS & MIRRORS the win, everything since that record he’s done has been pretentious bullshit.

    i like how after 2002, it turns into fashionrock.

    • buns  |   Posted on Mar 25th, 2008 0

      fevers and mirrors was by far conor’s most pretentious output. Wide Awake is basically a folk record which in my opinion is historically one of the least pretentious genres. Way to let everyone know you can name his breakthrough album though. 2 cool points go to you sir.

  48. Finchmeister  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    @ Allah

    ‘Indie’ no longer is representative of ‘independent music’, and hasn’t been used to describe that for a while. Radiohead is Indie Rock. Sure, of course they’re have a diverse catalog and I wouldn’t describe Amnesiac as indie rock.

  49. onceler  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2008 0

    hm, 1995 should be OK computer, ’08 shouldn’t be rated yet because its only March. I would give 07 to the National. I dunno, I don’t find Spoon to be an outstanding band. pretty blah to me. I would also switch the Smiths and REM from 85 and 86, and have ‘Fables of the Reconstruction’ for 85 and ‘The Queen is Dead’ for 86. 93 I would give to stereolab’s Mars Audiac Quintet, and yeah, for 99 69 love songs laid waste to everything, even though it had tons of blah songs. it still had like three times as many good songs as any other album. for 90, I’d pick ‘GodWeenSatan – the oneness’ by Ween. I think that was 90…Repeater was not Fugazi’s best work, I don’t think. their oldest and most recent stuff is better to me than their middle period stuff. hell while we’re at it I’d give 84 to Psychocandy’, and 05 to someone else, I don’t know who, but, come on…

  50. Wasn’t Sonic Youth released on Geffen. And wasn’t Geffen a major label?

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