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An Ode To Alternative Dad Rock

February 14, 2023

Alternative dad rock. What is this genre you ask? It’s not modern. It’s also not classic. It’s the kind of music that your parents have playing on the radio in the car when you’re a kid on your way to the grocery store. It’s sung by a middle aged man alongside some electric guitar and drums, and not much else. When this genre comes to mind, I usually think of bands like the Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, and The Smashing Pumpkins. Sure, there are other bands that some might say fit into this genre, but, for the purpose of this column, we’ll stick to the stuff I used to pick out of my parents’ CD collection. 

The idea for this piece came to mind a few weeks ago when my friend handed me the aux cord, and I was met with comments that my music taste is that of a middle aged man with 4 kids. Naturally, I adamantly defended my love for this music and it made me think, “Why do I love to hear men with beards scream into microphones so much?” There’s something about the passion in these voices, the haphazard lyrics, and the mildly overpowering instrumentals. There is just something so invigorating about this genre of music. 

I’ll start off by discussing the works of my favorite alt rock dad band of all time, the Foo Fighters. They began releasing music in 1995, when Dave Grohl, former drummer of Nirvana, formed this group. They have over 12 albums in their discography with a selection of unique tracks, some of their most popular being “Everlong,” “The Pretender,” and “Learn To Fly.” In order for you to get the feel of this alt rock vibe, I want to visit one of their older tracks from the album Wasting Light. This track is called “Rope,” and it opens with sporadic guitar riffs and drums before launching into electric guitar and steady vocals from Grohl with the lyrics, “This indecision got me climbing up the wall / Been cheating gravity and waiting on the fall.” After the verse, it launches into an explosive pre-chorus, with the lyrics “Choke, on a kiss, I thought I’d save my breath for you.” The staggered, melismatic nature of these lyrics creates a cool build and proceeds to the actual chorus itself that opens with Grohl singing, “Give me some rope I’m coming loose, I’m hanging on you.” The guitar is absolutely energetic, frazzled, it sounds like it’s on fire, (that’s the best way to describe it without listening) and it’s accompanied by explosive drums, and rich, raspy vocals. The way that Grohl sings these lyrics will make you want to get that man some of the rope he’s asking for. His passion that can truly be felt through the music, and that’s what makes the Foo Fighters’s sound so powerful and motivational. It certainly gives you the urge to play some dramatic air-drums and engage in a bit of head banging as Grohl himself often does during performances, or at least that’s my favorite way to listen to this music. This band’s sound is wild, loud, and dark, but it’s not punk. It’s not quite youthful, and it’s not old-fashioned. It’s exploratory, and passionate, and charged. It has hints of the punk and grunge vibes of Grohl’s days in Nirvana, but there’s something still so middle-aged about it, as the vocal timbre isn’t youthful. It’s not so much sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, but it’s still boisterous and wild enough – for your parents’ taste.

In the same vein, we have another fantastic, similar band called Pearl Jam that falls into the alternative dad rock genre. Lead singer and guitarist, Eddie Vedder, formed Pearl Jam in 1990 in Seattle, Washington during the height of the grunge music scene. Vedder and Grohl both share their origins in the 90s grunge scene, as do many bands of this genre. Pearl Jam does in fact have a similar sound that carries the alternative dad rock genre with rich vocals and spark-plug guitar, but various elements set it apart. The band’s earlier work is a bit more grunge-influenced, and Vedder also manages to incorporate some phenomenal storytelling into his music. The band’s track titled “Alive,” off of their 1991 album, Ten, features Vedder telling the story of his mother revealing to him that his biological father is estranged and passed away when Vedder was 13. The beginning of the track is deceiving, as it opens with a lively, muted electric guitar riff. Subsequently, Vedder begins telling the story in a narrative fashion, opening with the lyrics “Son,” she said, “have I got a little story for you / What you thought was your daddy was nothing but a…” As Vedder continues telling this story of confusion, pain, and rage, he builds to the chorus, which opens with strong drums and a powerful guitar riff that’s a bit more refined than that of the grunge genre. Vedder sings the lyrics, “Oh, I, oh I’m still alive,” repeatedly in the chorus, which sounds simple, but it is truly anything but that. The way that Vedder plays with his vocals showcases his range very well between the belting in the chorus and his conscious choice to use a muted, raspy, almost intentionally “lazy” tone in the verses. The final and best part of the song is the bridge in which Vedder sings, “There’s something wrong,” she said, well of course there is / “You’re still alive,” she said, “oh do I deserve to be?” These lyrics are so painful and expressive of Vedder’s feelings about coming to terms with his family turmoil. His vocals nearly combust into the final chorus, which is then proceeded by some of the most powerful ad libbing you will ever hear, alongside a wicked, electrifying guitar solo. 

These two bands are on the list of many wonderful alternative “dad” rock bands, but I included them because I feel that they are the best representation of what this genre really is. There is something about this genre that sets it apart from other rock music. Sure, it has the sound of modern alt-rock, the vibes of grunge, and the slight influence of classic rock, but there’s something unique happening within it. Something about the experiences of these artists coming up in an era where rock music was changing and then proceeding to evolve alongside early-2000s influenced punk bands, creates such a unique, vibrant sound. They have the musical and life experience to write about things like love, loss, and passion, but they are young enough to be open to exploring different sounds that align with the new age of music. Alternative dad rock shoots to exude the same passion, fury, light, and power and each band of this genre puts their unique spin on it. Now, you can, of course, take my word for it, but I recommend taking a listen to the playlist I compiled below to immerse yourself in this music.

alternative dad rock – take a listen

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