Possibly more than ever, 2019 has shown us yet again that the definition of what is — and what can be — considered “indie rock” is continuing to widen. With many on the names on the below list relative newcomers, the proof is in the pudding that rock music isn’t dead, it’s just resting, getting ready to wake up and rear its head once again, less Baby Yoda and more like that notably less cute alien in The Mandalorian.
From Pronoun’s soaring bedroom pop choruses to Black Midi’s truly unpredictable musical arrangements to Pup’s fist-pumping punk rock jams, 2019 certainly had no shortage of excellent entries in the indie category. Here are the 35 best.
35. Wilco — Ode To Joy
At this point, Jeff Tweedy has earned the right to rest on his laurels. If Wilco never recorded another album, they’d still be one of the great American bands of the last 25 years. And yet the beauty of Ode To Joy is that these veterans still feel compelled to push themselves. While the music is superficially quiet, this muted beauty seethes with rage about a world that is seemingly ambivalent about its own destruction.–Steven Hyden
34. Jay Som — Anak Ko
Jay Som has undergone a lot of personal growth over the past couple years (as she told Uproxx), and that’s reflected on Anak Ko, the entirety of which she composed, arranged, produced, and performed. It’s a tender record, thanks to the breezy indie vibes of “Superbike” and “Nighttime Drive,” which are both understated and attention-commanding.–Derrick Rossignol
33. Helado Negro — This Is How You Smile
Whether you speak English, Spanish, or both, Helado Negro’s gorgeous This Is How You Smile conveys deeply satisfying, spare, and atmospheric indie-folk that transcends language. The resulting collection might be the strongest of a prolific career, on a record as self-assured as it is easy to get lost in.–Philip Cosores
32. Steve Lacy —Apollo XXI
Syd isn’t the only member of The Internet capable of holding their own on a solo project. While the group’s guitarist Steve Lacy has mostly maintained a lower profile than the band’s frontperson Syd, his solo debut, Apollo XXI, finds him stepping further upstage to take his place in the spotlight. Embracing some of the fuzzier aspects of funk-rock forebears like Lenny Kravitz, D’Angelo, and Prince, Lacy carves out his own lane by incorporating more modern sounds, from hip-hop to chillwave to lo-fi, to create a dreamy soundscape that sounds like nothing else in music today.–Aaron Williams
31. White Reaper — You Deserve Love
White Reaper are disciples of the jock rock greats from the 1970s. You hear it immediately upon clicking play on You Deserve Love, the band’s major-label debut. But somehow, they manage to feel completely authentic, never falling victim to the gimmick. It’s easy to re-write a Thin Lizzy song, but it’s not as easy to bring just enough originality to the table that the dueling guitar lines feel genuinely exciting, making You Deserve Love one of 2019’s most impressive rock albums.–Zac Gelfand
30. Jessica Pratt — Quiet Signs
Another artist who toured her last album for years, Jessica Pratt finally followed up her excellent 2015 album On Your Own Love Again with this year’s cinematic and stunning Quiet Signs. Marrying spectral piano with her own quavering, honeyed vocals, Pratt writes with the kind of wisdom that only experience can instill, but never loses her sense of innocence, either.—Caitlin White
29. Kevin Morby — Oh My God
Indie rock has had a handful of consistent and appreciated forces during this decade, and Kevin Morby is one of them. His latest album, Oh My God, shows off his ambition as a songwriter for the most fully-realized album of his career.–D.R.
28. Bedouine — Birdsongs Of A Killjoy
Occasionally it can be difficult for an artist with a beloved breakout album to follow up with a second record, but that was not at all the case for Bedouine’s Azniv Korkejian. whose second album Bird Songs Of A Killjoy is one of the best folk albums of 2019. Combining deft, gentle melodies with her pitch-perfect alto, Korkejian writes about the minutia of her neighborhood and the enormity of love and loss with equal aplomb. —C.W.
27. Pup — Morbid Stuff
Now three LPs deep, modern punk legends Pup delivered yet another collection of excellent finger-pointing jams with Morbid Stuff. Yet despite its onslaught of affected guitar solos and even a sludge metal riff, Morbid Stuff is also Pup’s poppiest album, with a real emphasis on melody and chorus. The Canadian quartet are showing no signs of slowing down, and the rooms will surely just keep getting larger.–Z.G.
26. Great Grandpa — Four Of Arrows
Seattle rock outfit Great Grandpa soared their way over the dreaded sophomore slump with Four Of Arrows. Across its eleven tracks, the record winds its way through a variety of influences and combines them into a model specimen of modern rock music, ebbing and flowing with a mastery of craft usually reserved for storied bands trying to spice things up in the studio, making for a project that is so instantly immersive from its outset that you immediately know you’re in for something special.–Z.G.
25. Sturgill Simpson — Sound And Fury
The world’s most contrarian and reluctant anti-outlaw outlaw took his sharpest turn away from classic country on his thrilling, cantankerous, funny, and frequently gorgeous fourth album. “Make Art Not Friends” is both a song title and an artistic credo for this album, though the confrontational nature of Simpson’s posturing doesn’t obscure the fun he has tearing through guitar solos over pumped-up, synth-heavy blues-rock.–S.H.
24. Long Beard — Means To Me
It’s been a long four years since Leslie Bear released her debut as Long Beard, 2015’s Sleepwalker. Thankfully, this year brought us Means To Me, another collection of bedroom night-pop that offers shimmering lyrical insights, velvety melodies, and enough swirling psychedelics to lure you away from your anxiety, up and out, and into your own dreams. A record that reflects on home, small towns, and whatever holds you back, Means To Me is, ironically, one of the freest-sounding albums of the year. —C.W.
23. Hatchie — Keepsake
Harriette Pilbeam — known professionally as Hatchie — grabs influence from a wide spectrum of artists and distills them into one place. Keepsake is the Australian singer-songwriter’s debut studio album, taking the best of dream pop, shoegaze, and alt-rock, and channeling them into something truly unique. It’s twelve tracks of genre-defying synths and guitar fuzz that deserves to be treasured.–Z.G.
22. Pronoun — I’ll Show You Stronger
It’s not every day that a debut album feels so meticulous and fleshed-out. But after a string of EPs, Pronoun’s debut full-length does exactly that — delivering twelve tracks that feel like a permanent document of a moment and result in the best sleeper album of 2019. Although it was recorded in large part from within the confines of Alyse Velturo’s Brooklyn bedroom, I’ll Show You Stronger sounds huge, with soaring hooks and unforgettable choruses.–Z.G.
21. Jenny Lewis — On The Line
With her brilliant fourth solo LP, Jenny Lewis confirmed that she is one of the great singer-songwriters of the last 20 years. While her easy way with melody and the tossed-off sharpness of her lyrical asides were already well-established, what felt new on On The Line is the sense of gravitas that Lewis brings to the proceedings. The record’s late-night, slightly frayed quality communicates a level of experience that makes Lewis’ intolerance for B.S. all the more justified.–S.H.
20. Strand Of Oaks — Eraserland
Eraserland is an album that almost didn’t exist, with songwriter Timothy Showalter withdrawing from the outside world, only to be brought back into the musical fold by members of My Morning Jacket. As such, the album overflows with appreciation for the good fortune that Showalter can hold on to, and he imparts that sentiment through generous songs that illuminate one of the great rockers of our time. He sounds grateful for the chance to even share his music, and the audience is surely in the same boat.–P.C.
19. Black Midi — Schlagenheim
The UK group Black Midi started as a mystery and have since become an alternative math-rock phenomenon. Most of their music couldn’t rightfully be described as easily digestible, but listeners able to get past the chaotic edges will find a core that’s, well, just as chaotic, but also infinitely listenable, and filled with dextrous songwriting and performances.–D.R.
18. Vagabon — Vagabon
Never one to be put into a box, Laetitia Tamko’s second full-length record is a self-titled, self-produced left turn. Following up her critically-acclaimed debut, Infinite Worlds, Tamko toured for months, slowly piecing together the beginnings of new songs and a newfound self-respect for her own artistic process. Vagabon is the portrait of the artist who refuses to change one iota for a notoriously hellish industry, and the results are pure bliss.—C.W.
17. 100 Gecs — 1000 Gecs
Nobody has pinpointed what exactly a “gec” is, and really, no one knows quite what to think of experimental duo 100 Gecs either. No matter what your position on the group, it’s clear that their debut album is fascinating and unlike much else happening right now. Through all the abrasiveness and unexpected turns, there are moments when it’s undeniably catchy. Anybody who has heard “Money Machine” and claims they don’t remember the hook is lying.–D.R.
16. Alex Cameron — Miami Memory
There might not be a lyricist with a sharper wit than Australian songwriter Alex Cameron (sorry FJM). But on his latest, Miami Memory, it’s balanced by genuinely moving moments and reflective insight. With a P.O.V. that is unmistakably his own, Cameron tackles topics ranging from sex work to addiction, and often mines his real-life relationship for material. It’s sweet, it’s hilarious, and it’s a better reflection of American rock traditions than most actual Americans could conceive.–P.C.
15. Big Thief — Two Hands
I don’t know what’s more wild: That Big Thief managed to take their quietly revolutionary songwriting to unexpected heights in 2019, making an album that reshaped an already great band into one with limitless potential? Or, that they did it twice.–P.C.
14. Charly Bliss — Young Enough
Charly Bliss made a huge leap in the two years between their (very good) bubblegum indie-pop debut Guppy and their sophomore LP. Young Enough finds the New York quartet taking risks, incorporating synths into the songs and ramping up the hooks to make them scientifically inescapable. It’s a record so wonderfully paced and curated that it’s hard to play A&R and find a song that it could do without.–Z.G.
13. Better Oblivion Community Center — Better Oblivion Community Center
It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Phoebe Bridgers at Uproxx. And on Better Oblivion Community Center, like Boygenius before it, she proves to be as dialed in as a collaborator as she is running the show. Conor Oberst is revitalized in her presence while she crafts tunes that are more spirited and playful than anything she’s released as a solo artist. Oberst and Bridgers are essentially a dream team, bringing out the best in each other, while reminding their fans why they were great in the first place.–P.C.
12. Nilüfer Yanya — Miss Universe
After building a ton of buzz — enough to earn an offer to join a Louis Tomlinson-helmed girl group, which she refused — Nilüfer Yanya arrived in 2019 with her debut album, Miss Universe. It’s an impressive debut that shows off the young artist’s ability to dominate in rock, pop, alternative, soul, and just about anything else in her extensive wheelhouse.–D.R.
11. Vampire Weekend — Father Of The Bride
As one of the defining bands of indie-pop in the aughts and early ’10s, Vampire Weekend faced a genuine dilemma with Father Of The Bride, their first album in six years: How do we retain what people liked about us, while also moving forward? The solution was to spread out, embrace laid-back jams, and rely upon Ezra Koenig’s ability to write witty, novelistic songs about falling in love and starting a family in an era of apparent social collapse.–S.H.
10. Sharon Van Etten — Remind Me Tomorrow
As one of the most beloved singer-songwriters of the 2010s, Sharon Van Etten had established a well-honed persona, as a person who writes personal songs and sings them with the intimacy of a private conversation. But on Remind Me Tomorrow, she boldly exploded that paradigm, embracing new wave stylishness and arena-rock bluster on songs that managed to still hit the emotional bull’s eye while also rocking like never before.–S.H.
9. Mannequin Pussy — Patience
On their third studio album, Mannequin Pussy focused on song structure, resulting in a handful of the band’s longest tunes to date. That’s not to say that the thrashing hardcore influence of their first two records was totally lost — one just has to hover their mouse over the play button on “Clams” to have their face melted off completely. But Patience covers a lot of sonic ground, cementing Mannequin Pussy as a truly important in the punk rock canon. —Z.G.
8. Brittany Howard — Jaime
On her solo album debut, the frontperson of the Alabama Shakes confidently steps outside of one of rock’s biggest bands. On her own, Howard whips up a heady mix of funk, blues, and psychedelia, retaining the overpowering thunder of her blues-rock vocals while venturing into dramatically more adventurous sonic terrain. While the Shakes are typically classified as Americana, Howard transcends any reductive labels on her own.–S.H.
7. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds — Ghosteen
Though Nick Cave’s previous album (and instant classic), Skeleton Tree, was released immediately following the death of his son, it’s on Ghosteen that listeners really get a sense of how this tragedy has impacted one of the great songwriters of our time. Cave is his usual eloquent, graceful self, using space and ambiance in ways that underscore themes of grief and healing. Mostly, Ghosteen is a reminder of Cave’s role as a shepherd, and how listeners are in good hands when he’s guiding the flock, making the most complex of emotional circumstances feel manageable, and survivable.–P.C.
6. The National — I Am Easy To Find
“he National have always been more than the five dudes that appear in most press photos, and their latest album underscores the reach of the band. Using a host of outside vocalists, complete lyrical writes on select songs from Carin Besser and Mike Mills, and a short film accompanying the release, I Am Easy To Find functions as an testament to restlessness and creative longing. The National are determined to reach new heights, and are willing to allow others to help push them along.–P.C.
5. Purple Mountains — Purple Mountains
It will be a long time before the final album from David Berman can be appreciated outside of the context of his tragic death by suicide in August of 2019. Lyrically, the album is often a bleak and unsparing portrait of a difficult man beset by loneliness. And yet Purple Mountains also is frequently hilarious and bounces along with some of the most winning melodies that Berman ever wrote. It’s a wrenching listen, but also deeply rewarding and, even now, incredibly engaging.–S.H.
4. Angel Olsen — All Mirrors
Angel Olsen didn’t need to build to this. Dating back to her more spare early work, including the underappreciated Half Way Home, Olsen’s inimitable voice and penchant for tapping into traditions ranging from girl groups to busted-radio country have been enough to earn her spot among the great songwriters of her generation. But as Olsen wraps a decade on the musical map, it will be the restlessness to keep pushing herself, as she has on this gorgeously ambitious effort, that her legacy can rest on. Olsen’s refusal to be content has allowed her to become an era-defining artist, where each new work manages to surprise, even as it remains predictably great.–P.C.
3. Bon Iver — i,i
Few legacy acts in indie rock have ventured as far into the wilds of esoteric experimentation — while also retaining a huge following — than Bon Iver. But on the group’s fourth album, Justin Vernon found a happy middle ground between the electro-rock freakouts of 2016’s 22, A Million and the more approachable anthems of his earlier work, coming up with one of the most satisfying works of the group’s excellent catalogue–S.H.
2. Big Thief — U.F.O.F.
Perhaps no up-and-coming indie band was talked about more in 2019 than Big Thief, who not only released the staggeringly good U.F.O.F. in May, but followed it up just a few months later with a second LP called Two Hands. Now freshly nominated for a Grammy, U.F.O.F. shows a band at the peak of their powers and refusing to slow down their creative process. –Z.G.
1. Weyes Blood — Titanic Rising
On her stunning fourth album, Natalie Mering strikes a seemingly incongruous posture, writing beautiful melodies reminiscent of 1970s soft rock set to lyrics that comment with acidic wit about extremely 21st century calamities like climate change and Tinder-related romantic dysfunction. Then again, did listening to The Carpenters make any more sense during the height of the Vietnam War? Each generation needs its own barbed lullabies.–S.H.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.