Follow TV Tropes


Perishing Alt-Rock Voice

Go To

"The better a singer's voice, the harder it is to believe what they're saying."

Or Perishing Indie Voice for European audiences.

Big thing in The '90s, though with a few precursors in the late Eighties, and still more in the Sixties (especially in the folk-rock and Acid Folk genres) and onwards, this is singing in the voice of somebody who 1) sounds as if they're wasting away and can hardly find the energy to vocalize, with 2) attendant flattening of the emotional tone note . Comes in a number of flavours, from ennui and snark to sexed-out bliss to severe burnout. Sonically ranges from wispy to droney, though a fair number of Perishing Singers occupy less easily defined in-between territory, e.g. Lou Reed, Jarvis Cocker, and (depending [even] more on the song) Thom Yorke.

The Perishing Alt-Rock Voice may be interspersed with Metal Screams and Stuttering Wailing; it also frequently leads to mondegreens and Indecipherable Lyrics, as well as Something Something Leonard Bernstein. A staple of Grunge and Shoe Gazing, as well as the bread and butter of Dream Pop, with a tendency to make surprise appearances in Industrial. May overlap in use with Emo Whispering and Yarling: while it's easy to sound perishing if you're singing nasally note , a lot of perishing singers (like My Bloody Valentine, or Thom from Radiohead) aren't nasal at all, and (as per above) they're usually far from emoting overtly. Not infrequently crosses over into Creepy Monotone or Dissonant Serenity. Related to Three Chords and the Truth, in that the more fanatical ones regard polished, full-bodied singing (which comes from extensive study with a singing teacher) as fake and scratchy, raw singing as authentic and genuine.

Basically, this trope is the difference between Sonic Youth's version of "Into the Groove" and Madonna's original.

This trope is not necessarily a bad thing.


    Alternative Rock/Shoegaze 
  • A recurring but not chronic habit of Natalie Merchant's during her tenure with 10,000 Maniacs.
  • Andrej Bukas (Андрей Букас) can do a impressive example of the full range of this trope. Tear Jerker warning.
  • Beck
  • Blur.
  • John Mcrea of Cake, cf. "The Distance"
    • "The Distance" is actually not typical of John McCrea's vocal style. He doesn't normally deliver the lyrics like a robot. Normally he sounds more like this, using a vocal style called sprechgesang.
  • Chris Martin from Coldplay.
  • Toni Halliday from Curve, but to a noticeably lesser extent than other shoegaze bands, drifting in and out of it between songs and even within the same song (their biggest hit, "Fait Accompli", is a good example). Some of the band's later songs distorted and dampened down Halliday's vocals, achieving an odd effect where she has the volume of a perishing alt-rock voice, but a thousand times more power and emotion. Observe.
  • Courtney Taylor-Taylor from The Dandy Warhols.
  • Mark Oliver Everett from Eels.
  • Elliott Smith's vocals have been described as "spiderweb-thin."
  • Windmill, windmill, for the land, turn forever hand-in-hand.
  • J. Loren of the band HURT uses this often. Most notable in "Overdose". Justified, there, as the narrator is explaining the reasons behind ODing, and 'dies' at the end.
  • Ed Kowalczyk of Live
  • Liz Phair, especially in Exile in Guyville (the opening track "6′1″ is probably the most low-energy)
  • Matthew Good
  • Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star sings like this.
  • David Usher from Moist. They even have a song called "Pleasing Falsetto" which is sung in this style.
  • My Bloody Valentine, collectively.
  • Kurt Cobain from Nirvana. His songs often alternated between quiet passages of this and a louder, more energetic sound.
  • OK Go tends towards this, but the level of "perishing" varies between songs. The most evident example is probably their cover of The Cure's "The Lovecats," which is fairly obviously of the "sexed-out bliss" variety.
  • Fernanda Takai of Pato Fu.
  • Black Francis, some of the time, mostly when he's not screaming. Kim Deal, most of the time.
  • Brian Molko of Placebo, moreso in earlier songs.
  • Jarvis Cocker of Pulp.
  • Canadian band/comedy troupe Radio Free Vestibule (aka The Vestibules) invoked this along with nearly every other 90's alt-rock trope in their self-explanatory The Grunge Song.
  • Thom Yorke from Radiohead.
  • Probably the most perished example of this trope is Mark Kozelek from Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. The complete lifelessness in his voice in every song he sings just makes the music all the more depressing.
  • Michael Stipe from R.E.M. can make this sound like tightly controlled passion rather than fading wastedness.
  • Mark Gardener of Ride.
  • Ichirō Yamaguchi sings this way in Sakanaction's song "Monochrome Tokyo". It starts pretty monotonous, and then in the chorus he almost sounds like he's in pain.
  • Brian Aubert from the Silversun Pickups.
  • Mitch Stockton, the main singer from Homestar Runner's Fake Band, "sloshy".
  • Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.
  • Both Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth.
  • Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum.
  • The Wygal sisters of Splendora were queens of the alt-rock monotone, which is almost certainly why they got to do the theme song for Daria.
    • Speaking of Daria, love interest Trent Lane tries to pull this sound off, but ends up sounding totally stoned (and probably is).
  • Starflyer 59 started off like this, as Jason tried to sing falsetto to imitate the shoegaze bands he liked, but wasn't able to put much volume behind it. Since switching to indie-pop, Jason's switched to a vocal range he's more comfortable with, so his volume has gradually increased, though he's still pretty monotone.
  • Kelly Jones from Stereophonics, which has been once described as "whiskey vocals".
  • Sometimes, but not always, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes - "Is This It" is a good example.
  • Geoff Rickly of Thursday loves to use this as much as he loves to utilize his screams. Especially in the 90's-heavy Waiting and the more expansive No Devolución.
  • Craig Nicholls of The Vines on their slower songs. For some other songs, he uses a Metal Scream.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Smells Like Nirvana" mocks this style of singing as a cause of Indecipherable Lyrics.
    Now I'm mumblin', and I'm screamin'
    And I don't know what I'm singin'
  • Jack White with his The White Stripes, side project bands and solo careers. Especially live. One moment he's droning in monotones, the next he's screaming with the utmost control, the next moment he could start preaching to the crowd. Also count his guitar; he wrings out every note worthy of being in the song.

    Indie Rock 

    Punk/Post-Punk Rock 

    Folk Rock 
  • Neil Young does this in his very early recordings, e.g. "On The Way Home" and "After The Gold Rush", and heavily on the On The Beach and Tonight's The Night albums note . Some fans consider him the Trope Maker.
  • Nick Drake may not be the Trope Maker (Lou Reed and John Cale probably have a heavier claim) but he could certainly qualify as one of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Sufjan Stevens, although he can go for a more energetic sound when doing electronica.

    Experimental/Space Rock 
  • Joe Newman of alt-J.
  • For Can, both their first vocalists sound like this at times, with a tendency to Stuttering Wailing on the part of both, and (primarily) to Emo Whispering on the part of Damo.
  • Jason Pierce from Spiritualized.


    New Wave 
  • Annie Lennox's dominating voice was one of the reasons behind the Eurythmics success during the '80s with their second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Her voice in their debut album In The Garden is this trope however, appearing to float over the songs.
  • New Order, especially through The '80s.

  • Chino Moreno of Deftones alternates between this style and Metal Scream.
  • Charlie Simpson from Fightstar fits all the criteria listed above.
  • Similar to Deftones, Richard Patrick from Filter.
  • Anders Friden from In Flames, when he's not growling, uses a vocal style that is very reminiscent of this trope despite In Flames being a Melodic Death Metal band. (although their later work incorporates greater levels of Alternative Metal.
  • Lena Kowski of Jabberwock, when she's not busy inducing Careful with That Axe.
  • Julie Christmas, when she's not screaming.
  • Jonas Renske from Katatonia sings like he's permanently on the verge of having an emotional breakdown after being traumatized for years.
  • Marilyn Manson, when not screaming, singing somewhat normally or taking a stroll through yet another musical genre, with his standard always-sounding-like-he's-gonna-pass-out singing, is often this, especially in softer songs or softer sections of songs, like "The Nobodies".
  • Trent Reznor sounds like this a lot of the time, except for the times he screams.
  • Phil Bozeman of Whitechapel, as of Mark of the Blade (which introduced cleans on several songs).


  • Alice Glass of Crystal Castles does this on "Celestica" and "Tell Me What To Swallow", the latter used to Tear Jerker effect once the meaning of the lyrics becomes clear.
  • Black Moth Super Rainbow later became known for running all of their lead vocals through vocoder, but their first album, Falling Through A Field, more often featured vocalist Tobacco singing in a hoarse, monotone whisper through some light distortion instead.
  • Aïda Bredou of Métisse is capable of singing like this. 'Nomah's Land' is a particularly blatant example.

Alternative Title(s): Perishing Indie Voice, Perishing Alternative Voice