Best Indie Rock Albums of 2021
Image by Alessandro Lannocca from Pixabay

The 15 Best Indie Rock Albums of 2021

In 2021 indie rock was a guitar-led extravaganza with artists drawing from an ever-widening musical well. These are the 15 best indie rock albums of the year.

10 Jane Weaver – Flock [Fire]

Jane Weaver - Flock

English singer Jane Weaver, exponent of cosmic folk, psych-rock, indie-rock, and all things avant-garde, has gone poppy on her 11th album, Flock. It’s pop that’s inspired, so she claims, by Lebanese torch songs and 1980s Russian aerobics records rather than Steps or the Spice Girls, but still, you know, pop. Make way, then, for uplifting melodies, great hooks, catchy riffs, and DJ-pleasing beats, covering a heck of a lot of ground from European pop to disco to glam to R&B.

“Heartlow” is a chiming and jubilant tune that combines a girl-group sound with some Stereolab-style trippiness. “The Revolution of Super Visions”, on the other hand, is the kind of inventive funk song that Prince used to do in his heyday, with an arresting refrain: “Do you look at yourself and find nothing?” Elsewhere, Weaver outdoes Goldfrapp in the glam-pop stakes with “Solarised”, all adding up to a much-needed shot in the arm for folks weary of the world’s problems. — Adam Mason

9 Guided by Voices – It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! [GBV Inc.]

Guided by Voices - It's Not Them

“Well, that’s interesting.” That’s what I said four or five times when listening to “Spanish Coin”, the opening track on the 30th Guided By Voices record. This feeling of surprise seems to define the way we should be listening to GBV at this point: there’s no way to predict what’s going to happen next, so let’s just enjoy what we have. It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! is the kind of work we get from a prolific band; a group that puts out an album every four years wouldn’t try something so odd, but GBV’s approach of throwing every whimsical and dark idea and the wall brings us here. “I Share a Rhythm” is a representative track — something that feels both familiar and incomprehensible, so that by the time you feel like you understand it, the song is already over (and replaced by “Razor Bug”, a nonsense unaccompanied vocal track). Don’t take it too seriously, and you just might have a great time. Jeremy Levine

8 Ducks Ltd – Modern Fiction [Carpark] 

Ducks Ltd — Modern Fiction

Talk about an attention-grabbing blast of jangly guitar jubilance on the opening to the Ducks Ltd debut album, Modern Fiction. It announces that the Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist duo of Tom McGreevy and Evan Lewis intend to follow up a highly acclaimed EP with a blinding set of upbeat, sharply written, melodic guitar gems. One very much in the vein of their Carpark Records contemporaries, the Beths. “If you can’t say it all inside of a three-minute song, on a half-hour album, then forget it”, seems to be the rule. No pretentiousness and no self-indulgence, please.

Yet the Ducks Ltd guys have clearly spent more time listening to the classic miserabilist indie bands of the north of England (the Smiths, Joy Division, the Wedding Present) than the Beths, judging by how they inject their effortless tunes with a post-punk edge and bleak worldview. “How Lonely Are You?” is a masterclass of sulky vocals (care of McGreevy), neurotic lyrics, and wonderfully fast guitar work that often displays a Johnny Marr level of intricacy.

“18 Cigarettes” works on the same principle while painting a grimly humorous picture of personal turmoil and dejection: “Oh, I’ve been in a state / And you don’t relate.” But it’s “Under the Rolling Moon” that marks the highpoint, care of a rumbling Peter Hook-style bass line, wittily conversational lyrics about a protagonist who has let a “dumb shit” get to them, and—hark!—the Beths prominent on backing harmonies, bolstering its sublime, melancholy chorus. — Adam Mason

7 Lucy Dacus – Home Video [Matador]

Lucy Dacus - Home Video

On Home Video, Lucy Dacus elevates her storytelling through a more intimate, groove-oriented sound than we had heard on her breakout album Historian. Lyrically, Dacus manages to combine narrative with powerful one-liners (“the future is a malevolent black hole” on “Cartwheels”) while remaining plainspoken. On “Thumbs”, she floats through a violent revenge fantasy that will stop you in your tracks, but “VBS” provides an evocative summer camp memoir that tries to straighten out a spiritual journey in retrospect. These are the contradictions that you’d have to live in to create an album that feels like you lived a whole life by the time it’s over — and that’s precisely how Home Video feels. Jeremy Levine

6 Cloud Nothings – The Shadow I Remember [Carpark]

Cloud Nothings - The Shadow I Remember

“Oslo”, the opener on The Shadow I Remember, jumps from fun to deranged. Three minutes in, the band starts what feels like a normal buildup, which finds not one but two unexpected gears before unleashing into magnificent catharsis. This is the story of the record, which delights in throwing listeners curveball after curveball in search of new ways to our hearts with a solid pop-punk home base. Offering simple, memorable refrains, The Shadow I Remember is exciting enough to attract more than a few converts to a Cloud Nothings’ devoted choir. — Jeremy Levine