Very Alt. Rock on eMusic & Bandcamp

Back in high school in the 90s, the only radio I listened too was alt. rock out of Madison, WI, and a weekly electronic music show on community radio.  I don’t think either exists today, but this list requires one to imagine that commercial stations still play new rock & roll.

I didn’t know indie rock existed until college, so it was quite a rude awakening to be suddenly so uncool.  Most of this list is probably better described as indie rock.  But there was an alternative aesthetic at play at some point, where an album might try to include a couple of catchy tunes that might get played on a non-college radio station.  Maybe these sound like that only in my imagination, especially since half aren’t sung in English.

Whether alternative rock continued into the 2010s is something I’d enjoy debating, though assuming it will live on into the 2020s seems a most tenuous proposition.  I think it only works in an environment where rock is either the most popular style of music, which hasn’t been true since the 1990s, or in contrast to the excesses of heavy metal.  If anything, “power pop” seems the best way to keep rock connected to pop listeners, and that itself is already alt. rock, IMHO.  Has indie rock subsumed it all?  I don’t think alt. rock can continue to exist as an alternative to indie rock since there’s so much overlap.

Some of these give me hope that new rock w/ little hope or attempt to strive for indie coolness still has a few tricks up its sleeve.  Overall, I think their claim to an “alternative” label lies in their obscurity.

In approximate order of how much I like them, w/ alt. rock RIYLs where possible…

1.  “Bel Avenir” - Delta Mainline (2019).  There’s enough this album does very well, spanning at least a few different styles, not to harp on similarities to The Flaming Lips or Spiritualized.  Also a slightly less bombastic, more electronic version of The Polyphonic Spree on “Visions of Post America.”  Alt-country on “Mountain Music.”  “Love without Fear” has a lovely wall of sound and a highly chantable chorus to boot.  Do these familiar references leave enough sonic space for them to carve out their own sound?  I’ll let you be the judge, but it would shock me to know of anyone who could dislike this album.  It’s the perfect musical salve for 2020.

2. “Utan Titel” - Tjernqvist (2017).  One doesn’t need to understand Swedish to recognize these electronically enhanced acoustic guitar songs as sombre expressions of longing.  Highly hummable melodies are his stock in trade  The guy has sung himself hoarse on the second track, but that doesn’t stop him.  These songs burrow into hearts and souls and don’t let go, often building to unexpected climaxes from the simplest of beginnings.  Reminds me of Mus in that way, and the concluding electronic fade-out lingers better than songs several times more heavily produced.  They’ve got a couple free EPs of acoustic demos on Bandcamp, but IMO they can’t hold a candle to the production of the $2.49 one only on eMu.

3. “S/t” - TORSI (2018).  I understand none of it, it’s a bit brief at 30 minutes, but there’s a buoyancy to this kind of rock that reminds me of a time when anything was possible and the world awaited exploration.  I’d have to listen very carefully to both this and a Russian band, Fixme, I compared to The Shins, to say definitively which comes closer.  “Vrålet” has the broke down sound of Benjy Ferree.  I especially like the haunting falsetto backing vocals on several tracks.  Rarely would I not be in the mood to listen to this album.  That it’s all alone, independently released makes me wonder how one would ever stumble upon it unless trying to search the entirety of eMusic’s catalog by brute force.  I think they’re also Swedish.

4. “Listen Time Space” - Unsuspected (2015).  Surprisingly, one of the “harder” albums on this list is also among the few to feature a female vocalist.  There’s definitely something retro going on here, and it turns out that beneath the hard exterior is a lot of sweet, heartfelt songwriting.  Organ rock comes to mind as a descriptor, sometimes close to We Ragazzi in accompaniment, and vocal harmonies on choruses owe something to Cibo Matto.  As a 99-cent EP, its 27-minute run time could count as epic.  Overall, it reminds me of a softer (i.e. more alt. rock than metal), slower version of Two Ton Boa, who I know is such a household name that everyone will rush to snatch this right up.

5. “II” - Basset Hounds (2018).  The honking jazz rock  opening song is most interesting, waiting a full two minutes to introduce the vocalist, but the rest of the album is no slouch either.  I never would have thought the brass of smooth jazz had any place in rock that actually rocks before this album.  Certainly some of the best Portuguese alt. rock sung in English I’ve ever heard and an all-around enjoyable album that is at least somewhat challenging also.

6. “Harland” - Harley Alexander (2016).  Neither lofi nor rockabiliy but displaying elements of both, this guy’s voice reminds me a bit of David Byrne, which my classically trained friends tell me is terrible.  But the whimsy and innocence on these songs is quite endearing.  There’s almost no rhythm section, just the guy and his guitar in guileless conversation. These are simple, delicate tunes to while away one’s hours on a porch swing overlooking a pond. Keeping imperfect takes, as when he can’t help chuckling on the line “shovel the pancakes into my mouth,” lends the album airs of spontaneity, honesty, and modesty not unlike a Howe Gelb album.  The jangly closer steals the ri-ri-ri-ri from Tim & Eric’s birthday song and bears some resemblance in earnest to the DIY aesthetic they parody, though again this is too competent to be outsider music.

7. “ep2” - Vanarin (2020).  This is an unassuming, 20-minute ride through funky synths and guitars hewing close to pop with falsetto vocals.  Altogether pleasant, but not without an edge, a difficult balancing act.  Easygoing lyrics about freedom, love, and other unsurprising themes go down easy.  “Orange Juice” has a pretty irresistible 80s synth-rock sound.  NZCA/Lines does it better, but I’m up for an also-ran for 99 cents.

8. “Kewali EP” - Flamingods (2017).  This 19-minute, 99-cent EP isn’t exactly Afrobeat, but it’s still highly danceable.  The many borrowed elements and generally boisterous tempos are hard to miss, but the songs wouldn’t have been out of place on alternative radio of the 1990s.  This one has grown on me, as all good, eccentric pop should.  Moshi Moshi remains one of the best remaining labels on eMu, and there’s plenty more to enjoy from Flamingods, including a remix of this EP.

9.  “S/t” - Martinus (2014).  I didn’t particularly like the Son Volt side of the Uncle Tupelo split, and this 99-cent EP has an alt. country thing going on that kinda reminds me of it when it’s not just being sentimental folksy.  Pedal steel fans will also be pleased. NYP EP may not be the same band 

10. “Sacos Plásticos” - Titãs (2019). Old guys I presume from Brazil rock for 99 cents.  A few more electronic songs near the end of the album.  Inoffensive but with touches of attitude and danceability that never stray far from pop rock.

11. “Haunted Fang Castle” - The Spits (2010).  This EP is in full novelty territory, turning processed voices into a children’s storybook musical.  Each track has some spoken exposition, with characters built on different vocal effects commenting on whatever predicament they find themselves in, followed by a musical number that both advances the plot and invites the listener to shake it.  If songs about trolls, robots, swamps, and princesses in distress are at all of interest, I can’t recommend a better rock album.

12.  “Noteless Poetry” - Videatape (2016).  I assume the opening waltz “Silly Hats Only” is a tip of the hat to Don Hertzfeldt, and from it I had high hopes for more than just another Radiohead rip-off.  Plenty of people out there wish that supergroup hadn’t ever left its early, interim sound between ph and The Bends, and maybe this Russian group will please them the most.  Not a bad album by any means, but the word “derivative” was made for it.  For good measure, the last song could be right off of “Kid A.”  Just $2 on Bandcamp   

13. “Trouble” - Venture Boi (2020). Starts out like it’s going to be electronic, but guitars are too prominent to be other than alt. rock.  The vocalist for sensual falsetto on the opener, then pairs up with a lady for the duet “She Keeps Me in Her Locket.”  No points for originality, and the electronic beats will offend rock purists.  I don’t know if Duran Duran is what they’re shooting for, but it’s far too new to sound 80s. Glad it’s not as softly insipid as Gary Wright, but I guess they’re the RIYLs.

Bandcamp Only (all NYP):  “Babes, Water, Waves.” - Perth (2012).  Based on sampling, I hesitated to buy this one b/c I didn’t think an album with all these different sounds could be cohesive.  And yet it all works together, and instead I have the problem of suggesting which song would qualify as a radio-ready “single”.  It feels unfair to call the album quirky, and it’s not all the way to weird either.  Definitely worth listening from start to finish without interruption.    

“Laguna” - Adan Yeti (2016).  There’s a dreamy, psychedelic quality to this album, aided by putting his breathy falsetto no louder than other instruments in the mix.  The stop & go stutter of “For Your Love” is a mellow highlight.  Highly listenable all the way through without rocking the boat too hard.

“Nice” - Blanket Music (2000).  An understated millennial gem I missed, on a label that needed to be redeemed in my ears.  Reminds me of a subdued Pavement.

On other lists:  Second-Hand Roses, Mão de Oito, Adam Stafford, Jesca Hoop

Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic: 

& by my evaluation

& by genre 


  • Wow, Adan Yeti's album is great.. Too bad he (they?) is not on emusic. But the 2 bandcamp albums are pay what you want...
  • Yeah, I'll pretty much go broke if I loosen my Bandcamp restrictions beyond NYP albums on occasion.  I havent' quite figured out your tastes on what you like more than others yet.  I think Adan Yeti has a real knack songcraft that won't scare people, but I'd put it right in the middle of the list for how much I like and listen to it.
  • Very Alternative Rock 2

    Might there come a day when rock music is just as unpopular as jazz? I saw a Reddit post the other day claiming that rock was “making a comeback” b/c some singles were on the Billboard charts, and I thought, “I do not care about this at all.” Let the trends come and go as they may; what matters is always being able to find music one likes.

    The following albums have almost certainly suffered from the 21st century collapse in the U.S. popularity of rock and roll, in addition to the usual handicaps of obscurity. I like the first several quite a lot and have listened around ten times each.

    As usual, the list is quite international. I don’t doubt there’s still great alt. and indie rock being made in the USA, but it’s just not on eMusic, other than Polyvinyl, which no one should need to be told to patronize.

    I presume indie rock is just as fashionable as it always has been, but as I’ve written elsewhere ( ), I think the distinction with alternative rock is now pretty pointless since neither is commercially viable in general, regardless of subjective quality.

    In order of my approximate preference, with more paired EPs than ever…

    1. “Yes I Jan” & "Instant Nostalgia" - Bas Jan (2018). Ever so British! Ever so. These ladies are not always right proper (i.e. perfectly in key for their harmonies), and the album is all the better for it. The vocalist tends to go from speaking to singing on a whim, and their whole body of work has the flightily playful but otherwise inexplicable, almost outsider charm of something like The Shaggs if they could play. Strings and keyboards keep the otherwise lo-fi rock w/ harmonies fresh and unpredictable, as does an apparent preference for maracas, shakers, tambourines, or electronic beats instead of or mixed with a full drumset within single songs. I can’t tell if the faux-exotic paganism on “Anglo Saxon Burial Ground” is ironically spiritual or not. “Walton…” is quietly hypnotic. Even before knowing there was a video for “King of the Holloway Road,” it stood out as a single, coinciding perfectly with my first paycheck in two years and the accompanying, headstrong glee. Perhaps no lyric in any song ever sung (though it’d be bloody difficult to actually sing or rhyme to) so directly fits and speaks to me as well as “nobody knows my passion for obscure contemporary music“. With 12k views, I guess I should be glad it hasn’t been completely ignored: The multi-sectional “Let’s” has a highly suggestive allure that really sneaks up on you. eMusic has a pretty confusing array of releases; pick up the full album, the 2021 single, and the “Instant Nostalgia” EP for sure. Someone else will have to say whether the pricey remix album is worth it.

    2. “Any Joy” , “Lickety Split” - Pronto Mama (2017, 2014). More Scottish than you can shake a stick at! I’ve been listening to so much rock in foreign languages that to hear someone sing w/ a strong Scottish accent actually sounds more exotic to me now, probably residing in the uncanny valley of my native tongue. There’s no better way to describe this album than “great,” even at a pricey $5.99. It’s the perfect lure to bring someone who thinks they’ve heard all indie/alt. rock has to offer back into the fold. It’s strange that Bandcamp doesn’t have the full album. The EP is merely very good, I think, and one should be on the lookout for the tracks on the other EP that are also on “Any Joy” to avoid duplication, such as the pleasantly loud lamenting “One Trick Pony” (but still no reason not to own both; I’ve held out on the $1.99 “Niche Market b/c it has two duplicates). Brassy “Arabesque” is the obvious single for being uproariously uplifting, with a nice music video to boot. I’m frankly shocked it has less than 500 views: Other highlights abound, like the unexpected a cappella of “Sentiment,” a proggy keyboard-brass outro on “All Your Insides,” the lonely but pretty “Bennie,” and their general ability to rock with brass without ever sounding like ska. I’d compare them to a somewhat harder, more guitar-based version of the pop and chamber pop of The Aluminum Group and Mad Gregs, respectively. The album art and band name suggest to me that they want to succeed on the quality of their music alone, and they certainly should if potential listeners can get over those two deterrent hurdles. Looks like Bandcamp only has the two EPs, oddly.

    3. “Dyin’ Star” & “We Are” - TourJets (2020, 2017). The 2020 three-track EP is why they’re ranked so high. I was a little let down after hearing it first and then getting excited to try the full album. The album aspires to be something like The Cars with loopy keyboards doing the work of a chorus early on in the album. The singer’s accented English fits the rather spacey vibe well (most explicit in the last song), but don’t expect anything but unintentional poetry from the lyrics. Fans of Bad Lip Reading videos will appreciate the extended outro to “Seagulls,” and the guy’s quavering voice reminds me of something like The Shins and probably tons of other indie rockers. Unintentionally, “No Mask” could resonate w/ current events. The album isn’t quite sure if it wants to be rock or synth-pop, and maybe that sonic indecision serves it well, at least distinguishing otherwise fairly conventional songwriting. With everything in the 3-4 minute range, there’s clearly room for improvement by letting one of them (or maybe just an instrumental section) go full-on freak-out. The EP commits much more strongly to the glam rock stylings Of Montreal popularized but lowers the comparative lyrical density several notches, and I’d say each of the songs on it is more fully formed, engaging, and maybe even captivating than anything on the album. I prefer the “Jellybox” song itself to the rather DIY effects on the video, which has yet to reach 2k views:

    4. “Monstrws” & “La Sabiduria del Agua” - Maifersoni (2019, 2020). I usually do a separate “category” for Latin alternative music, but this doesn’t quite fit there or here, being more electronic than most others on this list, especially the two-track single from 2020. There are at least enough guitars on the 2019 album to be recognizable as rock, but far more importantly, both are a real pleasure to listen to. The songs are fairly slow and moody, on the darker side generally but also surprisingly smooth and occasionally catchy. “Procesion” gives me a frisson w/ its atmosphere. The meandering “No Tengas Miedo” has a nice, plucked bass over cool rhythms. I wonder if whistling on the last song of an album is a trend. Overall, the album is a nice update en español to mellow sounds of the 80s, highly listenable and cohesive from start to finish.

    5. “Mutanty” - Kobiety (2011). The simplicity of the English chorus on the opening, basically title track is extreme, but paired with the upbeat, infectious melody it’ll have you tapping your toes and dancing like a mutant yourself. As on their 2015 album, there’s a lot of variety in instrumentation, combining brass and piano on the second track, for example, and they have a real knack for choruses. It’s unfortunate that the other catchiest song is all but unpronounceable, “Tak Pięknie Nie Kłamał Nikt”. Mixing in female vocals and going suddenly sentimental w/ slow-tempo strings are just two more of Kobiety’s many strengths. After really liking 2/2 albums, I’ll likely pick up their self-entitled debut from 2000 also, though going that far back may be riskier.

    6. “EP” - Klaus Johann Grobe (2013). Is Swiss Krautrock that doesn’t apparently follow the rules of Can’s recording regimen still Krautrock? For $2.49 you too can judge these 25 minutes of groovy tunes with prominent basslines and spacey keyboards with German male vocals. I myself find them to be pretty nifty, but those not looking for repetition from something like a German combination of Stereolab and Os Mutantes might not agree.

    7. “Pendulum” - Oginalii (2020). Hard rock w/ female vocals is an interesting niche that flares up frequently, and this short album for 99 cents (making the three singles entirely pointless) is a quite satisfactory way to fill it. The guitars hit hard, but I wouldn’t quite call it metal. The lyrics and chorus to the title track strike me as uninspired, but at least nothing devolves into the stupid angst that loud rock music lends itself so well to. Unsurprisingly, the short and quieter “Black Hole” might be my favorite song. Fans of Two Ton Boa will feel right at home, and I hope they weren’t hit by the recent floods in TN, or this list will be quite entirely un-American. Their label Devil in the Woods looks more interesting than it is.

    8. “A Sour Milk Experience” - DR SATSO (2020). I’ve listened to this album six times now but still don’t know how to contextualize it. The guy’s voice will indeed strike some as aptly fitting the album title. It’s mostly nasal and pinched like the vocalist from one of my favorite bands, Nurses, but he’s a lot more aggressive and ready to belt out like a metalhead. It’s also pretty low in the mix, inexplicably. And then there’s the guitars and drumming, which tend to explode out of nowhere, like on “Behemoth.” I’m no fan of metal, so this pushes right up to the line of being too loud to enjoy, but there are more subdued numbers, too, which helps a lot—“Ode to an Alchemist” reminds me of later Heliosequence. “Never Should Have Been” is pretty righteous, might be my favorite song here, but buried in a position where the filler usually goes. The closer is noisily nice, too. At just half an hour, the whole thing passes in a blaze.

    9. “S/t” - Bifannah (2016). This $2 EP opens w/ a garagey blues number, and the other tracks more or less follow suit. I don’t think the lyrics are in English, at least not mostly, with “Pior" and organ-inclusive songs to follow sounding a bit like Caesars in Portuguese (maybe especially the closing track). There’s at least two more full albums to explore.

    10. “Oh! Enlightened” - Delta Mainline (2013). After loving 2019’s “Bel Avenir”, I scooped this one up w/out hesitation or even sampling, and it turns out I should probably have done both. This album is fine, but it reminds me most of the contemporary update to psych-rock that Death in Vegas did when it didn’t feel like being electronic or female-vocal trip-hop. They’re still figuring out how high to build their wall their sound, what to do with the brass section, and generally what kinds of songs they want to make on this album. I personally don’t really feel the quasi-Gospel spirituality on a piano-plus song like “Fixing to Die” or the generally sentimental Americana sound, but maybe you will? The penultimate, longer, and moodily unreserved and shifting “Dark Energy” is more like where I’m glad they headed eventually.

    11. “Sno - Powiazalka” - Voo Voo (2005). Not to be confused w/ Kruder & Dorfmeister colleagues Voom:Voom, the many works of this seminal Polish rock band can in some cases be sampled in their entirety due to a site glitch. The seven albums available on two labels and three decades (curiously excluding the 2000s…this album is listed from 1987) on eMusic seem like a lot until taking a look at their full, expansive discography . They play a knotted, damaged kind of alt. rock with equal parts classic, prog, and metal mixed together. The songs here are varied but maybe never actually reaching any song that a conventional rock fan would enjoy. The most unusual element is probably the prominent saxophone. “Kto Się Obudzi” is a fun, jangly single that deserves to be heard on the radio in an alternate, Polish-centric 1980s universe.

    12. “Stuck in a Maze” - The Radiation Flowers (2020). This is apparently gone from the catalog, and I’d say it’s no great loss. This is an OK, semi-psychedelic long EP or short album with kinda androgynous vocals and an average mix of guitars and keyboards at mid-tempo. Recommended if you like psych-rock and want something new, but this isn’t going to win over skeptics.

    13. “Demo” - JOL (2015). My strategy for $75 booster packs for $200 in credit has long been justified for taking risks on borderline interesting but expensive albums on extremely obscure labels (that I wouldn’t miss terribly if they left the site) or independently released like this one. At more than half off the sticker price of $4.99, this merits inclusion for a kind of slow-paced and almost plodding blues/jazz/folk/rock combination w/ rather low production value. Imperfections in the mix are abundant, and you can wonder whether they’re intentional. The guy’s voice shoots for hypnotic, and the repetitive lyrics won’t endear many to him. Layering oneself to the point of sounding choral can be done badly, so I give him credit for this attempt, which I’d liken to a somewhat morose, lofi version of Spiritualized, Underworld, or some late 80s-early 90s synth pop group lost to time. This isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off, but it’s a good benchmark for noting regrets if I like something less.

    Bandcamp Only: “O.K.” - Gabby’s World (2015). NYP from a Brooklyn collective w/ an angelic voice. Covered in great detail on my podcast:

    Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic:
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