Re-Ranking SPIN’s Top 100 Drummers In Alternative Music
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Guys, I think we need to have a quick discussion about something. I’m wondering: What do you all think about this new list published by SPIN magazine detailing the 100 best drummers EVER in alternative music?
What do you mean, “I haven’t read it.”?
Are you kidding me!? It was published by SPIN MAGAZINE. Surely you’ve been keeping up with the trades, right? Rolling Stone? SPIN? Mojo? Billboard? You know that’s where you need to go to find all the hot new info about what’s going on in the music industry, right? One of those websites? I mean…without SPIN and Rolling Stone, how would ANYBODY know what’s going on in the music industry!?
So SPIN published this list recently of “The 100 Greatest Drummers Of Alternative Music.” And, as best as I can tell, their guidelines for what constitutes “Alternative Music” are verrrrrryyy up-in-the-air. I mean…Prince made their list. James Williams from Ohio Players made their list. Fucking Klaus Dinger made this list, because people have used the term “Alternative Music” since Neu! came out in 1971. What? You don’t remember the budding birth of the Alt. movement way back in 1971, when Neu! was formed? And you don’t remember when Ohio Players released their Alternative anthem “Love Rollercoaster” in 1975? Dude, THAT WAS THE ALT. HIT OF THE YEAR THAT YEAR!
My point is, one could very easily rearrange (with A LOT of cutting) this list of the 100 best drummers in alternative music, and turn it into a list that’s actually accurate and useful. So that’s what I’m going to do tonight. Also, I’ve been drinking for the past two hours so I’m very buzzed at the moment. I just wanted to get that out of the way in case something I say/type from here on in doesn’t make any sense. These are — in my opinion — the best drummers in Alternative Music. And I think it’s a more accurate list than the one published by SPIN because a) I’m using only drummers that fit into the Alternative genre and b) I’m ranking them based on talent level instead of simply listing them.
Immediately I could pare the list down from 100 to 25. Because, no matter how badly SPIN wants to believe that Jaki Liebezeit (my favorite all-time drummer), or Zigaboo Modeliste, or Stewart Copeland is a fucking Altenrative musician (REALLY!? I mean….REALLY!?) is beyond me. Sorry. I’m ex-ing all the 60s drummers (Billy Ward you’re a God but you’re not ALTERNATIVE…and so on and so forth) and all the R&B drummers and all the mainstream pop drummers because they most definitely DO NOT fit with what I consider to be alternative music. So here are the Top 25 Drummers in Alternative Music:
25. Dave Lovering (Pixies) – Competent, but by no means revelatory, Lovering often goes overlooked (especially by me) when people describe the Pixies’ sound.
24. Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) – Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever quite GOTTEN Sonic Youth the way a lot of kids who are of my generation do. I own all their records. I’ve seen ’em live (and they do sound incredibly similar to how they sound on record, which is a major feat given all the weird intricacies of their tunings and compositional style). But at the end of the day, I have never — nor would I ever — consider them to be a supremely talented (dare I say canonic?) band. That said, the very last thing I listen for when I’m listening to Sonic Youth is the drumming. It’s fine. It’s…whatever.
23. Stanley Demeski (Feelies) – He didn’t play on Crazy Rhythms, but let’s not hold that against him. Instead, we’ll look at the fact that he’s from Jersey (like yours truly) and weigh that doubly when considering his immense contribution to the history of recorded music in America.
22. Brendan Canty (Fugazi) – When I think about Fugazi there are moments that come to mind that I recall specifically because of the impact of their drummer. “Cashout” from The Argument is a perfect example. It’s the drums that propel the track. Throughout Repeater and In On The Killtaker, it’s the rhythm section of Joe Lally and Canty that build the base upon which the guitar interplay of MacKaye and Picciotto could shine.
21. Abe Cunningham (Deftones) – Right now you’re probably thinking, “Shut the fuck up, Evan. The Deftones? Really?” But having literally only ever heard White Pony, the fact that I’m including Cunningham on this list should be taken quite seriously. I know less about the Deftones than any other band cited on this list, but that record is shockingly GOOD. Maybe it’s because I was 16 or 17 when it came out. I don’t know…it resonated. The SPIN description of Cunningham, “he expressed himself with sophisticated little fills and accents — the tiny hi-hat rolls on “Digital Bath,” the subtle tom pokes on “Knife Prty,” the Matt Cameron-style bustle at the climax of “Change (In The House Of Flies).” And…for as bad as this list is…they’re right about Cunningham.
20. Dave Grohl (Nirvana) – When I think about Grohl’s drumming, I remember being in Louisville ten years ago with the guys from My Morning Jacket and VHS Or Beta, shooting pool and chatting about how on Nevermind, Grohl developed a “signature” sound where he’d double-up on the snare for one measure at random intervals. Someone from My Morning Jacket pumped enough quarters into the Jukebox at the Outlook Inn to play Nevermind in its entirety, and whenever that double snare came up (what was it, usually on the 2nd or 4th beat?) someone would point up at the speakers and go, “EH!? EH!!!!!???” Good times.
19. Jon Wurster (Superchunk) – Funny guy, that Philly Boy Roy!
18. Dale Crover (Melvins) – Funny, Crover was — for a brief period — drumming for Nirvana, and then he stopped playing after Incesticide and Grohl took over and the band become, well, Nirvana. And, yet, I think Crover’s a better drummer. Go figure!
17. Charles Hayward (This Heat) – This might be a slightly biased choice, because I’ve had “Sleep” — the first track on This Heat’s monumental second studio album Deceit — stuck in my head for the past few days. Still, there are moments on the self-titled record and Deceit that owe their memorableness to Hayward’s drumming. Hell, “Horizontal Hold” has been sampled by Danny Brown, who was voted SPIN’s #1 hip hop artist of the year a couple years ago. No one, least of all me, cares about that. But he sampled This Heat. Cool. [Listen to “Horizontal Hold“]
16. Rey Washam (Scratch Acid) – For me, it’s a toss up between Washam and Dan Hobson when it comes to who is the best drummer from the ’80s American Underground movement that was spearheaded by bands like Scratch Acid, Big Black, Killdozer, Die Kreuzen, Dinosaur Jr….all those bands. I think Washam was just a smidgen better than Hobson.
15. Kid Millions (Oneida) – God, seeing Oneida live at the Mercury Lounge like…7 years ago…I couldn’t take my eyes off Kid. For a while he drummed with White Hills, too. Fuck, THAT trio was incredible. I know I fell in love with White Hills in the basement at Tonic right when Glitter Glamour Atrocity came out, but when they came to LA for the first time and played Show Cave with Kid on drums? Hooooooly shit. Mind blowing. Why the HELL did I rank him so LOW on this list!?
14. Blake Fleming (Laddio Bolocko) – Um…have you HEARD “Strange Warmings…” or “In Real Time?” What Charles Hayward developed with This Heat Blake Fleming took further as a member of the incredibly underrated, sadly unheralded Laddio Bolocko. I was shocked to see him on SPIN’s list, but equally proud. He’s easily one of the best drummers of the last twenty years. I have to admit I haven’t heard what Fleming did with Mars Volta, but having listened to Zeni Geva and– to a much, much greater extent Bolocko — I’m unflinching in my opinion of his talents.
13. Chris Brokaw (Codeine, The New Year) – I can’t understand why he was left off this list. He’s one of the best drummers of his generation. Hell, he might be the single most talented musician of anyone on this list, period. He’s a great songwriter, a phenomenal guitarist, and an ungodly drummer.
12. James Lo (Chavez) – Didn’t make SPIN’s list, and I have no idea why. How fucking great was Lo? The power, the precision…he was as integral to the Chavez sound as Matt Sweeney’s brilliant, dynamic, angular guitar work. Back in ’04 when I was an intern at a New York-area recording studio, Chavez would rehearse after hours and my boss — who would never let me stay late to watch the band in person — would boast and revel and tease me about how incredible they sounded. Of course, chief among his descriptions of their rehearsals? The drum sounds. Natch. Lo is the man.
11. Jimmy Chamberlin (Smashing Pumpkins) – I spent so many years being obsessed with Smashing Pumpkins that I probably should have ranked Chamberlin number one on this list. And for all the times I saw him behind the kit between…’95 and ’98 it wasn’t until I was right up front at Tramps in NYC in 1999 during the Arising Tour that I truly saw — firsthand — what an incredible drummer he was. I saw it on video for years, heard it on bootlegs, but that night in that tiny club I was transfixed. He was just insane. Pretty much anything on Siamese Dream or Pisces Iscariot is evidence of his talent. “Geek U.S.A.,” “Tristessa,” the drum rolls on “Muzzle” (on MCIS)…They’re all great.
10. Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt) – He might not have the chops of a Jimmy Chamberlin, but there’s no doubting the pure spectacle, the outlandish and frantic bombast with which Chippendale plays. If you haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing the guy in a live setting, go out and find the live Lightning Bolt DVD The Power Of Salad And Milkshakes. Maybe it’s just because the first half-dozen times I watched it I was high as a kite, but I swear to God it made me fall in love with Chippendale’s drumming.
09. Todd Trainer (Shellac) – One cannot begin to understand the immense talent Trainer possesses unless they’ve seen him in person. At center stage, kick drum staring you right in the face (as it did the first time I saw Shellac back in ’02 — I had no idea his kit would be front-center), sweat lashing off his brow, sticks shredding from the force of his incredibly precise and powerful playing, you need to be right there in order to grasp his strength. Shellac relies so heavily on timing and precision, and once you see how fucking PERFECT Steve and Bob and Todd’s timing is you’ll stand in awe of them. I guarantee it.
08. John McEntire / John Herndon (Tortoise) – God, what a duo.
07. Jim White (Dirty Three) – My introduction to White’s drumming came in 2002 when I saw Nina Nastasia with her full band for the first time. It was only after falling in love with The Blackened Air that I made the transition to Whatever You Love, You Are (and then backwards through Dirty Three’s discography to Ocean Songs and Horse Stories). I really like the line they use in the SPIN article that says, “Jim White’s drumming is the abstract-expressionist masterpiece to modern rock’s paint-by-numbers mediocrity.” So perfect. [Listen to “Our Discussion“]
06. Damon Che (Don Caballero) – He’s an asshole but you can’t deny the talent. [Listen to “Stupid Puma“]
05. Zach Hill (Hella) – When Boredoms did their 88 boadrum event here in LA I sat right by Zach Hill, and watched him with complete awe for the entirety of the concert. I couldn’t take my eyes off him (not even Sara Lund could steal my gaze). When Hella opened for Deerhoof on that tour back in…whenever it was…he again stole the show. I know Spencer Seim is an amazing guitarist, but pretty much the only reason I ever listened to (and loved) Hella was because of Hill’s drumming prowess… Honestly, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.
04. Russell Simins (JSBX) – The Blues Explosion was one of the loudest bands I’ve ever seen, and Simins still somehow managed to rise above the bombast of Spencer and Judah Bauer. In the SPIN article (can you tell I’m getting tired of this yet?) Michael Azerrad writes, “…Simins’ groove was like an unbalanced wheel on a musclebound Camaro — a powerful thing of lopsided beauty. A hulking bruiser mercilessly bashing a minimalistic kit, Simins had a Bonhamesque slam, a funky swing, and most crucially, a hip-hoppy bounce that helped bring JSBX’s raw blues-rock into the present. Live, his fast-twitch kick-drum foot provided much of the low end in a bassless band, and his flopping mop of hair provided numerous comparisons to Animal.”
03. Britt Walford (Slint) – Spiderland is probably my favorite album of all time, so it’s not unusual that I think Walford is one of the best drummers in alternative music. One could espouse countless moments on Spiderland (and Tweez) that exemplify his genius, but perhaps even better than that is how fucking crazy his GUITAR PLAYING is on Spiderland. On “Don, Aman” Walford plays all upstrokes when he strums his guitar. Think about how Slint is this incredibly influential band, and how so many bands try to emulate that “post-rock” sound by using crystalline-clean, insistent downstroke strumming. Walford was doing the exact opposite to great effect. Amazing.
02. Jerry Fuchs (Turing Machine, Maserati) – Strictly in terms of rock drumming, Fuchs was the best drummer I ever saw in person. He was so fluid, so powerful and so much more talented than his peers it was almost unfair. I mean…THE ONE-ARMED DRUM FILL. HOLY SHIT. I know I wrote this awhile ago but it bears repeating: I met Jerry once (I think it was 2005?). It was one of his first shows in New York with Maserati. He talked about how he was new to the band, and in turn I gushed about how awesome he was. I remember turning to Ian towards the end of the band’s set (I believe they closed with “Synchronicity IV”) and realizing he was staring at the exact same thing as me. Those who watched Jerry perform were instantly impressed with his abilities. I was also taken with his kindness, stopping to talk to fans during and after the show I attended. I wish I could say I knew him better than having just one conversation with the man, but I cannot. His loss, truly, is a loss to all of us and to music. He was one hell of a person and drummer.
01. Chris Corsano – The very definition of ALTERNATIVE. I was lucky enough to watch Chris perform at Tonic in NYC with a slew of other musicians, from Paul Flaherty to Ben Chasney, Sunburned Hand Of The Man, and a few times as a solo artist. I can’t even begin to describe how astounding he always was. He elicited sounds from his drum kit that I’d never heard before. He did things with his cymbals and weird fucking tools I didn’t know were possible. He wrote a piece about his drums for VICE 7 years ago that might give you some idea of what he’s capable of, and that was 7 years ago. I can’t imagine the kinds of shit he’s up to now. Corsano is the very definition of alternative, and he’s also my definition of THE BEST. [Listen to “What Do We Get From Cricket That We Don’t Get From Other Games“]
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