Back in the 1990s, ‘alternative’ tended to mean big, fuzzy guitars, a punk attitude, and a sound just left of centre enough not to be classified as mainstream (though in reality, it was pretty mainstream). But like the term ‘indie’ came to mean more than the C86 sound associated with it in the 80s, ‘alternative’ can mean a lot of things these days.

So, here’s my goal for this month’s column: find some excellent records that don’t sound anything like the old Nineties definition of alternative. And I only cheated once. Like always, you can find pretty much all of my recommendations on my Bandcamp profile: https://bit.ly/3p6yssC

We’ll get to the cheat later, but first, let’s enjoy the mostly instrumental sonic soundscapes of Denmark’s Cook Og Winther. Their EP ‘New Hershey Kiss’ nods at hip-hop with its rhythmic approach and use of samples, but it also takes from modern classical compositions and post-rock acts like Sigur Rós. It all washes over you in a rather lovely way, like a walk through quiet city streets. ‘Seashell in the Blurry Ocean’ is the centrepiece of the set, the first to feature vocals. It’s sparse and atmospheric, with a catchy chorus.

Taking us even further from alternative’s origins is ‘Solo Collective’ parts one and two, a collaboration between UK-based composer Sebastian Reynolds and the German cellist Anne Müller and violinist Alex Stolze. The albums were released previously in 2017 and 2019 respectively, but have been reissued Bandcamp. Part One features two compositions from each member of the Collective, which results in some interesting (though coherent) shifts in tone and mood. The dramatic ‘Solo? Repeat!’, the tense ‘Cell to Cell’ and the triumphant ‘Holy Island’, which appears in a different guise on Part Two.

Part Two differs from part one in that every piece is a Reynolds composition. It is a little more piano-led as a result, but still takes in some of the shifts of Part One – ‘For Hazel’s thumping drums and shimmering electronic noises, for example. It’s particularly strong in its simplest moments, such as ‘By the Tower, At Nightfall’, which sounds like the principle players performing in a room together (which may well be the case – some of the songs on both parts were recorded live(.

London’s Yore are a little closer to OG alternative (there are plenty of guitars on their self-titled debut album), but if the Smashing Pumpkins sit on their list of influences, it’s not obvious. Instead, their music brings to mind Deerhunter and Animal Collective, shoegaze, hip-hop and R&B. Whether they’re an influence or not, there’s an element of The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’ to their sound. It definitely fits the mould of modern bedroom indie/pop, but it’s a particularly strong example.

Mexico City’s Human Tooth also goes in for wonky guitar music. His mini-album ‘Bedroom Wreck’ has some Krautrock elements to it, and some squalling, discordant guitar work that brings to mind old indie rock bands like Pavement and Sebadoh (I know, dangerously close to 1990s alternative). Sound-wise, it’s nothing like those bands, however – Human Tooth deploys similar techniques, dressed differently. It’s rhythm-heavy, drum-driven and pacey. The vocals are just another instrument in the mix. Overall it makes for an enjoyably intense listen.

Finally, to my cheater’s choice. Rav’s ‘I’m Onto Me’ is actually classified on Bandcamp as ‘indie rap’, but what are genre labels except an arbitrary way to pigeonhole tastes for marketing purposes? Yes, I did build this column around Bandcamp’s genre categories. Shut up.

Anyway, ‘I’m Onto Me’ is an incredibly personal account of Rav’s emotional journey this year. As he puts it: “I felt an urgent need to address a gross, festering wound.” The mini-album takes on its subject matter with a sense of humour and a varied musical palette, from the plaintive ‘Dandelions’ to the stomping ‘Me? Never’ to the mournful ‘Molasses’ in the first three tracks. It likely reflects the mental state of many people during the pandemic. The desperation of ‘Channel F’ is particularly powerful.



















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