Alternative Rock has always been an odd thing to define. So much can be defined as such. In the 80′s Alternative rock was born from a frustrated society backlashing against hair metal, yuppy culture and conservatism. Bands like R.E.M and Sonic Youth took an alternative approach to art by incorporating intelligence and experimentation with a punk rock D-I-Y ideology. This was perfectly displayed on the recently re-released documentary ‘1991: The Year Punk Broke‘. And break it did, this new version of punk wasn’t specific to genre it was about an alternative attitude which set itself aside from the mainstream. As hair metal faded to obscurity, and attitudes began to change, Alternative rock became a giant taking over the world. Jane’s Addiction created Lollapalooza, Nirvana released ‘Nevermind‘, The Smashing Pumpkins were everywhere, and Alt.Rock was eventually sucked into the mainstream of which it was created to appose. Slacker culture took over, Beavis & Butthead were born, and post-grunge invented, radio friendly versions of alternative were created for the mainstream. Today, In such post-modern times we have too many genres for there to really be a specific Alternative movement, but there are certainly bands out there who are daring and trying hard do something new, exciting and different. Here is my list of 5 albums I think do the Alt.Rock scene proud in 2012…
5: 2:54 – 2:54
Rumour has it that 2:54 are so named due to their love of a particular drum roll in a Melvins track. And surprisingly enough the droning metal influence can be heard in the Thurlow sisters’ debut effort, ‘Easy Undercover’ has a droning electronic feel that could with minimal effort be exchanged for a stoner rock sound. The duo do exude muso qualities with droplets of each intersection of a vast musical collection can be found here in subtile doses. Tracks like ‘Revolving’ have plenty of PJ Harvey-esque wails and groans, ‘Scarlet’ has the feel of a airier, more ambient My Bloody Valentine.
This album feels very much like a pallet board of converging influences, and although a very strong debut album and a very strong album overall, this feels more akin to a stepping stone to greater things. Like the calm before the proverbial storm which could see the duo create and release something truly astounding in the not so distant future. But as a first shot, this has everything one could need. Clean production, airy ambience, shadowy vocal stylings and twinges of classic pop, with this album the band may be just starting out on a long and interesting journey, but have certainly shot themselves in to the upper echelon of the burgeoning dream-pop/shoegaze revival scene.
4: Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
The prolific and acclaimed child prodigy Ty Segall has carved out a interesting niche in the realms of garage rock rock scene. His incessant and relentless work rate has allowed him to garner an ever increasing cult fan-base. This release sees the debut of his new Ty Segall Band, which at first listen seems to have a rougher, noisier and altogether more experimental tone to the proceedings. Its garage rock sound is as raw as a ‘Funhouse’ or ‘Kick Out The Jams’, as a pshychotic as a ‘Suicide’ release, and strangely enough as melodic as anything by The Beach Boys.
Opening with a cacophony of fuzz and reverb on ‘Death’, kicks ‘Slaughterhouse’ off with an apt air of morbidity. The lo-fi intensity is unrelenting from the albums noisy inauguration, right through to the aptly named ‘Fuzz War’ at the albums brutal end. A “song” (if such a term can be used) comprises of over 10 minutes of sprawling fuzzy lo-fi experimentation. A soundscape is too pleasant of a term to describe the abrasive nightmare ‘Fuzz War‘ generates. This is Ty at his most sinister and malevolent.
Tracks such as ‘The Tongue’ are still aggressive but are definitely a relieving lighter shade, with a perky grunge feel and a somewhat mid 80’s goth vocal track. The least heavy track of all is probably ‘Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart’ which bounces along at a fast pace, but a melodic pop sensibility to it. Overall this album is a work of noisy brilliance, it’s dark, twisted, abrasive, and yet melodic. Ty has scratched out a cult following up to this point, and it’s hard to imagine with the immense talent and work ethic he possesses that he won’t be a huge star in years to come.
3: Off! – Off!
From the off (a pun already, I know), Off! had a game-plan. It was to create (or recreate) a sound that the bands leader, Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks), feels to be long extinct. The idea was simple, to form a punk supergroup which would act as a throwback to the original skate/thrash punk bands of the 80’s and forcefully thrust it in to 2012. The first album ‘First Four EPs’ was undeniably brilliant. It was fast, abrasive, melodic and raw. It was a punk album that dared to be punk again. Not in aesthetic like a lot of the ‘punk’ bands one might see today, but punk in spirit. It was D-I-Y production which couldn’t have sounded more authentic if it was ‘Group Sex‘ by Circle Jerks.
This second album is much more of the same. It’s slightly (and the word slightly cannot be emphasized enough), slightly more fine tuned, and the lyrics have a much witter feel to them. Keith screams as well as ever, and the overall feel here is intense. The skater punk riffs are still here, and the agression seems to be enhanced. It feels like First Four EPs (which to me is a modern punk classic) felt like the birth of idea which did have the burden of a gimmick hanging over its head. Where this album feels a lot more like progression to very much cement themselves as a band in their own right (which might explain the albums self-title-ing).
That’s not to say it sounds any cleaner, the mixing and production is at best, erratic. Each track has an issue keeping the levels of each layer of instrumentation consistent with the last. But this isn’t an issue as it keeps everything feeling just that bit more punk rock. Keith certainly hasn’t lost his attitude either, as they deal with politics and personal issues with dark and none too subtle humour. ‘Cracked’ seems to be Keith’s declaration of still having ‘it’, and taking humorous swipes at old and new members of the punk rock scene. Frankly who are we to argue. This is the shortest album of the list (probably of the year) coming in at a meager 15 minutes and 44 seconds, so you really have no excuse not at least give it a go.
2: Beach House – Bloom
Baltimore based dream-pop duo, Beach House came back this year to release their fourth studio LP to rave reviews all round. This piece we a subtle advance on their previous effort, and seemed to be an asserted effort to create a sound more specific to them.
It felt darker, ethereal, and just a little bit less poppy. Teaming up with once again with Yeah Yeah Yeahs collaborator Chris Coady has once again done wonders for the band in creating a much more haunting and ethereal feel, with a far cleaner production than the last. The album is dazzling through its use of simplistic atmospherics, and although it certainly isn’t vastly different from its predecessor it certainly delivers a much more defined ‘Beach House’ sound that is interesting on first listen and enchanting on recurring ones. It’s brooding, and dreamy, yet loving and warm. A concept that is hard to pull off, but Beach House have made it their signature. I did a full review of this album for this site a few months back if you fancy a read.
1: Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral
After a seven years of side projects, excursions, and generally lending his vocals talents to a vast array musical outlets, Mark Lanegan returned this March with an album that it often unrecognizable in it’s uplifting demeanor. It seems his time with UK electronic duo, ‘Soulsavers’ has laid influence upon Blues Funeral with songs such as ‘Ode To Sad Disco’ trading in the rough and ready blues rock for an expensive electronic sound. Songs like ‘Tiny Grain Of Truth’ and ‘Riot In My House’ generate an epic sense of grandeur with the prior being an epic synth-slathered epic, and the latter being a call-back to the technical proficiencies of his grunge/desert rock (a kin to his works with Screaming Trees and Queens Of The Stone Age). Everything here just has a sense of accomplishment and spirit , ‘Ode To Sad Disco’ and ‘Harbourview Hospital’ once again rely heavily on synths to generate an atmosphere of nobel contemplation.
That isn’t to say Mark’s gone soft, his voice is stilll an entity of ravaging intensity. Years of drugs, cigarettes and whiskey has forged the most unique and instantly recognizable voices since Tom Waits. This album does has have its more contemplative and downtempo tracks like ‘Bleeding Muddy Water’ which show off his blues tenor but still possess a comforting a new glow. Ultimately, for a man who’s had a history of being ravaged my personal issues, this album feels like for the first time Mark Lanegan is happy. He’s left his problems behind him and this album is their obituary. The new expansive sound is prime for a change is performance location, which means his set on the huge NME stage this year Reading & Leeds Festival’s will be the perfect setting to hear the new tracks on a live stage.