"I've escaped it, a life wasted/And I'm never going back again." - Pearl Jam, "Life Wasted"

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Top 25 Alternative songs

Where integrity and innovation exist. The alternative world of music opens a kaleidoscope of emotions and styles to me, and it's an endless treasure of top-notch songs that push the boundaries of mass acceptance.

I would say this is the genre that inspire me most these days. Two of my favourite bands, U2 and Radiohead, have transcended this genre and crafted deeply moving music that electrify me to no end. I shall leave them out of this, they deserve their own best-of lists....=p

Here now is the best of the rest.

25 Weezer - Buddy Holly
Geeks made good. Ok, it's a bit harsh, because beneath that horn-rimmed glasses, Rivers Cuomo is an excellent songwriter, capably painting dead-accurate portraits of....geeks. This is supremely catchy, effortless rock. As breezy as the "woo hoo" as Cuomo sings the pre-chorus. Spine-tingling moment: The rhythm section stops suddenly, as Cuomo breaks out the final notes of his screaming solo.

24 My Bloody Valentine - Soon
Better as a whole than the sum of its parts. "Loveless", MBV's masterpiece, demands to be listened as a whole album. Only then will the feedback-drenched songs create that hypnotic beauty that no other band can ape. But this final song lifts the whole experience to ecstatic heights. You can dance, mumble like Belinda Butcher and hold you guitar close to the amp for that feedback rush. Spine-tingling moment: Butcher's vocals are so saccharine, you'll gladly take in the indecipherable lyrics as part of the overall sonic assault.

23 Matthew Sweet - Sick Of Myself
Where power-pop meets alternative sentiments. The sunny facade hides the intense, self-loathing lyrics, and Sweet's delicate delivery speaks of untold heartaches. A wonderful rush. Spine-tingling moment: The three false endings. It's like he wants to play some more to numb the pain.

22 REM - Fall On Me
The unassuming giants. I used to try figure out Michael Stipe's mumble (yes I'm a geek), and on this one, he at least enounciates. The trick: the more political the song, the clearer Stipe sings. This is about the environmental problems, and in the band's inimitable melodicism, Stipe leaps from mournfulness in the verses to sarcasm in the chorus. Mike Mills' able harmonies are also a treat. Spine-tingling moment: The chorus is a exhilarating rush of melody, harmonies and pissed-off lyrics.

21 The White Stripes - Fell In Love With A Girl
Personally, I think the duo are overrated. So what if they are minimalistic? Some songs are just so-so. Occasionally, they do come up with inventive gems like this. The roar of guitars and steady drumming are all they need to pummel you senseless. Spine-tingling moment: Pretty catchy melody too. The basic thrills from a basic band.

20 Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Into My Arms
A top-notch gothic songwriter, Cave embodies his songs with gut-wrenching emotions. I was most moved by this languid ballad, a tremendously affecting ode to devotion. Just simple piano, and Cave's baritone. All it takes to move you almost to tears. Spine-tingling moment: The powerful opening lyrics: "I don't believe in an interventionist god/But I know, darling, that you do/But if I did I would kneel down and ask him/Not to intervene when it came to you."

19 Pixies - Gigantic
What would alternative music be without this quirky band? A lot less interesting, definitely. Pioneers of the "soft verses, loud chorus" dynamic, they muse about weird stuff amid some wondrous melodies. Kim Deal takes charge on this one, and it's pretty clear what she's cooing about when she declares: "Gigantic, a big big love." Dirty girl. Spine-tingling moment: She also whips up a kick-ass bassline to start the song.

18 Sleater-Kinney - You're No Rock And Roll Fun
The all-girl band always seem to have boundless energy. Tune after tune of bouncy brilliance that solidify their status as indie rock goddesses. (They look good too.) This put-down on alternative posers is an insane pogo rush. It's all good. Spine-tingling moment: Memorable riff alert when the girls finish their chorus.

17 Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
A singular talent that died too soon. Buckley's ambition is to soar - his music, his lyrics, his vocals were hell-bent on taking the listener up, up and away. That alone puts him apart from the morose alternative rockers of his generation. Even on this hymnal version of a Leonard Cohen song, he builds up to goosebump-inducing heights with little instrumental additions. Spine-tingling moment: His voice is simply awesome, compared to Cohen. What a difference it makes to the song.

16 They Might Be Giants - Ana Ng
Weezer's forefathers - less noisy, but more geeky. Masters at subverting the pop structure, these college darlings whip up a storm with, get this, accordions. Of course the guitars are present, but the accordion bits make this catchy song subliminally catchier. Add a humourous touch to their lyrics, and it's hard not to fall for these giants. Spine-tingling moment: I can't argue that: "Everything sticks like a broken record."

15 The Replacements - Bastards Of Young
Where honest and naked lyrics became a requisite for alternative rock. The Minneapolis quartet may sound like basic heartland rockers, but Paul Westerberg pens lyrics so cutting, it's like listening to your closest friend baring his fears. This one contains three chilling verses, and that famous chorus: "We are the sons of no one, bastards of young." Spine-tingling moment: Nothing is more heartbreakingly accurate than the third verse: "The ones who love us best, are the ones we'll lay to rest/And visit their graves on holidays at best/The ones who love us least, are the ones we'll die to please/If it's any consolation, I don't begin to understand them."

14 The Breeders - Cannonball
This song is like every memorable alt-rock riff stitched into one exhilarating sequence. Kim Deal's post-Pixies band whip up a collage of quirky hooks, goofy lyrics and freewheeling spirit into four euphoric minutes of fun. Bloody brilliant, every second of it. Spine-tingling moment: I would pick the rapid muted strumming in the chorus, like a man chortling in delight.

13 Live - I Alone
Explosive rocker from one of the most (self-) righteous bands since U2. Ed Kowalczyk pens quasi-spiritual lyrics that inspire occasionally, but none are as urgent as this seething song. "It's easier not to be wise," he mumurs. But his able band proves otherwise, with thoughtful flourishes throughout. Spine-tingling moment: The line before the extraordinarily powerful chorus: "Leave you there by yourself, chained to fate."

12 REM - So. Central Rain
Early REM are all about the jangling melody - timeless and timely, amid the robotic electronica music that was taking hold of mainstream music in the 1980s. This is expertly crafted, and unexpectedly emotional, a tale of failure to communicate due to the weather. Hear Michael Stipe's plaintive cry "I'm sorry!" in the chorus, and the irresistable jangle of Peter Buck's Rickenbacker guitar, and REM's magic is apparent. Simplicity moves. Spine-tingling moment: The opening minor-key notes set the tone for a glum, introspective song.

11 Dinosaur Jr - Freak Scene
Guitar solos were also frowned upon by alternative rockers, many of whom are inspired by punk. Not J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, who assaults all his songs with inspired moments of feedback-drenched noodlings. This is the band's most melodic work, but Mascis keeps the jagged edge with noisy, fitful attacks. Appropriate, because the song depicts a painful breakup. Spine-tingling moment: Anytime Mascis tumbles headlong into his "guitar god" mode.

10 Velvet Underground - Pale Blue Eyes
So naked is Lou Reed's depiction of a romantic relationship that his guitarist Sterling Morrison objected to playing the song. Too personal, he protested. But that's Reed's gift - capable of writing a brilliant song about anything. When love songs in the 1960s were still about puppy love, he pens this quiet masterpiece of a failed romance with such clarity, it's easy to imagine even the lovers' conversations. Linger on..... Spine-tingling moment: As much as Morrison objected, he contributed the delicate guitar fills that complement Reed's sweetest vocals.

9 Smashing Pumpkins - Hummer
The one Nineties alternative rock band who are not ashamed of the excesses of classic rock. Billy Corgan stands apart from all other songwriters of this genre, creating awesome music that sound gargantuan on record. "Siamese Dreams" is one of my favourite albums, with pummelling guitars and dreamy interludes co-existing side by side, as this song proves. Without sacrificing the alternative credo, Corgan whips up titanic riffs, whines about writer's block and finishes the song in a hazy of dreamy guitars. A wondrous aural experience. Spine-tingling moment: The echo-drenched solo in the dreamy coda. Exquisite.

8 Modest Mouse - Float On
Is there another song last year as addictive as this? Wow, I couldn't stop bouncing and singing to the insanely catchy chorus. And if you bothered to listen, the music is actually pretty far out. The lyrics are extraordinarily optimistic too. Perfect for a spin just before you go for work. Kudos to Isaac Brock, the slightly-mad frontman who finally made it after a 10-year slog. Spine-tingling moment: Plenty, but the chorus still gets you everytime: "Alright! Already, we all float on, alright!"

7 Beck - Where It's At
The reigning mad scientist of alternative rock. Beck flits through every genre, sometimes in a single song. He stitches songs from old spare parts, and brings them to life with his evocative wordplay. This Frankenstein of a song is so groovy, people will stare at you bouncing like a madman in your car. Bottles and cans and just clap your hands! Spine-tingling moment: Two turntables and a microphone. All you need to be cool.

6 Interpol - Slow Hands
It sounds like Interpol took in 20 years of alternative guitars and gave it another twist. Jaw-droppingly innovative, they evoke the atmospheric post-punk gloom better than any current band. Pete Banks' lyrics speak of unhealthy romantic obsessions, and the chiming guitars seem to celebrate that. Spine-tingling moment: The guitars drop out a bit, as Banks declares: "Can't you see what you've done to my heart and my soul/This is a wasteland now."

5 Pixies - Wave Of Mutilation
In just over two minutes, Frank Black and Co. won me over. From the opening drum thud, the thundering guitars chiming in and the headbanging chorus, it's a whirlwind of weirdness that grabs you and never lets go. Who cares what a wave of mutilation is? All that matters is that it rocks like crazy. Spine-tingling moment: The strum of guitars entering is fantastically uplifting, although I'm not sure why.

4 REM - Everybody Hurts
The culmination of a decade's journey in subverting roots rock, REM's true gift to the musical world is this song, not "Losing My Religion". When I think of a comforting song amid great pain and tragedy, this always springs first in my mind. Like an arm wrapped around a tortured soul, Michael Stipe confides that he understands the pain, but urges gently to hold on and move on. Tremendously affecting, a rare balm that sets the band apart from all alt-rockers. Even u2 are never so compassionate. Spine-tingling moment: Peter Buck's exquisite waltz in the verses is equally comforting.

3 Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps
The heartbreak amid the din. Karen O and gang may pass off as pretentious, arty punk posers, but they redeem themselves completely with this beautifully noisy love song. The shards of fractured guitar ring as Karen dips into her most wounded heart and sings the pay-off line "They don't love you like I love you" almost on the verge of tears. Spine-tingling moment: When the guitars and drums detonate after her heartbreaking declaration.

2 Velvet Underground - Heroin
The forefathers of alternative rock. But amid VU uncompromising music, Reed's outstanding songs are what draws the fans in. This is their most controversial masterpiece, a sordid depiction of heroin addiction. Not many can stand John Cale's screeching viola apeing the adrenalin rush of heroin, but that's the point. And Reed paints the harrowing thoughts of an addict so clearly, you may think this song is autobiographical. With just two chords, VU can take you into the unknown. Geniuses. Spine-tingling moment: Cale's atonal viola still disturbs, and this is coming from someone who tolerated death metal.

1 Sonic Youth - Teenage Riot
A shot of wonder. For almost seven minutes, Sonic Youth bashed down the barriers of good music with a mighty swing of their collective axes. Check out what this song has encompassed: a dreamy interlude, a majestic riff, a noisy interlude, two cool vocals, strong lyrics and buckets of attitude. It's a head rush just listing the superlatives. This super-charged song is unlikely to be topped by any band, Sonic Youth included. The freewheeling spirit of alternative rock is never so apparent. Spine-tingling moment: Before Franz Ferdinand did the neat trick of switching genres in a song, Sonic Youth did it, 16 years ago.

1 Comments:

Blogger Tina With Wings said...

Wow, I love this list and I love your blog... it certainly gave me quite a few good additions onto my playlist.

-TiTo

7:58 AM

 

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