When it comes to indie rock vocalists, a bit of conviction and creativity goes a long way. Singers with unique or unorthodox voices can overcome technical deficiencies in ways that straight R&B and pop stars cannot. Just look at the career of artists like Christian Matsson (The Tallest Man On Earth), Alec Ounsworth (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), and Frank Black (The Pixies). Today however, we’re looking at ladies and gentlemen who can really belt it; the singers with the best control, the largest range, and the most pleasing of timbres. This is our 1992 Olympic Dream Team of rock & pop vocalists.
Hannah Reid (London Grammar)
Hailing from Nottingham, England, London Grammar has been making waves across the pond of late thanks to Hannah Reid’s powerful, brooding vocals. At only 23 years of age, Reid has an elegant, world-worn soprano that belies her shy, off-stage demeanor. On stage though, she’s a force.
Nobody can murder a piano ballad in 2014 like this golden-voiced 6’5 British wunderkind. As a producer Blake’s skills are undeniable. On the mic though, he’s in a league of his own.
Merill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs)
Merill Garbus’ voice is unlike anything you have heard. Earthy, androgynous, and deeply melodious, it’s the brilliant anchor to tUnE-yARdS bizarre world-inspired experimental pop.
Victoria Legrand (Beach House)
With her booming, ‘verbed out contralto Legrand could literally sing over anything and give it pathos. She may not do much exploring of range with Beach House, but there is no denying the singular power of her voice.
Justin Vernon (Bon Iver)
With his incomparable falsetto and increasingly potent low-end growl, J Vern has been laying his claim for awhile now on top of indie-rock’s vocal Mount Olympus. For once, the Grammy’s, music buying masses, and Kanye West all seem to agree on something.
She may not be the belting type (if you’re waiting for Feist to make her debut on Broadway, don’t hold your breath), but Feist’s voice is one of the most recognizable instruments in alt-rock. Breathy, ethereal, and sultry as a Coltrane saxophone solo, her addition to any project (see: Broken Social Scene) makes them an instant contender.
Thom Yorke (Radiohead)
With his distinct vibrato-heavy tenor and ghostly falcettos, Thom Yorke is indie rock’s long reigning vocal king. Though his voice has gradually become more understated, there’s no doubt the man can still flex his vocal chords when the time calls for it.
Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson (Sigur Ros)
Between Justin Vernon, Thom York and Jónsi, it is the latter—Iceland’s most recognizable countertenor—that has the prettiest falsetto. With his angelic pipes and unique, violin-bow utilizing guitar style, Sigur Ros has been able to cultivate a vast international fan base without the use of English.
Raphaelle Standell-Preston (Braids & Blue Hawaii)
RSP’s got range for days. In the above video for “In Kind” from Braids’ 2013 Flourish // Perish LP Raphaelle hits notes that would give Mariah Carey reservations.
Devon Welsh (Majical Cloudz)
When you have a voice as rich and emotive as Welsh’s, no musical adornment is necessary—just that powerhouse voice, stripped bare for all to reckon with. Perhaps this is why Majical Cloudz producer Matthew Otto keeps things so minimal?
Yukimi Nagano (Little Dragon)
Few vocalists can switch as effortlessly between ideosyncratic indie, elastic new-jazz and Erykah Badu-style R&B crooning like Swedish songstress Yukimi Nagano. If you don’t know Little Dragon, it’s time to get acquainted.
Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend)
I pity the fool who tries to sing Vampire Weekend at karaoke. His voice may sound thin at times, but Koenig’s control and upper register is vastly underrated, just listen to how many syllables he manages to milk out the word “arms” in the song above. High-level stuff.
Honourable Mentions: Katie Stelmanis (Austra), Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), Caroline Polachek (Chairlift), Bjork, Sam Smith