For the last decade or so, it’s felt like the rock genre quietly slipped into a coma. With the rise and popularity of several different genres and cultural movements, the loud, rebellious, and angsty sound of our youth shifted from the mainstream zeitgeist of the Y2K era into the underbelly of pop culture, particularly in the U.S. But the popularity of rock never cooled off in Latin America. If anything, it’s expanded into a dazzling kaleidoscope of sonics that draw inspiration from genres like soul, gospel, R&B, funk, house, techno, vintage synths, and trap, to name only a few, and it’s clear that rock music has never been a one-trick-pony.
While there are artists who have masterfully managed to release hit music and made their way back on our list — looking at you, Omar Apollo — there’s also an exciting array of up-and-coming acts from every corner of Latin America and Europe who’ve worked hard the past few years to carve their own lane within their local indie scenes (and beyond). Argentinian singer La Valenti experimented with operatic avant-garde performances in her latest string of singles and paired one with a romantic ballroom/punk rock-inspired music video that looks like it belonged in a scene in Marie Antoinette. Hailing from Bolivia, Últimos Glaciares injected heaps of ‘90s nostalgia in their sophomore album, featuring echoing guitar riffs and sentimental, melodic vocals that transport the listener into a moody dream pop haze. In “Perdimos El Control,” Puerto Rican singer and producer Pink Pablo created a bouncy, lyrically playful punk single that offers only a taste of the curated vibes found in his debut six-track EP.
Globalization has made the world smaller, and music from across the planet has become much easier to access, which means that the shape and sound of the Latine indie and alt-rock scene will always either evolve with the times or shred until the times evolve with it.
Check out 10 of 2023’s best indie and alt-rock releases below.
– Rosy Alvarez
Alan Palomo - “La Madrileña”
Alan Palomo surprised us this year by leaving his successful Neon Indian moniker behind and releasing his first full-length under his own name. And yet, his taste for past decades’ aesthetics remains intact. World of Hassle is a wide-ranging and deliciously tongue-in-cheek tribute to the sounds of the ‘80s, entering his sophisti-pop era right before our ears while honing his production and songwriting skills in the process. “La Madrileña” is proof, as he gives us evocative lyrical images in Spanish that go beyond daydreaming of a Madrilenian girl in L.A. with a stunningly crafted glitzy, funky ‘80s radio backdrop. It really makes us feel the breezy openness that comes with new love. Palomo’s new era was a necessary personal step for the artist and a welcomed one for his audience. – Cheky
La Valenti - “24/7”
The autotune distortions in La Valenti’s voice raise the stakes in this heart-wrenching track. The synths and sharp sounds of “24/7” create the sensation that the music matches the pain in the lyrics, evoking the frustrations one can become exposed to when falling in love. At a little over two minutes, the song borrows its chorus from Shakira’s “No” featuring Gustavo Cerati, taking the harsh lyrics to even deeper grounds as La Valenti’s voice bewitches listeners. The verses from the neo-soul singer from Buenos Aires feel like a confession as she sings, “Ahora a mi corazón ya no le alcanza ni pa las expensas,” before remembering her worth and quipping, “Agáchate, no estas ready pa rezarme.” – Amanda Alcántara
Omar Apollo - “Live For Me”
Last month, Omar Apollo surprised fans with the unexpected drop of his Live For Me EP. Fresh off of a year of touring for his debut album Ivory (which earned him a 2023 Grammy nomination for best new artist), touring with SZA, and sharing the stage with Daniel Caesar at his show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, it’s no surprise he only gave us four tracks. But what it may lack in length, it makes up for in emotional depth. On “Live For Me,” his vocals are the shining instrument. Omar sings to the beat of a simple snare drum, sentimental keys, and soft synths. He layered his own vocals to emphasize certain verses and words in the background, creating the sound of a one-person choir, infusing angelic depth into the melody. Some verses sound as though he’s grieving a death, while others sound reminiscent of a breakup, and others sound like lament at not being able to help someone in the way they need it. But by the end of the song, the use of synths also conjures a feeling of acceptance. “Live For Me” is less about a specific meaning and more about the feelings ignited within every individual listener, which is exemplary of that special sparkle that makes Omar a such universally relatable artist. – Rosy Alvarez
Dillom - “OLA DE SUICIDIOS”
The mere presence of Dillom in a list of rock songs is proof that his siege on stale music industry conventions is working. The Argentine rap star behind 2021’s genre-anarchic masterpiece POST-MORTEM returned to the spotlight in the Spring with a tenebrous, uproarious blast of post-punk titled “OLA DE SUICIDIOS.” The song not only exulted his status as an ascendant teen idol and King of los niños rata, but also called out prehistoric rockists — notably in Rolling Stone Argentina’s editorial department — for not giving him his flowers despite sold-out stadiums speaking for themselves. He took the cutting satire one step further in the music video, cosplaying as Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose while his band wore leather apparel and heavy eye makeup to reenact Queen’s iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody” silhouettes. The video also features a cameo from Argentine rock god Andrés Calamaro, a head-turning co-sign that underlined how the essence of rock n’ roll is about defiance and gutsy performances, not self-indulgent guitar solos. – Richard Villegas
Melenas - “Bang”
The pop-rock band did not disappoint with their comeback single from their third album Ahora. Made for summer days and nights, the five-minute opens with a mesmerizing minute-long synth instrumental. Lyrically, they discuss being better off without somebody, frequently repeating the word “no.” Talk about the chillest way to set boundaries; the Pamplona, Spain, natives could ghost me, and I wouldn’t even be mad if this song was the result. “Bang” is a natural sonic progression from their last album, Días Raros, and it is commendable that they stick to (and improve) their signature sound. — Chelsea Quezada
Yungatita - “Whiplash”
The house show scene in Los Angeles is vibrant as it is violent, with a myriad of bands popping up every other weekend to kick heads and drop with homies ranging from Echo Park to the I.E., Perris included. The same scene is home to wonderful names like Yungatita and their band of merry misfits. Their latest single, “Whiplash,” is a perfect rock melody that checkpoints them and their band’s growth as artists. “Whiplash” is heavy. It’s abrasive. It’s a loud track with some of the heaviest chords in Yungatita’s discography, matched with soft lyricism. Tita wears their influences proudly, but the dynamic DNA of the song is woven by the tight chemistry they share with their friends, who make up the rest of the group. “Whiplash” comes off less as an ode to traditional indie and more as getting your best friends together to help finish a creative thought. – Alan Baez
Pink Pablo - “Perdimos el Control”
From its opening notes and warbling ad-libs, you’d be forgiven for thinking “Perdimos el Control” is the latest hot single from the newest rock en español star. But in other respects, you might also be totally right. Pink Pablo started to make a name for himself this year by being an artist willing to mesh rap with ska, Pacific Northwest punk, alt-R&B, and more. But beyond the avant garde fusions is a talent for mining his own inner turmoil and turning what he finds into irreverent yet snappy lyrics. He alchemizes his angst into hits without disguising it much, leading to songs that might be half-therapy but complete bops. — Juan J. Arroyo
Margaritas Podridas - “Filosa”
“Filosa” by Margaritas Podridas lyrically and sonically embodies the agonizingly relatable feeling of not knowing what you want, how to say it, and, simultaneously, not wanting to say anything at all. After expressing her frustration with not being able to say what she wants, bass player and singer Carolina Enriquez dives into a vocal carousel of emotions, accompanied by the exquisitely frenzied sound of punk and grunge instrumentation. Margaritas Podridas is well on its way to stardom, refusing to sing in English or otherwise compromise themselves along the way. – Daniella Tello-Garzon
Lorelle Meets The Obsolete - "Dinamo"
Psych rock continues to be one of the most innovative genres in Latine music, and Lorelle Meets The Obsolete has ascended the ranks to become one of the shining lights of the genre. The Mexican band has now become a referent, a classic in the latest iteration of the style while still churning out innovative tracks like this stand out from their latest album, Datura. On “Dinamo,” they molded psychedelic music into a groove machine, a bass guitar that repeated an insistent riff over a simple drum beat with Lorena Quintanilla intoning the lyrics in a sing-song, spoken word hybrid to deliver a surprisingly catchy chorus. The track devolves into a form of controlled chaos that pushes the limits of what psych music could do while retaining their musicality afloat before riding that groove again, giving us tunefulness out of the cacophony. “Dinamo” proved that rock could be experimental and go hard beat-wise and simultaneously pave the way for a bright future for the genre. — Marcos Hassan
Últimos Glaciares - “Divino Misterio”
Back in April, Bolivian indie rockers Últimos Glaciares unveiled Ceremonias, their second full-length album and one of 2023’s most underrated alternative rock gems. The quartet — made up of vocalist and bassist Jhonny Rojas Soliz, vocalist, guitarist, and synth player Marcelo Sandoval Lopez, guitarist Eduardo Cáceres Quiroga, and drummer Adrián Rojas Soliz — oscillates between fuzz-soaked shoegaze and towering dream pop across its nine tracks so fluidly that they make you feel like you’ve stumbled upon an unsung ‘80s cult classic. Lead single “Divino Misterio,” one of the quartet’s most cohesive and finely-tuned songs to date, satiated the appetites of die-hard post-punk lovers across the world with its blipping synths and reverb-heavy interlocking guitars, blurring the lines between dream state and reality. – Nayeli Portillo