11 of the greatest indie rock riffs of the 2000s
05.05.2021

11 of the greatest indie rock riffs of the 2000s

Words by Eli Duxson

Walk back through the glory days of high-strung guitars and skinny jeans with these iconic riffs.

Indie rock had always been about being independent to the major labels and sticking fat to your style while also being interchangeable with alternative, punk, and college rock.

As the 21st century rolled around, the music industry had shifted with the rise of the internet. Record sales declined and the growing digital technology sphere allowed indie rock bands to gain commercial success through promotion and a greater reach than previously possible with the narrow scope of radio play.

We look at some of the key exponents of this shift during the decade marred with terror, war, and the unearthing of Justin Bieber, as we provide some of the best indie rock guitar riffs of the 2000s.

Read all the latest features, lists and columns here.

‘Someday’ – The Strokes

New York indie titans The Strokes came onto the scene with a bang thanks to the reception to their 2001 debut album Is This It, and standout single ‘Someday’ played a major part in asserting the young group’s status as one of the biggest bands of the era.

Albert Hammond Jr.’s lush guitar intro is almost drowned out by the semi-quaver pulses from his counterpart Nick Valensi, before again coming to the forefront as the indifferent drawls of Julian Casablancas shine through in the chorus.

All of the guitar parts throughout the song combine to make one of the band’s most inviting and nostalgic songs – even if it is for a time you have never experienced. 

‘No One Knows’ – Queens of the Stone Age

“This is a song that no one knows,” Josh Homme sardonically told the crowd. But I can assure you when the staccato guitar riff accompanied by the Dave Grohl-written emphasised kick and toms, everyone knew what song it was.

The lead single and second track off their sophomore album Songs for the Deaf remains their most popular song to date and it’s easy to hear why. Whether it’s through its accented verses or you manage to hold on until the bridge/solo, you will be moving in some way. 

‘Get Free’ – The Vines

One of Australia’s most notable contributions to the indie rock canon of the era, Sydney rockers The Vines produced their highest charting single off their debut album Highly Evolved with the sub-two minute smash ‘Get Free’.

The sixth track on the record starts the most emphatically out of the track-listing, with its alarm-like guitars and frenetic drum build-up splitting the track open and driving the song. The guitar in the chorus drives around the vocals and bounces off of them in the verses in a unique, somewhat off-kilter manner, helping to complete the unconventional structure of the song.

‘Float On’ – Modest Mouse

‘Float On’ gave Modest Mouse their first dose of mainstream popularity, with the long-operating indie act topping the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and being nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 2005.

The third track off their fourth studio album Good News for People Who Love Bad News was consciously more positive than their other tracks. Lead singer Isaac Brock said it was to counter the negative news cycle of the time, as its bright rhythm guitar and sparkling lead guitar makes clear over the course of the song.

‘Take Me Out’ – Franz Ferdinand

It is hard to make an indie rock list without including ‘Take Me Out’, especially one looking at particularly iconic guitar riffs. The third track off their self-titled debut album, the Scottish group hit the scene strong with this one, and it’s become considered as one of the best singles of the era as such.

The guitars begin in an almost suspenseful manner as the bounce around the hi-hats, with a marching snare drum boiling over as the track feels like it’s about to peak.

A minute in, we finally hear the lead guitar line that has become so synonymous with the UK’s take on ’00s indie, and from there, the song just doesn’t look back. Forever a jam.

‘Mr. Brightside’ – The Killers

The Killers’ seminal debut single is equally hard to leave off most lists due to its fascinating commercial endurance, but it makes it onto this one for Dave Keuning’s lead guitar riff that carries the song and has made it become instantly recognisable in most circles.

Hard-panned to the left side of the mix, the deceptively difficult arpeggio creates space and ebbs and flows throughout the song as an integral motif, with its focus when the crash cymbals vacate during the verses proving to create an epic, surging build to amplify the song’s explosive chorus. An epic exercise in clever arranging, and one hell of a hook.

‘Helicopter’ – Bloc Party

The English group initially released ‘Helicopter’ as a stand-alone single, but then included it on their iconic 2005 debut Silent Alarm – a record many consider to be one of the era’s best. It peaked at #26 on the UK Singles Charts, and has also been featured on video games like Guitar Hero and FIFA.

The Jam’s ‘Set the House Ablaze’ was the original track that the lead riff was said to have been adapted from, appearing sparsely between the chorus and verse of the song. The fast tempo and aggressive, upbeat guitar strikes give it a bouncy feel, with Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack’s dual guitar interplay over a relentless rhythm section proving to be the song’s most dynamic aspect.

‘Here It Goes Again’ – OK Go

Perhaps best known for the viral video clip that it so rightly won a Grammy award for, Chicago-based OK Go released ‘Here It Goes Again’ as their third ever single, being one of just two of their songs to chart on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The accented guitars working overtime alongside the drums is almost enough to make you want to join in on the treadmill fun with the band, and it’s guaranteed to live in your head for the next couple of hours after you’ve heard it. Its irresistible hooks and power pop-feel also earned it a place in Dance Dance Revolution X. 

‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ – Arctic Monkeys

One of the many Arctic Monkeys songs that could have made this list, ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ earned its place with its ska-like rhythm and guitar riffs that complement and even juxtapose the feeling of the lyrics. It’s vibrant as Turner recounts the good old days running amok around Sheffield, but hits a drabness as reality hones in on him before its optimism allows it to get you back up.

It was the fifth track off their sophomore album Favourite Worst Nightmare, and peaked at number five on the UK Singles Chart in 2007 – a true indie rock classic.

‘A-Punk’ – Vampire Weekend

The second release off their self-titled debut album remains the biggest hit for the Columbia University indie group with over 260 million streams on Spotify.

The spritely drive of the main guitar riff resolves and features only in the intro and the verses making its reappearance that much more uplifting after the flute-dominant choruses. The subtle accenting is also effective in creating that sunshine-like feeling.

‘No You Didn’t, No You Don’t’ – The Courteneers

The Courteneers released ‘No You Didn’t, No You Don’t’ as the seventh track on their debut studio album St Jude, which managed to reach number five on the UK Singles Chart.

NME described the track as “a breezily nostalgic Smithsian jangle-pop wonder that truly bridges the gap between thug and hug. Consequently, it’s easily the best track on the album” – a perfect description of one of the more underrated songs the 2000s indie rock song was graced with.

Dive into more big riffs with our exploration of ’70s Aussie rock deep-cuts here.