With many music critics claiming the “death” of rock and roll in the 21st century (a contestable stance, to be sure), it’s always nice to look back on the previous decade and see a hey-day for indie rock. If rock and roll is dead, then its last years were filled with some of the best, heavy, and melodious death throes unlike any other.
Because most of the 2000’s indie rock scene was so reliant on stripped down, garage rock revival aesthetics, the bass played an important role in making them sound deep and complete. Here are some of the best indie rock songs with bass lines that will make you miss a time without smartphones.
The Strokes – Last Nite (2001)
A seminal sound of the 2000’s indie/alt scene, The Strokes’ Last Nite is so catchy and accessible that it burrowed itself deep into that decade’s pop culture, appearing in various soundtracks of TV shows, movies, adverts, and many more. Many music consider The Strokes, specifically Last Nite, as one of reasons why New York City and its then-burgeoning indie music scene became the epicenter of popular music and becoming one of the key influencers of future indie successes like Tame Impala, Vampire Weekend, The Bravery, to name a few.
The Strokes received critical acclaim with their debut album Is This It, and is widely considered the forerunner of the garage rock revival scene in the early to mid 2000’s. Indeed, The Strokes can be considered the Velvet Underground of the 21st century because of their sheer influence on future bands and the way they constructed their songs. Their jangly, distorted guitar riffs coupled with dark lyrics sung in a bright and optimistic way, coupled with the bands penchant for singing about New York City (their home town), catapulted the band to mainstream fame and endeared them to millions of music fans everywhere.
Incorporating elements of pop with a stripped down, back-to-basics approach to rock and roll, The Strokes updated the simple, but effective, garage rock formula and reinvigorated it for the 21st century. Last Nite is a great example of this effect, with the band using catchy, jangling guitar riffs and a steady, smooth bass line to deliver an instant classic.
The song was inspired by, and is in fact loosely structured to be similar to, American Girl by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Julian Casablanca’s raspy, almost ennui-laden vocals create a powerful contrast with the songs jumpy and happy melody.
Interpol – Specialist (2002)
Fusing post-punk and garage rock, Interpol, along with The Strokes and National (among others), is considered to be one of the key leaders of the New York Indie Scene in the early 2000’s.. Their heavy use of chirping guitar distortion and syncopated, often disorganized, singing gave Interpol a unique sound that they’ve carried with them since their early days at the Luna Lounge.
Prior to the release of their critically acclaimed debut album Turn On The Bright Lights, Interpol had already gained widespread fame with their first three EP’s. Clocking in at 6 minutes and 39 seconds (a now-standard length for Interpol), their single Specialist comes from their self-titled EP from 2002, and is widely considered by many fans as establishing the Interpol sound: repetitive, almost hypnotic guitar riffs, a haunting picked-out bass line that permeates throughout the entire track, and Paul Banks steady, pleasantly monotonous, singing.
Specialist would become almost like a template for future Interpol classics like Obstacle 1, NYC, or Mammoth, to name a few.
The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army (2003)
Drawing from a wide variety of musical influences, most notably blues, early punk, and garage rock, The White Stripes incorporated lo-fi aesthetics into all their songs, stripping down their instrumentation and focusing more on melody, composition, recording, and track arrangement. Coming in to the garage rock revival at its peak, The White Stripes became an immediate powerhouse with their catchy choruses, distorted guitars and bass, and steady, simple drums.
The White Stripes is perhaps one of the first real challengers to New York’s indie rock supremacy, with the bands distinctive Detroit Protopunk sound fusing with NYC indie rock aesthetics. But perhaps one of the most characteristic features of The White Stripes is the band itself; frontman/lead singer Jack White and drummer/backup vox Meg White became the center of controversy and attention when they first took the stage, with many speculating about the relationship between them. The duo initially claimed to be siblings, but records later showed that they were, in fact, previously married and divorced. The pair have since cleared up the gossip.
Seven Nation Army is perhaps one of The White Stripes most iconic songs, and perhaps one of the most iconic bass lines in garage rock history, despite it NOT being from a bass guitar. To create the exemplary riff, Jack White used a Whammy pedal lowered by one octave and connected it to a semi-acoustic guitar. This allowed him to use the deep, thumping sound of a bass guitar while playing five different pitches across seven different notes.
Death From Above 1979 – Romantic Rights (2004)
Toronto-based band Death From Above 1979 was one of 2000’s hottest, most anticipated bands. Coming off the heels of their successful EP Heads Up, their debut album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine was released in 2004 to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, a feud with James Murphy and his record label, along with internal strife between the band members themselves, lead to their temporary disbanding in 2006.
Debuting as Death From Above, the band received a cease-and-desist letter from James Murphy, frontman of electro-rock band LCD Soundsystem and founder of DFA (Death from Above) Records, after the label’s attorneys flagged the band for copyright infringement. The band then changed their name to Death From Above 1979 and released their debut album under that name. However, after creative differences simmered over, the band disbanded in 2004, only to reunite in 2011, with their sophomore album The Physical World being released a full decade after their first.
Death From Above 1979 takes the stripped-down aesthetic of indie and noise punk to a different level by eliminating most other instrumentation and sticking to a bass guitar and drums (albeit supplemented by a synthesizer). No other song in their discography brings out the raw power of these instruments more than Romantic Rights, with its jagged bass line strummed roughly and channeled through heavy distortion.
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc. (2005)
Combining various genres like art pop, alt rock, indie rock/pop, hip hop, and electronica, Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s side project Gorillaz was billed as the world’s first “Virtual band”, with all music videos and promotional materials, even concerts, being produced by digitally by comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. The “band” itself is made up of 2D characters visually rendered via computer graphics, with guest vocals being given their own unique digital avatars when needed.
Although a huge departure from his Britpop influences, Albarn manages to infuse Gorillaz post-modern approach to hip hop, electronica, and rock to create a unique and distinctive sound. Coupled with its visually stunning music videos and technologically-creative concerts (where the “band” were projected on stage via hologram), Gorillaz creates a sound unlike any other. Debuting this in 2005, Demon Days is widely considered as the precursor for the now-modern melding of rock, pop, hip hop, electronica, lo-fi, and many other genres of music.
While Gorillaz had already seen critical acclaim with its self-titled debut album, their sophomore album Demon Days is widely considered as the truest representation of Gorillaz sound, most notably in the Feel Good Inc. track, with its steadily groovy bass line, Albarn’s almost-ethereal vocals, and Dave’s aggressive rap flows.
Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor (2006)
Considered to be one of the first bands to “make it big” via the internet, Arctic Monkeys started off much like other, struggling bands in the early 2000’s: playing various gigs around their hometown of Sheffield, selling burned CD’s of their demos, and taking advantage of the then-new file sharing services online, and being an early adopter of MySpace’s artist page. It’s the last one that really put Arctic Monkeys on the international music scene, with music fans being able to listen their songs from across the globe.
Their early breakthrough has also been contributed to their unique musical style: Alex Turner’s fast-paced delivery of linguistically intricate lyrics in his now-trademark Sheffield accent endeared him to fans both at home and around the world. The Arctic Monkeys earlier albums borrowed influences from garage rock, punk revival, and the indie scene to compose songs that heavily featured aggressive and uptempo guitars, furious drumming, and rapid, catchy bass lines.
These sonic signatures are no more prominent than in their breakthrough single I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor, an almost-immediate classic that has since become the bands most well-known songs, with its fast-paced and jagged opening riff, a funky and uptempo bass line syncopated to drums, and Turner’s heavy Sheffield accent singing about the desperation of people in clubs.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Berlin (2007)
Fusing together elements of psychedelic rock, blues, indie, garage revival, and alternative rock, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club stays true to its Marlon Brando-inspired name with a discography chock-full of bluesy guitars, thumping drums, and a whole lot of rebellious spirit. The band’s image of young, restless, and dangerous rebels often overshadows the understated grace of their songs, which, many critics say, is their prime selling point.
Since their inception, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was always seen as a vanguard of the old ways and as true torchbearers of classic rock n’ roll. As a three-piece band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club keeps their music lo-fi, with guitars and bass being distorted via traditional means, and only punctuated from time to time with the occasional effects. Save for their gospel-inspired album Howl, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club makes sure that their sound always carries that sense of exciting danger, much like what you would feel cruising down some unknown highway with a metal hog between your legs.
Berlin is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s ode to classic rock, with its opening bass line that’s smooth, deep, steady, punchy, syncopated with the drums, and understandably gruff, immediately followed by a husky guitar riff. It’s one of those tracks that make you want to drink a beer, ride your bike across the desert, and maybe raise a little bit of hell.