By Maddy Molyneux and Ava Solomon
Fall is a middle-of-the-road season. The in-between of everything else. The sweet spot between hot and cold, happy and sad, and thriving yet barely surviving. Summer’s over, and happy, life-is-good electropop doesn’t feel quite right anymore. But it’s not yet winter, so it’s definitely not the time for dark, sad emo music either. School is starting, and we’re back on the grind, but also enjoying football games and Halloween and homecoming with our friends. Fall is the happy medium of the year.
Alt rock is the happy medium of music. Songs with crowded, upbeat layers of drums, guitar, bass, and keyboard make for great single-alongs in the car with your friends (because it’s getting chilly and you’re too lazy to walk to school). But the lyrics don’t quite match the beat. You wind up belting out “I love the way you’re breaking my heart” with a smile that doesn’t make much sense. Your head is bobbing up and down and you’re singing along, maybe realizing only on a subconscious level the sadness or anger behind the lyrics you’re reciting. You may be rocking out, but you’re also relating to those lyrics deep down. Alt rock is a crucial, delicate balance between instrumentation and lyrics the same way fall is a crucial, delicate balance between happy and sad.
The instrumentation in alt rock songs creates a unique dynamic. It’s a sort of organized chaos, with each layer of instrumentation fighting for the ear of the listener. Take the song “Free of Charge” by the Band CAMINO. The main focal point for the first few seconds is the drums, and then a single guitar riff is introduced. This is then layered with a secondary guitar, which is finally topped off with lead vocals. All of these layers act together to create a progressively powerful sound. The instruments work cohesively yet competitively, but the lyrics have a singular message that cuts across the noise.
That message changes depending on the song, but alt rock lyrics generally contrast with the sound of the song. The vibe of Hotel Apache’s bright, upbeat song “1985” is contrasted by the distressed lyrics “I could feel a pressure battling inside my head, and now it's battling my heart”. This is a common theme in the genre. The sound and appearance of the song are masking a more anxious message. The same is true in the song “Waterfalls” by THE WLDLFE. The lyric “Am I dumb to think I wasn't good enough?” sits on top of a fast-paced, pulsing synth and swelling pads. This admission of loneliness and insecurity reflected in the lyrics contradicts the tone of the song. The sound aligns with the social excitement of fall as we return to school. But at the same time, the lyrics align closely with the isolation we may feel when we get home from the dance or the game and sit alone under a pile of homework. For most high school students, fall is a strange balancing act between these highs and lows. Alt rock is the perfect summary of fall.
But everyone’s music taste is different. For some people, rap is perfect for all seasons. For others, it’s the Victorious soundtrack year-round. But the relatability of alt rock in the fall is unparalleled. Most people listen to music for one of three reasons: to relate to the emotion the artist is singing about, to be reassured that everything is going to be okay, or just to jam out. There’s a middle ground, and it’s the relatability, reassurance, and fun found in a lot of alt rock. As we try to get through the first semester, struggling with the balance of heavy homework loads and seemingly constant social obligations, try listening to music that understands. We’ve made a playlist of the best modern alt rock sounds that barons should give a chance this fall.
Listen to the playlist here.