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by Dan Weiss

March 5, 2013

Alt-Rock Near-Misses

by Dan Weiss  |  March 5, 2013

As a culture, we're all still stuck in the '90s, and it seems we haven't actually used up all the "alternative rock" the decade had to offer. Bands from Dinosaur Jr. to My Bloody Valentine to Eve 6 are reuniting left and right, but there's still one key characteristic of that time that hasn't been matched before or since: Hit singles came from freakin' nowhere.

Consider 1997, which alone spawned OK Computer, Hanson, Puff Daddy, Spice Girls, The Prodigy and Sleater-Kinney's Dig Me Out -- and that's just the name artists. The Squirrel Nut Zippers' swing revival "Hell" collided with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' ska-pop smash "The Impression That I Get," and who the hell were Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth, Chumbawamba, White Town and Days of the New? With the refreshing exception of Gotye's newly Grammy-anointed "Somebody That I Used to Know," the subsequent 13 years were significantly more devoid of that out-of-nowhere hit factor, things that became huge yet defied description. The 2000s did not have a "How Bizarre."

And yet: Mine the dollar bins, the almost-hits, the critically acclaimed albums radio ignored, soundtrack also-rans, and actual 2000-2013 stuff like Yuck or The Ampersands that was truly born too late for the radio format they deserve, and it's possible to simulate a '90s alt station of rotating nobodies who nonetheless had a song every bit as tremendous (and catchy) as "Everlong" or "Your Woman" or "Flagpole Sitta." It's incredible that Creeper Lagoon's "Wrecking Ball" never reached "Say It Ain't So" status; ditto Bic Runga's "Sway," which would've kicked Paula Cole's ass.

Then there are whole genres that never existed, but could've, from Caviar's Beck-and-Cake-inspired eclectica to 8STOPS7's witty-wordplay take on Nickelback rock. Some of the inclusions on this playlist would go on to bigger, better things: Tarkio's Colin Meloy found proggier success in The Decemberists, and Guster sanded off their weirdness to follow Widespread Panic to home-taping glory. Harvey Danger and Semisonic each had another great song in them. Remy Zero made the best rock song to ever resemble the theme from "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?", and Finger Eleven debuted with a tune that proved nĂ¼-metal could be sexy. Emo had jingles on the order of "Basket Case" long before it actually caught on -- just check H2O's gorgeous "Memory Lane" or The Sheila Divine's shockingly boisterous dynamic shifts on "Hum." Several who'd previously managed to grace the airwaves weren't given enough time: Local H's 2004 "California Songs" perfected a Kurt impersonation with a more winning attitude about how to slag the Golden State. If only Katy Perry got to hear them. And if you never checked to see if "Possum Kingdom" was all Toadies had to offer, you're in for an all-time epiphany when "Tyler" hushes, then crushes the room.

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