Not to be confused with “Indie,” “Alternative Rock” covers everything in alternative rock music outside of indie rock. This category contains albums from the alternative, hard rock, stoner rock, post-hardcore, and post-grunge genres, but it goes without saying that alternative music dominated yet again by indie rock. However, there were a number of non-indie alternative rock albums released in 2010. Most of those albums seemed to copy either Nickelback or Godsmack, but after weeding through the garbage, I’ve come up with ten quality alternative rock records that earned a recommendation from this past year.
The Black Keys
The Black Keys have been one of the most consistent bands of the past decade. Just about everything they’ve put out is worthwhile, and with the exception of The Black Lips, they’re possibly the best modern garage rock band. Brothers is yet another solid album from The Black Keys, one that keeps their hard rock sound in tact while throwing in a few moments of experimentation. No, there’s nothing from Blackroc or other Dan Auerbach projects, as this is clearly The Black Keys. However, there are still moments where the bands strays from rock and can surprise you.It’s moments like those that prevents the Keys’ sound from getting old. This is a band that knows how to change their sound up just enough with new album, and The Black Keys’ solid album streak now stands at six as a result.
The second Dead Confederate album isn’t necessarily a departure from the sound of Wrecking Ball, but it definitely isn’t the album fans of their first were expecting. Sugar sounds more like the 80’s alternative rock that influenced bands like My Morning Jacket and the grunge bands that heavily influenced the sound of Wrecking Ball. While Sugar doesn’t have the same rock hard vibe that made Wrecking Ball one of my personal favorite albums of 2008, the more indie-like Sugar is objectively just as good. There are some very well written songs here, none better than the lo-fi “Run from the Gun.” Sugar is definitely different in some regard, but Dead Confederate are still a great band that any rock fan should check out.
I usually don’t put live recordings on my buyer’s guides, but I have to make an exception for Dead Meadow’s Three Kings. Presented as a soundtrack to a film that comes bundled with the album (which isn’t part of this review, since I don’t feel comfortable critiquing films), Three Kings contains a mixture of new studio material and live recordings of some of Dead Meadow’s more famous songs. Thing is, the songs are mixed together. For example, there will be two or three live recordings followed by a new studio track. The live recordings are great, as expected from a band known for their live shows, and the new tracks are some of the best tracks Dead Meadow has ever recorded. It’s an interesting approach to an album, and again, I’m not sure how well it works as a soundtrack, but strictly as a collection of music Three Kings earns a recommendation.
In all honesty, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Deftones. I’ve never understood the hype surrounding them, and I find Chino Moreno to be a horrendous vocalist. However, Moreno and company deserve some credit. Diamond Eyes really is a solid album, and one that marks a huge improvement for the band. Diamond Eyes is full of alternative rock songs that are original and refreshingly uplifting. However, Moreno’s vocals are easily the biggest difference between this and past Defontes albums. Here he sounds likes a professional vocalist, and one that can keep up with the changing music. I still don’t believe that Diamond Eyes is an essential album, or something that can be compared to the better progressive rock albums of 2010, but for radio rock this is definitely one of the year’s best.
The Gaslight Anthem
American Slang is less of a punk album and more of a pure garage rock record, but this is still the same Gaslight Anthem that rock fans fell in love a few years back. They’ve been compared to The Killers, but the big difference is The Gaslight Anthem actually know how to write songs. This is intelligent music with a hard edge, the kind of punk that evolved with the times, not dumbed down to reach a new and younger audience. As previously mentioned, their garage rock influences are much more prevalent this time around, but that’s’ far from a band thing. It’s still good old fashioned rock music made by musicians who know how to love their influences while still doing their own thing.
The follow up to Nick Cave’s Grinderman album, is really more of the same, but in no way is that a bad thing. Grinderman is the heavier, more perverted side of the legendary rock musician, and while Grinderman 2 doesn’t have anything that rivals the amazing “No Pussy Blues,” there are a good number of noisy hard rock tunes that probably shouldn’t be played anywhere near children. It’s great to hear Nick Cave continuing Grinderman, as it’s a welcome side of this astounding musician that isn’t often heard, and it’s no secret that some of Cave’s best music are the songs he doesn’t take as seriously.
Heavy Metal Fruit
Motorpsycho’s sound doesn’t really have anything in common with heavy metal, but Heavy Metal Fruit is a very solid psychedelic album. The longer tracks sound like heavier versions of the jam parts of early King Crimson songs, which is definitely a good thing. Modern jam music rarely has the same psychedelic elements that it used to, so hearing a throwback to that era is actually refreshing. Motorpsycho don’t necessarily progress with each album, but they don’t need to either. Heavy Metal Fruit is another sold hour of hearing this talented band jam, and fans of psychedelic rock won’t be disappointed.
Tapestry of Webs
It’s a little strange to hear post-hardcore with modern indie rock influences. Yes, it exists, but it’s rarely good. Enter Past Lives, a band born from the ashes of popular Seattle hardcore band The Blood Brothers. This is an indie-fied post-hardcore band that works. The lyrics are great, the music is chaotic and original, and there’s a lot less screaming than what you may expect from a post-hardcore album. Tapestry of Webs seems like the natural progression of Blood Brothers, so it’s a little hard to call it a debut, but it’s a more mature post-hardcore album that should appeal to both fans of hardcore and alternative rock.
Spacetrip on a Paper Plane
Sahara Surfers may be the first female-fronted stoner rock band I’ve ever heard. Women tend to have a higher voice than men, so for a genre that so often has bass and baritone singers, it’s definitely an odd fit. However, Sahara Surfers’ Julia Überbacher works surprisingly well for this psychedelic stoner band. She keeps her voice low, but she also can also raise it when the music reaches its climax, making for a very interesting sound. The instrumentals are classic stoner rock in the realm of Clutch or Down. That is to say, it’s incredibly bluesy and riff oriented. Spacetrip on a Paper Plane is a little on the short side, but it’s a very solid debut from a band with a ton of promise.
After releasing one of the most refreshing radio rock records of 2007, it’s almost criminal that Stereoside’s music never actually made it to radio. They’ve remained in the underground, and with their self titled they’ve crafted another accessible hard rock album that takes the popular post-grunge sound of modern rock and actually does something original with it. The songs are catchy, heavy, and raw, similar in that regard to the grunge music that influences most songs on active rock radio. This is what radio rock would sound like if band’s actually wrote original songs instead of just copying each other, and Stereoside is proof that post-grunge can be done well. With the possible exception of Hurt, Stereoside are the best band playing this style of music right now, and anyone who likes rock music needs to give this band a listen.