10 Best ’00s Indie Rock Albums
By the ’00s, most of the best indie rock had settled back into the underground. Ripples of brilliance still surfaced in the mainstream from time to time, but for the most part modern-rock radio in the ’00s pretty much amounted to picking up commercial-rock scraps like Trapt and Three Days Grace. Fortunately, real indie rock thrived on customized online radio stations and fan-generated music blogs, which embraced everything from art-rock weirdness to garage-rock buzz to symphonic chamber pop. Our list of the 10 Best ’00s Indie Rock Albums surveys the best of this collection.
TV on the Radio have way more soul than you’d expect from a group of weird art-rockers from Brooklyn. On their excellent third album, released in 2008, they combine skittering electronics with densely layered R&B crooning and flashes of genuine human warmth. ‘Dear Science’ is their most canvas-scanning, and most focused, LP in a string of audacious records made in the ’00s.
Stevens’ sprawling 22-song concept album from 2005 weaves a rich tapestry of words and music about the Land of Lincoln. Titles/subjects include serial killer ‘John Wayne Gacy Jr.’ and a tribute to Abe’s First Lady, ‘A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, but for Very Good Reasons.’ The names of the songs are almost as grand as the glorious baroque pop they deliver.
When ‘Is This It’ was released a few weeks after 9/11, it sounded like a revolution. The NYC rockers drew from a punk legacy that covered the Velvet Underground and Television and hurled garage rock into the 21st century with a snaky mix of old-school instruments and new-school toys. The album’s influence on ’00s indie rock is immeasurable.
The 2000 debut album by the Canadian group is all 1970s power-pop filtered through an indie rock lens. The Pornographers’ trio of singer-songwriters — A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar — deliver a mix of sweet, sour and just plain odd tunes that explodes with spotlight-hogging synths, crunchy guitars and heavenly harmonies.
The Hold Steady’s frontman Craig Finn fixates, in varying degrees of obsession, on sex, drugs, troubled girls, Bruce Springsteen, Catholicism and the redemptive power of music on his band’s second album, from 2005. ‘Separation Sunday’ tells the story of a group of friends kicking around parties in search of drugs, love and some redemption through sex, drugs and other things.
Like the Strokes’ debut a year earlier (see No. 8 on our list of the 10 Best ’00s Indie Rock Albums), the White Stripes’ 2001 breakthrough album grabs inspiration from the past and catapults it forward to the new millennium with distortion-fueled defiance. But the Stripes needed only two people to make their ruckus: drummer Meg White and singer-guitarist Jack White, who sounds like a half-dozen different people on this record.
The most accessible album by the synth-powered psych-rockers features their tightest arrangements and their most spacious Beach Boys-like melodies and harmonies. It’s not always an easy record to penetrate, but once you start peeling away the layers of this 2009 freakout classic, new slices of awesomeness reveal themselves with each listen.
LCD Soundsystem’s second album uncovers the heart typically buried in dance music. But mastermind James Murphy is also a punk, so his songs take on more passionate and melodic elements usually missing in his contemporaries’ music. ‘Sound of Silver,’ from 2007, is both a requiem for and deliverance from peace of mind.
Wilco’s fourth album comes with a now-legendary backstory involving a close-minded record executive who refused to release the record because he didn’t hear a hit and a post-9/11 rumination on war, heartache and personal disconnection. Maybe that suit did the band a favor: ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ was supposed to come out before 9/11 but wasn’t released until 2002, when it sounded way more prescient and comforting.
The 2004 debut album by the multi-tiered Canadian collective almost immediately took on mythical status. With accordion, xylophone, synths and various horns and strings driving the songs, ‘Funeral’ helped redefine indie rock’s musical parameters. And leader Win Butler’s meditations on death struck a sensitive tone — a direct contrast from the irony-heavy slack anthems of the ’90s. It’s OK to have feelings, Arcade Fire reassure. ‘Arcade’ wields those feelings like weapons.