How alternative turned progressive: The strange case of math rock

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5 Scopus citations


This chapter considers progressive rock and its relation- ship with the “alternative rock�? music culture of the 1990s.1 At first glance, this might seem akin to mixing oil and water. In the 1990s, after all, alternative rock bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden deliberately bypassed the complexity of the typical progressive rock ensemble in favor of the simple, direct power of 1970s hard rock and punk guitar riffs. Similarly, where progressive rock lyri- cists and singers traditionally had looked outwards to fan- tastical and mythological topics, alternative rock vocalists like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder focussed inward, toward expressions of personal anguish. However, as journalist Neil Strauss has noted in a memorable 1997 New York Times article, these stylistic traits speak for only the most specified and narrow definition of alternative rock-the version favored by FM radio playlists and Rolling Stone features.2 Strauss points out that contemporaneous with the Pearl Jam “mainstream�? variety of alternative rock there existed in the 1990s a large, stylistically eclectic col- lection of comparatively obscure alternative rock artists spread across dozens of subgenres-among them “orches- trated pop,�? “noize,�? “analogue pop,�? “drone rock,�? “vel- vet introspection�? etc.-with ties to influences running the gamut from the Beach Boys and the Velvet Under- ground to minimalism and the avant-garde. Strauss does not intend his list to be authoritative, but his point is well taken: alternative rock of the 1990s was not simply synonymous with the wave of grunge bands that Nirvana and Soundgarden helped spawn. The larger definition of 1990s alternative includes all manner of influences-even progressive-as part of its fold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProgressive Rock Reconsidered
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781135710224
ISBN (Print)0815337159, 9780815337140
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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