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What's the Alternative? 2009 in Alt-Rock

January 3, 2010

It’s challenging to write about what happened to a genre of music in 2009 when it’s as loosely defined as Alternative.  What exactly is Alternative music, really?  It’s hard to put into words, but our ears can pick it up.  And that’s the beauty of music.

Early ’90s alt-rock bands Dinosaur Jr., Meat Puppets, The Jesus Lizard, and Sonic Youth all toured extensively in support of albums and rereleases.  This interestingly mimics the way these bands originally set the stage for Grunge, which is set to see a huge revival in 2010 with the newly reunited Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Stone Temple Pilots.

It has often been said that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath wrote every riff and melody out there, and today’s music just combines them in new and different ways.  One look at the genre classifications of new bands’ MySpace pages will show you how genre hybrids are becoming more and more diverse.  Disco elements have found their way into the indie rock of MGMT and the GRAMMY nominated Yeah Yeah Yeah’s album, It’s Blitz.  Electronica have merged into the psychedelic rock of A Place to Bury Strangers, who’s second album Exploding Head is one of my favorites of the year.  Dirty Projectors have combined indie rock with almost every other genre imaginable in the most dizzying album of the year, Bitte Orca.  And Fever Ray claims to be black metal (though I can not go there) combined with folk rock, as seen in their 2009 self-titled release . 

Some subgenres from the early ’80s were refreshed in 2009.  Chris Corner of IAMX continued to produce innovative music in the darkwave realm with Kingdom of Welcome AddictionFischerspooner released their latest installment in the electroclash realm with Entertainment.  Post-punk bands heavily influenced by Joy Division and The Jesus and Mary Chain saw success this year, my favorites being The Horrors with their release Primary Colours– another one of my favorite albums of the year, as well as Crocodiles, The Raveonettes, and She Wants Revenge.

Indie rock, which has dominated alternative rock for the past decade, has increasingly taken an electronic slant.  This can be seen in the GRAMMY nominated Phoenix’s work Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, as well as other 2009 indie favorites Grizzly Bear, Miike Snow, Glasvegas, Matt & Kim, and Lykke Li

Perhaps being an established Alternative music act proved to be a curse on the road this year.  GRAMMY nominated Depeche Mode set off on a world tour to promote Sounds of the Universe.  The tour was plagued with cancellations as David Gahan battled illness and a leg injury (one of which was my show in SF….PLEASE RESCHEDULE..thanks!)  Morissey also had to cancel shows as he toured in support of Years of Refusal .  And Weezer lead singer Rivers Cuomo was injured in a bus accident that led to cancellations of the remainder of their Raditude tour.

What will happen to Alternative music as we move into the new decade?  What genre buried in the past will be reborn in the present?  Will we see rock music mixed with elements of Polka or Hyphy?  I’m excited to see what new ground will be covered in the future of Alternative music.

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