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Perishing Alt-Rock Voice

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"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 as fake and scratchy singing as authentic.


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.


  • Phoebe Bridgers's voice has been described as a gentle purr and a soft-spoken lullaby. She apparently takes inspiration from ASMR Video.
  • Andrej Bukas (Андрей Букас) can do a impressive example of the full range of this trope. Tear Jerker warning.
  • 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.
  • Kurt Cobain from Nirvana. His songs often alternated between quiet passages of this and a louder, more energetic sound.
  • Beck
  • Most of the indie/Alternative Rock side of BritPop sounded like this at times.
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  • Win Butler of Arcade Fire pulls this out fairly often.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Courtney Taylor-Taylor from The Dandy Warhols.
  • Chino Moreno of Deftones alternates between this style and Metal Scream.
    • As does Richard Patrick from Filter.
  • Matthew Good
  • Imogen Heap seems like a strong female example.
  • Jeremy Enigk of Sunny Day Real Estate.
  • Chris Simpson of the short lived emo band Mineral.
  • Jim and Willaim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • Matt Berninger of The National seems to be heading toward this as of late, as exemplified by their 2017 song “Walk It Back”.
  • Speaking of "Walk It Back", Lisa Hannigan (whose distorted vocals can be heard on the track) reaches this on occasion.
  • Ed Kowalczyk of Live
  • David Usher from Moist. They even have a song called "Pleasing Falsetto" which is sung in this style.
  • My Bloody Valentine, collectively.
  • New Order, especially through The '80s.
    • New Order's previous incarnation Joy Division also has shades of this, particularly in the tracks recorded near the end of lead singer Ian Curtis' lifespan. Justified in an extremely dark way, seeing as how Curtis was being eaten away by rapidly worsening depression, eventually dying by suicide, cutting the band's career as Joy Division short.
  • Trent Reznor sounds like this a lot of the time, except for the times he screams.
  • 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".
  • Stephen Malkmus from Pavement
  • Black Francis, some of the time, mostly when he's not screaming. Kim Deal, most of the time.
  • Ian McCulloch from Echo & the Bunnymen had a quivering wail in The '80s and The '90s, followed by a deeper rasp in The Noughties after years of smoking.
  • Thom Yorke from Radiohead.
  • Chris Martin from Coldplay.
  • Jarvis Cocker of Pulp.
  • Craig Nicholls of The Vines on their slower songs. For some other songs, he uses a Metal Scream.
  • Sufjan Stevens, although he can go for a more energetic sound when doing electronica.
  • Michael Stipe from R.E.M. can make this sound like tightly controlled passion rather than fading wastedness.
  • Brian Aubert from the Silversun Pickups.
  • Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.
  • Both Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth.
  • Jason Pierce from Spiritualized.
  • The as-yet-unnamed main singer from Homestar Runner's Fake Band, "sloshy".
  • For the Velvet Underground, there's Lou Reed's dry version and Nico's Euro-dirge one. John Cale also definitely qualifies, as does his replacement, Doug Yule. Velvet Underground may well be the Trope Makers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ditto Ronnie Martin of Joy Electric. Perhaps he doesn't want to sound out of place among all those synthesizers.
  • Sometimes, but not always, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes - "Is This It" is a good example.
  • Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star sings like this.
  • Charlie Simpson from Fight Star fits all the criteria listed above.
  • 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.
  • This is Lana Del Rey's default setting.
  • Both singers of The xx have this, always.
  • Alanis Morissette in her quiet moments.
  • Similarly, Björk.
  • Lisa Germano.
  • Tori Amos.
  • Billie Eilish.
  • Windmill, windmill, for the land, turn forever hand-in-hand.
  • Liz Phair, specially in Exile in Guyville (the opening track "6′1″ is probably the most low-energy)
  • Lena Kowski of Jabberwock, when she's not busy inducing Careful with That Axe.
  • 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.
  • Julie Christmas, when she's not screaming.
  • Used to great effect by current indie darlings Warpaint
  • Brian Molko of Placebo, moreso in earlier songs.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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. Arguably, he sounded more like he was from the Uncanny Valley before he started using a vocoder.
  • 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.
  • Jonas Renske from Katatonia sings like he's permanently on the verge of having an emotional breakdown after being traumatized for years.
  • 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.
  • A recurring but not chronic habit of Natalie Merchant's during her tenure with 10,000 Maniacs.
  • Remarkably early example (of the ennui/snark variety) in Bedazzled (1967) (1967) - Stanley (Dudley Moore) wishes to be a pop star and is instantly in a Ready, Steady, Go style show, passionately singing his heart out. His thunder is immediately stolen when the Devil (Peter Cook) does a droning number, dismissing his backup singers' praises in a robotic monotone.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mark Gardener of Ride.
  • 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.
  • Joe Newman of Alt-J.
  • Fernanda Takai of Pato Fu.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • TK from Ling Tosite Sigure sings with a falsetto so often that it's become his Signature Style.
  • "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'
  • Phil Bozeman of Whitechapel, as of Mark of the Blade (which introduced cleans on several songs).
  • Aïda Bredou of Métisse is capable of singing like this. 'Nomah's Land' is a particularly blatant example.
  • Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum.
  • Elliott Smith's vocals have been described as "spiderweb-thin."

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