The Velvet Underground's enduring lesson, in the history of rock'n'roll, has been this: it's not how many records you sell, but who buys them. Sure enough, beyond those that merely shifted the most units in the 2000s, lay the bands that actually influenced the sound of underground music through the decade. Some were platinum-selling millionaires, others were the most fringe of figures; but it was these ten acts whose influence loomed largest upon contemporary acts of the '00s. From the trailblazers to the, um, trailblazers, it's the ten most influential alternative bands of the decade.
It was Radiohead's decade, really. In 2000, they issued Kid A, a willfully artistic work of wonder that obliterated their Anthemic Guitar Rock baggage in 50 adventurous minutes, and set a new benchmark for radical career reinventions, inspiring many a bogged-down band to think outside the box and embrace the strange. If that weren't enough, in 2007 Radiohead unveiled In Rainbows online, via an instantly-infamous pay-what-you-feel pricing structure, almost as an experiment in determining the 'value' of music in the digital era. And, by the '00s' end, Radiohead were true barometers of the blogosphere's rise: no longer releasing something as archaic as LPs, merely disseminating individual tracks, at random, onto the internet's wires.
2. The Strokes
No band was a bigger influence on '00s fashion —both musical and otherwise— than The Strokes. Via the awesomeness of their jams and the dandyism of their wardrobe, the New Yorker fops rescued commercially-viable rock and/or roll from its most dire nadir: nu-metal. Gone was backhatting, facial piercing, and unfortunate pant sagging, in blew swept fringes, thrift-store blazers, and impossibly tight trousers. After The Strokes' arrival in 2001, things would never be the same: soon every town in the Western world was full of 'retro' riff bands defined by coiffed hair and stick legs (a look some took more enthusiastically than others). Unfortunately, for the Strokes and all of us, the quality of those who followed was often sketchy. See: Jet.
3. My Morning Jacket
Bands could've taken many things from My Morning Jacket as inspiration: the power to unironically rock a Flying V, the desire to play seemingly-unending sets (I can't think of a single band I'd want to watch play for three hours, ever, but that's just me), and the resolve to appear in crappy Cameron Crowe films. But My Morning Jacket's kept-on-giving gift to the indie world has been this: heavily reverb'd harmonies. On their first (and best) two albums, The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn, MMJ decamped to an abandoned grain-silo in backwoods Kentucky to get the unearthly reverb that doused Jim James's voice so magically. And, in the decade since, acts as way-popular as Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes have heavily 'borrowed' from such a sound.
4. The Flaming Lips
By the time the '00s ended, 'The Coyne' had somehow usurped 'The Vedder' as the most imitated vocal style in rock. Where once manifold deadly-earnest young men rumarrrowww'd their way through hoarse-throated, utterly illegible groanings, now scores of semi-earnest young men sing in wonky, faltering falsettos. Hear English one-man-band Windmill or Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos, and it's hard not to think: 'woah, someone's a student in the School of Coyne!' The other lingering influence of the Flaming Lips on the musical landscape? Turning your live shows into huge explosions of positive energy. Sure, maybe not everyone dons animal suits, but the Lips have convinced everyone from Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the Arcade Fire to try harder.
5. The Arcade Fire
Speaking of the Arcade Fire, it became obvious, by 2009, that the ultra-epic Canadians had become a lazy shorthand for 'many people on stage,' when the Disneyfied, rock-themed tween-movie Bandslam name-dropped them as narrative catalyst. Beyond the stage-stuffing size of their liveshows, the music found on their insanely-praised debut, 2004's Funeral, left its own trail of influence: choruses of massed vocals, massive crescendos, bashed pianos, and frenetic, we're-all-going-to-die-so-let's-live-right-now! energy. After the poster-children of the rock-revival —The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, White Stripes— demanded stripped-down reductionism, the Arcade Fire were hugely responsible for rehabilitating the cachet of earnest, emotive grandeur.
6. The Danielson Famile
It was bad enough that the Polyphonic Spree blatantly stole the Danielson Famile's white-robed, sunshine-and-handclapping shtick in 2000, but soon everything that made this Christian clan once seem so strange became indie-rock common-place. Authoring elaborate concept-albums? Drawing lyrical influence from the bible? Singing in ridiculous falsettos? Dressing up in costumes on stage? Pretending you're in a cult? 'Why not!' may've been the cry by the time the '00s ended, but Daniel Smith and his rag-tag congregation had been on this mission from God since back in the days something called 'electronica' was thought the future of music, and suffered the slings and arrows of doing so. Now, Danielson are a just 'cult' act, in its standard usage.
Danielson Famile are, in fact, oft just a footnote: the band that chart-bothering, banjo-pluckin' beefcake Sufjan Stevens once played in. Via his crazy album-for-every-state idea, Stevens instantly blew by his friends' fame, and became one of the most acclaimed indie acts of the aughts. But Stevens' musical legacy was something else entirely. With his complex scores and daring classicism, Sufjan almost single-handedly popularized the notion of 'chamber pop,' inspiring a whole host of classically-trained, music-school kids to embrace simple, people's-music forms —folk, punk, indie-pop— with both a sense of humor and an air of dignity. In his spare time, he also somehow rescued the Christmas record from the realm of kitsch, too.
When Animal Collective hit the hipster consciousness with 2004's Sung Tongs, at first it wasn't obvious how much they'd really influence music. After all, their sound was something strange and singular, the product of a thousand different influences run through thousands of hours of playing together. How could knock-offs pop up instantly if it took Animal Collective a whole decade to become Animal Collective? Yet, by 2009, the year Merriweather Post Pavilion ruled the world, guitar-free AC wannabes were on the rise, with no end in sight. Or, as Los Angeles noiseniks Health put it: “Enjoy it while you can because [Merriweather Post Pavilion] is so good it will inspire its own avalanche of Creeds and Coldplays based on this AC era.” Eeep!
Though peers and pals of Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance haven't achieved anywhere near the crossover success of their friends. But, even if 2005's God's Money has yet to be recognized as a decade-defining masterwork by the world-at-large, plenty of bands have drawn influence from Gang Gang Dance's inspired mish mash of genres and general disregard for straight sonorities and compositional orthodoxies. In fact, a quick list of outfits working very much post-GGD — Crazy Dreams Band, Rainbow Arabia, Rings, Telepathe, These Are Powers, Yeasayer— reads like an honor-roll of impressive acts emboldened by artist daring. Not to mention that Santogold/Santigold's breakout jam, “Creator,” sounded rather like a GGD facsimile topped with MIA vocals.
Boredoms' influence on the shape of popular music may've been imperceptible to some, but that certainly doesn't lessen their importance. Like Radiohead, the long-running Japanese outfit reinvented themselves in the decade's first year; 2000's immortal Vision Creation Newsun —close to the greatest album of the decade— found Boredoms ditching twitchy, provocative noise for lengthy, psychedelic workouts that sought transcendence through the powers of communal percussion. Across the remaining aughts, 'tribalism' became one of the decade's most enduring ideals; it soon becoming routine to see bands filled with members bashing away on all manner of bells and trinkets. It's a sound many identify as Brooklyn, but it's really all Boredoms.