What Are the Most Essential Alt-Rock Albums of the Last 25 Years?

Many years ago, I did an Ongoing History of New Music show on the ten alt-rock albums everyone needs in their collection and I still get requests for that this.  So, one more time, here it is:

 

  1. The Velvet Underground/Debut album
  2. David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  3. Sex Pistols/Never Mind the Bollocks
  4. The Ramones/Debut album
  5. Joy Division/Unknown Pleasures
  6. Clash/London Calling
  7. Smiths/The Queen Is Dead
  8. Beastie Boys/Licensed to Ill
  9. U2/The Joshua Tree
  10. Nirvana/Nevermind

 

Considering that this list is decades old, it’s still not bad.  Everyone should still have those records in their collection.  But then last night, I received this email from Brad:

The most recent album on that list is Nevermind, and that came out nearly 23 (!) years ago.  And I’ve been wondering; what would you say the essential alt rock albums of the 20 years post-Nevermind are?

I mean, are there even 10?  Who would make the cut? Nine Inch Nails would have to be there, right? What about PJ Harvey or Liz Phair? Smashing Pumpkins? Green Day? Moby?  Any of the other Seattle bands? What about Britpop — who’s more essential, Oasis or Blur?  And that’s just the 90s. What about the 2000s?  There’d definitely need to be some White Stripes … but who else?  And what about Canadian artists like Arcade Fire?  Feist? 

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

So there’s the challenge.  What are the essential 10 post-Nevermind albums in alt-rock?  Right off the top of my head, I’d start with Radiohead’s OK Computer and Definitely Maybe from Oasis.  American Idiot from Green Day?

Let’s discuss.  What are your picks?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

38 thoughts on “What Are the Most Essential Alt-Rock Albums of the Last 25 Years?

  • April 29, 2013 at 1:37 pm
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    THE KILLERS – HOT FUSS
    ARCADE FIRE – FUNERAL
    RADIOHEAD – OK COMPUTER
    OASIS -WHAT'S THE STORY MORNING GLORY
    THE STROKES – IS THIS IT
    COLDPLAY – A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD
    RADIOHEAD – KID A
    THE WHITE STRIPES -ELEPHANT
    ARCTIC MONKEYS- WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY, THAT'S WHAT I'M NOT
    RHCP – CALIFORNICATION

    🙂

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 2:09 pm
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    All good…and I like the list on the previous comment too. In retrospect, and despite the fact that the two albums are chronologically separated by less than a decade, I wonder if The Joshua Tree should now be replaced by Achtung Baby? If we're talking ALT-rock…

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm
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    1-OK COMPUTER: RADIOHEAD
    2-DIRT: ALICE IN CHAINS
    3-WHAT'S THE STORY MORNING GLORY: OASIS
    4-AMERICAN IDIOT: GREEN DAY
    5-TOOL: AENIMA
    6-ARCADE FIRE: FUNERAL
    7-SIGUR ROS: Ágætis Byrjun
    8-BECK: ODELAY
    9-TERROR TWILIGHT: PAVEMENT
    10-JOHNNY CASH: AMERICAN I

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 2:38 pm
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    Pretty hard to argue with Math's list posted above, although I may replace RHCP's "Californication" with Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm
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    Since I instigated this, I gave it a serious think and narrowed my choices down to these ten. Less a “favorites” list but rather one that tries to link everything like Alan’s initial list did.

    [In order of release]

    1. PJ Harvey – Dry

    2. Siamese Dream – Smashing Pumpkins

    3. The Downward Spiral – NIN

    4. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? – Oasis

    5. Radiohead — Kid A

    6. Moby – Play

    7. The White Stripes – Elephant

    8. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head

    9. American Idiot – Green Day

    10. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

    I go into a bit more detail on my website (www.bradabraham.com)

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 2:56 pm
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    When was the last time "alt-rock" meant something? 1984?

    10 essential albums since Nevermind:

    Pavement Slanted and Enchanted
    The Afghan Whigs Gentlemen
    Sunny Day Real Estate Diary
    Guided by Voices Bee Thousand
    Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
    Wilco Summerteeth
    Iron and Wine The Creek Drank the Cradle
    Sufjan Stevens Seven Swans
    Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
    The National Boxer

    To go one better, here are 10 essential albums before Nevermind (these are all post-1980):

    Pretenders Pretenders
    Roxy Music Avalon
    Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues
    The Replacements Let It Be
    Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy
    Husker Du Candy Apple Grey
    XTC Skylarking
    The Smiths The Queen is Dead
    Camper Van Beethoven Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
    Fugazi 13 Songs

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 2:57 pm
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    Putting just 10 albums… Not an easy task, knowing how many good albums came out after Nevermind. In no particular order:

    RADIOHEAD – OK COMPUTER
    FUGAZI – THE ARGUMENT
    NINE INCH NAILS – THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
    DJ SHADOW – ENDTRODUCING
    PORTISHEAD – DUMMY
    TOOL – AENIMA
    BLUR – PARKLIFE
    BECK – ODELAY
    AT THE DRIVE-IN – RELATIONSHIP OF COMMAND
    ARCADE FIRE – FUNERAL

    Other bands I wish I could put: The Beta Band, PJ Harvey, Massive Attack, The White Strips, …Trail of Dead, Wilco, etc.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 3:57 pm
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    I have no idea how Green Day is even mentioned in this. If you're going to pick Coldplay or Oasis, you can't list their sophomore albums. Their debuts were major and that's the point of the question.
    It's the breakthrough.

    i think Loveless and Different Class should be mentioned.

    Let's do a futuristic prediction. I think An Awesome Wave will make future headlines.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 6:50 pm
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    1. The Holy Bible- The Manic Street Preachers
    2. Spiderland- Slint
    3. In The Aeroplane over the Sea- Neutral Milk Hotel
    4. Daydream Nation- Sonic Youth
    5. Loveless- My Bloody Valentine
    6. Screamadelica- Primal Scream
    7. White Blood Cells- The White Stripes
    8. Do Dallas- mclusky
    9. Different Classes- Pulp
    10. Psalm 69: The way to succeed and the way to suck eggs- Ministry

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 6:57 pm
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    In The Aeroplane Over The Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel
    Dusk at Cubist Castle – Olivia Tremor Control
    Bee Thousand – Guided By Voices
    Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco
    OK Computer – Radiohead
    Loveless – My Bloody Valentine
    Slip – Quicksand
    Illinois – Sufjan Stevens
    Dirty – Sonic Youth
    Kill The Moonlight – Spoon

    That is my top 10 of absolutely must have albums. GBV's Under the Bushes, Under The Stars and Kid A were also very close to making it, but I decided to only pick one album by any band.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 7:01 pm
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    Off the top of my head:

    Pearl Jam – Vs. (emotionally rawer, more diverse and much more rewarding than Ten)
    Radiohead – OK Computer (undisputed classic)
    Faith No More – Angel Dust (excellent, highly influential and highly underrated in some circles)
    Tool – Undertow (they've done better albums musically but this one's got the SONGS)
    Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (what all cool alt-country bands aspire, and fail, to recreate)
    Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (all the hype that surrounded this debut glossed over the fact that it really WAS that good)
    System Of A Down – Toxicity (has there been an album since so heavy, so odd, and yet so universally accepted?)
    At The Drive-In – Relationship Of Command (the album that pretty much kickstarted an entire genre… and perfected it, too)
    The White Stripes – Elephant (almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing lo-fi to the big time)
    The Strokes – Is This It (reasoning is pretty much a direct combination of reasoning for Arctic Monkeys, At The Drive-In and The White Stripes)

    Honourable mentions/personal favourites:
    Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
    Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible
    Clutch – Blast Tyrant
    The Mars Volta – Frances The Mute
    The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
    Mastodon – Leviathan
    Queens Of The Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf
    Modest Mouse – The Moon And Antarctica
    Muse – Absolution
    The Hold Steady – Almost Killed Me

    I'm sure I can think of twenty more if need be. See, Alan? It's not so bad since Nevermind.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 7:17 pm
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    Ok, here are my… erm… 11 best:
    Radiohead – OK Computer
    Arcade Fire – Funeral
    Flaming Lips – Embryonic
    Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
    Oasis – (What's the stroy) Morning Glory
    Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles
    Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
    The White Stripes – Elephant
    Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
    Björk – Homogenic
    Sigur Rós – ()

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 7:36 pm
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    What about The Tea Party?! Splendor Solis, The Edges of Twilight, Transmission…are all incredible albums start to finish.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 8:15 pm
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    White Stripes – Elephant
    Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
    Green Day – Dookie
    Nirvana – In Utero (surprised theres no mention of this)
    Alice In Chains – Dirt
    Sublime – Sublime
    Green Day – American Idiot
    Weezer – Blue Album
    Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
    Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (really nobody mentioned this??)

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 9:24 pm
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    No particular order:

    OK Computer – Radiohead
    In Utero – Nirvana
    The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails
    (What's the Story) Morning Glory – Oasis
    Elephant – The White Stripes
    American Idiot – Green Day
    Self-titled – Rage Against the Machine
    Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – The Smashing Pumpkins
    A Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay
    Brothers – The Black Keys

    Super tough to narrow it down though, any Radiohead album could be on the list, as well as lots from the other groups. Interesting idea though for sure!

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 11:45 pm
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    This has a little bit more of a metal sensibility incorporated into it, but I think it still holds water. In no particular order:

    1. Tool – Lateralus
    2. System of a Down – Toxicity
    3. NIN – Downward Spiral
    4. Radiohead – OK Computer
    5. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
    6. Rage Against the Machine – Self Title
    7. Mastodon – Crack the Skye
    8. Gojira – From Mars to Sirius
    9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antenna to Heaven
    10. Porcupine Tree – In Absentia

    Honorable mentions:
    Evanescence – Fallen
    Isis – Oceanic
    Korn – Take a Look in the Mirror
    Slipknot – Iowa
    Pretty Girls Make Graves – The New Romance
    Dream Theater – Six Degrees of Inner Terbulance
    A Perfect Circle – Thirteenth Step

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 12:15 am
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    Great lists so far.

    I hate to insult Deanna but there's no way The Tea Party deserves any mention with the brilliant albums the other posts have listed.

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 12:43 am
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    Let's see (I cheated with the first two)

    Anything by the White Stripes or Jack White ( including Dead Weather and Raconteurs)
    Anything by NIN or Trent Reznor, including the Social Network soundtrack
    Bjork – Debut and Post are both tied in my books
    Alice in Chains – Dirt
    Daft Punk- Homework
    Amy Winehouse- Back to Black – yes I said it, but HANDS down a truly influential album, if just opening the gateway for many young females.
    Radio Head – Pablo Honey
    Blur- Park Life
    Oasis – What's the Story Morning Glory
    Pulp – Common People

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 1:12 am
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    I have no clue about all other 9, but Radiohead's – OK Computer MUST be #1 (period).

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 1:43 am
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    Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
    The Dears – Gang of Losers
    Franz Ferdinand – S/T
    The Killers – Hot Fuss
    Arcade Fire – Funeral
    Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
    Morrissey – Vauxhall & I
    REM – New Adventures in Hi-Fi
    Blur – Parklife
    Pulp – Different Class

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 1:57 am
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    Good gawd..! <facepalm>

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 2:04 am
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    You can have a strictly Canadian list, too. There was some great alt-rock in Canada. In no particular order:
    The Watchmen – Brand New Day
    Pure – Generation Six Pack
    The Tragically Hip – Day For Night
    Our Lady Peace – Naveed
    Junkhouse – Strays
    Weakerthans – Reconsruction Site
    Wide Mouth Mason – debut album
    Killjoys – Gimme Five
    Hayden – Everything I Long For
    Donovan Woods – The Widowmaker (sort of a new one!)

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 2:16 am
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    Radiohead – OK Computer
    Rage Against the Machine – self titled
    Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
    Green Day – Dookie
    weezer – 'Blue Album'
    Oasis – (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
    The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
    The White Stripes – Elephant
    The Killers – Hot Fuss
    Deftones – Around the Fur

    also rans: Muse – Black Holes and Revelations, Matthew Good Band – Beautiful Midnight, Arcade Fire – The Suburbs, Tool – Aenima. A lot of these artists you could choose any of their albums since Nevermind and not be wrong.

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 4:04 am
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    Agree with the bloke (Chris) who finally posted some REM.
    In order:

    10: Moby-Play
    9: The Strokes: Room on Fire
    8: Sigur Ros: ()
    7. Red Hot Chili Peppers: By the Way
    6. The National: High Violet
    5. REM: New Adventures in Hi-Fi
    4. Radiohead: In Rainbows.
    3. Bernard Fanning: Tea & Sympathy
    2. Of Monsters and Men: My Head in an Animal
    1. Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights

    I'll straight up marry any female who somewhat identifies with my list.

    Cheers,

    Winst.

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 4:40 am
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    It seemed to become more difficult to find solid albums after iTunes – a lot with some good singles, but not necessarily strong throughout the same way they once were. But maybe it takes a while to age well! The newest on my list is 2006.

    1. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. (2006)
    2. Auteurs – New Wave (1993)
    3. Coldplay – Rush of Blood To The Head (2003)
    4. Green Day – American Idiot (2005)
    5. Oasis – Definitely Maybe (1994)
    6. PJ Harvey – Dry (1992)
    7. Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
    8. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)
    9. Suede – Suede (1993)
    10. White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2002)

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 5:12 am
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    Last 25 years?

    For me that's putting a lot of weight on early 90s (probably because that's when I was paying the most attention) so from 1988 – 2013. Ok…

    1. Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet (1990)
    2. NIN – The Downward Spiral (1994)
    3. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989 – 1990)
    4. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)
    5. REM – Automatic For The People (1990)
    6. TV On The Radio – Dear Science (2008)
    7. Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
    8. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1990)
    9. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
    10. Crash Vegas – Red Earth (1989)

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 7:26 am
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    In no particular order
    1-System of a down – Steal this album
    2=Soundgarden – Superunknown
    3-Tool Aenima
    4-Green day – dookie
    5-white strips – Elephant
    6-Marilyn Manson – Antichrist superstar or Portrait of an American Family
    7-Alice in Chains- Alice in Chains
    8-Radiohead- OK computer
    9-Korn – Korn or follow the leader
    10-Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik

    also
    NIN, Pantara, and SlipKnot, Slayer…

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 8:13 am
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    I can't believe that nobody has mentioned The Foo Fighters – The Color and The Shape. That one Definitely needs to be on there!
    P.S. All of you that mentioned Alice In Chains – Dirt … I couldn't agree more!

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 2:15 pm
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    @Winston
    I totally identify with your list… Especially your Sigur Rós leanings. 😉
    Already married, though, unfortunately. 😀

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 3:13 pm
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    In no particular order:

    The White Stripes – Elephant
    Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    Weezer – Blue Album
    Radiohead – Kid A
    The Strokes – Is This It?
    Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun
    Beck – Mellow Gold
    Oasis – Definitely Maybe
    MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
    The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 8:03 pm
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    In no particular order:

    Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
    Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile
    Metric – Old World Underground
    hole – Live Through This
    Artic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am Thats What Im Not
    Queens Of The Stone Age – Queens of the Stone Age
    The White Stripes – Elephant
    Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters
    Radiohead – OK Computer
    Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 10:39 pm
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    1. Radiohead – Ok Computer
    2. Weezer – Blue Album
    3. Oasis – What's the story morning glory
    4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
    5. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
    6. Green Day – Dookie
    7. Portishead – Dummy
    8. Rage against the Machine – self titled
    9. Our Lady Peace – Naveed
    10. Garbage – Version 2.0

    Reply
  • May 1, 2013 at 12:29 am
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    My list is my top ten post-Nevermind albums, so I didn't count anything before 1992 (which bumped Loveless). However, I still ended up with a lot of honourable mentions. Anyway, here they are in alphabetical:

    Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say…
    Beck – Odelay
    Foo Fighters – Colour and the Shape
    Oasis – Definitely Maybe
    Pearl Jam – Vs.
    Radiohead – OK Computer
    Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine
    Sloan – Twice Removed
    Weezer – Blue Album
    White Stripes – Elephant

    Honourable Mentions: Aenima, David Comes To Life, Check Your Head, Dirty, Fully Completely, Funeral, Purple, Superunknown, Siamese Dream, Veni Vidi Vicious

    There were some hard cuts, but if someone asked me to recommend ten post-Nevermind albums these are the first ten I would say. Some might disagree on the inclusion of Colour and the Shape, but it's actually my favourite post-Nevermind album so it had to be on the list.

    Reply
  • May 1, 2013 at 3:39 am
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    Chronologically:

    -Rage Against the Machine
    -What's the Story (Morning Glory)
    -Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
    -Ok Computer
    -The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show
    -Californication
    -Lateralus
    -Is This It?
    -Absolution
    -Frances the Mute

    Hopefully there are some helpful suggestions. This was fun to think about.

    Reply
  • May 1, 2013 at 3:46 am
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    Just one mistake was that Californication comes before The Mark, Tom, and Travis show

    Figured it's best to just correct myself!

    All the best!

    Reply
  • May 2, 2013 at 5:32 pm
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    I would actually probably amend my all-Canadian list to include:
    David Usher – Little Songs
    Sloan – One Chord to Another
    Odds – Good Weird Feeling

    Reply
  • July 13, 2013 at 8:40 am
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    In no particular order:

    1. Radiohead – OK Computer
    2. Radiohead – In Rainbows
    3. Beck – Odelay
    4. NIN – Downward Spiral
    5. Smashing Pumpkins – Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness
    6. Ani Difranco – Dilate
    7. Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes
    8. Bjork – Post
    9. Moby – Play
    10. Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News

    Reply
  • October 29, 2013 at 12:03 am
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    We could sit here and argue for hours about what is alternative! Is it something that makes you sit back and say "wow, I never heard that insturment used like that before" or "thank goodness it's not GaGa".
    Anyhoo, here are my choices in no particular order:

    Bjork DEBUT
    Suede SUEDE (anyone remember their performance at the Brits?)
    The Hives YOUR NEW FAVOURITE ALBUM
    Portishead DUMMY
    Radiohead OK COMPUTER
    Weezer BLUE ALBUM
    Oasis WHAT'S THE STORY MORNING GLORY
    Amy Winehouse BACK TO BLACK
    Coldplay RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD
    Mumford and Sons SIGH NO MORE (yes, I put it here!)

    Reply

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