Indie can mean a lot of things depending on who you ask. Whether it is strictly used to define an artist’s label status, the spirit in which they create, or simply as an indicator of a certain rock-and-roll ethos, some of the most exciting and innovative music is still coming from this space. Sure, indie rock might not be topping the charts like it did a decade ago, but we also know that these things are cyclical, and it will undoubtedly have its time as a commercial force again.
Which artists might be the next to make the jump from clubs to arenas? They might be on this list, which also includes a healthy amount of bands and musicians who have already made significant career progress in 2023. Let’s take a look at the best indie albums of 2023.
100 Gecs – 10,000 Gecs
100 Gecs could have so easily had their moment in the meme sun with their 2019 debut album 1000 Gecs and then faded away forever. The songs were both catchy and off-the-wall weird, a delicate balance that’s not easy to pull off on a single album, let alone two. They did it again, though, on 10000 Gecs. How? Songwriting. Throughout the album are compositions that reach out through their alternative, kooky grime and smack you in the face with catchy hooks and memorable lyrics. The inevitable 100,000 Gecs can’t come soon enough. – Derrick Rossignol
Arlo Parks – My Soft Machine
After first making a name for herself with her poetic lyrics and touching confessions on mental health and queerness, UK artist Arlo Parks returned with her sophomore album My Soft Machine. Living up to the accolades that came along with her debut (which included two Grammy nominations and the Mercury Prize for Album Of The Year) Parks doubles down on her revelations about the realities of relationships and struggling with depression, this time adding synths into the mix. Lush indie earworms like “Purple Phase” and the Phoebe Bridgers-featuring “Pegasus,” Parks’ My Soft Machine continues to prove she’s one of the best indie songwriters of her generation. – Carolyn Droke
Blondshell — Blondshell
LA-based songwriter Blondshell was the latest buzzy indie songwriter to arrive on the scene in 2023. Her self-titled debut offers a realistic snapshot of navigating your early 20s, relationship woes, and a heaping pile of self-doubt included. Blondshell opens with a song titled “Veronica Mars,” referencing the early aughts hit TV show. But that’s not the only ’00s reference you’ll find sprinkled throughout the album. The blown-out guitars and tangible angst call back to early alt-rock, along with singer Sabrina Teitelbaum’s earnest yet at-times guttural vocal delivery. Her lyrics pack an emotional gut-punch, my personal favorite being, “My kink is when you tell me that you think I’m pretty” on “Kiss City.” – C.D.
Boygenius – The Record
When Boygenius — the supergroup comprised of Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers — first appeared with their 2018 self-titled EP, its members were known indie quantities but not quite the stars that they are in 2023. Their steady rise makes their debut LP, The Record, all the more of an event, and has found them on the cover of Rolling Stone, headlining festivals, and even appearing on the massive Taylor Swift stadium tour. But what might get lost in the hype and the friendship-focused narrative is that Boygenius also finds three magnificent songwriters working in their prime, tapping both new and unfamiliar territory in equal measure, and discovering parts of themselves that can only be illuminated through the artistry of others. – Philip Cosores
Gel – Only Constant
I don’t know if Only Constant, the 10 songs-in-16-minutes debut album by hardcore band Gel, is the shortest album on this list. But I do know it’s the album that will make you say “hell yeah” the most. The feedback opening to “Honed Blade” before the drums kick in and singer Sami Kaiser shouts at us to “sharpen up our voice”? Hell yeah. The pummeling guitar riffs on “Attainable”? Hell yeah. The way “The Way Out” will make you want to rip a phonebook in half? Hell yeah. Is Only Constant one of the year’s best albums? Hell yeah. – Josh Kurp
Gorillaz — Cracker Island
From Snoop Dogg to Kali Uchis, Gorillaz have always positioned themselves as expert collaborators. And their latest album Cracker Island is no exception. Throughout the 10-track release, their first since 2020’s project Song Machine, Gorillaz whisk up a collection of lush and attention-grabbing songs that prove they’re still innovators after over 20 years as a band. The project spotlights artists from Bad Bunny with “Tormenta” to Tame Impala with “New Gold” (and even includes a collab with Stevie Nicks!), showing that the band is at their best when they work with other artists. The end might be nigh for the current iteration of Gorillaz — according to Damon Albarn — but with Cracker Island, the band has primed itself to continue pushing the boundaries of indie music, no matter who’s at its helm. – C.D.
Hotline TNT – Cartwheel
A poppy shoegaze outfit that doesn’t skimp on catchy melodies even as the guitars push deep into the red, Hotline TNT attracted lots of hype this year. But the songwriting earns it, especially when singer-songwriter Will Anderson contrasts his surging, ear-splitting music with sensitive-guy musings that elevate Cartwheel to the heights of romantic fuzz-rock bliss. – Steven Hyden
Hot Mulligan — Why Would I Watch
The singles for the new Hot Mulligan album Why Would I Watch consisted of “Shhhh! Golf Is On” and “Gans Media Retro Games,” both of which are some of their best material to date. Their pop-punk earworms explode with unabating riffs and fervent shouts; every melody has the stickiness of a song you’d hear on the radio. The Blink-182 influence is directly confronted on the ridiculously catchy and inconsolably depressing track “It’s A Family Movie She Hates Her Dad”: “Sit me down and give me the confessional / Stay together for the kid / Isn’t that original?” – Danielle Chelosky
Indigo De Souza — All Of This Will End
Indigo De Souza is a master of imbuing sad songs with a contagious aura of hope. Though “Time Back,” the opener of her new album All Of This Will End, dwells on loss, it bursts with lively synthesizers and ends on an optimistic note: “When I come home / I will begin again.” This is also true of the confessional yet jubilant “Smog,” as well as the anxious “Parking Lot.” The images of pain are all outlined in a revelatory glow that forces her to recognize the significance of feeling anything at all. – D.C.
L’Rain — I Killed Your Dog
While L’Rain’s Taja Cheek is by no means a newcomer, her third studio LP I Killed Your Dog arrived as an experimental breath of fresh air in the indie world. Whether it’s the wonderfully psych rock track “Pet Rock” or the ethereal “r(EMOTE),” L’Rain takes her heartbreak, contorts it, and transforms it into something new. Oftentimes singing through layers of distortion, Cheek’s voice manages to sound like it lives somewhere beyond this plane of existence. The result is an album that’s like a dream sequence played out, imprinting you with feelings of both comfort and unease. – C.D.
Mandy, Indiana – I’ve Seen A Way
I’ve Seen A Way — the debut album from Mandy, Indiana — started its life, in part, in a cave full of smelly cheese (it’s true). A cavern-recorded album might immediately bring to mind atmospheric sounds like early The Verve, and there are doses of that on I’ve Seen A Way. There are also moments, though, where it sounds like somebody had the bold idea to host a rave or an ’80s synth dance party among the stalactites. Either way, I’ve Seen A Way is the sound of a fresh band taking a big swing right out the gate and connecting with a thunderous crack of the bat (cave pun not intended and only caught while re-reading). – D.R.
Militarie Gun – Life Under The Gun
The search for “the next Turnstile” has given us a bunch of trendpieces and zero albums that managed a fraction of the critical and commercial impact of GLOW ON. In retrospect, Militarie Gun was actually the band calling the shots for hardcore in 2021; as dozens of their peers started to dabble in power-pop, Buzz Bin fanfic, and Oasis deep cuts, all roads indeed led to the Gun and their bullish major label debut. Many have pointed out that Life Under The Gun is hardcore in vibes only, but the ethics of Ian Shelton’s past work are every bit as crucial as the hooks – each song makes it point, makes it stick, and gets out before it can waste time on anything less than essential, a goal so thoroughly realized that the “next Militarie Gun” can only come from their next LP. – Ian Cohen
Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
Recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles, with a cast of supporting musicians that include country scene stalwarts like pedal-steel guitarist Fats Kaplin and keyboardist Brooke Waggoner, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We is as still and insular as Mitski’s previous record, 2022’s Laurel Hell, was upwardly mobile and extroverted. The music is stately, dreamy, and extremely pretty, with Mitski’s voice buffeted by a pocket symphony of soft-focus Americana instrumentation, a stirringly cinematic string section, and a ghostly 17-person choir. – S.H.
The National – First Two Pages Of Frankenstein, Laugh Track
The National didn’t receive a full-scale backlash in 2023, but it’s hard not to think of them as taken for granted at this point. They’ve done nothing but offer up consistently great albums at a regular clip for nearly 20 years, with more casual fans signaling that they’ve had their fill of the smart, nuanced tunes from the band. The National answered with a pair of new albums in 2023, both predictably sturdy, and allowing for many fans to piece together their own tracklist for a combined, even-stronger effort. For my money, there aren’t many songs between the two albums I would cut, and if The National want to release three more albums in 2024, bring it on. – P.C.
Paramore – This Is Why
Paramore’s This Is Why is what it looks like when a band whose been making music for two decades gets back in touch with making music for the fun of it. This Is Why arrived earlier this year on the heels of a six-year hiatus when the band found themselves in the midst of a pandemic and social upheaval, and offers a sardonic commentary on the time period. Throughout their album, Paramore take a more pop-forward approach while holding on to elements of their emo roots. In true Paramore fashion, songs like “The News” offer deadpan takedowns of the powers that be while others like “You First” focus inward. – C.D.
Ratboys – The Window
A band can be called “underrated” only for so long before it starts to become a backhanded compliment, a constant reminder of success not yet achieved and a nagging prompt to question whether they’ve gotten a raw deal or just failed to make themselves essential. For over a decade, Ratboys have been a classic “your favorite band’s favorite band,” “sorely overlooked,” and a perennial solid opener but on The Window, they get on their Seth Cohen shit, jumping up on the proverbial coffee cart and refusing to be anyone’s secret anymore. Teaming up with Chris Walla (who knows a thing or two about this kind of move), Ratboys don’t do a whole lot differently, but they do it with a newfound gusto – their throwback alt-rock is hookier, there’s more grit in their rootsy indie, the jams go on for much longer, and their slice-of-life story songs have a greater sense of personal investment. The Window did everything a “level up” could ask for, including the most difficult part for a perennially underrated band, leaping from likable to lovable. – I.C.
Samia – Honey
Many of 2023’s biggest releases of the year across genres shared one commonality — all were gracefully thematic. Samia’s sophomore album, Honey, was the complete opposite in all the best ways. Throughout the project’s 11 tracks which includes singles “Breathing Song,” “Pink Balloon” and “Sea Lions,” the musician jumps across topics and sounds.
Samia’s shuffled approach to the album serves as a metaphor for the clusterf*ck of difficulties she’s faced. No topic is left unexplored. No subgenre is untapped. On Honey, Samia detracts from her desire for perfection to embrace imperfection’s beauty in more ways than one. – Flisadam Pointer
Slow Pulp – Yard
This Chicago-by-way-of-Madison indie band made some waves with their 2020 debut Moveys, though their progress was blunted somewhat by the pandemic. Therefore, Yard felt doubly consequential this year, especially since it showed off their impressive range. This album veers from darkly beautiful alt-country to introspective folk to zippy guitar pop numbers. It’s the kind of big-tent indie rock record that used to be a lot more common 20 years ago, and still has the potential to win over scores of fans. – S.H.
Sufjan Stevens – Javelin
If I’m writing this blurb based on my experience with Javelin prior to October 6, reliable critic terms like “return to form” and “masterful” come to mind; means of expressing how Sufjan Stevens did a lot of familiar things on his tenth album and did them remarkably well, even if it doesn’t place him at the center of discussion in 2023 the way that Illinois or Carrie & Lowell did. But when Stevens posted a tribute to his late partner Evans Richardson on the day of Javelin’s release, things like “narrative” and “zeitgeist” and “rankings” ultimately felt trivial. Which, yes, that’s what Stevens’ best work does, whether it’s his maximalist, big-top indie revivals or his skeletal folk or the songs on Javelin which fall somewhere in between. The joy, love, brotherhood, and devastation that Stevens sings about here are overwhelming, but as he’s learned from the passing of his best friend and also his own fragile health, all the more beautiful because they’re ultimately fleeting. This is all the more reason to treasure Javelin as if it were Stevens’ final word. – I.C.
Sun June – Bad Dream Jaguar
After taking pastoral indie rock to new heights with their first two albums, Sun June returned this year with Bad Dream Jaguar. Like the band’s previous efforts, many of the songs center around lead vocalist Laura Colwell’s entrancing, wispy voice. Most are inspired by dreams — or nightmares — and written to sound like a stream-of-consciousness. As such, the album plays out like a gently crooned lullaby. Tracks like “Easy Violence” and “Get Enough” show the band’s ability to craft a rollicking Americana tune, while others like “John Prine” and “Sage” put Sun June’s inhibition on full display. – C.D.
Wednesday – Rat Saw God
On the previous Wednesday LP, 2021’s Twin Plagues, singer-songwriter Karly Hartzman wrote evocative story songs set in what I like to call the Gummo South, a partly real and partly made-up region in which dead dogs and burned-down Dairy Queens dot the landscape like Starbucks crowd street corners in big cities. But on Rat Saw God, her songwriting exhibits a level of detail that is practically physical. The title alone of the opening track, “Hot Rotten Grass Smell,” filled my nostrils with the aroma of a humid late July day. – S.H.
Yaeji – With A Hammer
Yaeji simmered relatively under the radar as a beloved figure in the electronic scene for years before impressing with her debut 2020 mixtape What We Drew. Now, it’s debut album time. With A Hammer came out in April and it too is a critical hit. She clearly hasn’t let early success coerce her into taming down her experimental ways in pursuit of a more commercial sound. Singles like “For Granted” and “Passed Me By” are as adventurous as ever while also maintaining an undeniable charm, which can also be said for the rest of one of the year’s most interesting projects. – D.R.
Yves Tumor – Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
It’s not quite radical enough to qualify as “experimental” and not quite catchy enough to work as a full-on pop move. But sonically this is one of the best-sounding indie albums of 2023’s first half. With the assistance of Noah Goldstein, an engineer who worked on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Alan Moulder, who’s one of the great architects of ’90s alt-rock, Praise A Lord invites you to get lost in its grooves. It’s a very good headphone record. The instrumental tones are on-point. – S.H.
Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan
In country music, there are always artists who claim to bring the music back to its working-class roots; this summer a certain ginger-haired lightning rod became an instant (though perhaps short-lived) star by doing just that. This is not Zach Bryan’s approach. His currency is emotional authenticity, in which he delivers gut-level catharsis in a mainstream pop context that otherwise is placid and plastic. At its best, that’s exactly what his self-titled album delivers. – S.H.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.