10 Bands to Rediscover Alternative: Part 2, The Supporting Cast

One of the most interesting things about the original alternative movement is that it brought bands that in the past would have been completely overlooked by the populous into the forefront. Once a few artists had broken down the barrier, the public was exposed not only to the mainstream artists, but also a lot of their influences and more underground peers.

The bands I've chosen for this second part of my focus on rediscovering alternative are what I like to call the "supporting cast." They may not have been as successful in the mainstream as the big names from part one, but the impact they had on modern music is immense and each played an important role on shaping the alternative movement and bringing it to the mainstream.

It also just so happens that some of my most recent favorite artists just happen to be included in this list... bands that I'd heard of for years and years, maybe even listened to, but I have since rediscovered and been inspired by.

1: The Pixies
When you think of alternative the band that most comes to mind might be Nirvana, or one of the others from part one of this piece. The band I think SHOULD come to mind though, is most certainly the Pixies. It's strange really, because so many people seem to mention this band in passing, but I'm not sure that all that many have actually listened to them. A shame because I don't think there are too many bands that better embody exactly what "alternative rock" means. The Pixies are precisely the alternative to mainstream rock of the late 80s. Equal parts roaring abrasion and stellar pop hooks, their most well known album Doolittle sounds as if you took rock and roll and twisted it 90 degrees to the left. The result would still sound like catchy rock and roll, but everything is just a little off and more extrme... but in a good way.

Cryptic, intelligent, absurd, genius... all these things can be used to describe the Pixies. They're easily one of the most influential bands of all time. If you're a fan of modern rock and have never listened to the Pixies, I think you're missing out.

2: Slint
Here's a band that like a few others (if not all) of the bands in this list, is responsible for much of how modern music sounds... their influence is just that massive. That says something about the kind of music Slint made as their career was relatively short and they're known pretty much for only one album Spiderland. Firmly in the realm of progressive rock, they create these massive soundscapes that are characterized by intense dynamics (what has been referred to before as "Slint Dynamics"). Songs begin with subtle guitar parts only to suddenly erupt into massive walls of fuzz while often spoken word lyrics sort of recede into the background, creating something very eerie, dark, cerebral and surreal.

It's easy to hear their influence in the music of just about any modern band that leans towards the experimental, but the fact that Slint's music is so complex, compelling and engrossing to listen to is really why you should check them out.

3: Spaceman 3/Spiritualized
One of the most recent additions to my musical collection, I don't remember even hearing about Spaceman 3 back in the day... or the band that followed them Spiritualized. There unique brand of space rock though, equal parts trance, drone, avant garde and psychedelia makes them one of the most interesting bands I've listened to in a while. If there was ever a band I was going to label "the Pink Floyd of alternative rock" I think it would probably be Spaceman 3, although I think they lean more towards the experimentalism of early Floyd rather than later stuff. There's definitely an eastern/mystical influence in the music of Spaceman 3, as well as a lot of rough atmospheric elements that definitely make these "headphones in the dark" albums to listen to... I'm partial to Playing With Fire as of now, but own a couple other of their albums as well that have really sparked my interest.

I also listed Spiritualized as part of this entry because I feel their music, although different, is almost like a continuation to the Spaceman 3 sound. That's not unexpected because when Spaceman 3 broke up, Spiritualized is the band that rose from the ashes. Both are definitely worth checking out, and possibly must haves if you're a fan of space rock.

4: Joy Division
Although I'm pretty sure most music historians would not classify this band as alternative, I'm including them here because without them, alternative as we know it would sound very different. Joy Division came out of the punk movement but to my ear they have far more in common with bands like the Velvet Underground, the Doors and even early Pink Floyd than bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. There music is psychedelic and sort of sparse and restrained with a strong emphasis on texture. The important part to note though, is that they are one of the first "punk bands" (if you want to call them that even) that moved away from anger and more towards emotion and mood and that's why I'd consider them musically one of the first alternative bands. That moodiness and emotion, is part of what fueled so many bands in the late 80s and 90s. Albums like Closer do sound a little ahead of their time, sort of foreshadowing new wave and the later textural sounds of bands like the Cure.

If you happen to be familiar with more modern bands like Interpol, you're already quite familiar with the sound of Joy Division... in fact the comparisons are almost scary on some songs, showing that this somewhat underrated band has influenced countless others to this very day.

5: My Bloody Valentine
I don't think there's really anyway to talk about the evolution of the alternative movement without in some way mentioning My Bloody Valentine. Known for playing almost deafeningly loud, My Bloody Valentine took a dream pop style and turned it up to 11 with waves of shimmering, white noise fueled, walls of guitar sound. On first listen, their music is very much unlike anything else out there, ethereal, swirling and sweeping, it is engrossing and all encompassing... atmospheric and yet massive. Plus, not only do they have the distinction of influencing bands like the Smashing Pumpkins (amongst others), the album Loveless is an indie rock masterpiece in my opinion.

If you've never really been into noise rock, My Bloody Valentine are a good way of checking it out without diving head first. They can be a little easier to swallow than some noise rock artists because Instead of striving towards any sort of avant garde type of philosophy, their music is almost entirely about the texture the noise, the fuzz and the distortions produce... truly creating an otherworldly dream-scape as their backdrop for their songs.


Bonus: Sonic Youth

I thought long and hard about choosing Sonic Youth for either part one or part two of this piece, but in both cases opted not to in order to concentrate on other artists. That isn't in any way a knock against this band as I'm a big fan, more so just that I've written about them in the past and they weren't really part of the bands I was recently rediscovering. That said, Sonic Youth is easily one of the most influential bands of all time playing a huge role in the alternative movement and I felt they needed to be mentioned as part of this piece. Although they did receive a lot of mainstream success, I never really considered them part of the major alternative movement, and so thought they would fit better here in part 2.

Their brand of melodic noise rock is both progressive and yet inviting at the same time. One of my all time favorite bands that any serious fan of rock and roll owes it to themselves to check out asap.


More Bonus: The Frogs

As I planned and wrote this piece I also listened to a ton of music by this band, and even got to see them live (they opened for the Smashing Pumpkins, the most recent concert even I was at... my third Pumpkins show in a month). It's really made me appreciate their "unique genius" all the more and strongly considered including them in this piece. I chose not to make them one of the primary bands, but definitely think they need to be discussed anyways.

The Frogs can easily be described as offensive, immature, absurd and stupid, but you will find just as many people who will describe them as geniuses. They're most likely going to be one of the most difficult bands you'll ever get into... if you even try, most people will listen to one song and immediately turn away. Raunchy often times to extreme, simplistic often to the point of absurdity, the Frogs are masters of social comment. They take stereotypes about sexuality, race, rock and roll, what songwriting can be and so much more, and smash them by becoming these stereotypes and pushing to the extremes... often with a strong edge of absurdist humor.

Completely unlike any other band (although if you like Frank Zappa's humor, you'll have an easier time stomaching the Frogs), they have influenced some of the greatest songwriters of all time, including Billy Corgan and Kurt Cobain. As I said, the Frogs might be one of the more difficult bands to get into, but if you can and understand where they're coming from (and where they're going), they can also be one of the most rewarding. Also, they put on a great live show... if you're ever lucky enough to see them... it was an amazing treat seeing them open for the Pumpkins... even if the crowd didn't seem to 100% agree.

And that concludes our rediscovery of the original alternative music scene.

Although I'm glad to have taking the time to rediscover so many of these bands and find new things I can appreciate about them, I find myself becoming more and more disillusioned with the modern alternative music scene. Indeed it often seems like the term "alternative rock" has been hijacked by marketers trying to hold onto the last gasp of fans who came to the scene originally. For a long time I thought modern alternative had started to sound more and more produced, crafted to fit the niche... made to sell. Looking back at these incredible artists and recognizing all their depth though I realize it's even worse than that. It's almost offensive to think of what is often times being passed off as "alternative" these days.

That isn't to say that there aren't bands out their making great music, in fact quite the opposite. I'm sure there are plenty of amazing bands out there out, even ones in the mainstream, but they're out numbered, or in many cases still underground because their scene isn't currently intersecting with the mainstream scene like it did during the original alternative movement.

With the state of mainstream the way it is, I think it's even more important to take a few moments to rediscover the original alternative artists. If you've never listened to any of the bands in these two pieces, maybe it's time you did. You just might find you're new favorite band. Same is true if you're familiar with the "major players" but not so much the "supporting cast". And if you're already a fan of all these bands... well take another listen, you might just be surprised by what you hear this time around.

You can go back to part one of these piece here: 10 Bands to Rediscover Alternative: Part 1, The Major Players

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