Critics and fans have been diagnosing the death of indie rock for years now, often to no avail. The Guardian was describing the genre’s “slow and painful death” as early as 2012, and it didn’t take long for publications like Grantland and Noisey to produce their own accounts of indie rock’s whimpering demise. Beyond the critical sphere, rock legends such as Flea and Roger Daltrey have begun to eulogize the genre in recent months. The consensus seems to be that, even if it’s not entirely dead, the glory days of indie rock are long gone.
So, what happened? Glance through the arguments listed above, and you’ll find reasons that include everything from sales to style to sheer boredom. But there’s one underlying reason not too many people seem to be talking about: The downfall of the band as the centralized unit in rock music.
Just look at the most prominent and critically acclaimed artists releasing music in the genre today. What do Mitski, Angel Olsen, Bon Iver, and Car Seat Headrest all have in common? Aside from the fact that they’ve all released very strong indie rock albums in 2016, they’re all predominantly viewed as solo artists. This would seem to indicate a new trend. A growing number of artists in their 20s and 30s have opted to either strike out on their own or front “bands” in which the other members are less collaborators and more backing musicians. This is a far cry from what was going on during indie rock’s glory days of the mid-aughts, when full-fledged bands like Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, and The National were releasing albums hailed as modern classics.