Why do we love indie rock? Because it shuns everything that is prefab, safe, typical. It's about freedom, expression, passion no rules, man! But in order to narrow down hundreds of hours of incredible musical output from the last two and a half decades, we had to apply some...well, rules: 1. Only one album may represent each year (hence the inclusion, in some cases, of too-hard-to-dismiss runners-up, and a number of difficult compromises we had to make). 2. All the bands had to have been signed to an independent label for the given album (ergo, the absence of Nirvana and the Flaming Lips, whose true genius didn't manifest itself until they graduated to the big leagues, but the inclusion of My Bloody Valentine and the Pixies, who originally signed to small labels in the U.K.). 3. The term ''band'' must be taken literally (thus eliminating otherwise unimpeachable artists like Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, and Cat Power). Even still, there was many an internal battle over the final choices here at EW headquarters, and resentments that will surely fester long after this issue has run its course. But isn't that the beauty of it all the fact that we had such a wealth to choose from? Our picks, and those unpicked, will no doubt spark debate with you as well; in fact, we hope it does. Because that, friends, is rock & roll.
Image Credit: Radiohead: Steve Forrest/Redux; Arcade Fire: Rahav Segev/Retna; Spoon: Autumn De Wilde; The Shins: Piper Ferguson/Retna
The adventurous artists and albums that defined each year from 1984 to the present outside the major label sphere, from the Replacements to the Pixies, Pavement to Modest Mouse, and the White Stripes to Radiohead