10 Best Acoustic Albums by Alternative Rockers
Sometimes, alternative rock gods just have to yank out their power cords, click off the distortion and knock out soulful acoustic jams. And we’re glad they do. While we have nothing against stacks of amps or giant walls of crackling sound, acoustic guitars let performers showcase their songwriting skills and musical chops without all the hardware and technology distracting from their talent and artistry. What follows are our picks for the 10 Best Acoustic Albums by Alternative Rockers — truly electric discs made (mostly) without electricity.
Days of the New
If hard grunge is to your taste, Days of New’s self-titled album should be right up your sonic alley. With this offering, the group dishes out a hefty dose of “folk grunge,” which is basically regular grunge in an acoustic format. Travis Meeks and company just might surprise you with their original musical vision, and this isn’t your usual watered-down acoustic set. The band wrote and recorded these songs the way they were meant to be played: hard, rough and unplugged.
Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine was never famous for loads of wattage or dirty distortion, but even so, mastermind Sam Beam really outdid himself with ‘Our Endless Numbered Days,’ Iron & Wine’s sophomore full-length album. Sub Pop chose wisely when it put its weight behind this gentle singer and his moving songs. This album is a crisp-sounding work of art that will make fans of Beam’s sweet voice very happy. ‘Naked as We Came,’ ‘Passing Afternoon’ and ‘Radio War’ are among the many standouts.
Beck’s ‘Sea Change,’ his eighth studio album, is a masterpiece of orchestrated acoustic splendor. While it’s not as quirky as some of his other recordings, it’s still an incredibly soulful work, from the overall concept to the arrangements of the individual tracks. Listen to the achingly mournful ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine’ to get a sense of the new direction Beck took with this record.
Bon Iver’s second studio effort is acoustic folk with a deep, underlying tension. Even though the band adds a few “plugged-in” sounds to some of the songs, it qualifies as an acoustic album — one defined by singer Justin Vernon’s folky roots and gorgeous, ethereal voice. This is emotive, succinct indie folk music at its finest.
Craving an acoustic take on dark punk rock? Look no further than Alkaline Trio’s ‘Damnesia.’ Here, the Chi-Town trio rework some of their best tunes, stripping them bare and laying them out acoustically. Not surprisingly, the band’s punk angst and harsh lyrical themes take on a different tone once the volume is turned down, but the songs remain plenty powerful, and with their fast tempos, they’re never in danger of lulling anyone to sleep.
Michael Samuel Kiwanuka
Michael Samuel Kiwanuka’s lush voice, simple melodies, and easygoing acoustic fretwork have made him one of the best new artists in the acoustic arena. His tunes are incredibly poignant, with a slight Marvin Gaye-style retro feel. ‘Home Again,’ from his album of the same name, pairs the singer’s voice with laid-back guitar and light orchestration.
We know Dave Grohl and his bandmates can do the loud arena-rock thing, but for their first live album, the Foo Fighters opted to go the acoustic route. Cut in Los Angeles in 2006, ‘Skin and Bones,’ features some violin and extra guitars, and it finds the hard-hitting crew showing off their sensitive sides. (Scroll down a bit to see where Grohl might have gotten the idea for this one…)
Ryan Adams’ bout with Meniere’s disease, which wreaked mayhem on his hearing and ability to handle harsh sounds, led to this understated, soft-sounding gem. Acoustic guitar and piano rule the day, and Nora Jones loans her soothing voice to several tracks. ‘Ashes & Fire’ is raw music and emotion, laid open for all to hear, and that’s exemplified in the stunningly beautify ‘Come Home.’
‘Five Leaves Left’ is the oldest LP on our list of the Best Acoustic Albums by Alternative Rockers, and it predates the term “alternative rock” by many years. Recorded in 1969, Nick Drake’s debut hasn’t diminished with age, and it still stands as a testament to his songwriting bona fides. Gorgeous tunes, along with Drake’s introspective tendencies and gentle voice, make it easy to understand why this one is constantly making all-time-greatest-albums lists. While haunting songs like ‘Riverman’ might not be the wisest choice for people prone to chronic depression, the soul and craftsmanship that went into this song, and the entire album, is undeniable. It’s essential listening for lovers of acoustic music.
How could we make a list of the 10 Best Acoustic Albums by Alternative Rockers without mentioning Nirvana’s masterful 1993 session for MTV’s ‘Unplugged?’ The band wowed and surprised fans with acoustic renditions of their own tunes, as well as cover songs by the likes of the Meat Puppets and David Bowie. Despite disagreements with the show’s producers regarding how the recording should take place, Nirvana got through their set in impressive fashion, and they did so in one take.