Good friend and sometime Treble contributor Andy Van Baal once suggested that there is no such thing as alternative music anymore. The only musical genres that could possibly be considered “alternative” are those that mainstream music listeners could never, in a million years, get into, like Himalayan throat singing or polka. Even the second of those might be a stretch. But here we are, more than halfway through 2005, long after the alternative bubble burst and the only term we have to describe bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins (other than, say, grunge) is “alternative.” Funny how that worked out, and how even suburbanite soccer moms eventually warmed up to it, as eventually even MOR adult-“alternative” performers like Sarah McLachlan became accepted as part of this catch-all genre. It eventually became a meaningless modifier, a throwaway term used in lieu of a better adjective.
And yet, I can’t think of what to call Sybris, other than alternative. I mean that in the best way, though. They remind me a lot of many of the best acts of the early ’90s — the Pumpkins, Breeders, My Bloody Valentine, Lush. They also bear more than a passing resemblance to celebrated noisemakers of today, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, mostly for singer Angela Mullenhour’s singing style which sounds more than a little like Karen O.
It’s somewhat comforting and cathartic to listen to a band that can pack a chunky, distorted power chord punch without sounding hackneyed or dated. This is not “post-grunge” or “post-Creed” or whatever the fuck you call Lifehouse. This is, more aptly put, an alternative to all of the mainstream VH1 crap that the over 40 crowd is passing off as edgy. And that’s precisely why Sybris kick so much ass.
Fierce drumming and sinister riffage drive “The Best Day in History in Ever,” which I must admit has a great title. “You’re Only Confident in Your Insecurities” is a more straightforward rock tune with effects-laden guitar ethereality. “Blame it on the Baseball” is dream pop, just like 4AD used to release back in the good ol’ days. “Hobo Detail Shop” is a soaring anthem of whirring delay-addled guitar and “Neon” is a catchy, mid-tempo bit of brilliance.
It’s not so much that there aren’t many bands like Sybris, they just don’t really exist anymore. And the ones that even come close aren’t half as good. “Alternative” may not exist anymore, but Sybris have taken its remnants and filtered them through their own songwriting screen, brewing up a sound that may be familiar, but ultimately sounds as exciting as the first time you were lured by the siren song of feedback and power chords.
Throwing Muses – University
Swervedriver – Mezcal Head
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.