The most ineffably indie-rock band of all time, and not just because pretty much every indie band that picked up a guitar after 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted was copying them on some level. Frontman Stephen Malkmus is like the walking embodiment of indie attitude, wrapping a formidable intellect in a slacker facade and peppering his songs with secret-handshake references to obscure records and snarky commentary about more popular bands. It might be insufferable if the music wasn’t so frequently transcendental.
What is indie rock? Since evolving out of the American punk scene in the mid-’80s, the term has been applied to everything from aggressive noise bands to pastoral folk singer-songwriters to quirky synthpop producers. For this list, we’ve loosely defined the genre as “guitar music made by people who came out of the rock underground and aren’t afraid to seem brainy or challenging”—indie-rock bands like Dinosaur Jr., Sleater-Kinney and Pavement. Here’s our take on the genre’s ten most crucial acts.