Top 5 Indie Bands of 2012

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What is indie? Initially it meant artists who weren’t affiliated with a major label—but 2012 saw the rise of many international artists on independent labels who found distribution in the U.S. with a major label that saw the (dollar) sign. To some it means the band doesn’t have widespread appeal, but plenty of clearly independent bands reached the heights of mainstream success in 2012. However you define the word indie, these five bands took the world by storm in 2012—without any significant backing from a major label.

5 Guided by Voices

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To be fair, Guided by Voices can hardly be called an indie band of 2012. Indie band? Yes. But 2012? Not so much. The band’s original lineup released its last album in 1996, but members reunited in 2010 for what was supposed to be a one-off performance. Apparently the pioneers of lo-fi indie rock missed each other, because after that supposedly singular performance they decided to go on tour. In 2012, the aging rockers released three full-length albums. If you thought it was impossible for a group of graying and balding musicians to connect with the modern indie scene, Guided by Voices proved you were sadly mistaken.

4 Tame Impala

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Listeners got their first taste of Tame Impala’s psychedelic rock stylings with 2010’s “Innerspeaker.” Critics loved the band’s debut, proclaiming it album of the year in nearly any music publication worth its title. But it was with “Lonerism,” Tame Impala’s sophomore offering, that the band really hit its stride. The band, basically the creation of Kevin Parker from Perth, Australia, incorporates diverse musical influences to create a deep atmospheric soundscape. Heavy on ’60s pop and ’70s psychedelic pop references, Tame Impala nevertheless create a sound wholly its own.

3 Of Monsters and Men

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This sextet from Iceland got huge attention in 2010 for its single “Little Talks,” which a Philadelphia radio station recorded and played on the air. The band had no idea how big the station was or that the song would take off. Everybody wanted more, and the band came through in 2012 with “My Head is an Animal,” its first full-length debut. In the meantime, “Into the Woods,” a four-song EP, had sold over half a million copies, and the single “Little Talks” alone had racked up nearly 150,000 downloads. Both the band’s name and its musical offerings take listeners to a mythical fairy-tale world with a sound that evokes comparisons to groups like indie heavyweights Arcade Fire.

2 The Lumineers

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The Lumineers dropped a debut album in 2012 and immediately drew comparisons to indie-folk darlings Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers. The trio’s Americana-infused sound, which eloquently blends country, pop and folk, pulled in two Grammy nominations, one for Best Americana Album and another for Best New Artist. The group’s lead single even reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Ho Hey” might have sounded out of place amid the usual overproduced Top 40 offerings, but it made radio safe for acoustic again.

1 Alabama Shakes

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In 2011, Alabama Shakes front woman Brittany Howard worked at the post office in the small town of Athens, Alabama. By the end of 2012 she’d performed at the Grammys and sung for President Obama. NPR named it one of the best groups of 2011 on the strength of an EP alone. Its 2012 debut album “Boys & Girls” rocketed to No. 8 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the success of the single “Hold On,” which received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance. Alabama Shakes’ unabashedly authentic soulful Southern sound landed the band another nomination for Best New Artist.

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