What is indie rock? Since evolving out of the American punk scene in the mid-’80s, the term has been applied to everything from aggressive noise bands to pastoral folk singer-songwriters to quirky synthpop producers. For this list, we’ve loosely defined the genre as “guitar music made by people who came out of the rock underground and aren’t afraid to seem brainy or challenging”—indie-rock bands like Dinosaur Jr., Sleater-Kinney, and Pavement.
The most ineffably indie-rock band of all time, and not just because pretty much every indie band that picked up a guitar after 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted was copying them on some level. Frontman Stephen Malkmus is like the walking embodiment of indie attitude, wrapping a formidable intellect in a slacker facade and peppering his songs with secret-handshake references to obscure records and snarky commentary about more popular bands.
Sonic Youth was the coolest band when it emerged out of the noisy New York art-rock scene in the early ’80s—and it still was when the group broke up three decades later. In between the band engineered the ’90s alternative rock boom, inspired Kurt Cobain and recorded a vast body of music that touched on hardcore punk and psychedelic folk and elevated guitar abuse to an art form. Classic albums like 1988’s Daydream Nation stand out, but really everything they did was revolutionary.
If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. - Albert Einstein
With their aggressively angular sound, grad-student looks, and frequent lyrical references to conspiracy theories and surrealist art films from the silent movie era, the Pixies were never going to be rock stars in their own time. That didn’t stop them from recording such near-flawless albums as 1989’s Doolittle, which laid out a blueprint that the entire alternative rock movement would borrow from. Their loud-quiet-loud structure would go from a unique songwriting quirk to a rock staple after Nirvana borrowed it for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” (Source: timeout.com)