Alternative rock isn’t alternative anymore

I know I sound like your grouchy dad when I say this, but I swear the music isn’t that good these days. That’s not to say that today’s music is bad, but it’s nothing special—at least, in the world of alternative rock, where I generally stay.

Unfortunately, the “alternative” rock of today’s top artists is not particularly alternative. The idea of ​​alt-rock is to produce a sound that is different from other ordinary artists. This is the opposite of the case in today’s music. In the 1960s and 1970s, alternative rock was an entirely experimental genre, with artists such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Velvet Underground. Bowie became a cultural icon for his daring androgynous style, Pink Floyd essentially created the genre of brogue rock, and Velvet Underground was so ahead of their era that they weren’t popular at the time but became every artist’s favorite band in the ’90s.

The genre only expanded from there, becoming an amorphous bubble spreading from the edges of electronic dance music to heavy grunge music. On one end of the spectrum, Talking Heads and other new ’80s bands introduced a new tech sound that used synthesizers and keyboards above the usual electric guitar focus. On the other hand, alt-rock has spread in a direction more influenced by metal to create the mysterious and angry grunge sound, most commonly, Nirvana. Later, artists such as Beck and Gorillaz took influence from both sides of alternative rock and even immersed themselves in funk, Latin, and rap to form some of the most experimental and varied discographies in music history.

These bands’ experimentation embodied the spirit of alt-rock by using the rhythm of rock for the songs in general, but as far away from traditional rock ‘n’ roll as possible. They were not interested in selling albums or becoming famous, they were interested in making the strangest and most interesting tunes. Gorillaz even created an animated visual ensemble to creatively remove the artist from music.

But now, moving into the 1920s, this range of alternative classification has dissipated, and the empirical genre has moved to a strictly acoustically homogeneous one. The creativity of the genre has largely disappeared, and so has my interest in it.

While writing this article, I’m listening to Spotify’s “Alt NOW” playlist, which aims to contain the most popular alt-rock songs of the moment. Number one is Portugal. The guy “What, am I worrying?” In this song, Synth runs the show and the other instruments are produced so that they sound electronic. The bass is heavy enough that the song can be played in a club, and the unique vocals, despite automatic tuning, add glow to the basic instruments. The song walks a fine line between rock and electronic dance.

Is this description too narrow for you? It shouldn’t, because that exact line can describe just about every other song on your “Alt NOW” playlist, as well as most of the songs you’ve heard at parties or on the radio lately. I could have used that description to describe Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves,” a song that swept the alternative rock scene across the country in 2020, or several songs on Tame Impala’s 2020 album “The Slow Rush.”

Even bands like Tame Impala, Twenty One Pilots and Gorillaz, who were known for their trans-genre experiments in the 2000s, were forced to produce this sound, which is largely due to the influence of record companies with a tighter grip on the sounds of gangs. Tame released impressive guitar bass, great drum beats, and a psychedelic compound to complement Kevin Parker’s beautiful vocals on their debut albums and EPs. Songs like “Half-Full Glass of Wine” (2008) and “Elephant” (2012) push the boundaries of alternative rock. Then, in 2013, the band signed with Interscope Records, a sub-group of Universal Music Group – the label of Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Drake and just about every other popular artist in 2020. Hence, their latest albums, “The Slow Rush,” debuted at number three on the Billboard charts and is certainly one of the top albums of the new wave of alternative rock, but the instruments and production sounded a lot like countless other songs on the current Alt NOW playlist.

If you need more evidence of increased homogeneity in the genre, listen to “Half-Full Glass of Wine” by Tame Impala, “Dirty Harry” by Gorillaz, and “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. These three songs from the 2000s couldn’t be more different, spanning from hard rock to funkadik rap.

Compare these to Tame’s “Lost Yesterday”, Gorillaz’s Twenty One Pilots “Shy Away” and “The Pink Phantom”. These three songs, released in the last couple of years, are still definitely unique in certain aspects like the vocals, but you can’t tell me they don’t all fit the description I gave of “what, am I worried?” and Alt NOW playlist. There’s no rip guitar solo or funk rhythm anywhere in the earshot.

This shift was unfortunate for fans of alternative rock classics like myself. The world’s tastes have simply evolved from the crude hardware of the 20th century, replaced by a more electronic sound in a more technologically advanced age. Computers and synthesizers now headline alternative music titles as they use electric guitars and bass. In my personal opinion, electronic sound distances the artist and his emotions from his music. A tone that is mostly computer generated, no matter how emotionally charged and skilled, sounds simply less personal than a guitar tone or a bass lick resulting from mastering the instrument. This character of the song is what makes it so unique. However, popular fans had the same criticism of Bob Dylan, one of my favorite artists, when he switched to electric guitar and a full band, claiming that rock doesn’t reflect people’s feelings the way people do, so I think this could just be a natural progression of music.

The vocal change also comes from a shift towards solo music rather than a traditional four- or five-member band like, say, the Beatles or Pink Floyd. As reported by Study Breaks, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine stated, “It’s funny, when the first Maroon 5 album came out, there were still other bands out there. I feel like there’s no difference anymore, you know? That’s the thing that makes me Kinda sad.” I echo that sentiment from Levine, especially because it is more difficult for a solo artist to master each instrument himself than it is for a group, with one person who specializes in each instrument. Solo artists, although very talented in most cases, often produce instruments that are less creative and efficient than a full ensemble because it is impossible for a single person to play bass like Paul, guitar like George, drums like Ringo, and write lyrics like John.

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If you’re a fan of current rock or alternative music, you’re probably sick of ranting at this point, but just bear with me for one last shot. The Grammy Awards were held this past weekend, featuring the best albums of rock and alternative genres, with no category for the alternative rock subgenre. The unsettling truth of the show was that older artists dominated the rock and alternative music categories. The popular Foo Fighters “Medicine at Midnight” in the 1990s won Best Rock Album, with three-quarters of the other nominated albums being produced by artists who started composing music before 1990. Paul McCartney turns 80 in June, and according to the academy, he’s still a rock star More than any new rock musician, his album “McCartney III” earned a nomination. The only new band in the Sea of ​​Old Heads is the psychedelic rock band Black Pumas, whose only album “Capitol Cuts (Live from Capitol Studio A)” was on the roster by contemporary rock band, the group after they released their debut album in 2019. In genre Alternative, St. Vincent’s album “Daddy’s Home” earned the gold gramophone. Vincent began composing music in 2000, and despite being nominated by other contemporary artists, I find it ironic that a 39-year-old would produce the best album in a genre traditionally dominated by young experimental artists.

I consider myself a huge fan of alternative rock, as one of the biggest fans of Pink Floyd and Gorillaz around the Princeton campus. But the alternative rock music I heard in the 1920s never struck me as much as these artists do, or struck any emotional chord in my chest as I get, for example, from David Gilmore’s angelic solo guitar in Dogs. I can’t really get over the current sound, and it seems that very few artists in the alternative rock scene are branching out from it.

Eric Finno is a contributing writer for The Prospect and Sports at the “Prince”. He can be contacted at [email protected] and on Instagram or Twitter at @lil_e_rok.

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