September 6, 2013 3 comments
Last week over at Pigeons and Planes Ernest Baker wrote an essay in which he criticizes the current state of rock music. He says rock music sucks right now and that proclamation couldn’t be more wrong. Certainly, as Baker notes, rock ain’t “the popular music anymore.” Rock isn’t what regulates the charts and captivates the young fervent fanbase that is the target audience of the VMA’s—which he uses as a barometer for how compelling rock music is at the moment. MTV’s target audience watches their programing, which is for the most part completely useless bullshit for tweens and shows that twenty-somethings only watch so they can live tweet it and get some coveted retweets. Not to be pretentious, but people who like crappy television tend to also favor crappy music and movies and so on and so forth. It’s called taste. The crowd that dominates and gives life to rock music fancy themselves as having good taste.
So yes, rock n roll isn’t dominating the mainstream,—a blanket term that has as much credence as “hipster” in this internet age—but that is not a barometer of success, relevance or quality. A lack of a strong presence at the Video Music Awards or on the Billboard charts doesn’t make the genre boring. The excitement that rock provides is mostly alive and well in the live music setting. This is why there have been so many goddamn music festivals booming worldwide as of late. Rappers are in slim numbers at music fests and the day a Miley Cyrus type gets as much of an afternoon set at Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo or Coachella is the day I grow a second, third and fourth head. The festival setting is pretty much the heart and soul of rock culture at the moment.
Baker isn’t alone in the assertion that rock music is boring and that it’s virtually non existent save for a handful of indie artists. A lot of the bands that get attention champion serene “middle-class music” that’s safe and reserved or they gravitate towards playing weird music that sounds like a metal tin filled with marbles thrown down a flight of stairs backed by synthesizers and hushed vocals. So if you’re of that set, here’s a gift: ten rock bands that kick plenty of ass. And I’m not going to cheat and give you local bands with 115 Facebook likes. Pretty much all of these guys are one Pitchfork laud away from cleaning up at The Grammys. Don’t believe me? Ask Arcade Fire and Bon Iver what I’m talking about.
Thee Oh Sees
If you’re looking for great garage rock a good place to start is Orange County, because that scene is thriving at the moment. Debatably the spaced out heavy pscych-rockers Thee Oh Sees are the best of the batch. They’re consistent and prolific which is means we will probably never run out of great songs from the band. Thee Oh Sees put on a fantastic live show. The energy at a Thee Oh Sees show is rambunctious and electric. They get loud. They get rowdy. And in turn so will you.
Ty Segall is another garage rocker from Orange County and he’s probably the most popular thanks to cover stories from Spin and Pitchfork and appearances on Letterman. He’s all about reckless youthful abandon and not exactly being a rockstar but putting on a show like a rock star. Segall too is quite prolific. In 2012 he released three stellar albums. At a mere 26, Segall’s explosive guitar driven sound won’t be going away any time soon.
Lest we forget that this band had the highest selling debut of all fucking time in the UK and they’re still going strong. The Arctic Monkeys are the last great rock band we have right now. Well, there’s also Radiohead, but the jury is out on if they’re still making rock music. The Arctic Monkeys have prevailed through changes in style. They made the psych-rock album that garnered a mixed reaction from fans. A light ballad driven album that put the frontman Alex Turner’s knack for lyricism followed on full display followed. And their latest album, AM, a greaser inspired melody heavy LP, is the next chapter in the legacy of a legendary band. Pay attention.
St. Vincent, government name Annie Clark is a guitar Goddess. Watch the above clip of her performing “Surgeon” and you’ll understand this as she dexterously slides her fingers up and down the neck of the guitar giving life to sounds that only a guitar Goddess can give to the rest of us mere mortals. St. Vincent is the full package: thoughtful lyrics, full production and a great voice. Of the entries on this list she definitely makes the softest music of the bunch, but due to her pure musicianship it’s be a crime to leave her off. She’s perhaps the most gifted act in rock music today.
It really wouldn’t be a rock list if their wasn’t a punk band from Brooklyn. What separates The Men from the boys (sorry, I’m not sorry) is their eclecticism. Sure, they’ve got a handful of tracks that bare driving guitars and screamy-angsty vocals, but The Men also dabble in melodic country and ballad tinged numbers. The Men’s versatility as allows them to circumvent a consistent problem that arises with punk bands—sounding like they’re playing one never ending 30 minute song.
White Denim hails from Austin, Texas. Yes, it’s the “live music capitol of the world.” What comes of this is a handful of talented musicians all playing the same tune. However, White Denim is an exception to that rule and Austin’s greatest band since Spoon. White Denim’s roots are slathered in Southern blues rock and the melodic pop. Their added ingredients: math rock guitar riffs and a jam band atmosphere make the quartet a thrilling experience.
Savages, is a four piece band that’s kind of frightening to listen to. They’re noisey as hell, chaotic and riotous. Silence Yourself, the band’s debut LP could easily be the soundtrack to 1984 if all the plebes began to have an uprising and started to tear shit up. That’s what they sound like. Anarchy.
Kings of Leon
When looking at Kings of Leon you’ve got to consider that even Lebron James has off games. For devout fans the bands last two efforts maybe weren’t up to par, but if “Supersoaker” is an indicator of things to come they’re back on track to their drunken sex addled southern rock roots. Kings of Leon’s ability to craft arena ready sing alongs, lust anthems and songs that make you want to just fucking fight make them the most pleasing band as of present.
I’m not a fan of using the crutch of comparing bands to tell you that this band sounds like this band and this band unless it is absolutely necessary. It’s absolutely necessary here because there are no words in the Oxford English Dictionary more succinct than this: Tame Impala sounds like a mixture of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd with the marvel of modern technology.
The Black Keys
We’re not going to leave The Black Keys out of this because they made one album that completely abandoned their schtick—extremely gritty blues band with barely coherent lyrics. Who’s to say they won’t go back to their old formula now that they’ve made a name for themselves. And who are we kidding El Camino is a solid album, so who cares if the duo refines their production value. It all sounds good and it kicks a lot of ass.
Very indie bands I’ll go to bat for: Natural Child, Dead Flowers, Quaker City Knight Hawks, Viper Fever, The Rolling Stones, The Shakin’ Babies, Katy Perry, Doritos Loco Taco.