“Can someone please make a video essay on whatever the hell was going on here”
The Twitter user @jackanfer, who is presumably under the age of 30, posed this question atop a list of seven critically acclaimed albums from 2009. The first five – Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz!, and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest – were such common fixtures in year-end top-tens that they inspired an acronym of “GADPY” as a deeply online shorthand for indie rock hegemony. This post soon became the main character on Twitter for the next few days because people chose not to take the original question as rhetorical.
Some offered a sociopolitical angle as an explanation, with the Audacity of Hope and the Great Recession creating a hospitable climate for cuddly, quirky indie acts to achieve small-ball superstardom. Others, more earnestly, pointed out how the GADPY bands all spent the entire decade building critical equity and capitalizing by making their most accessible albums at a point of their highest visibility (hence, why xx, though easily the most prophetic album of the original post, feels like an awkward fit). One could also point to the late aughts being a dead zone for pop. The list of top ten best-selling albums of 2009 is bookended by Taylor Swift’s Fearless and a Kings Of Leon record that actually was released the previous September. In between lay Susan Boyle, Andrea Boccelli, a Hannah Montana soundtrack, Michael Jackson’s posthumous Number Ones collection, and truly awful Eminem and Jay-Z blockbusters.
Somewhere in between lies a more accurate summation. On their own, Bitte Orca and It’s Blitz! and so forth were culminations of each artist’s individual arc. Taken together, “GADPY” was seen as a collective triumph, a Good for something that a lot of people understood even by 2009 as being Very Bad – a decade where music criticism was largely shaped by online media and their semi-obscure favorites. Or, in short, “blog rock.”
The original question is ultimately shaded by whether you view it as a punching up or punching down. For a younger generation of listeners and writers who have shifted their focus towards pop, hip-hop, R&B and viewing music through a primarily political lens, these broader trends are a necessary corrective for a decade whose canon was mostly (though not exclusively) determined by white men who favored mostly (but not exclusively) white guys with guitars and/or cerebral, abstract hip-hop. But for all of GADPY’s success, they remain marginal in the greater pop culture discourse. “Stillness Is the Move” has about 8 million plays on Spotify, which I hesitate to qualify as “only” 8 million streams. But for context, Surf Curse’s “Freaks,” a decent surf-rock track from 2015 which became a TikTok sensation six years later, has over 800 million plays on Spotify.
But before we go on, what was blog rock, and why is it not just plain old “indie rock”? In 2011 – which, as will soon be clear, represents the end of the blog rock era – The Guardian had a pretty good summation. To wit, “music that had gained popularity through MP3 blogs — specifically those giving coverage to the more leftfield, less image-obsessed artists ignored by the mainstream press.” The problem is, they include Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes, TV on the Radio, and Grizzly Bear as examples, which I do not. While bands of this ilk – pretty much all indie bands in 2000 – were more URL popular than IRL, they don’t quite feel as indebted to blogs. I can imagine these bands becoming popular in the 1990s or 2010s. They were helped by online publications but not entirely beholden to them.
Similarly, a lot of acts from this era thrived on blog hype in lieu of a local scene, which is why I can’t really include the Los Angeles bands like Abe Vigoda and The Mae Shi who emerged from The Smell, or Brooklyn bands like Yeasayer who were loosely affiliated with the big dogs. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart? Very bloggy name, very sudden rise to prominence, but they’re part of a Slumberland twee-pop tradition that goes back decades. Chillwave and shitgaze and most forms of indie-folk may have happened within the “blogosphere” but they were discrete scenes unto themselves. Becoming popular, largely online, in the 2000s does not make a band “blog rock.” Their inability to thrive outside of that scope does matter.
And so making a list of the “40 greatest blog rock albums” – “great” can mean “large or immense” and/or in the pejorative sense – will require a very thorough Remembering Some Guys. And to point out the obvious, it is mostly guys, which goes a long way towards explaining the generally dim view of the era in the current day. So if you see this list and have to ask, why – well, feel free to QT dunk on my ass. But if you’re asking why not, there are still further questions to ask. Do you miss the blog or the rock? Do you miss 2005, or just the age you were in 2005? But at a point where most mainstream publications alternate between a grim accounting of the music industry’s stratified economics and propping up the most popular artists on the planet, what’s the harm in revisiting a time where the discourse revolved around Panda Bear’s every move?
40. Sound Team – “Movie Monster” 
I can’t seem to find any evidence of this online, but I distinctly remember a story about Madonna introducing Candlebox as “my grunge band” upon signing them to Maverick. And lest you think this entire swath of history was a tempest in a teapot, I present Sound Team, who I hope some Capitol A&R referred to as “my blog rock band.” Sound Team kicked around Austin for a few years before 2006’s “Movie Monster,” an album that presumably served as proof of concept for blog rock’s scalability. It was all very competent, well-produced and sounded like everything else happening in indie rock ca. 2006. Pitchfork compared “Movie Monster” to Snakes On A Plane in a 3.7 review and Sound Team broke up less than a year later. There are probably 40 better blog rock albums than this one (but not that many more), but “Movie Monster” absolutely needs to be included if only to prove that people really thought blog rock was a bankable genre.
39. Cold War Kids – Robbers & Cowards 
After all the “best emo” lists I’ve done, it’s become clear that the intentions going in or what kind of team we assembled was irrelevant – these things simply have to include Panic! At the Disco. Yeah, they have no allegiance whatsoever to the genre’s roots or aesthetic ground rules and they pivoted to a more craven and wildly successful form of alt-pop almost immediately afterward, this is just what this thing sounded like in 2006 and is probably still the first act that comes to mind when people think of this genre. So here we are with Cold War Kids and I will absolutely sing the chorus of “Hang Me Up To Dry” without any prompting. Under these circumstances, you actually do gotta hand it to ‘em.
38. Margot And The Nuclear So And Sos – The Dust Of Retreat 
A necessary inclusion for exemplifying blog rock at its best and its worst. At its lowest points, The Dust Of Retreat is one-stop shopping for everything that made poptimism inevitable – the affected, hypothermic quivering of Conor Oberst, the smug literary pretension of The Decemberists, Arcade Fire at their most precious, all underscored by a casual cruelty that seeped out of a lot of the era’s defining movies (some of which starred Michael Cera). But at its peaks, specifically “On A Freezing Chicago Street,” The Dust Of Retreat proved just how intoxicating that veritable Blog Island cocktail could be when the combination was just right, which Margot And The Nuclear So And Sos often did. At least until they fumbled their major label bag by making a double album with a song called “Hello Vagina” on it.
37. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Broom 
You, a blog rock novice: “This is the album that got SSLYBY signed to Polyvinyl”
Me, a blog rock expert: “This is the album that got SSLYBY signed to Catbird Records”
This list is every bit as much about the rock as it is about the blogs, especially the many that ended up starting labels – either a form of praxis for musicians and fans who believe it should all be for the love, or reinforcing the cynical view that all of those “firsties” were just an attempt to play A&R. Anyways, SSLYBY probably ended up making better albums than Broom, but none were as bloggy.
36. Black Kids – Wizard of Ahhhs EP 
“Partie Traumatic is a very good debut that manages to earn a huge chunk of the hype that was thrown willy-nilly in the band’s direction.” – 4 stars, All Music Guide
“It’s true: Black Kids know how to get down” – 3.5 stars, Rolling Stone
“Listen to your body tonight. They made themselves up, and they’re strictly for real” – A-, Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide
“Black Kids look and sound like a biracial Archies” [ed. note – wtf?!?!?] – 8/10 Spin
It’s neither hyperbole nor revisionist history to describe Partie Traumatic, Black Kids’ 2008 major-label debut, as “critically acclaimed.” In fact, several reviewers saw it as a corollary to an ascendant Barack Obama, a glimpse of a post-racial future where a Black kid could successfully run for president or sound like Robert Smith (I’m not making this up). And yet, even as younger critics interrogate indie rock’s racial, sexual, and gender disparities, rectify past dismissals of dance and pop music, and deconstruct the canon established by its gatekeepers, no one has attempted to recast Black Kids as anything other than the main character in blog rock’s most monumental case of “grand opening/grand closing.” Probably because everyone knew all along that they wrote three great songs and they were already on Wizard Of Aahhhs. Sorry :-/.
35. Bishop Allen – Bishop Allen And the Broken String 
If all you knew about Bishop Allen was that they met at Harvard, were heavily featured in Nick And Nora’s Infinite Playlist, and one of its leaders co-founded OKCupid, you could probably guess what their actual music sounded like without hearing one note, right? Indeed, what we have here is ca. 2007, state-of-the-art, meet-cute indie rock with just enough high-minded flair – using The Monitor as a song-length metaphor about being in a band three years before Titus Andronicus, some “exotic” percussion – to retroactively confirm that music was a loss leader for their true impact on the blog rock era.
34. The Deadly Syndrome – The Ortolan 
Before he pivoted to Silver Lake Dad Defiant-style #resistance tweeting, the dude from The Airborne Toxic Event wrote an “open letter”-type response to my 1.6 Pitchfork review of their utterly abominable debut album. I’m assuming this is why I’m still, to this day, on their mailing list, but at least their most recent one jarred loose so many memories of moving to Los Angeles in 2006 and spending the next two years watching the countless, eminently forgettable buzz bands that never made it beyond Sunset Junction or a Spaceland residency. So let’s take a moment to Remember Some Guys that kept LA in second-tier blog rock status…Division Day! Mezzanine Owls! Le Switch! Parson Redheads! The Henry Clay People! But a super special shout to The Deadly Syndrome, who were actually good. I’m not saying that, in a just world, it’d be them and not Cold War Kids or The Airborne Toxic Event playing 1000-cap rooms 15 years later, but LA at least deserved its own Tapes ‘n Tapes.
33. The Boy Least Likely To – The Best Party Ever 
In his wonderful Stereogum piece on the 10-year anniversary piece on Deafheaven’s Sunbather, Jay Papandreas argues that, “outside of Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Lord Willin’ by Clipse, I’m not sure there’s an album that better prepares you for its sound in its first five seconds.” I offer The Best Party Ever – the band name is “The Boy Least Likely To,” the song is “Be Gentle With Me” and the first thing you hear is a banjo playing over a xylophone. The remainder is a charming platter of supremely twee indie pop for people who find Belle And Sebastian or Jens Lekman albums too macho.
32. The Blow – Paper Television 
If you didn’t put the “Laffy Taffy”-karaoke “True Affection” on a mix CD for your crush in 2006…I just hope you put “Parentheses” on there instead…because if you didn’t do either, did you really live that blog rock life?
(Rumor has it that there are eight other songs on this album, big if true.)
31. Gauntlet Hair – Gauntlet Hair 
Pretty much from the start, “Gauntlet Hair” seemed like one of those names that would be a future bat signal to Remember Some Guys and here we are. But hey, they’re remembered, because Gauntlet Hair really did have some sticky tunes. Where Animal Collective called their shot as a festival mainstay with Merriweather Post Pavilion, this Denver duo’s self-titled album could’ve been called Pepsi Center, taking the same raw elements and imagining them echoing in an empty basketball arena
30. Architecture in Helsinki – In Case We Die 
I write this blurb a few days after the increasingly common occurrence of Music Twitter melting down over a fairly middling review. And I must ask, do any of these people remember what it’s like to be materially harmed by a positive review? At the peak of blog rock’s powers, my disposable income and fealty to the Best New Music seal were inversely proportional and I’ll never – never! – forget what it was like to hear “It’5!” and immediately wish I could sue Pitchfork in small claims court or listen to ambient or black metal for the rest of my life. I’ve gotten enough distance to accept that while “It’5!” embodies the worst excesses of the blog-rock era, In Case We Die has enough charm to justify me spending a half hour with it…if not $18 that could’ve went towards a couple four-packs of Sparks in 2005.
29. Twin Sister – Color Your Life EP 
Blogs still wielded an inordinate amount of influence by 2010, even if blog rock as we’d come to know it ceased to exist – at least the image of doofy-looking guys playing snappy indie rock with a floor tom and/or glockenspiel. Even more than, say, “Go Outside” or “Rill Rill,” “All Around And Away We Go” felt like a vision of where blog-endorsed indie could go in the new decade. The frothy, dreamy form of dance-pop that Twin Sister more or less nailed on Color Your Life was abandoned almost immediately for a satisfying dark disco rebrand as Mr Twin Sister, Kendrick Lamar cosigns, and the Veronica Mars reboot.
28. Le Loup – The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations’ Millennium General Assembly 
Many, many artists bought a banjo in the mid-2000s because they wanted to ride the Sufjan wave. Very few did so because they wanted to copy The Books. Almost none did both, with the possible exception of Le Loup. Song titles like “To The Stars! To The Night!” and “We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!” give a pretty accurate sense of where their artistic allegiances mostly lie on an album (whose title I will not type again) that managed a bite-sized, shareware version of the electro freakouts Sufjan was doing on The Age Of Adz three years later.
27. Hooray For Earth – True Loves 
Hooray For Earth were named like a 2005 band, but the stadium-status synth-rock of 2011 debut True Loves pointed towards a not-too-distant future for indie rock that they couldn’t quite capitalize on, one that grandfathered INXS and Tears For Fears into approved ’80s indie influences alongside Sonic Youth and the Pixies.
26. Evangelicals – So Gone 
In 2006, The Flaming Lips released At War With the Mystics. It was complete ass. But something had to fill the void of cracked, lysergic psych-pop and who better than Evangelicals, a band who actually hailed from Oklahoma and had the decency to tap out by the time the Lips returned three years later with Embryonic, which totally ruled.
25. Midlake – The Trials Of Van Occupanther 
Midlake sounded like Laurel Canyon in 1976 or maybe your parents’ station wagon in 1986 or maybe waiting in a dentist’s office in 1996, which means that songs like “Roscoe” sounded nothing at all like 2006. Nowadays, it kinda sounds like 2023, a time when AM gold, Fleetwood Mac, and feathery psych-rock have become indie rock’s foundational colors.
24. Russian Futurists – Our Thickness 
I cannot remember for the life of me who said it or exactly how it was said, but I’ll do my best to paraphrase their description of a Russian Futurists song: “Like watching a blinged-out Frosty the Snowman on a trampoline.” I’m not sure which Russian Futurists song they were talking about either, but that’s beside the point, since every one of their bouncy, maddeningly catchy (and often, maddeningly repetitive) songs sounded pretty much the same, and they were mostly great on Our Thickness.
23. Voxtrot – Raised By Wolves/Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives EP [2005/2006]
Back in 2005 or so, “indie rock” as a genre and lifestyle had a far more combative relationship with hip-hop and pop music than it does now. But there’s a fundamental irony to blog rock in that so many of its primary artists failed to pass muster under the codified rockist standards that typically helped them when compared to more supposedly “frivolous” genres – most of them ended up being terrible live, never generated a real boots-on-the-ground fanbase, and very few actually parlayed a couple of hot singles into a legit album. It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Voxtrot, who produced a handful of strong EPs and had established themselves as a workhorse live act, enough to slowly work their way up the ranks in a place like Austin. But again, the irony of a band so deeply enamored with Sarah Records and The Smiths that it ended up replicating the same shortcomings in the album format – skip Voxtrot’s bloated, overproduced self-titled debut and wonder how things could’ve been different if they just bundled their EPs instead.
22. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder 
Many bands on this list have made more than one great record, but no other could have shown up twice. While Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut is the working definition of blog rock, Some Loud Thunder is the only album to wrestle with its legacy. Nearly all of their peers wilted under the slightest heat of public scrutiny, but from its infamously corrupted opener to its blown-out finale, Some Loud Thunder embraces its inevitable backlash and interrogates every initial impulse people felt towards Alec Ounsworth’s band – a prickly, often fascinating reactionary album that killed the hype and set Ounsworth on the path to the sustainable, weirdo career he wanted in the first place.
21. White Rabbits – Fort Nightly 
Before Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album (and probably after as well), 99% of all indie rock reviews could allude to ska only in a derogatory way. White Rabbits’ frisky debut was the exception, as the nattily clad Broolyn-via-St. Louis band found a heretofore unimaginable nexus between early Walkmen and The Specials, adding a little checkerboard flair to the black suits and white-knuckled masculinity that defined their new home for the previous five years.
20. Cults – Cults 
For a brief spell, it seemed like Sleigh Bells were going to be the new decade’s model for blog bands and Cults had a lot to do with that – coed duo, roots in punk, they liked girl groups and grimy hip-hop in equal measure and they were inextricable from their blog benefactors, having put out the inaugural release on Gorilla vs. Bear’s Forest Families label. And as Treats did with “Crown On The Ground,” Cults turned “Go Outside” from a one-off to centerpiece, getting in one last true Event arrival of the blog rock era.
19. Tokyo Police Club – Elephant Shell 
At this point, it should be quite clear that none of the albums on this list are transcendent or “important” and even a very generous view of this era might only come up with a few that are truly “great.” And therein lay the built-in limitation of blog rock, the dissonance between the hype they needed to drum up purely for survival and bands like Tokyo Police Club who weren’t really built to sustain that kind of hype. TPC’s sleek and spiffy debut Elephant Shell was always “really damn good,” and that was more or less their ceiling, less a “next big thing” than a necessary medium between The O.C.’s second wave and the more refined, indie-leaning emo of Tigers Jaw and Oso Oso that arrived in the next decade.
18. Black Moth Super Rainbow – Dandelion Gum 
Black Moth Super Rainbow were, above all else, druggy – a word that describes basically nothing else on this list, whereas Dandelion Gum sounds like the exact midpoint between Boards Of Canada and Ween. Yet, there were a couple of talking points that made BMSR a quintessential mid-aughts blog favorite – they wore masks and had aliases, they were from Pittsburgh, which seemed awfully exotic at a time when every buzzy band was expected to be from Brooklyn, Austin or even Baltimore. As with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, they made a Dave Fridmann-helmed flop two years after their breakthrough and mostly flitted through solo and Kickstarter-funded projects that obscure just how good they were at their peak.
17. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains 
As Tapes n’ Tapes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah proved a few years earlier, a band didn’t need to be transformative or even all that original to rocket out of obscurity in the decentralized, yet powerful blogosphere. Hitting the right nostalgic notes for the right writer at the right time was more than enough, and Cymbals Eat Guitars were a reminder of everything 30-something indie writers loved about The Wrens, Built To Spill, and Modest Mouse when those bands were at their lowest ebb of influence. Though a dazzling debut, Why There Are Mountains is actually the least impressive of Cymbals Eat Guitars’ four albums, which got increasingly more adventurous and unique as classicist indie rock receded from the center of the narrative to the fringe. Hence, how CEG went from MySpace to playing their sixth-ever gig at Pitchfork Festival to its ultimate legacy as a criminally underappreciated band that never got its due from the media.
16. Sunset Rubdown – Shut Up I Am Dreaming 
You’ll notice that Wolf Parade is not on this list, nor is Divine Fits or Operators or Handsome Furs. While Dan Boeckner’s sleeveless, Springsteen-ian grit felt diametrically opposed to most of blog rock’s aesthetics, left to his own devices, Spencer Krug’s caped-up and dripped-out prog fantasies were allowed to thrive in Sunset Rubdown. If you’re not convinced, the “Stadiums And Shrines” blog is still going to this day and there are none named after “I’ll Believe In Anything” or “Same Ghost Every Night.”
15. Plants And Animals – Parc Avenue 
There’s a lot of stuff on here that’s essentially “Arcade Fire, but make it [X],” which should serve as a reminder of the profound impact Funeral had on the second half of the 2000s. Plants And Animals couldn’t help the fact that they were from Montreal (cue the obligatory Sarah Neufeld cameo), and Parc Avenue had its fair share of orchestral bombast, yet the most interesting moments imagine a Deadhead Funeral, barely concealing the woolier, jam-adjacent band that would make songs with names like “Kon Tiki” and “Tom Cruz” two years later.
14. Islands – Return To The Sea 
The Unicorns were an exemplary blog rock-style success story that didn’t stick around long enough for the actual cultural phenomenon of “blog rock” to take shape. But while The Unicorns were notoriously antagonistic and defiant, Nick Thorburn and J’aime Tambeur’s subsequent project Islands packaged their love for complicated, proggy origin stories and left-field hip-hop in more accessible ways on Return To The Sea, a masterful album that has become strangely undervalued as The Unicorns have reemerged as a Twitter-rock cause celebre.
13. Tapes ‘n Tapes – The Loon 
“It was not a great year for guitars and drums” – such read Jessica Suarez’s blurb for The Loon in Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of 2006. Putting aside a top 10 including TV On The Radio, The Hold Steady, and an album literally titled Drum’s Not Dead, I get the point, because rock critics always say this, even in the years that spawned Tapes ‘n Tapes’ primary influences; go check the Pazz and Jop poll from 1992, it ain’t Slanted And Enchanted at the top. The Loon may have been record collector rock (or, more likely, CD collector rock), but they played with the urgency of young men who treat their record collection like it’s literally the most important thing about them.
12. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns 
Nils Edenloff brayed tales of mining disasters and domestic prairie heartbreak like he thought Rural Alberta Advantage belonged on a Canadian version of the Harry Smith anthology. Amy Cole provided soft, sympathetic synths and harmonies like she thought they were a twee band. Paul Banwatt played drums like he thought he was in …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. With “Sleep All Day,” that same band somehow ended up with the best Yo La Tengo ripoff of the past 25 years. There are debut albums that are revered as “fully-formed,” where a band emerges with a painstakingly considered, coherent sonic and visual presentation; and then there are ones like Hometowns, a charming and subtly devastating album that sounded like little else at the time because no one would ever mash these elements together.
11. Menomena – I Am the Fun Blame Monster! 
2003 wasn’t the first year that a previously unknown artist’s trajectory could get sent into hyperdrive by a few online raves…but it did feel like the first year where that was happening on the regular, to the point where that felt like the main purpose of online publications. But while Broken Social Scene, M83, and Sufjan Stevens evolved into vastly more ambitious and popular versions of their 2003 selves and retroactively made up the gap between their initial hype and their initial status, Menomena got bigger and meaner (peaking on 2010’s misanthropic masterpiece Mines) and yet managed to remain more or less the same thing they always were – a couple of guys making off-kilter, crackpot pop on homemade software.
10. Rogue Wave – Descended Like Vultures 
“We have The Shins at home” was a pretty compelling sales pitch during Rogue Wave’s prime, which happened to take place within a two-year span where The Shins made no new music; damn if they didn’t pull it off too, and while it’s a veritable toss-up, I tend to prefer their glossy, full-band Descended Like Vultures over the scrappy, homespun Out Of The Shadow. But I’d be remiss in telling the story of blog rock without mentioning “Chicago x12,” from 2007’s Asleep At Heaven’s Gate – despite The O.C. placements and commercial syncs and positive reviews, Rogue Wave penned a heartbreaking elegy for themselves and every other band in the soon-to-burst blog rock bubble, “It don’t matter / because no one comes out to see us.”
9. Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line 
In some ways, Ra Ra Riot were ahead of their time – they covered Kate Bush deep cuts and spawned the electropop side project Discovery that was more prescient than their own electropop pivot. In more important ways, they were extremely 2007 – a band with a violinist and a cellist as primary members, lyrics with an obvious literary slant (namechecks of e.e. cummings and To Kill A Mockingbird) and they were friends with Vampire Weekend, which probably would’ve gotten them a record deal on their own. But by the time The Rhumb Line dropped, Ra Ra Riot had overcome not just buzz-band backlash but terrible tragedy, dedicating their bracing debut to drummer John Pike, who had died a year earlier. At this point, they’ve stuck around long enough to open for a Jimmy Eat World/Third Eye Blind amphitheater tour, a fitting outcome for a band that’s been survivors from the jump.
8. Beirut – Gulag Orkestar 
For a genre that was often and accurately denigrated as painfully white, it’s fitting that the most complicated accusations of cultural appropriation would center around an artist like Beirut – should this 20-year-old dude from Albuquerque be allowed to sound like he’s a 80-year old Balkan troubadour (in the less enlightened times of 2006, people were much more likely to still use “gypsy” as shorthand). Yet, much like Wes Anderson – a sort of unwitting and/or unwilling participant in blog rock optics – Zach Condon managed to seduce far more people than he antagonized because of how wholly he committed to the bit. The songs of Gulag Orkestar were certainly set pieces and far more evocative than lived-in, but also promised a form of analogue escapism that couldn’t help but feel more real than the bloggy-ass existence we were living through.
7. Dodos – Visiter 
Basically, if Japandroids threw out their Springsteen and Replacements albums in 2008 and decided to make Sung Tongs II instead. I got nothing else here, this shit still rules.
6. The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike! 
By the time I left the halls of higher education in 2006, I’d been force-fed enough well-meaning and painfully corny campus concerts to completely dismiss any artist claiming allegiance to “old school hip-hop”; for the love of God, put that Jurassic 5 CD away and let me listen to 400 Degreez in peace. Though few artists – indie or otherwise – displayed such a blatant love for the on-and-on/break-of-dawn days of rap as Ian Parton did, The Go! Team understood that it was, first and foremost, party music. And old school hip-hop was just another joy buzzer for Parton to hit on Thunder, Lightning, Strike!, along with cheerleading routines, Saturday morning cartoons, “Tighten Up,” crate digging, and Tascam tape hiss. That said, if you haven’t heard Thunder, Lightning, Strike! yet, get in the spirit of the blog rock era by tapping into your favorite filesharing site to get the O.G. with all of the uncleared samples – do not, under any circumstances, accept the one on Spotify as a substitute.
5. Sleigh Bells – Treats 
Sleigh Bells had obscene levels of swag. They sounded like hair metal and Jock Jams and sports hybrid cars and the opening credits of The Bling Ring where they pull a B&E. In 2012’s Premium Rush, a movie that was basically “Baby Driver, but a bike messenger,” Sleigh Bells did a half-second cameo where they are implied to be the most badass band in the world because they are playing a secret show for the most badass people on Earth (er, NYC bike messengers). They had absolutely nothing in common with 95% of the bands on this list and yet, so as to not lose the forest for the trees, I outsourced whether Sleigh Bells belonged here at all. The answer was a resounding yes – probably because, like 95% of the bands on this list, Sleigh Bells parlayed a red-hot single into a celebrated debut and spent the next ten or so years making less satisfying versions of the same thing. Just because Sleigh Bells imagined a kind of blog rock that was swaggy and badass doesn’t mean they’re not blog rock.
4. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah 
Some might argue I’m overthinking it by placing this album anywhere but No. 1. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is pretty much the reason this list exists, still the ultimate avatar of blog rock as a sound and a cultural phenomenon. Others might continue the same argument that’s been happening since Pitchfork dropped a 9.0 on this thing back in 2005 – is this album actually any good? To the latter, I say “absolutely” – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was too in love with the past 20 years of indie rock to augur any fundamental change in how it sounded or how it was sold, but their guileless grab bag of a debut immediately got across the first feeling people have when they discover the music they truly love has always existed just beyond the scope of mainstream media. Context matters here – it always does – and as long as I reach for this album, I’ll be reminded of a time when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah promised a future where listeners could stumble across barely hidden greatness without having to rely on the middlemen of PR, labels, or lineage publications…one that people still clamor for in 2023. Damn, maybe this is how it’s supposed to work!
3. Annuals – Be He Me 
The early buzz around “Brother” painted this precocious Raleigh quintet as Arcade Fire with a twist of Animal Collective, or perhaps vice versa – and though it was probably the highest possible compliment an upstart band could receive in 2006, it still sold Annuals short. Like an Ivy League ultimate frisbee team, Annuals’ crunchy exterior could initially obscure their underlying ambition (indeed, one of them is currently a corporate law partner at DLA Piper) and Be He Me breezed through fried Phish jams, lap-pop power ballads, and goofy indie-folk with such charm and frightening sophistication that I actually thought dude was saying “I got magic coming out my ass!” on “Carry Around” with a straight face (it was actually “crying out my eyes,” I like my version better).
2. Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now, Youngster… 
Indie was not on speaking terms with emo during the blog rock era…or at least that’s how it seemed. And who was going to question where Los Campesinos! stood on their breakout single “You! Me! Dancing!,” self-consciously aping Pavement’s cryptic, hyper-referential lyricism and the riff from “Teenage Riot,” while tossing in the glockenspiels, superfluous punctuation, and semi-ironic celebrations of dancing that had defined the previous two years of blog rock. Yet, LC! later dubbed themselves “the UK’s first emo band,” honoring their fans who saw little difference between their debut album and the logorrheic oversharing of Fueled By Ramen. Those same fans ended up starting some of the most important bands in the emerging emo revival, and when that became the most exciting development in indie rock, Hold On Now, Youngster… was rightfully held up as both a blog rock classic and a masterpiece of covert ops.
1. Peter, Bjorn And John – Writer’s Block 
I don’t blame you if your first reaction to this list was “there are 40 blog rock albums?” But I assure you that the candidate pool was adequately vast and deep; in fact, the biggest issue was establishing criteria that separates blog rock from “indie rock that was popular between the years of 2003-2011.” Think of Oracular Spectacular or Manners or Hospice or Girls’ Album or Everything All The Time – these are either prime candidates for the No. 1 spot or they don’t belong here at all. I won’t go into what disqualified all of the aforementioned, so let’s just chalk it up to “vibes.” Peter, Bjorn And John’s Writer’s Block was in that grouping as well and the case against went as such – “Young Folks” was too popular, they’re too Swedish, Writer’s Block is simply too good to be on a list that is, to some degree, having a laugh at everything on it. But the people have spoken – a whopping 85% of y’all think this is blog rock and who am I to argue? It draws from numerous eras of indie rock and feels timeless, and yet its cultural context screams “2006.” It’s scuffed and gritty but not lo-fi, hopelessly romantic but not sexual, twee but not in a subversive way, and though they existed long before their mainstream breakthrough, Writer’s Block had the element of surprise, the meeting place between “who are these guys?” and “where has this been all my life?” That was ultimately the wholesome, driving force of blog rock – whenever we logged onto our favorite mp3 blogs, there was a hope we’d never stop finding albums as good as this one.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.