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Alternative Music 101 - Genre Guide


The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses

A community cultivated at a long-running open-mic night at New York's Sidewalk Café, anti-folk songsmiths mix rudimentary musicianship with dexterous, evocative, often hilarious lyricism.
Defining Acts: The Moldy Peaches, Jeffrey Lewis, Diane Cluck

Named after its practitioners' unflattering trousers, Baggy —which mixed funk, psychedelia, and acid-house— had a fleeting late-'80s reign in the UK, heavily hyped then swiftly abandoned by the British music weeklies.
Defining Acts: The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets

Suddenly saturating the blogosphere in 2009, chillwave creates hazy, nostalgic electronic music out of the muffled, fuzzy, washed-out sounds of archaic technology and decaying magnetic tape.
Defining Acts: Washed Out, Neon Indian, Toro y Moi

A precursor to shoegaze, dream-pop described a community of English acts centered around the Cocteau Twins. Breathy and ethereal, their take on 'pop' was particularly ambient, with a focus on texture.
Defining Acts: The Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, AR Kane

Influenced by reissues of 'lost' folk classics (Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, Karen Dalton et al.), freak-folk sprouted up in a growth of beards, hair, and flowers; a neo-primitive recidivism for the new millennium.
Defining Acts: Vashti Bunyan, Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom

With its roots stretching back to the late '50s, garage is steeped in history. Fittingly, its practitioners favor a form of bare-bones rock'n'roll based on willful primitivism and proud timelessness.
Defining Acts: Question Mark & the Mysterions, Billy Childish, The White Stripes

The early-'90s' defining musical movement, grunge was a sludgy, aggressive form of garage-rock, defined by distorted guitars and hoarse vocals.
Defining Acts: Mudhoney, Nirvana, The Melvins

A scene of '70s German experimentalists informed by free-jazz and psychedelia, krautrockers favored a persistent repetition whose seemingly-mechanized rhythms mirrored the imminent electronic age. Decades on, krautrock was a key influence upon post-rock.
Defining Acts: Can, Neu!, Faust
Top 10 Krautrock Albums

Wearing poor audio like a badge of honor, lo-fi acolytes are the proud antithesis to hi-fi, reveling in the tape-hiss of 'bad' sounding home cassette-recordings. A recent lo-fi revival has stood as rebellion to the digital age.
Defining Acts: Daniel Johnston, Guided by Voices, The Mountain Goats
Top 10 Lo-Fi Albums

As befitting their name, math-rockers play precise, complex, time-signature-shifting music, but do so with a punk humility. Though largely confined to the US Midwest in the mid-'90s, recently Foals and Battles have taken math-rock-ish music to new, unsuspecting audiences.
Defining Acts: Breadwinner, Don Caballero, Hella
Top 10 Math-Rock Albums

Befitting its name, noise-rock is a loosely-defined realm of bands embracing the dissonance and atonalism of guitar feedback and/or modern composition, whilst still maintaining the basic semblance of 'band' structure.
Defining Acts: Sonic Youth, Royal Trux, Liars

A caustic amalgam of NY punk and experimentalism, no-wave exploded familiar musical form, turning guitar rock from melodious and harmonious into atonal and chaotic.
Defining Acts: DNA, Mars, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks

Paisley Underground
In a 1980s Los Angeles overrun by hair-metal peacocks and macho hardcore zealots, a scene of retro-minded guitar bands —with a fondness for paisley shirts— harkened back to '60s/'70s LA acts like The Byrds and The Mamas & The Papas.
Defining Acts: Rain Parade, The Three O'Clock, the Dream Syndicate

Literally the music that followed punk, this broad-reaching term generally refers to late-'70s/early-'80s UK guitar-bands who drew from dub and disco, and utilized the studio's full possibilities.
Defining Acts: Public Image Ltd., Gang of Four, Joy Division
Top 10 Post-Punk Albums

After initially existing more as idea, post-rock soon become a specific style: instrumental, with grand shifts from quiet to loud, and a standard 'jazzy drumming' style.
Defining Acts: Tortoise, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Top 10 Post-Rock Albums

As its name suggests, power-pop is a form of intense, amplified, harmony-driven music seemingly written in pursuit of the 'perfect' pop-song.
Defining Acts: Big Star, Redd Kross, The Posies

Drawing from post-punk marriages of angular guitars and disco beats, the recent rise of punk-funk was less pure revivalism, and more a chance to get up and dance. The only genre to take the request 'more cowbell!' literally.
Defining Acts: The Rapture, !!!, Out Hud

Riot Grrrl
Riot grrrl grew out of a grassroots fanzine scene, with angry women addressing social causes in print, then on stage. Musically, it played like feminist punk, with attitude, anger, and ideas foregrounded, and a lack of musical chops something to be proud of.
Defining Acts: Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney
Top 10 Riot-Grrrl Albums

Shoegazers specialized in opaque, opiate walls of effects-driven guitar and washed-out vocals. Though its initial movement was insular and brief, shoegaze's legacy —thanks largely to My Bloody Valentine's legend— has been broad and long-reaching.
Defining Acts: My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive
Top 10 Shoegaze Albums

Rebelling against the loud, distorted, sarcastic tendencies of grunge, slowcore artists confronted audiences by playing as slow, quietly, and beautifully as possible.
Defining Acts: Low, Codeine, Red House Painters
Top 10 Slowcore Albums

Drawing eternal inspiration from Hawkwind's double live LP Space Ritual, space-rock is a form of psychedelia making heavy use of guitar effects and synthesizers, and often exploring interstellar themes.
Defining Acts: Hawkwind, Spacemen 3, Flying Saucer Attack

NME's infamous C86 cassette —a celebration of an insular English scene of clumsy, fey, out-of-time pop-bands— spawned twee, a movement that, like shoegaze or emo, embraced its own putdown. The cutesy, sugary, trebly songs might seem ineffectual, but twee has grown into a huge cultural force.
Defining Acts: The Field Mice, Tiger Trap, Belle and Sebastian
Top 10 Twee Albums

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