The 50 Best Indie Rock Albums of the 2010s

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The 50 Best Indie Rock Albums of the 2010s

Indie rock isn’t a genre easily defined, especially in the context of the 2010s. “Indie” is a word that once simply implied independent music, aka music that was created by an artist who isn’t signed to a major label—or maybe any label at all. But now “indie” is more widely used to signify a certain sound. Even so, the records on this list are far from uniform in style. Here you’ll find everything from Madrid garage rock to pop-tinged dance rock to rollicking folk, but they’re all indie in spirit. Some artists on this list, like Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, graduated long ago from independent labels, but they still—believe it or not—fly under the radar when it comes to the larger sphere of pop music. You can find other artists, like The Beths and Weyes Blood, still playing clubs. Meanwhile, Bon Iver collaborated with Kanye West in the 2010s, and Courtney Barnett landed on Barack Obama’s 2018 playlist. This is all to say that indie rock is a relative term that fluctuates from year to year. But it’s some of the music we love most here at Paste, the guitar music made by underdogs, the modern rock classics made by unlikely heroes. With so much change happening constantly in the music industry in the past 10 years, this list could’ve looked a thousand different ways. But these are the indie rock albums we loved the most, as voted by the Paste staff.

Listen to our Best Indie Rock Albums of the 2010s playlist on Spotify right here.

hinds-leave.jpg 50. Hinds: Leave Me Alone (2016)
If frolicking on a warm beach in golden light with your best friends had a musical equivalent, it’s the debut album from Hinds. Though the Spanish quartet is said to be at the forefront of a growing indie scene in Madrid—a city much better known for many other things—Hinds could just as easily have grown up in a garage a few blocks from the ocean somewhere in southern California. Co-fronted by Ana Perrote and Carlotta Cosials, who started the band as a duo called Deers before recruiting Ade Martin and Amber Grimbergen and, for legal reasons, changing their name, Hinds play shaggy rock ’n’ roll with a casual, shambling feel. Perrote and Cosials trade lead vocals, and they often give the impression they’re singing through broad smiles of amazement at how much fun they’re having. Their enthusiasm carries over to Martin and Grimbergen, and the quartet plays with a sense of joy that feels genuine and anything but cynical. Although the group sometimes wanders or gets sloppy, precision isn’t the point. Leave Me Alone manages to be a nostalgic album that nevertheless lives in the moment—it’s a moment worth celebrating. —Eric R. Danton

noregerts_hey.jpg 49. Chastity Belt: No Regerts (2013)
Choosing which Chastity Belt album to include on this list was no easy task. The Seattle four-piece has been a fixture of the always-vibrant Pacific Northwest rock scene ever since their debut album, cheekily titled No Regerts, arrived in 2013. Fans and critics quickly slapped a “feminist rock” label on the band, but they’ve never sounded political just for the sake of being political. They’re more subtly radical on No Regerts, singing minimalist lyrics about Janet Jackson-esque wardrobe malfunctions and eating drunchies (“Nip Slip”), fucked-up, no-pants dancing (“Pussy Weird Beer”) and partying with their best friends (“Seattle Party”). On the last track, “Evil,” they crack open the darkest parts of their souls. Hearing this album in 2013 was like hearing something totally new. Perhaps Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Annie Truscott and Gretchen Grimm were inspired by the lineage of riot grrrls—they undoubtedly possess a punk spirit—but, more than likely, it seems their friendship and all the ensuing shenanigans is the biggest inspiration for Chastity Belt. No Regerts remains a snapshot of a young band who knew exactly what they wanted to say, everyone else be damned. They’re still one of the coolest bands working in indie rock. —Ellen Johnson

clingtoit.jpg 48. The Radio Dept.: Clinging to a Scheme (2010)
Never before has dream pop sounded so warm, so welcoming. Every synth on Swedish band The Radio Dept.’s third album feels like a warm blanket, tucking you in while Johan Duncanson’s understated vocals read a bedtime story. Sometimes those stories are simple yet devastating (“Do I love you? / Yes I love you / But easy come, easy go / Don’t let me down” from the gorgeous “A Token of Gratitude”), other times longing for someone who will never love him back (“Oh David won’t you look into my eyes?”). Clinging to a Scheme, released in the first spring of this decade, does a lot by saying little; each lyric and guitar line carries a huge weight, each slowly-crooned word specifically chosen to convey a distinct emotion. Whether Duncanson is raging against the capitalists unfairly monetizing youth culture on breakthrough single “Heaven’s on Fire” or singing about the love interest he’s obsessed with on “The Video Dept.” through a mask of vocal distortion, The Radio Dept.’s masterpiece makes life’s littlest moments and emotions feel of utmost importance, each smile (or lack thereof) seemingly life-affirming or world-ending. The Swedish trio bids us farewell on the dazzling “You Stopped Making Sense,” a track about losing his romantic partner to religion, imploring his former significant other, “Don’t say goodbye.” In the almost 10 years since Clinging to a Scheme was released, we still haven’t. —Steven Edelstone

dreamsweetdreams.jpg 47. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had A Dream That You Were Mine (2016)
Hamilton Leithauser, former frontman for The Walkmen, and his musical partner Rostam Batmanglij (ex-Vampire Weekend) achieved something increasingly rare in the indie rock landscape on their first fully collaborative album. The 10 tracks on I Had A Dream That You Were Mine use small signposts that point to music of the past without fully devolving into pure pastiche. Although both men had day jobs playing various strains of post-punk, together their baseline is the much broader idea of pop music, plain and simple. At least how pop music was created in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It allows them to gild the edges of these songs with the “sha-dooby” backing vocals of doo-wop, some Dylanesque harmonica ramblin’, finger-picked acoustic guitar a la Leonard Cohen’s early work, and some U.K.-style folk rock. Again, those elements are only signifiers, a way for fellow music obsessives to latch on to a song before Leithauser and Rostam take you on a much different journey. —Robert Ham

46. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (2012)
Dirty Projectors have a history of creating delightfully grandiose records full of complex, sprawling arrangements and bizarre concepts. But where do you go after marking “suicidal Don Henley rock opera” and “Black Flag debut re-imagined from 15-year-old memory” off your musical to-do list? For Projectors’ frontman Dave Longstreth, the answer was simple. And as is often the case, the simplest answer proved to be the best one. For the group’s sixth album, Swing Lo Magellan, Longstreth decided to take an approach that focused primarily on songwriting. Rather than trying to make every track work under an overarching theme, the songs on Magellan were crafted individually and with care. Each tune is perfectly capable of standing on its own, and there is a lot of diversity in the music, but the record still manages to feel whole as a work of art in itself. The source of Swing Lo Magellan’s charm, for it truly is a charming collection, is that it’s a record that doesn’t try be anything other than exactly what it is. The album’s closer, “Irresponsible Tune,” is a haunting ballad that falls somewhere between a roots recording and a hymn. Longstreth sings like an evangelical preacher, but instead of crooning about “marching in the light of God,” he proselytizes about music, singing, “In my heart, there is music / In my mind is a song / But in my eyes, a world crooked, fucked up and wrong.” How’s that for unguarded? It’s not pretty, but it’s direct and honest and unafraid to stand naked for the world to see its scars. —Wyndham Wyeth

45. Real Estate: Atlas (2014)
In our current Ableton-fueled epoch, Real Estate’s unassuming commitment to craft seems almost deliriously uncool. Sure, the values that have come to define the New Jersey group—an eye for refinement and an unerring awareness of their own strengths—wouldn’t have been considered flashy during any period. But in an era where critical praise for indie-rock bands is usually qualified by some kind of statement about the waning relevance of guitar-based music, Real Estate’s ethos feels vitally contrarian. Their third LP, Atlas, recorded with immense care at Wilco’s Chicago studio, marked the point where they transcended the trappings of their former lo-fi niche. The album embeds itself in the Americana framework more than any of the band’s prior releases. Atlas’ reverb bath refracts everything from the rusted twang and jingle of late-career Feelies to the mantric hum of Roger McGuinn’s euphoric 12-string scale explorations. It might seem like an obvious career peak were this not the work of a still-young band that, from the start, has been predisposed toward graceful maturation. It’s a quietly sublime work from a group of musicians who have always insisted—via their straight-up goofy music videos, Budweiser references and substitute teacher-like appearances—they’re just average suburbanites. —Michael Wojtas

44. Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (2014)
Just like Future Islands, Mac DeMarco is also an artist whose live show became impossible to separate from his songs and his persona in the 2010s. In a perfect world, each copy of Salad Days, his sophomore LP, would come with your own portable Mac DeMarco to keep you company while listening to the collection, cracking self-deprecating and just barely-not-creepy jokes about his own songwriting. The rather chilled-out Salad Days probably still sounds more muscular than the woozy haze that works for much of the subject matter, with the title track mentioning “rolling through life, to roll over and die.” DeMarco doesn’t say that maturing is giving up explicitly, but in quoting his mom saying “act your age” and moments like the buzz-killing noise blast that ends “Brother,” DeMarco has no interest in fitting in or making things easy on listeners. Or as he says on “Goodbye Weekend,” “Don’t go tellin’ me how this boy should be leaving his own life.” —Philip Cosores

melbourneFLORIDA.jpg 43. Dick Diver: Melbourne, Florida (2015)
Australia has been the undisputed world champ for top shelf indie rock of all stripes for this entire decade, and Melbourne, Florida is the masterwork of at least one of those strands. Dick Diver—get your head out of the gutter and go read Tender is the Night already—put out three increasingly great albums that culminated in the smart, subtle pop genius of the cheekily named Melbourne, Florida, an achingly beautiful set of guitar songs that evoked the emotionally powerful literary pop of the Go-Betweens without aping that legendary band’s style too closely. For my money “Waste the Alphabet” and “Tearing the Posters Down” are the two finest indie rock songs of the decade (and, indeed, songs, period)—two perfectly crafted pop jams that seamlessly unite guitar, lyrics and melody into honest, humble songs rich in both hooks and subtly powerful emotion. They sound like you could’ve heard them on college radio at any point since the late ’70s, meaning they’re timeless indie rock for the ages. —Garrett Martin

beths-future.jpg 42. The Beths: Future Me Hates Me (2018)
Elizabeth Stokes named her band after herself, or, rather, her nickname. So it should come as no surprise, then, that the debut album from New Zealand-based rockers The Beths, Future Me Hates Me, is sharply self-aware. Stokes, a music teacher who quit her day job to tour the world with The Beths, pairs clever, refreshingly straightforward lyrics with uber-catchy guitar pop, and she never stutters in delivering even the most blunt assessments of her doubts, fears and anxieties. “Sometimes I think I’m doing fine / I think I’m pretty smart,” she sings on the album’s title track before, later, completing the thought: “Oh then the walls become thin / And somebody gets in / I’m defenseless.” On dizzying love song “Little Death,” she captures and tames all the butterflies swarming around in her stomach: “And the red spreads to my cheeks / You make me feel three glasses in.” The Beths sound as if they’re already three albums in, playing with the musical and lyrical finesse of a much older and more experienced band. Every single song on this record arrives with as many contagious hooks and honest confessions as on the sparkly, frank “Little Death” and the toe-tap-inducing examination of overthinking “Future Me Hates Me.” Indie rock is alive and well in Oceania—The Beths, like their Australian neighbors Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, hit it out of the park in crafting one of the sturdiest rock debuts of not only 2018, but also the decade. —Ellen Johnson

superchunk-time.jpg 41. Superchunk: What a Time to Be Alive (2018)
Indie-rock legends Superchunk, who formed in 1989 and helped define ’90s independent culture, returned in 2010 after a mostly idle decade, and went on to put out three of their very best albums in their third decade of existence. In February 2018 they released What a Time to Be Alive, their 11th official album, and a furious but clear-eyed slab of anti-Trump, anti-GOP, anti-bullshit truth-telling. The name of the new album came from the post-apocalyptic embers of 2016’s election cycle, spurring band members Mac McCaughan, Laura Ballance, Jim Wilbur and Jon Wurster to close the gaps between albums. Recorded and mixed by Beau Sorenson, What a Time to Be Alive features guest backing vocalists way more than the Superchunk of the past: Sabrina Ellis (A Giant Dog, Sweet Spirit), Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee), Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields), Skylar Gudasz and David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) all make appearances on the title track. Blaring guitar solos and shout-along choruses abound, and it’s quintessential Superchunk. —Garrett Martin and Hannah Fleming

Thumbnail image for feistmetals_cover.jpg 40. Feist: Metals (2011)
The very qualities that make Leslie Feist such a distinctive pop artist are also the very things that make her too easy to dismiss: Her understated melodies, restrained performances and thoughtful arrangements are often decried as dull, monotonous, samey—as if these are critical adjectives that require no further elaboration. Especially at a time when an album’s shelf-life can be measured in days or weeks instead of months or years, Feist makes music that requires close attention and repeated spins, and yet there’s almost always a payoff—some revelation that rewards the listener’s investment. The Reminder, Feist’s 2009 breakthrough, was—at least relatively—bubbly and spirited, and “1 2 3 4” didn’t need an iPod commercial to sell its showtune effervescence. That was far and away the most immediately catchy in her repertoire, and even with the release of Feist’s third album, Metals, it remained so. Above all else, Metals emphasizes Feist’s vocals, which sound as though they were recorded very closely to capture even the finest textures and subtlest tones. At times even Feist herself doesn’t seem to know what she will do from one note to the next. On “Comfort Me,” her voice launches into a short trill of notes, far outside the melodic line, which heralds an abrupt shift in tone and theme. And on “Anti-Pioneer,” she makes a concerted break from intelligible syllables to make her voice another instrument in the mix, delivering pure sound instead of words. It’s a lovely, low-key moment that reveals her most fascinating contradiction: By negating herself in the song—by making the music so quiet, by surrendering the very idea of lyrics, by keeping listeners at arms’ length at least through the first few crucial spins—Feist asserts herself all the more powerfully. —Stephen M. Deusner

39. Tame Impala: Lonerism (2012)
Midway through “Nothing That Has Happened So Far,” a bulldozer of sublime psychedelia on Tame Impala’s sophomore LP, a mysterious voice emerges from the swirl: “You’re thinking about everything, aren’t you?” it asks, bathed in fuzz, as drums tumble wildly and electric guitars shiver with flange. “I know it’s crazy—just don’t think of it like that / Nothing has to mean anything.” Lonerism expertly balances heady textures with effortless melodicism. “Apocalypse Dreams” is a capital-E Epic, a modern psychedelic odyssey that grows catchier and stranger the longer it plays; “Be Above It” builds from a chanted vocal loop and primal drum pulse into a carnival of giddy hooks and flange. The show-stopping “Music to Walk Home By” sounds like The Flaming Lips re-scoring Magical Mystery Tour, stoned out of their gourds. Saying nothing rarely sounds this profound. —Ryan Reed

38. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (2014)
For four consecutive years, Parquet Courts released either an LP or a substantial EP, and for four consecutive years, the band remained itself with a skewed focus and altered perspective. Where punk or post-punk or slacker rock might have described them before, the band seems to embrace its most obvious comparison points on Sunbathing Animal: Lou Reed and Stephen Malkmus. Yeah, these two godfathers have always informed the band’s songwriting, but here they are unveiled muses. This can make the album comfortingly derivative at its best and its worst, meaning that a song like opener “Bodies Made Of” is so easy to embrace because it sounds like a Pavement song that it is hard not to be critical of how much it sounds like a Pavement song. More noteworthy is the band’s admission of blues being an influence on this record and that isn’t hard to spot, even for the passing listener who might just notice the similarity between “Black and White” and Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It is an effective spin on tradition that becomes a signature element to the album, seen in the absolute statements that feel like handcuffs on “Always Back in Town” and the seven-minute torture chamber for the masochistic that is “Instant Disassembly.” —Philip Cosores

37. Japanese Breakfast: Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)
Michelle Zauner, sole creator of the indie pop project Japanese Breakfast, made 2016’s Psychopomp amid the death of her mother from cancer, a catastrophic event that can easily send anyone down an unfamiliar path. For Zauner, it meant an ongoing search for solace in loss. Soft Sounds From Another Planet continues that journey. It’s a somber, starry lullaby that results in periods of fitful sleep marked by struggles with fading love and death’s vague mystery. But there’s something comforting about the record too, with its interlocking muted chords, muffled drums, and sudden shocks of electric guitar that add sharp slices of lightning. Soft Sounds is full of pretty interludes of ambient noise mixed with shoegaze and electro-pop touches. —Emily Reily

hop-along-bark.jpg 36. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog (2018)
Three years after their seminal Painted Shut, Philadelphia’s Hop Along returned with their third Saddle Creek-released LP, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, their most cohesive release to date. Few vocalists evoke the emotion packed into Frances Quinlan’s delivery, and it’s on full display on early singles like the epic “Not Abel.” Quinlan’s songwriting has become more self-aware and outwardly present to the mechanisms of the world around her, and Hop Along is as tight a unit as you’ll hear on record. —Adrian Spinelli

Big Thief Capacity Art.jpg 35. Big Thief: Capacity (2017)
Big Thief may have emerged in the latter half of this decade, but they’ve quickly become one of its most authentic and moving acts around. Fronted by the extremely warm-hearted, wise and nonjudgmental Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief thrive on the magic they unearth seemingly from a past life. Lenker delivers poetic lines about nature that never appear trite with a voice that ranges from gentle to fierce, always with a mother-like comfort. Their second album Capacity draws on earth’s passing moments that are taken for granted—“the money pile on the dashboard fluttering” (“Shark Smile”), “Shrapnel and oil cans, rhubarb in the yard” (“Mythological Beauty”), “The sugar rush / The constant hush / The pushing of the water gush” (“Mary”)—but it’s grounded in humanity’s brightest and darkest tendencies. Their tender, evocative indie-folk transcends any musical categorization—it’s dirty, heartbreaking, trustworthy, gorgeous and armed with a childlike wonder and well-worn sagacity. While their 2016 debut Masterpiece offered raw charm, 2017’s Capacity has a keener eye and an intoxicating richness. —Lizzie Manno

amen-dunes-freedom.jpg 34. Amen Dunes: Freedom (2018)
Throughout his career as Amen Dunes, Damon McMahon has existed just on the other side of clarity. He was, for years, the rising underground artist who sounds like he’s singing from around a corner, and who ducks into the shadows to avoid the light. Musically, McMahon shrouded himself in noise and effects on his debut, 2009’s DIA, then gradually peeled back that shroud on 2011’s Through Donkey Jaw and 2014’s Love. That process brought Amen Dunes’ music forward into the light, but not necessarily McMahon: Even as Love’s songs shimmered, their creator stayed just below the surface, an indistinct form behind this promising work. On Amen Dunes’ 2018 album Freedom, McMahon finally shows himself fully, and the results are both charmingly raw and uncommonly lovely. His songs are captured cleanly and intimately, a credit to producer Chris Coady, known for his work with Beach House and Grizzly Bear, among others. His lyrics are more personal than ever before. He even put his own face on the cover for the first time—eyes averted, of course. Across its 11 tracks, McMahon reflects on his own life like a seething poet, often spitting out lyrics as if they’re forcing themselves from his body. Recurring topics include his hard-knock childhood, masculinity, spirituality, his mother’s battle with cancer and his difficult relationship with his father. Freedom’s peak is a five-minute-long song called “Miki Dora,” built on another solid foundation of motorik beat and burbling bassline. As the groove slowly unfolds, McMahon ascends into a sort of self-reflective strut: “Pride destroyed me, man / Till it took ahold of me / I feel it when cry / I can feel it in my dreams.” Even when he was obscured by the hiss and echo of his lo-fi beginnings, McMahon had the look of a fascinating songwriter. Freedom bears that out. As long as he keeps making music, it’ll be fun digging in. It already is. —Ben Salmon

soccer-mommy-clean.jpg 33. Soccer Mommy: Clean (2018)
Amidst the verses of “Still Clean,” the opening track off of Clean, the as-of-yet latest album from Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy), she’s grappling with a temporary tryst, a seasonal fling—the kind we often pretend to have gotten over, while we replay the minutiae of the affair over and over again in the privacy of our own heads. “I guess I’m only what you wanted for a little while,” she sings—still dazed months later from the abrupt departure of her summer love’s affections. Those are the first lyrics that jumped out at me, instantly conjuring up a face, and a name and my own replayed reel of amatory memories and now-hollow words. This speaks to Allison’s songwriting, a craft she honed for years in her Tennessee bedroom before releasing 2017’s acclaimed Collection. With Clean, she may have again left her bedroom for the studio, but her introspective and comfortably confessional lyrics maintain their intimacy and diary-scrawl relatability. Only this time, Allison is zeroing in on the freeing, but often painful realizations that we all experience at one time or another—the kind that usually only come with the ending of something. Allison is young (not yet 21 at the time of this release), evident not only in her youthful voice, but her talk of missed calls from mom, parked cars, and hanging around after school. But she does it all in an honest, uncomplicated, and well-crafted way that Clean is anything but juvenile. You might just forget how old you are for a second, as her bedroom melodies carry you back to when feelings were freely given and many lessons still had to be learned. —Madison Desler

kurt-vile-smoke-ring.jpg 32. Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring For My Halo (2011)
Philadelphia songwriter Kurt Vile was only half-boasting when he named his official debut album Constant Hitmaker. Before signing to Matador in 2008, he had been releasing homemade recordings and singles at a marathon pace for years, winning over local fans and vinyl collectors while continually refining his idiosyncratic, “midnight in a smoky dive bar” take on classic-rock balladry. Vile’s 2011 album Smoke Ring For My Halo, sees him working in a professional studio with a real producer (Dinosaur Jr./Hold Steady helmer John Agnello) for the first time, but the added sheen fortunately doesn’t dilute the nocturnal atmospheric approach he’s spent years cultivating. —Michael Tedder

deerhunterhalcyon.jpg 31. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (2010)
In the early 2010s, Deerhunter graduated, by degrees, from conjuring moods to writing proper songs, and their fourth album Halcyon Digest finds Bradford Cox and company strip-mining new aural territory and toeing the line between structure and abstraction. Opener “Earthquake” lowers a looping trio of sounds—a snare trill, a struck match, a tape noise swipe—into a deep sonic chasm where legions of guitars and dissolving vocals dominate. The synthesizer early in “He Would Have Laughed” soars into kaleidoscopic infinity, and the feather-light “Sailing” has just enough melody to stick in your head. “Coronado” injects jaunty jangle-pop with saxophone honks—then a first for this Atlanta band that’s as surprising as it is satisfying. This all makes Digest’s more conventional Deerhunter fare—like the Beatlesesque note-to-younger-self “Don’t Cry,” and the spectral, creamy “Basement Scene”—feel curiously out of place. —Raymond Cummings

30. Kevin Morby: City Music (2017)
Singing Saw, the third solo album from L.A. singer-songwriter (and former Woods bassist) Kevin Morby, was one of the great “growers” of 2016. Dusky and unassuming, it revealed its considerable charms slowly but surely. Morby’s follow up, City Music, mines a similar aesthetic, though its songs in general seem to endear themselves more quickly. Where Singing Saw was inspired in part by Morby’s sleepy neighborhood in the hills northeast of L.A., City Music is about the metropolis: city life, city noise, city people, a city’s pace, and so on. Morby has said Singing Saw was Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, while City Music is Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and the comparison is clear in Morby’s speak-sing deadpan and bulging crescendos from brooding guitar-folk to driving rock. (The barreling “1234” makes a beeline for the Ramones.) City Music doesn’t hustle and bustle. But it won’t let you miss it, either. —Ben Salmon

girls.jpg 29. Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost (2011)
While not exactly a pop savant, Owens sharpened his songwriting in the few years between Album and his next release, and the tunes on Father, Son, Holy Ghost sounded more open-ended, allowing them to build on and play off one another naturally and easily, without being forced into a self-conscious song cycle or concept album. This is an album about juxtaposition and contrast, so the yearning “Alex,” which sounds lit by a beach campfire at twilight, segues into the riff-heavy “Die,” with its classic rock noodling and harried lyrics. Girls do pop melancholy and metal misanthropy equally well. The whole album is full of such odd, unexpected pleasure, which all the more impressive considering how familiar the elements are. That’s perhaps Girls’ most impressive trick: finding so many new ideas and emotions in pop’s well-worn sounds. In that regard, this album not only surpasses its predecessor but raises the bar for any band, indie or otherwise, mining the past for inspiration. —Stephen M. Deusner

waxakatie_salt.jpg 28. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (2013)
The first Waxahatchee record, American Weekend, was a demo—murmured, acoustic, trying to find feeling. 2013’s Cerulean Salt recaptured some of Katie Crutchfield’s melodic sense with a full band that still managed to honor her lyric-oriented sparseness. Tricks like the kick-snare-bass propulsion of “Brother Bryan” or the miniature Keith Moon eruptions that burst open “Peace and Quiet” break up the braininess so one can rest on her solid rock devices without reading along all of the time. Her inexhaustible desire to make short, emotional rock records at an impressive clip and get every overshare out there was a rare thing in tuneful bandleaders this decade. —Dan Weiss

27. Julien Baker: Turn Out The Lights (2017)
Julien Baker’s debut album, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, was a bolt of lightning from out of nowhere, zapped down from heaven directly into a bottle bobbing in a vast and lonely ocean. Turn Out the Lights snuck up on no one. That’s a tricky place to be, but the Memphis singer-songwriter handled it with grace, never overreaching. Intimacy wasn’t sacrificed to make way for chilly distance or flamboyance. Instead, it was replaced by a brighter, more muscular beauty. This is most evident on the album’s first single, “Appointments,” which finds Baker unfurling a tale of sadness and hope atop guitars that sparkle and pulse like a dramatic post-rock band, not an indie-folk artist. —Ben Salmon

26. Future Islands: Singles (2014)
The status of “next big thing” is a coveted position, and most bands never get there. Future Islands have been there three times, with three consecutive albums. But where their second and third Thrill Jockey releases, In Evening Air and On the Water, were able to nab strong reviews and cult audiences, bolstered by the group’s kinetic performances, the Baltimore-by-way-of-North Carolina outfit never quite broke out in a way that deserves that kind of superlatives being lobbed in its direction. Singles, the audaciously titled fourth LP from Future Islands, is upfront about its ambitions, beginning with the strongest stand-alone the band has made yet. “Seasons (Waiting on You)” sees a universal experience portrayed with respect for the human condition, and Samuel Herring showcases an even-handed distribution of youthful longing and frustration with mature wisdom and perspective. Herring’s deep, husky and often untamable delivery peppers this spread with personality, sounding like an only son of Dracula raised in an ‘80s disco. Future Islands are direct in their influences, with ’80s pop music and contemporary synth-pop both pretty obvious touchstones. But trying to pinpoint the sound of the band ignores the originality that is at play. No one sounds like Future Islands, nor have they for several albums. —Philip Cosores

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