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Seven Great Alternative Rock Jams

by Sam D'Arcangelo on July 22, 2014

Most students of music history would say that alternative rock (and its spiritual forefather, punk rock) developed as a reaction to the self-indulgence that had come to dominate rock music in the the 1970s and early 1980s. A younger generation that grew tired of music it considered increasingly predictable and over-serious decided to ditch the chains of technical proficiency in favor of a style that was steeped in simpler riffs and a devil-may-care attitude. As the alternative sound took over the airwaves in the early 1990s, the extended instrumental segments that had been a hallmark of classic rock either faded into the dustbin of history or were relegated to niche genres like metal and the budding jamband scene.

Sure, there’s a good bit of truth to the above narrative, but that doesn’t mean that the extended instrumental segment has disappeared completely. Every once in a while, a kickass alternative rock jam will fall through the cracks to remind the haters that some things are best said without words. That’s why I’ve compiled a few alt-rock tracks with top-notch, relatively extended (at least a minute or so) instrumental segments. These might not be the kind of sprawling “jams” that come to mind when we first think of the word--you won’t hear the deep space improv of your average “Dark Star” or as many notes as a “Divided Sky”--but they do sound real nice.

Pavement - Fillmore Jive

Stephen Malkmus bids “goodnight to the rock n roll era” in this grand finale to Pavement’s 1994 masterwork Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. It might not be “Voodoo Chile” but its as much of a studio jam session as you’ll get on an indie rock record.

Modest Mouse - Trailer Trash

The genius of Modest Mouse has always been in frontman Isaac Brock’s ability to pour his heart out in the most interesting way possible. This usually comes through in brutally honest lyrics, but the desperation rarely feels as real as it does at the end of this track from their 1997 sophomore effort, The Lonesome Crowded West.

Yo La Tengo - Pass The Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind

Singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan lets his fuzzy riffs bounce along for a good two minutes and forty seconds until he ever says a word on the opening track from 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. That’s still eight minutes before the tune ends. Let’s call this one a victory for long songs and long album titles.

Wilco - Impossible Germany

Some people like to say that Wilco is boring hipster music. Anyone that says Wilco is boring hipster music has never seen Wilco live. Case in point: “Impossible Germany.” Abandon all baseless assumptions and lose yourself in dueling guitar bliss with this track from the group’s 2007 release Sky Blue Sky. Now please never doubt Jeff Tweedy or Nels Cline again.

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