We like to categorize things because it helps us organize the world around us and the record shelves in our apartments into more manageable places. We also like to categorize things so we have topics to argue about in pubs. Here’s a list of some of those categories to help you navigate whichever you’d prefer.
A branch of rock music that emerged in the late 1960s, typically emphasizing experimentation and concept.
Think: Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground, Ought
Often used interchangeably with “baroque pop,” chamber pop was birthed in reaction to the more primal aesthetics of popular ’90s forms like alternative rock and grunge. Chamber pop is classically-informed pop music, often employing horns and string instruments, intricate melodies, sophisticated production, and displaying an overall more refined aesthetic.
Think: Belle and Sebastian, Ohbijou, Regina Spektor
An atmospherically narcotic subgenre of alternative rock typically featuring heavily affected instrument (especially guitar) textures, subdued vocals, and detached introspection. In order to properly cue effects onstage, dream pop artists tend to spend large portions of shows looking past their shoes at large banks of guitar pedals. This led early press to coin the genre “shoegaze.”
Think: The Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive
Originating in late 1960s Germany, Krautrock is an experimental form of rock and electronic music. Originally employed derivatively by British press riffing on the slur “kraut,” German media eventually reclaimed the term and used it as a blanket category for all German rock music from the late ’60s and ’70s. Today it is applied more specifically to experimental music generated by synthesizers and other electronic instruments.
Think: Kraftwerk, Neu!, Tangerine Dream
A term that is applied to any music that exhibits a preference towards lower quality sound production. This is a tricky category, as while some “pioneers” of the genre originally created lo-fi recordings out of financial necessity and later graduated to more professional studios, other purists have wholly rejected a cleaner sound. Further, because lo-fi is typically a production choice before a guiding aesthetic vision, artists that fit in this category range from college rockers to Norwegian black metal dudes (although the latter usually prefer the term “raw”).
Think: Daniel Johnston, Guided By Voices, Pavement
An experimental category of alternative music that encompasses the avantgarde, rock, pop. Noise music is characterized for deploying field recordings, feedback, static, distortion and other atypical recording sounds arrived at through extended technique, electronic processing, and other means in the context of musical recordings.
Think: Nihilist Spasm Band, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo
An early American subgenre of alternative rock, Paisley Underground was a scene based primarily in Los Angeles, California, that applied psychedelia, warm vocals, and a folk rock aesthetic to existing templates developed by West Coast pop and garage rock bands in the 1960s.
Think: The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate, Opal
A prefix applied to music that qualifies as occurring after or being about or antagonistic with a given genre, band, album, etc. (e.g. post-rock; post-punk, posthardcore, etc.).
Think: Explosions in the Sky, Fugazi, Joy Division
At once a music genre and subcultural social movement that developed out of punk in the mid-1980s to encompass genres like hardcore, synthpunk, indie rock, power pop, no wave, noise, industrial and others. Queercore directly confronts the marginalization of those in LGBTQQ communities in its lyrics, zines, writing, art, and film.
Think: Kids on TV, Pansy Division, Team Dresch
A willfully underground hardcore punk movement that began in Washington, D.C. and the greater Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s. Beyond a music genre, riot grrl is a DIY subculture engaged in activism, art, and zine production. Often associated with third-wave feminism, riot-grrl bands often used records and live performances as platforms for addressing issues like domestic abuse, female empowerment, patriarchy, racism, rape, and sexuality.
Think: Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney
See “DREAM POP.”
Progressive, psychedelic rock characterized by left-turn synth passages and lyrical themes explicitly concerned with outer space exploration and sci-fi.
Think: The Flowers of Hell, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd (early years)
Synthesizing jazz, soul, hip-hop, R&B, and a punk aesthetic, trip-hop is a melancholic branch of downtempo electronic music that originated in the early 1990s UK underground. Omnivorously sample-based music, these productions can be very experimental.
Think: Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky