Five Alternative Indie Music Artists

When people hear “indie”, their minds usually conjure an image of a young male singer with long hair strumming an acoustic guitar. But this image is far from accurate; popular culture has co-opted the term to encompass many forms.

Proto-indie greats such as Dylan and Drake laid the groundwork for bands like Nirvana to develop their distinctively grungy sound while Elliott Smith created chilling depressive anthems.


alt-J, an English trio known for their playful mathematical rock music, pride themselves on embracing their mathematical side through every facet of their music, even their name! Alt-J’s name references the keyboard shortcut for the delta symbol – an appropriate symbol for an ensemble that takes their music seriously while mixing psychedelia, trip hop and folk elements with indie guitars, bass lines, drum machines and a capella vocals harmonies for maximum effect.

The result is an instantly recognizable, yet complex sound, instantly recognisable by fans while challenging for detractors alike. Fans enjoy their quirky references and humorous writing while detractors refer to it as self-indulgent music for hipsters. Either way, The Dream finds them performing at their peak.

Pandemic was intended as an album to provide them with some much-needed rest after three wildly successful albums and extensive touring, and is notable for its more laid back feel than usual. They built their own studio for this recording which lends to its relaxed pace.

alt-J’s latest work, While more subdued than previous albums, still possesses all the trademark weirdness and depth associated with alt-J. It explores topics like cryptocurrency, COVID and cocaine (with songs like “Cain’t Do It”) while toning down their signature eccentricities that made their first two so beloved by audiences worldwide.

alt-J have quickly become one of the most beloved UK bands since forming at Leeds University in 2007. Since releasing their debut album An Awesome Wave in 2012, which became their breakout record and hit number one on Billboard 200 and won them the British Mercury Prize, their success has only grown. Boasting hits like Left Hand Free and Every Other Freckle as well as critically acclaimed singles like Left Hand Free and Every Other Freckle it introduced alt-J to an even broader audience; their popularity even more so after Breezeblocks featured prominently in 2014 film Silver Linings Playbook featuring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence!

alt-J has performed at numerous festivals and venues over their career, such as Isle of Wight Festival, Reading & Leeds Festivals, Glastonbury, T in the Park. Their live shows are known to bring energy and humor. Furthermore, their songs have also appeared in popular movies and TV series such as Captain America: Civil War from Marvel as well as Netflix drama Outer Banks.

The Decemberists

The Decemberists, an indie band from Portland, Oregon consisting of Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query and John Moen has been together since 2000 and released several albums since. Most notably The King Is Dead debuted at #1 on Billboard charts and their unique sound combines rock with folk influences using instruments such as keyboards and accordions while weaving historical events into their songs.

The band boasts a vast fanbase, with several albums topping the charts. Influences range from lo-fi folk singer Elliott Smith to riot grrrl bands like Sleater-Kinney. Lyrically, many songs focus on history, rebellion and warfare topics like Decembrist revolt from 1825 in Russia – members have an intense passion for both history and literature which they bring into their music.

In 2005, when their equipment trailer was stolen from them, fans raised money and donated items like copies of Colin Meloy Sings Morrissey by the Decemberists and original art work by Carson Ellis to help cover replacements costs. Later, eBay auctions were used as another fundraising strategy.

Although not actively performing since 2011, this band remains widely recognized for their music. Their songs have been featured on two popular sitcoms – The Office and Parks and Recreation, along with commercials for Old Navy and Target. Although currently on hiatus, touring will resume this fall.

Their most well-known song is an acoustic version of “The Crane Wife,” which first made its debut on The Office episode “The Office Christmas Party.” Since then, the song has also appeared in Target commercials and Macy’s holiday ads.

The Decemberists have long maintained a tradition of performing their music in a barn located on an 80-acre farm, touring with various artists such as Lin-Manuel Miranda. Furthermore, they collaborated on writing a children’s book with author Jenny Lewis and wrote their song “Eli, the Barrow Boy” depicting a young man selling coal, marigolds, corn cobs, candle wax from a push cart while struggling to support himself and his lover.

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes are one of the world’s best-known indie folk bands, known for their intricate vocal harmonies and unique musical arrangements that capture fans worldwide. Their music blends elements of indie folk with baroque pop with influences from psychedelia and world music; furthermore their lyrics address loss and longing themes in addition to diverse musical styles. Their debut album Fleet Foxes received critical acclaim and made numerous “best of” lists.

This band first came together in Seattle, Washington in 2006 and currently consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Robin Pecknold; Skyler Skjelset (guitar and vocals); Casey Wescott (keyboards, mandolin guitar, backing vocals); Christian Wargo (bass, guitar woodwinds violin percussion and saxophone); along with Christian Wargo on bass guitar woodwinds violin percussion and saxophone). Their music can be best described as indie folk indie rock or even country; their music has been featured on Late Show Stephen Colbert as well as sold-out performances at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Hollywood Bowl as well as earned critical acclaim from publications like Rolling Stone, Consequence of Sound and Paste among others.

Fleet Foxes debuted with their 2008 album Fleet Foxes to widespread critical acclaim and reached number three on the Billboard 200 chart, garnering two Grammy Award nominations, including Best Folk Album. Beyond their soaring vocal harmonies and gorgeous instrumentation, their 2008 debut also showcased beautiful melodic arrangements such as White Winter Hymnal with its haunting melody and haunted vocals that set it apart from its competitors.

This song by Fleet Foxes is both poetic and inspiring; its message captures both nature’s beauty and the importance of accepting change. Beginning with a soft guitar riff before building into an expansive melody with trademark harmonies from the band. Lyrically it speaks about life changing quickly while trying to live in the present; perfect example of their distinctive sound which has earned them international renown as one of the foremost indie folk bands today.

Death Cab for Cutie

At the height of Pacific Northwest college indie rock, Death Cab for Cutie stood out. Led by Ben Gibbard’s plaintive boy-next-door voice and lush arrangements filled with hothouse organs and pianos that bordered on maudlin poetry and emotional danger, Death Cab was among the most beloved bands to emerge from that scene. Their major label debut Plans (Barsuk 1999) cemented their status with several hit singles; but 2003’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful Transatlanticism really took them over as one of indie music’s premier groups throughout that decade.

Not content to stay within the realm of sultry neo-folk-tinged pop, the band have also explored other soundscapes since their initial singles, from sprawling post-rock of Codes and Keys (2011) to seven-minute lullabies like Line of Best Fit at Kintsugi (2015); even their 10th album Asphalt Meadows brings them back to their post-rock roots for an album which is both emotive and therapeutic.

Death Cab for Cutie are often mistakenly classified as an emo band due to the band’s trademark moody, lyrical angst aesthetic, but Death Cab has always favored larger narratives that come to life through theatricality and poignant vignettes rather than mere despair in their lyrics. Now celebrating 20 years since Transatlanticism was released, here are some of Death Cab’s best songs:

The band’s sultry, neo-folk-tinged symphonies are both melancholy and uplifting, thanks to lead singer Nick Harmer’s mesmeric bassline and drumming and Ben Gibbard’s plinking piano meditations. One particularly stirring track may be “So this is the new year/ And I don’t feel any different”, with its haunting opening line “So this is the new year/ And I don’t feel any different”, while its opening line: “So this is the new year/ And I don’t feel any different” may be most famously catchy for creating moments like fireworks, glass clinking or glimpses across rooms that resonate powerfully, while simultaneously cathartic music that both romanticism and melancholy together.