10 Sounds That Never Get Old
Some sounds never get old. In the indie and alt-rock worlds, there are certain sonic hallmarks – specific guitar tones, say, or special voices -- that are just so powerful, so beautiful and so memorable that we could listen to them over and over again and never tire of hearing them. What are these exceptional vibrations? We could name dozens, but we’ve come up with a list of the 10 best. Curious what we’re talking about, exactly? Read on.
Bassist Peter Hook is known for unusually melodic, riff-driven lines played on an instrument normally associated with arpeggios or single notes thumped one at a time. A founding member of both Joy Division and New Order, “Hooky” parted ways with New Order under less-than-amicable circumstances a few years back, and he currently leads his own project, the Light. But he will always be remembered for helping to lay the rhythmic foundation for such New Order classics as ‘Blue Monday’ and 'The Perfect Kiss.'
Due to his unusual performance style, which involves playing an open-tuned guitar with a modified tremolo arm through thick distortion, a reverse reverb effects pedal and an amp cranked to 11, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields creates walls of dreamy, shimmering soundscapes. He perfected the setup in time to record My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 masterpiece, ‘Loveless,’ which is considered a watershed album in the world of shoegazing. Two decades later, the world is still waiting for a follow-up, but even without new music, we’re always game for catching the rare live MBV concert.
These days, Dave Grohl pays the bill as frontman of the Foo Fighters, but he came up through the ranks pounding drums in the Washington, D.C.-based hardcore band Scream. Later, of course, he joined up with grunge godheads Nirvana, who had released one album (1989’s ‘Bleach’) before he came onboard. Grohl made an immediate impact on the band’s sound, giving them the more powerful and dynamic backbone heard on ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero.’ Though he doesn’t sit behind the Foo Fighters’ kit, he still makes the occasional drum cameo, and he’s guested with such acts as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Paul McCartney, Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age.
These days, we can only enjoy the sweet sax sounds of LeRoi Moore on record, but before his tragic death in 2008, the Dave Matthews Band member was as crucial an element of the group’s sound -- as well as its soul. Moore was a prodigious performer – in addition to playing bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, he knew his way around the flute, bass clarinet, oboe and even the wooden penny whistle. He also helped pen several of the band’s tunes, including ‘Too Much’ and ‘Stay (Wasting Time).’
Veteran indie act the Walkmen have touched on a variety of genres over the course of seven albums and a dozen years together, but one thing that has remained a constant hallmark is their penchant for stripped-down, gritty and vintage sounds. One key to achieving this is the frequent use of a piano – it’s an upright, but it sometimes comes off as a plinky toy piano – which adds a layer of spooky atmosphere to the equation. Check out ‘We’ve Been Had’ and ‘Red Moon’ for a taste of the various ways the Walkmen highlight the keys in song.
Another bass player with an unconventional playing style, Matt Freeman has been showcasing his skills for more than two decades, most notably with “ska-core” legends Operation Ivy in the late ‘80s and on and off with ska-punk goliaths Rancid pretty much ever since. Freeman doesn’t play the bass so much as he throttles the thing, using a hyper-busy method that involves scales, arpeggios and even the occasional scorching solo, most notably on songs such as Rancid’s ‘Maxwell’s Murder’ and ‘Axiom.’
My Morning Jacket singer Jim James began blanketing his vocals in thick, billowy layers of haunting echo and reverb on 1999’s ‘The Tennessee Fire,’ which used the effect to such an extreme degree that at first, it threatens to wash out the rest of the music – until you realize that it actually enhances the desired atmosphere. With each subsequent release, MMJ has dialed back the reverb knob a little bit more, as the band expanded its sonic palette from back-porch folk to include everything from reggae and dub to country, blues and psych rock.
Her soulful, resonant contralto with a two-plus octave range doesn’t quite put her in the company of classically trained, technically brilliant professional singers -- she grew up idolizing the Spice Girls, not Maria Callas -- but as a musical instrument, Adele’s emotionally powerful voice definitely stands head-and-shoulders above most indie and alt-rock singers on the scene these days. It was mostly that voice that won her six Grammy Awards earlier this year, and it was her voice that was the center of attention at the end of the show, when she sang a rousing version of ‘Rolling In the Deep,’ making her first public performance since undergoing microsurgery for a benign polyp on her vocal cords due to strain from overuse.
J Mascis knows how to seriously shred on guitar. But the Dinosaur Jr. frontman doesn’t just tear up the strings on his beloved purple-sparkled Fender Jazzmaster for the sake of it, turning in face-melting solos with no soul. Mascis is a gifted songwriter, and he uses his scorching-but-melodic leads to convey some serious emotion, offering a welcome respite from his sleepy, gorgeously slack-jawed voice. ("All my favorite singers couldn't sing,” he once said, a backhanded compliment he himself has been accused of more than once.)
Gotye's dinky xylophone on ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ is as likely to get engrained in your brain as the song itself -- and to be perfectly honest, after hearing the song for the millionth time this year, we could probably go a couple days without crossing paths with ‘Somebody’ right about now. That said, Gotye’s prolific ability to play a variety of instruments – from guitar, bass and drums to xylophone, zither, hammered dulcimer and even something called the Winton Musical Fence – was an important sonic ingredient in ‘Making Mirrors,’ the first album on which he handled most of the instrumentation himself. It’s something we hope he revisits on the follow-up.