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While American alt rock legends like Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth and Beck were still pumping out fresh albums hot from the oven in the new millennium, they were no longer quite the toast of the town they once had been. Instead, an effortlessly cool young upstart named Julian Casablancas forged a brave new beginning with The Strokes and Josh Homme stepped things up a gear for Queens of the Stone Age with a brace of impressive albums.
Meanwhile, three sons of a preacher man were shaking the manhood and breaking the hearts of youth all over the globe with the Kings of Leon’s outstanding first two albums.
On this side of the pond, a 90s scene which had been dominated by the Britpop likes of Ocean Colour Scene, James and Shed Seven was swept aside by the new order. Muse’s 2001 ‘Origin of Symmetry’ represented an exciting foray into electronic distortion, ambitious vocals and imaginative instrumental interplay (unfortunately, it also represents the apex of the band’s musical accomplishments to date).
Simultaneously, Badly Drawn Boy was weaving his own wondrous web of melodies from underneath a beanie and behind a beard and PJ Harvey popped out a couple more albums in an already impressively prolific career.
Aside from these big-name artists, a flurry of others also staked their claim in the new climate of alternative rock – below are some of my personal favourites from the five year window.
Essential Album(s): ‘Half the World Is Watching Me’ (2000), ‘Frengers’ (2003), ‘And the Glass Handed Kites’ (2005)
“You can run away // Leave your books behind you // But you should look back twice // Just to be on the safe side.”
According to former guitarist Bo Madsen, this Danish outfit can be best described as “indie stadium” rock. One listen to their spell-binding album, ‘Frengers’ (not yet friends, no longer strangers), shows you exactly what he means as the band create immersive walls of sound that suck you in and spit you out the other side, all the better for the experience.
That acclaimed album is certainly their finest work, with ‘Am I Wry? No’, ‘156’ and ‘She Came Home for Christmas’ being particularly alluring.
Essential Album(s): ‘A Story in White’ (2001), ‘Sleep and Release’ (2003), ‘Seclusion’ (2004)
“But I know // I don’t need your love // I don’t need your conscience // To base my life upon…”
Glasgow four-piece Aereogramme released three of their four albums in an intense three-year period of activity, during which time singer Craig B. apparently also over-indulged on the whisky and smokes to the detriment of his voice box, causing an impromptu hiatus before their swansong in 2007.
The three earlier albums are filled with far more angst, energy and ear-splitting screams (another contributing factor to those twanged vocal cords) than the last one, but an undercurrent of melancholy can be felt throughout.
That came to the fore in ‘My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go’ and though the band never achieved mainstream success, they still enjoyed a dedicated diehard cult following to their disbandment in 2007.
Essential Album(s): ‘Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is OK’ (2000), ‘Finally We Are No One’ (2002)
“Behind these two hills here, fall asleep // And when I float in green grass of tunnel // It flows back…”
Certainly more alternative than rock, múm are an experimental Icelandic outfit which combine electronic glitches, exotic stringed instruments and childlike vocals to create unorthodox but enthralling rhythms.
Apparently inspired by the ditching of guitars by bands such as Aphex Twin, the band came about when founding members Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson were joined by classically-trained twin sisters Gyða and Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir.
Though the line-up of the band has changed significantly over the years, their penchant for playing weird and most definitely wonderful music has not.
Those looking to get in at the ground floor should check out ‘I’m 9 Today’ or the paired tracks ‘Awake on a Train’ and ‘Asleep on a Train’ from their debut, while gems from later albums include ‘Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed’ and ‘I Can’t Feel My Hand Anymore, It’s Alright, Sleep Still’.
Essential Album(s): ‘Good News for People Who Love Bad News’ (2004)
“Fed up with all that LSD // Need more sleep than Coke or Methamphetamines // Late nights with warm, warm whiskey // I guess the good times they were all just killing me.”
Though Modest Mouse enjoy significant critical and popular acclaim stateside, they’ve never quite cracked the UK market in the same manner, with even perennial crowd-pleaser ‘Float On’ only reaching 46 on the UK charts.
British attention would only be piqued with the addition of The Smith’s Johnny Marr on their next album, even though ‘Good News’ remains a far more accomplished album and far better news for anyone looking to get into the band cold.
According to Spin magazine, the album was “half expansive, burnished radio-rock, half swampy Delta hoodoo-hollerin’ that reeks of Brock’s Southern sojourn.” I can’t better that description, but I can point you in the direction of ‘Ocean Breathes Salty’, ‘World at Large’, ‘The Good Times Are Killing Me’ and of course, the aforementioned ‘Float On’.
Essential Album(s): ‘Bleed American’ (2001), ‘Futures’ (2004)
“It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on // Just do your best // Do everything you can // Don’t you worry what their bitter hearts are going to say.”
As the soundtrack to my adolescence, I couldn’t resist bringing Jimmy Eat World into the fold. Their unfortunately titled 2001 album came out just a few months before the September 11th tragedy, prompting the band to retitle it simply ‘Jimmy Eat World’ to avoid any unintended connotations, though a 2008 deluxe re-release retained the original name.
Typical for bands of their ilk, the album is filled with teenage angst and slightly self-indulgent introspection, but offers a deeper complexity and richness than its counterparts.
The upbeat optimism of signature tracks ‘The Middle’ and ‘Sweetness’ is offset by the dark foreboding of ‘Gets It Faster’ and the raw fury of ‘Salt, Sweat, Sugar’, while softer ballads ‘My Sundown’ and ‘Cautioners’ communicate a depth of emotion rare for the genre. While ‘Futures’ was not comparable in terms of quality, the monosyllabic trio of ‘Kill’, ‘Pain’ and ‘Work’ are all decent songs in their own right.
Of all the alternative rock bands breaking through around Y2K, these five stood out most for me – but that’s not to say there weren’t a whole host of others making waves as well. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club dipped their toes into the alt rock waters for the first time, while… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Wilco, Weezer, Primal Scream, Interpol and Nick Cave kept on fighting that good fight.
What about you? Which alternative bands from the early part of the millennium stand out in your memory? Who do you still remember with fondness? Who have you forgotten?
Drop them all in the comments below so we can reminisce together.
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