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26 Unmissable Indie Folk Songs

Last updated on March 14th, 2019

Far, far away from commercial record labels and enormous recording studies, indie music was born! From the indie rock that became a counter-cultural movement in the 1970s and 80s, folk music worked its way into the indie scene by the following decade, with numerous labels springing up to support their artists. With emotional performances, complicated instrumentations, lyrical arrangements and vocal harmonies, indie folk music bands and indie folk rock bands offer a contemplative alternative to other popular musical genres. Here are 26 songs we feel sum up the indie folk movement!

1. I Will Wait – Mumford & Sons

“I Will Wait” was released as the lead single from folk pop pioneers Mumford & Sons’ second studio album “Babel” and cemented their popularity in worldwide charts. The Nashville influence beats through the banjo, drums and fiddle, delivering a spirited bluegrass stomp, leaving it as their most popular song to date, and exposing the world to the British folk scene.

2. Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men

Mumford and Sons paved the way for a new brand of indie folk rock, and Of Monsters and Men were hot on their heels. The debut single for this quirky Icelandic group delivered to them well-deserved international recognition. Its contagious tune and prophetic lyrics made it a romping hit the world over.

3. Wake Me Up (Acoustic Version) – Avicii

DJ Tim Bergling (Avicii) released his debut studio album “True” in 2013, successfully blending electronic music with other genres. Most will recognise its lead single, “Wake Me Up”, which topped charts across Europe, hitting number four in the United States. Kurt Schneider, who directed a 360 video for Bergling’s “Waiting For Love”, delivers a melancholy acoustic tribute to the artist, who sadly passed away in April.

4. Ho Hey – The Lumineers

The Lumineers will likely be one of the first bands to come to mind at the mention of folk rock. Their inspiration from Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan is mated to energetic live performances. Most of you have probably heard “Ho Hey” at some point – the chart topping lead single from their debut self-titled studio album that went from kiss-off to commercial hit.

5. Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons

Marcus Mumford relates the lead single from debut album “Sigh no More” as a bit of a “punch in the face”. The hard hitting tune, complete with some controversial expletives, relates a troubled time in Mumford’s story, emphasising the importance he places on the meaning of song lyrics in expressing emotions, and the BBC and commercial radio stations became infatuated with it.

6. Skinny Love – Bon Iver

The first single released from Bon Iver’s debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago” almost didn’t happen. It was a self-released album, predominantly the work of singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, and recorded primarily in an isolated hunting cabin northwest of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Vernon’s falsetto is placed upon once wordless melodies alongside horns and choral arrangements that provides cathartic release for the stress of mediocrity and forfeited love. “Skinny Love” charted internationally, and has been popular in soundtracks and singing shows ever since.

7. Lightning Bolt – Jake Bugg

Who would have guessed that a brand of indie folk-rock could find its home on the streets of a Nottingham council estate? While the hyperbolic optimism that Jake Bugg was soon to be the next Dylan has died away, “Lightning Bolt” remains a recognisable track and one of his biggest hits.

8. Far Away – Jose Gonzales

Advancements in video game design has enabled the creation of playable cinematic masterpieces. It’s not just the environment and the shooting that makes a game these days – now they need soundtracks worthy of the worlds they deliver. Rockstar’s “Red Dead Redemption” is considered one of the greatest video games of all time, and has a soundtrack to suit. “Far Away” by Jose Gonzales plays at pivotal moment during the game’s storyline, creating a transcendental experience unique to gaming. The song won Best Song at the Spike Video Game Awards.

9. Riptide – Vance Joy

With worldwide sales of over 6,000,000, “Riptide” is a pop culture-laden coming of age story inspired by Vance Joy’s family road trips down the east coast of Australia. In 2015 it became the longest-charting song in ARIA chart history, stripping Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” from the spot, for 120 weeks.

10. Hold Back The River – James Bay

James Bay’s second single from his first studio album “Chaos and the Calm”. It was a last minute addition to the LP, a way for Bay to say “I’m not around very often… but I’m never gone.” American rock feeds into the track – the rush at the end of “The Bucket” by Kings of Leon is carried into “Hold Back the River.”

11. L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. – Noah and the Whale

“L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N” is the lead single from the Noah and the Whale’s third studio album “Last Night on Earth”. The album is written from a third person narrative, while “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.” explores the concept of endless possibilities behind a life-changing decision.

12. 1234 – Feist

Time Magazine named “1234” one of The 10 Best Songs of 2007. Its use on an iPod advert certainly helped boost its popularity, which had hitherto stood at around 2,000 downloads per week. Written with Sally Seltmann after her friend had entered into a divorce, the song went through a few changes in lyrics and mood before it reached its current energetic form.

13. Ghosts – Laura Marling

“Ghosts” appears on the debut studio album “Alas, I cannot Swim”, communicating life between the age of 18 and 19. Rootsy, honest, and organic, a husky voice and delicate guitar combine to create a song that is simple yet achingly meaningful.

14. Be More Kind – Frank Turner

Inspired by a Clive James poem, “Be More Kind” is a heartfelt reaction to human mortality – combining what Blue Murder call a mix of “raw emotion with the political and the personal”.

15. Mykonos – Fleet Foxes

Fan demand led to the release of “Sun Giant” the 7” vinyl EP on which “Mykonos” plays. Fleet Foxes continue to demonstrate their own unique brand of indie folk music, mixing British folk with classic rock and pop. We love the cute yet creepy music video.

16. Let Her Go – Passenger

The Brighton musician’s most successful single has topped the charts worldwide with over 1 million copies sold in the UK and over 4 million in the US. The melancholy and poetic lyrics regret a lost relationship, and will echo sentiments felt by heartbroken souls regretting love taken for granted.

17. The Blower’s Daughter – Damien Rice

If anyone remembers moderately successful 90s rock group Juniper, you might be familiar with Irish songwriter Damien Rice – who took a life-changing turn to become a Tuscan farmer following some record company drama. Busking his way across Europe brought him back to Ireland and a solo musical career. With no interviews to explain the journey to “The Blower’s Daughter”, Damien’s first single, this song is the most mysterious on our list, totally open to interpretation – and it’s spawned some colourful theories!

18. Mumford & Sons – The Cave

Written in a small Edinburgh pub, the London quartet’s third single, released on debut album “Sigh No More”, demonstrates the literary influence in the band’s work. Critics speculate “The Cave” is a reference to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, a story of the world being nothing more than an illusion. Despite not being as catchy as “Little Lion Man” or “Winter Winds”, it’s a hopeful folk pop tune that keeps the band’s momentum going.

19. Family – Noah Gunderson

Seattle relentlessly spawns musicians into the indie folk scene. Enter Noah Gundersen, founder of Courage. The lyrics to the single release of Gundersen’s self-title third EP don’t particularly make for easy listening, but the title – perhaps referencing his childhood in a binding right-wing fundamentalist household – in his own words “pays homage” to those who have shaped his life.

20. Generator ^ First Floor – Freelance Whales

Craigslist isn’t just where rusty used cars and seedy meet-ups originate. Freelance Whales met through the site in 2008 (and through extended friends, though that’s less exciting!). Honing their talent on the New York Subways, it was when their debut album “Weathervanes” was released that the band finally began to gain traction. Generator ^ First Floor proved popular for soundtracks and advertising, giving Freelance Whales the push needed to reach worldwide touring and critical acclaim.

21. This Year – The Mountain Goats

Despite the name, for a long time The Mountain Goats consisted of one man – singer-songwriter John Darnielle. A decade of home recordings on a cassette deck boombox preceded his more cultivated years. “This Year” is the third song on the album “The Sunset Tree” and reflects on difficult personal circumstances.

22. Fools – The Dodos

Perhaps at some point Meric Long and Logal Kroeber were called fools for trying to combine heavy metal with West African Ewe drumming and intricate Blues fingerpicking. But these two halves completed each other and made The Dodos – a duo that have spent their careers crossing genres and blurring the lines between melodious guitar and strident beats.

23. Dancing On Our Graves – The Cave Singers

Former Pretty Girls Make Graves member Derek Fudesco teamed up with Pete Quirk of Hint Hint and Marty Lund of Cobra High to cobble together The Cave Singers, and it took less than a year to achieve critical acclaim with their first LP. “Dancing On Our Graves” their second single, was released in 2008, for the debut album “Invitation Songs”.

24. Alone But Not Alone – Great Lake Swimmers

Tony Dekker constructed the melodic folk rock band Great Lake Swimmers with influences from Hank Williams and Gram Parsons. Experimenting with his album “The Waves”, “Alone but Not Alone” follows 60s influences for a carefree jaunt over the last fifteen years of the band’s seven-album catalogue.

25. Victory – Trampled by Turtles

Three of Trampled by Turtles’ albums have reached number one spots on the US Billboard charts, and it’s well deserved. The bluegrass/folk-rock band from Minnesota have carved an image inspired from Townes Va Zandt, Ralph Stanley and Bob Dylan. “Victory” appears on their album “Palomino” and is laden with a delicious combination of banjo, fiddle and guitar, sure to get anyone into a country swing.

26. Down in the Valley – The Head and the Heart

“Down in the Valley” carries all the meaning in The Head and the Heart’s band name – delivering poetic lyrics drawn from intellect and emotion, guitar, piano, violin and drums all deliver a heavy, melancholy song that reflects existentially on life’s repetitive cycles.

The surge in popularity of indie folk – no doubt opened up when Mumford and Sons kicked down the folk scene door back in 2009 – has delivered some of the most recognisable music of recent years.

Whether this list has enthralled or offended you – we know we’ve probably missed out some of your favourites – we hope it’s served to create a little appreciation for the culture of indie folk rock. After all, we certainly don’t want it to go anywhere!

While modern folk-pop spans a spectrum of moods, from melancholy to ebullience, the injection of indie rock riffs has made the genre a prevailing favourite amongst festival goers, event organisers and wedding planners alike. Looking to add the infectious rhythms and sunny acoustic tones of an indie folk band to you wedding, party or event? At Entertainment Nation we’ve got a huge variety of acoustic cover bands ready to make any day unforgettable!

Feeling inspired? Why not check out these posts:

15 Amazing Acoustic Covers

The Best Acoustic Wedding Bands

Song Lyrics to Warm Your Heart

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