Tag Archives: Alternative Rock

2: When I Woke (Rusted Root)

Album: When I Woke
Artist: Rusted Root
Year: 1994

1. Drum Trip
2. Ecstasy
3. Send Me on My Way
4. Cruel Sun
5. Cat Turned Blue
6. Beautiful People
7. Martyr
8. Rain
9. Food & Creative Love
10. Lost in a Crowd
11. Laugh as the Sun
12. Infinite Tamboura
13. Back to the Earth

If you love jam bands, it doesn’t get much better than When I Woke. Drum Trip is just that, a long drum solo that really gets things off to a flying and energetic start, seamlessly introducing the rest of the album. Send Me on My Way is their one and only top 100 song. I used to be crazy about it, but one too many appearances in advertisements has ruined that. Thankfully, nothing else had a chance to be overplayed.

For the most part, the lyrics are not the appeal, though they are more moving on this album than on any other by the band. Cruel Sun is an epic, powerful, anti-war ballad. Beautiful People is another amazing ballad about self-doubt, addiction, and existentialist angst. The rest of the songs, for the most part, have lyrics that are about as deep as your typical country song and often make even less sense, but the wide array of instruments and vocal harmonies blend together for a wonderful listening experience.

4: Before These Crowded Streets (Dave Matthews Band)

Album: Before These Crowded Streets
Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Year: 1998

1. Pantala Naga Pampa
2. Rapunzel
3. The Last Stop
4. Don’t Drink the Water
5. Stay (Wasting Time)
6. Halloween
7. The Stone
8. Crush
9. The Dreaming Tree
10. Pig
11. Spoon

The final album by Dave Matthews before he decided to try and become pop-friendly, Before These Crowded Streets succeeds brilliantly at being anything but. With the exception of Pantala Naga Pampa, which is a short-intro, every song is at least five minutes long, with five being over seven minutes. Guest musicians abound, including a recently popular one named Alanis Morissette. Many instruments are used to fill out the sound, including trumpets, orchestral strings, an organ, and several types of guitars. And the album is meant to be listened to as an album, as nearly every song has an outro that leads into the next song. Obviously, they were still able to cut a few singles up for the radio, but something got lost on each one in the transition.

Rapunzel is an up-tempo mildly erotic song and provides great energy. The Last Stop is a graphic, angry, anti-war protest song that features Dave Matthews performing an interesting deep growl. Don’t Drink the Water continues the anger, detailing horrific battles to destroy and occupy land taken from Native Americans by Europeans.

Thinks calm down a bit with Stay, but then Halloween is another angry, raw, profane song about Dave’s torment with an ex who turned down his marriage proposals.  The Stone and Crush bring back some simplicity about relationships.. Crush is one of the band’s most popular songs, thanks to a fantastic bass and saxophone opening.  The Dreaming Tree follows on its heels with another easy melody.

The album ends on a really strong note with Pig and Spoon. Alanis provides a pretty solid solo for the latter and is more proof this album wasn’t about Dave Matthews but great music. It’s too bad it couldn’t stay that way.

6: The Initial Friend (Rilo Kiley)

Album: The Initial Friend
Artist: Rilo Kiley
Year: 1999

1. The Frug
2. Papillon
3. Always
4. 85
5. Glendora
6. Teenage Love Song
7. Sword
8. Asshole
9. Gravity

B: Steve
B: Troubadors
B: Annoying Noise of Death

I’m not exactly sure what happened, but Rilo Kiley decided this EP was never quite perfect so they released three different pressings, all with a slightly different song set. Some songs were on all three pressings, some on two, and some just on one. The nine songs listed here are from the second pressing, with the three extra being from the other two.

The Frug is actually what turned me onto the band, ten years after it was released. The next song I heard was Papillon, and I was hooked. They’re still my favorite two songs from the band (indeed, Papillon is a top ten song for me), both very silly but sung with earnestness.  “Oh my god, Blake!” is a fantastically sung line by Jenny.

Amazingly, their debut album just keeps bringing the awesome. Their second album, Take-Offs and Landings, had an updated version of the song Always that is way overproduced. This version is the one you want to listen to. 85 is played with adagio speed but has a consistent rhythm that makes it feel faster than it is.  And then Glendora is a great sing-along about submissiveness and self-hatred.

Teenage Love Song is decent, and then it heats back right up again with the next two songs. They must have been in a classic-movie binge when writing this album as Laurence of Arabia  makes an appearance in Sword (with Papillon being the other mention).  Asshole is sung by the whole group for the most part, and while I don’t really care for Blake’s singing, he does harmonize very well with Jenny.

I thought Gravity was decent at first, but the more I listen to it, the more it grates on me. Like I Never, it’s very repetitive, but Jenny’s voice has this warble I can’t take. As for the rest of the songs, I usually include Steve and Troubadors when I listen to the album.  Steve is one of Blake’s best songs, just him fantasizing about killing his mom’s boyfriend. And Troubadors makes for a much better album ending than Gravity, as it has a simple, fading sound much like It Just Is.  Annoying Noise of Death is just a long gimmick of a hidden track that doesn’t need more than one listen ever.

While More Adventurous is probably a better introduction to the band as it’s better produced, better polished, and is more pop-friendly, The Initial Friend is Rilo Kiley’s masterpiece.

See everyone next week for the final five albums!

13: Yourself or Someone Like You (Matchbox 20)

Album: Yourself or Someone Like You
Artist: Matchbox 20
Year: 1996

1. Real World
2. Long Day
3. 3 A.M.
4. Push
5. Girl Like That
6. Back 2 Good
7. Damn
8. Argue
9. Kody
10. Busted
11. Shame
12. Hang

This album was released on my sixteenth birthday. I was in an abusive relationship when that person bought me this album. Push resonated with me more than any song ever had before. It still means a lot to me, as does this album, as it helped me through the hardest time in my life. In addition to Push, Argue also resonated with me. “We get along so we shouldn’t argue,” rolled through my head a lot.

There is so much genuine anger pulsating through these songs. It’s obvious that Rob Thomas was in a dark place while recording this. Long Day and 3 A.M. struck a chord with my teenage angst. He wrote 3 A.M. as a teenager as a coping mechanism while his mother was struggling with cancer.  Girl Like That is repetitive but continues the emotional impact from Push quite nicely.

I’m not a huge fan of the singles Real World or Back 2 Good.  Damn is pretty banal, and Busted is really painful to listen to. All reasons the album falls out of my top ten despite what it means to me.

Kody, Shame, and Hang are all considerably more low key, but also considerably depressing. I think Thomas blew his wad with this album. While his music skills improved as he went along, his writing became more pop-friendly and less inspired.  But I have little doubt that Yourself or Someone Like You will still resonate with me in thirty years.


18: Stunt (Barenaked Ladies)

Album: Stunt
Artist: Barenaked Ladies
Year: 1998

1, One Week
2. It’s All Been Done
3. Light Up My Room
4. I’ll Be That Girl
5. Leave
6. Alcohol
7. Call and Answer
8. In the Car
9. Never Is Enough
10. Who Needs Sleep?
11. Told You So
12. Some Fantastic
13. When You Dream

Stunt was BNL’s American breakthrough, as One Week hit number one for, naturally, one week on the pop charts. It’s their most frenetic song and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I still enjoy it from time to time. Their other American hit from the album was It’s All Been Done, which is definitely an easier listen. The album continues with Light Up My Room, a mesmerizing dance of rhyme I think synthesizer, but there are several instruments on this album that I’ve never heard of, including the clavinet, the melodica, and the wah wah guitar. I’ll Be That Girl is an exceptionally written song about relationship anger and severe depression cloaked in BNL’s usual light-hearted whimsy.

The album slows down just slightly from here. Leave is a really simple and bitter break-up song. And while Alcohol is probably my favorite song about alcohol, I just don’t care that much about songs about alcohol. I will say though that the lyrics mirror my life a bit, with the singer discussing his previous snobbish condescension to those who drank before realizing that it can be quite enjoyable, though I never used it as an antidepressant like Steven Page did.

Call and Answer might be BNL’s best ballad, about a painful reconciliation that is highlighted by some excellent harmony. Then we get to four songs that have the trademark clever lyric but musically are nothing special. Never is Enough is an oversimplification of college being a useless degree factory. Who Needs Sleep?, about insomnia, has a catchy rhythm but like One Week I can only listen to it every so often.

Some Fantastic is my favorite song here. It’s just so damn easy on the ears. I can also identify with desperately wanting an old love back and fantasizing about all the ways I could convince them to come back. Either way, if you like BNL and haven’t heard this one, give it a shot.

Unfortunately, they end yet another album with another really slow, boring song. It gives props to Del Shannon”s Runaway, one of my favorite songs from the 60’s, but it’s not enough to overcome how boring the melody is.

Looking through the rest of BNL’s discography, there are almost enough songs to make up an album of songs in my top 500, but they’ve really slowed down in quality over the past ten years. For the record, those five songs are Straw Hat and Dirty Old Hank, Shoebox, Conventioneers, The Wizard of Magicland, and Bank Job.

27: Mad Season (Matchbox Twenty)

Album: Mad Season
Artist: Matchbox Twenty
Year: 2000

1. Angry
2. Black & White People
3. Crutch
4. Last Beautiful Girl
5. If You’re Gone
6. Mad Season
7. Rest Stop
8. The Burn
9. Bent
10. Bed of Lies
11. Leave
12. Stop
13. You Won’t Be Mine

I was very excited when this album came out and I came away feeling it was the best album I’d ever listened to. Mad Season is definitely more polished than the band’s first album, but as the years have gone by it has lost something. I think part of it lies in the first song, where Rob Thomas sings about how he’s not angry anymore. It’s autobiographical, as around this time Rob got engaged and a lot of the bitterness and cynicism kind of melted away. I’m happy for him, really, but while Mad Season still contains some passion, it is mostly missing the rawness that turned me on to them initially.

Rest Stop still contains that mood, but the chorus is repeated about eighty-four times, ruining the mood by the end. Stop is as angry as anything you’ll hear from Matchbox Twenty, but it’s one of the weaker songs lyrically. The songs that are great musically aren’t all that emotionally resonating.  Still, the music is good enough that I still enjoy listening to the album. There are no songs I dislike, and it ends on a pretty solid note with You Won’t Be Mine, a haunting tune featuring Thomas on the piano. Other favorites are Last Beautiful Girl, Black & White People, Mad Season and Bent.

I have liked virtually nothing Thomas has put out since this album. I felt More Than You Think You Are was wretched outside of the mediocre singles. And every single since has done nothing for me. His songs, initially inspired, have become incredibly generic and flat.

36: Maybe You Should Drive (Barenaked Ladies)

Album: Maybe You Should Drive
Artist: Barenaked Ladies
Year: 1994

1. Jane
2. Intermittently
3. These Apples
4. You Will Be Waiting
5. A
6. Everything Old Is New Again
7. Alternative Girlfriend
8. Am I the Only One?
9. Little Tiny Song
10. Life, in a Nutshell
11. The Wrong Man Was Convicted
12. Great Provider

The second album by the Barenaked Ladies takes right off where Gordon ended, with incredibly creative lyrics. While the ballads don’t have as much emotional weight, the up tempo songs are even better. Life, in a Nutshell is easily my favorite song by the band, and only partly because their grammar skills (which are better than they admit in These Apples) stand out by correctly using “she” vs. “her.”  A small thing, but I appreciate it.  I can also identify with Jane, as I’ve been the safe guy in the friend zone, and the frustration in the lyrics is both genuine and sweet.

Other highlights are Intermittently, A, and Little Tiny Song, which I hope was inspired by the existential cow from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Alternative Girlfriend was a popular single in Canada, and I like it, but it really should have ended with “So we can get out of this town, cuz it makes me sick.” Instead, like a Bryan Adams ballad, it continues past it’s natural endpoint and does the chorus again.

The album ends on kind of a whimper. The Ladies are famous for their energy, and ending with two slow songs just feels wrong. But the first ten tracks are enough to make up for it.

37: Remember (Rusted Root)

Album: Remember
Artist: Rusted Root
Year: 1996

1. Faith I Do Believe
2. Heaven
3. Sister Contine
4. Virtual Reality
5. Infinite Space
6. Voodoo
7. Dangle
8. Silver-N-Gold
9. Baby Will Roam
10. Bullets In The Fire
11. Who Do You Tell It To
12. River In A Cage
13. Scattered
14. Circle of Remembrance

Rusted Root, an acoustic jamb band from Pittsburgh, became moderately known after their first studio album, When I Woke, peaked at #51 in the chart and their only hit, Send Me on My Way, got a bizarre amount of movie and commercial placements. That and a growing fan base helped their second album, this one, peak at #38. They haven’t had much success since, though they continue to do well in concerts. While it’s true their music isn’t all that commercial, I think they just haven’t done much interesting since this album.

It’s hard to describe why I like this album. Some of the lyrics are unintelligible, which is par for the course. The lyrics that are understandable are vague like poetry but I’m not sure they’re supposed to be analyzed; rather, the words seem more of an excuse for the band to belt out some music. The music draws from African (including voodoo), Latin American, and Native American influences, and relies heavily on percussion and the unique vocal stylings of Michael Glabicki. In fact, your tolerance for his voice will likely dictate your interest in their music.

There are no songs on Remember that I would point to and say “okay, this is awesome,” but the album is consistent from beginning to end, which just doesn’t happen that often.

39: All the Pain Money Can Buy (Fastball)

Album: All the Pain Money Can Buy
Artist: Fastball
Year: 1998

1. The Way
2. Fire Escape
3. Better Than It Was
4. Which Way to the Top?
5. Sooner or Later
6. Warm Fuzzy Feeling
7. Slow Drag
8. G.O.D. (Good Old Days)
9. Charlie, the Methadone Man
10. Out of My Head
11. Damaged Goods
12. Nowhere Road
13. Sweetwater, Texas

I bought this album after hearing and enjoying The Way and Fire Escape. I quickly grew to like Out of My Head but it was then subsequently overplayed on the radio. I still listen to the album because the non-singles are so darn consistent.

Warm Fuzzy Feeling is probably the shortest song on this countdown that is oranged up, clocking in at just under two minutes. Catchy, and lyrically interesting.  Sweetwater, Texas is a beautiful, haunting ballad and rounds out the rest of the album well.

I’m trying to figure out why Good Old Days is abbreviated G.O.D., since the initials are never used in the song (unlike P.Y.T. by Michael Jackson). Is it just a God reference? I’m generally not a fan of parentheticals in song titles as they just become unnecessarily unwieldy, and it makes even less sense here.

73: Bringing Down the Horse (The Wallflowers)

Album: Bringing Down the Horse
Artist: The Wallflowers
Year: 1996

1. One Headlight
2. 6th Avenue Heartache
3. Bleeders
4. Three Marlenas
5. The Difference
6. Invisible City
7. Laughing Out Loud
8. Josephine
9. God Don’t Make Lonely Girls
10. Angel on My Bike
11. I Wish I Felt Nothing

I originally had Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi in this spot, but then I listened to it a couple of days ago and was bored out of my mind. For an album that is very polished and has no really bad songs, it does surprisingly little for me these days. So I looked at the albums that just missed the cut and decided that Bringing Down the Horse, while flawed, doesn’t bore me and still enjoys an occasional playthrough.

The album is quite top-heavy, starting with its best song, One Headlight and continuing with probably its second best song, 6th Avenue Heartache. The passion in Jake Dylan’s voice really comes through in these two songs. Though, while he’s got a better voice than his father, he does very little with it for the rest of the album. The melodies are generally catchy, but the songs don’t really distinguish themselves from each other with Jake sounding the same on every one. Their second biggest hit, The Difference, has good verses but an awful chorus where Jake holds down the notes way longer than he’s capable of. The slowly worsening album is saved just a bit right at the end with I Wish I Felt Nothing, an understated angsty ballad.

I don’t think I’ve listened to one second of anything else by this band, and from looking at the charts, it doesn’t look like anyone else has either. If you have, please throw down your critique in the comments.