Sometimes you’ve gotta rock, and sometimes you want to just do something else–preferably something as not-rock as possible. That’s where a lot of alt and/or indie rock musicians have found themselves over the years, whether or not they actually act on the impulse. Here are nine artists who did just that.
Everyone got revved up (for good reason) over this year’s Archers of Loaf reunion tour, but not everyone remembers Eric Bachmann’s 1995 album with another group, Barry Black, which concentrated on instrumental, soundtrack-evocative stuff. Helping out on piano, no kidding: Ben Folds!
Though their alt-rock hit “Natural One” signaled a more song-oriented direction, Lou Barlow (of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh) and John Davis’s Folk Implosion was initially, as Barlow recently said, “almost this kind of anti-indie-rock thing,” as this hazy, near-ambient synth instrumental from the Kids soundtrack demonstrates.
Future Bible Heroes
OK, this one may be a bit of a stretch — it’s not exactly as if the Magnetic Fields are precisely rock to begin with. But Future Bible Heroes, Merritt’s collaboration with Chris Ewan, is strictly synth-pop-disco, so it fits that part of the bill, at least. It’s also an excuse to post 2000’s great “I’m Lonely (And I Love It),” which we’ll take over all the high-art fiddle-faddle Merritt’s been busying himself with this past decade.
The Postal Service
Having guest-starred on Dntel’s “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan,” Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard got together with that producer (born Jimmy Tamborello) for a 2002 one-off that wound up outselling everyone in the Sub Pop catalog barring Nirvana and the Shins. Rumors circled about a follow-up for years, but that seems to be officially off the table, at least for the foreseeable future.
After Craig Finn finished with Lifter Puller, but before he began the Hold Steady, he collaborated with Minneapolis electronic producer Mr. Projectile — a kind of archer, more disjointed version of the Postal Service, with Projectile’s glitchy tracks more like the stuff Dntel made early on and Finn’s yammering lyrical style as different from Ben Gibbard’s tweemo sensibility as cookies are from lasagna.
Instead of rushing to follow up 1993’s not-very-rock-either Zooropa, U2 and their producer, Brian Eno, began working on soundtrack music. Then they decided to make an album of that instead of songs, per se. Imaginary Soundtracks 1 is, if anything, the most only-in-the-’90s thing the band ever did, a series of mostly lambent washes that, yep, would never have flown as a U2 record.
Mike Patton makes music in a lot of areas, and his time with both Faith No More and Mr. Bungle are notable for all the non-rock elements they brought to the basic rock format. But Lovage, his mock-lounge collaboration with hip-hop producer Dan the Automator and co-vocalist Jennifer Charles, was still a notable left turn in a career full of them, with Patton playing Lothario with tongue firmly in cheek.
Of course: There are probably more people who know Damon Albarn as the musical mover behind this beat-driven cartoon unit than for his work with Blur at this point.
Duluth, Minnesota’s Low always had a weird hand in electronic dance music — they played at the notorious Midwest rave camp-out Furthur in 1996, for instance, and a couple years later were the subject of a remix album (that the band didn’t sanction), Owl Remix Low. But band members Alan Sparhawk and Zak Sally also had an electronic side group, Hospital People, that issued a 7-inch in 1998 (the above video is the A-side). It’s closer to cold, early-’80s, synth-driven new wave than the big beat then prevalent, but Low fans won’t have any trouble understanding what they were up to.