“The O.C.” may be a distant memory by now, a whopping 18 months after it left the air, but its legacy lives on in the career of Death Cab For Cutie. Against all odds, the show helped transform the indie stalwarts from catchphrase to shibboleth of cool to genuine mainstream stars.
For proof, you need only look as far as their latest album “Narrow Stairs,” which in its first week not only outsold its predecessor by half but beat out Frank Sinatra for the top of the charts.
A handful of other alternative acts have navigated a similar transition to the mainstream since the turn of the century. That doesn’t mean that they’ve softened, necessarily, just that their music is no longer exclusively the province of hip record store employees who know more than you do. Joining Death Cab in that club are:
Image: Jack White
People Jack WhiteAENT FILEPeople Jack WhiteWest HollywoodCAUSA1NY112PfalsefalseThe White Stripes. There’s not one thing about the White Stripes that isn’t weird. The bassless two-person lineup. The fact that they have a color scheme. Jack White’s creepy insistence early on that he and ex-wife Meg were actually brother and sister. His creepier insistence on keeping Meg’s drum skills on the shy side of competence. The random insertion of blues numbers and “Citizen Kane” into their songs.
It seems less like a band than an art school thesis, a theory bolstered by titling their second album “De Stijl.” And their popularity increases each year, to the point where last year’s album “Icky Thump” debuted at No. 2 and the title track was an honest-to-God top 40 hit. See? Weird.
GRAMMYS/E ENT PRO HEDss-080210-grammys-feistLOS ANGELESCAUnited States6333828480000000001LOA841PfalsefalseFeist.Leslie Feist’s indie bona fides are pretty solid: she spent time in the trenches as a foil to electroporn hip-hopper Peaches and as a member of Broken Social Scene, which is practically a stamp of approval from the Canadian pop underground. But Feist made the jump into mass consciousness with a ubiquitous iPod commercial featuring her exuberantly choreographed “1234” video. The relationship with Apple has turned out to be mutually beneficial: “The Reminder” was iTunes’ best-selling album of 2007. If that wasn’t enough, superfan (and NBC News anchor) Brian Williams personally selected her as the musical guest when he hosted “Saturday Night Live.”
Image: Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne
VH1 Rock Honors ShowAENTVH1 Rock Honors ShowLos AngelesCAUSA1CADC166PfalsefalseThe Flaming Lips. It should have been cause for alarm when Oklahoma’s trippiest band ever signed to a major label. Instead, just like Sonic Youth on Geffen, the Flaming Lips managed to carve out a comfortable career being the strangest thing on Warner Bros. The turning point seems to have been their Grammy Award for best rock instrumental in 2002, where the incredulous look on frontman Wayne Coyne’s face was priceless. That moment ended what seemed like an eight-year media blackout since “She Don’t Use Jelly” had its moment of novelty-hit infamy, and the Lips have been psychedelic standard-bearers ever since.
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Image: Tegan and Sara
Bonnaroo 2008 81528404JG019E ENTss-080615-bonnaroo-09.jpgManchesterTNUnited States633489120000000000181528404PfalsefalseTegan and Sara. How far have Tegan and Sara come? Consider that the twins, who now enjoy the patronage of a top 10 television show (“Grey’s Anatomy”), started out as a grassroots sister act with a fanbase consisting primarily of Canadian lesbians. The fact that they can still claim Tegan and Sara for their own proves just how much the duo have stuck to their guns as their fortunes rise.
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Image: Jeff Tweedy of Wilco
bon4 74597669JG039E MUSss_070617_bonnaroo_04.jpgManchesterTNUnited States633176352000000000174597669PfalsefalseWilco. Remember how “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” was deemed so uncommercial that the band’s label chose to drop them rather than release it? In an all-too-rare fit of cosmic irony, the album turned out to be Wilco’s popular breakthrough, and Jeff Tweedy’s fractured prog-Americana group became the thinking person’s rock band. The recent fan furor over the use of songs from the recent “Sky Blue Sky” in a Volkswagen campaign only cemented it: Wilco’s now big enough to accuse of selling out.
Victor R. Caivano
Image: Amy Winehouse
Spain Music FestivalIENTSpain Music FestivalArganda del ReyESP1VC809PfalsefalseAmy Winehouse. There’s a handy trick that forward-thinking hipsters can always pull out when all else fails: scour the overseas charts and awards and embrace any unfamiliar names. That’s how the BRIT-nominated and Mercury Prize-shortlisted “Frank,” a sizable hit in the U.K. in 2003, generated a low-level indie buzz about Amy Winehouse in the U.S. even though the album was only available as an import.
When “Back To Black” arrived on our shores in early 2007, the early adopters constantly telling everyone “You have to hear this woman” had to deal with the repercussions of people actually listening: “Rehab” hit the top 10, Winehouse picked up a bushel of Grammys and the second home she built in the tabloids made her a household name. But enough about her: there’s this British singer named Amy MacDonald...
Image: Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse
Christmas Acoustic Almost KROQA ENTGeographic Location/US/dma/Los Angelesgrid_071210_ent_albums2pLos AngelesCAUSA34.0532912204055-118.245027213204900126333275520000000001CACP105PfalsefalseModest Mouse. Anybody who remembered Modest Mouse from their 1990s indie albums like the knotty “The Lonesome Crowded West” had to wonder if the sudden success of 2004’s “Good News For People Who Love Bad News” and its main single “Float On” (which was tapped by the “American Idol” producers for a mandatory singalong) was an anomaly. They got their answer when the followup, “We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank,” debuted at No. 1. It’s hard to argue that a band isn’t mainstream when it sells more albums than anybody else. What is it the alternative to, exactly? Bands with fewer fans?
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Image: Danger Mouse
Par 106th BET 73202765SG019E ACE73202765SG019_BET_106th_ParNew YorkNYUnited States633062304000000000173202765PfalsefalseDanger Mouse. It was barely four years ago that Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton wasn’t just alternative, he was flat-out underground. “The Grey Album,” his celebrated Jay-Z/Beatles mashup, was a flagrant violation of copyright law, making him public enemy number one to a music industry jittery from falling CD sales. Funny thing, though: “Grey”wasn’t a stunt so much as a calling card, and Burton slowly went about taking over, producing the Gorillaz’ breakthrough album “Demon Days” before joining forces with Cee-Lo to take over radio as Gnarls Barkley. If there’s any doubt who runs the place now, simply note who produced Beck’s latest album.