May 282020

Maybe nowhere, as our demographic was never accused of keeping up with the times, even the retro times, in our prime.

To that end, maybe down a frustrating/embarrassing hole of people citing “new” bands like Wilco.

Maybe down an equally frustrating/embarrassing hole of arguing the merits of keeper of the “wrong” flame. I mean, in 2020, do we even have agreement on what the flame is? Is it time it’s extinguished, or has its health never been in question, just less needed, the way people don’t really need a Franklin stove?

As a commentator on YouTube said, OK, 6 years ago, “There’s not a damn thing wrong with straight-ahead rock and roll. And these cats do it better than just about any band alive.”

Despite my worries, despite the chance of [crickets…], I have faith in you. And if you don’t quite come through with the toehold on his wide-ranging topic, then you may. Or you.

Show me what you’ve got!


  24 Responses to “Surprisingly Previously Unexplored: Music From the Last 5 Years”

  1. Happiness Stan

    I realised when I got excited about Smoke Fairies (not a rock band in this sense by any stretch of the imagination) finally playing a gig near me earlier in the year. When though I thought of them as a new band, I’d been wanting to see them for at least nine years, which is longer than the recording career of the Beatles. My judgement is therefore demonstrably so skewed that I couldn’t begin to answer the question, I’m definitely in the new bands like Wilco camp. Which isn’t something I’m proud of, I wouldn’t know where to dive in from here.

  2. I had never heard those Great Van Susteren guys before, though I’ve seen the name. I watched to the video figuring, “OK, maybe these kids will show me something I haven’t seen before”, and they did! Unfortunately, it was that awful vocal styling, some weird amalgamation of a Geddy Lee with a Caribbean accent.

  3. I did not know that John Cleese played piano in the Hold Steady.

  4. I try to pay attention to what’s going on, if only because I do like to hear things that surprise me by sounding well…new. I flipped through my last couple of years’ purchases and was a little dismayed at the low frequency of purchases that were anything like current. But there were some, so here goes. In advance of any criticism of my blurry understanding of rock traditions, my tastes were forged in that brief window of 1967 to 1971, when all things seemed possible. I’ll try to start with the most presumably unknown to RTH.

    Glintshake, a Russian group that also goes under a name that looks to me like “ru” in some Cyrillic script, plays an angular post-punk style. They have a charismatic frontwoman, Kate NV, who also does solo electronica records on the side. I love the attached video but there are other videos on the YouTube that show that these guys can also bring it live. The chorus thingy on this one, if that’s what you’d call it, really knocks me out.

    I do find that there songs tend to go on two minutes too long.

  5. BigSteve

    I listen to a lot of contemporary music, but little of it qualifies as Rock. When I look at my Best Albums of 2019 list, the only Rock albums I see are by artists that have been around for a while — Beck, Bob Mould, Deerhunter, Elbow, Mekons, Pere Ubu, Pernice Brothers, Sleater-Kinney, The National, Vampire Weekend, and Wilco.(My 2019 list had 50 albums, so that means it was 22% Rock, but that 22% consists of throwbacks.) I have friends who listen to a lot of Alternative Rock, but if they tell me about a new band I can’t get into it. It’s just so second- or third-hand by now. I never liked Hard Rock anyway, but that Greta Van Fleet shit is seriously embarrassing.

  6. My personal fave of past 5 years is Courtney Barnett. I really enjoy her talk/singing style. It’s almost like Lou Reed, but a lot more melodic. Love her strong Australian accent. She seems to have a lot of Subpop influences going on, but more poppy. Her “Sometimes I Sit…” album has many interesting and catchy songs. She rocks.

  7. I’d also recommend this album from Jen Cloher, who is/was? Courtney Barnett’s longtime girlfriend. Very catchy and lyrically smart, like Barnett. Not so much of the slacker/Sub Pop vibe. I think of her as a bit of mix of Lou Reed and Stories from the City-era PJ Harvey

  8. Wow! They sure have a similar approach. Thanks for the tip.

  9. Greta Van Fleet is not for me because it just sounds like a bunch of stuff that I’ve heard before but it’s rock. That video you posted is god awful but if you were in middle school or high school and just starting to get into music, and looking for an alternative to hip hop, I could see how this could be your gateway to better things:

    For about a year now, I’ve been on a text group with my 3 brothers, my son, 4 nephews, and a family friend. Each week, two people post an album and everyone is supposed to listen to it and share their thoughts. There have been some challenging selections, but it’s been interesting to hear stuff that I would have never heard otherwise (especially hip hop stuff like Joey Badass and Kendrick Lamar). One of my nephews suggested King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Although I’ve heard them for a while now, I ever bothered to actually check them out because the name is so cringe-worthy. It turns out that I have great instincts because their songs are somehow worse than the name. But it’s rock. Maybe not mine, but someone’s.

    A few years ago, I heard a version of September Gurls (one of my favorite songs of all time) covered by the Dum Dum Girls. Their version was completely lackluster and uninspired. No spark whatsoever. But I recognize that I’m not the intended audience, and for those people who are, if it makes even 1 out of 100 them curious enough to dig a little deeper, then it has some value. Maybe it leads someone to Big Star, or garage rock, or 60’s girl groups.

    In high school, I remember scrutinizing the back cover of Led Zepplin 1 and wondering who Willie Dixon was. Imagine my surprise when I saw his name on the back of the first Doors’ album too. One thing led to another and the next thing you know, I ‘m listening to Howlin’ Wolf.

    There are only 12 notes in the western scale. Rock is an extremely limited genre and if you add too much of something (different chords, time signature changes), you end up with Prog or Jazz or something else. When you obsess on this as long as we have (personally, I got bit with the bug sometime in middle school and I’m now 56), everything new is going to sound like a lesser version of something that you’ve already heard. But it might be a crucial gateway for someone else. I love Five Live Yardbirds and like the Beano album by John Mayall but what are they if not lesser versions of the music they seek to emulate?

  10. cherguevara

    Well crap, looks like I have to lie down in the bed I made, where I was really secretly fishing for cool music tips. Big Steve mentioned major points – much of the newer good music might not qualify as “rock” (guitars are largely out of style) or else it is made by artists who have been around for years. (Sorry new Sparks album, we’ll talk later.) Greta Van Fleet is an interesting example, because they are so derivative, but also successful – showing there is an audience for this sound, who want something new to call their own, even if we all know the bands GVF are ripping off are so much better (despite our dumping on Led Zep two weeks ago).

    I sat down and made a list of rock music to check out, bands that I’ve heard might be worthwhile. Ironically, I delayed listening to any of it, because I wanted to check out the Nicole Atkins album that came out today. I think she’s awesome. I’ve been listening to more female artists lately, not sure why that is. (Jenny O. Soccer Mommy. Alexandra Savior. Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, Boy Genius. That new Fiona Apple album is really good and unlike anything else.)

    I’m listening for that enigmatic rock “it factor,” though deciding what is derivative and what is legit is subjective. I checked out the Struts and it seemed like a new version of corporate rock – it feigns a sleazy rock sound, but it seems too polished and poppy. I’ve heard the 1975 is good, a cursory listen is confusing – their sound seems to change every song. The War on Drugs got a lot of attention for their last album, but I was bored. I saw Peter Holsapple post that he liked 21 Pilots, and they are surprisingly melodic, but it’s more hip-hop than rock and I can’t identify with the lyrics. I listened to Gaslight Anthem, it seemed cheesy.

    Things that click with me more: Courtney Barnett is the first person I thought of, I agree with ChickenFrank. She has that thing, whatever it is. It’s immediately apparent. Another interesting group is Parquet Courts, who haven’t completely engaged me, but I like them and think they wear their influences tastefully. Kurt Vile is an artist I always enjoy when I hear him, it makes sense that he and Barnett collaborated. Tame Impala I want to like more, because a psych-pop guy making his way into the mainstream is definitely interesting. Having a few TI albums, I think he is more of a singles artist, but that’s not a bad thing . I also dig St Vincent’s art-pop and her super-saturated, angular guitar heroics that remind me of Scary Monsters. Maybe if guitars become cool again, she’ll make a ripping guitar-based album someday.

    I’m sure there are more rock bands to check out, especially since I have blinders when it comes to metal and hard rock, I can’t speak to Avenged Sevenfold, or young wunderkinds, Unlocking the Truth, for example. Maybe I’m completely unfair – dismissing everything either as “not rock,” or derivative, setting up criteria that are impossible to meet. But that’s ok, I’m not hurting for new music and it doesn’t really matter to me what genre is dumped onto a sound I dig.

  11. I’ve been thinking about this. I’m terrible at keeping up with new music. I’m totally the living example of that Wilco-as-new-music guy meme. If fact, just last week I re-watched the Wilco documentary that came out around Yankee Foxtrot Hotel and was reminded of that I like/admire as well as dislike about them. One thing that seeing the doc after all these years drove home, however, was how that was the last gasp of the record industry as we grew up with. Can you imagine anyone on even the fringes of the mainstream caring about a group of guys that uncaring about their appearance and that artistically rambling? Imagine the same film now, about a new band, and expecting an audience to care about whether the label should be fostering this group of Artists. (This is not meant to open the door to a stupid argument over the merits of Wilco. Love them, simply mildly like them, or neither, they operated as a band of Artists, and for that, I am thankful.)

    I’ve liked what I’ve heard of Courtney Barnett. In honor of this discussion, I’ll pull up more of her music and her friend’s music today and dig in. What’s appealing about Barnett is that something original comes through in the music, something straightforward. More than ever before, I am beginning to enjoy the “soul” or “essence” of an artist more than their ability to hit on any of my fetishes. I guess I’ve been moving in this direction since the early1990s, when a lot of ’60s and ’70s genres I like first got fully codified. Bands appeared that could nail the oddly stirring details of music from those years. It was exciting at first, until I realized that so few of those artists had anything to say (eg, Lenny Kravitz, on his first album) or little, after an album or two (eg, Matthew Sweet). To this day, I’ll check out a new band that should fit an “If you like this, try this…” algorithm, but I usually walk away feeling like that band has nothing to say.

    As a result of being more open to the “essence” of an artist, I’ll sometimes get into someone who works in a genre Younger Mr Moderator would never have been caught dead liking. Melody Gardot is just such an artist. I don’t know what you call her music – it’s got a hushed, jazz singer/chanteuse vibe to it, complete with her in “mysterious” dark sunglasses. I usually HATE music – and a shtick – like that, even by the original artists who made that stuff. Even worse, she’s from the Philadelphia area, so her whole act is the sort of put-on I usually rail against, but one day I heard a review of a live album on NPR and the 8 seconds that played in the background had something that appealed to me. I listened to the whole album, and to this day, I really like it. Her voice and the sound of her band on that album say something to me. Here’s a live performance that has some of the vibe of her Live in Europe album. I suggest starting with the album, but for those who know me, it’s important that you see how likely it would be that I *wouldn’t* like this artist, yet somehow do.

    Also not “rock” in any sense if a band a coworker in England turned me onto called Stars of the Lid. We’d been trading “thinking music” albums that we like to have on while working. He knew and loved Eno’s Apollo album, but when I turned him onto Discreet Music and the two Fripp-Eno records, he wrote me back and told me I had to listen to Stars of the Lid. I know nothing about them, but their music hits on what I love about those Eno records. Who would have thought anyone could display such strong influences in their ambient music?

  12. Quite a few things came up in the discussion that I had on my list to bring up.

    Courtney Barnett: She definitely has something. Her records and they all have some really strong stuff. I saw her live, early on, as a three piece, and the overall sound was a little too sludgy, boogie band for my taste. I saw her about 6 months ago solo and she was rough, but totally engaging. YouTube live stuff that I’ve seen with her band, especially with a second guitar, is more like it. I’m lukewarm on Kurt Vile, but the duo record with him is really nice.

    Parquet Courts: I have an infinite capacity for heavily derivative VU clones so, yes, I dig these guys. They actually seem closer to a Feelies approach, which after all is just a third hand VU with Television once removed. It’s all good, though. They’ve also got the two songwriter dynamic of XTC, where you find yourself rooting for the secondary songwriter to show up the top dog because something about the main guy gets on your nerves, Austin Brown playing the part of the former and A. Savage, the latter. (By the way, I got over Partridge antipathy a long time ago, but Savage still rubs me the wrong way.) They certainly seemed like a very good, one-trick pony at first, but they gradually branched out and the title track of their last album even pulls off a goofy, ESG-like, dance track (and Austin Brown composition) called Wide Awake. I have a feeling that they are probably one of the crews that BigSteve dismissed as “third-hand,” but like I said, good VU knock-offs are always welcome. I was set to see them in early April, but…

    I stumbled upon St. Vincent early on, and have seen live her since her first album. The first record is still my favorite, the tour on the second album my favorite live version of her. As time went on, the electronic and modern pop sensibilities crowded out some of the instrumental texture and wry lyrics she showed on the first record. I haven’t given up the ghost but I worry that what’s happening is a slow motion version of the car crash that was the recent Sleater-Kinney record.

  13. Apropos of nothing, I just heard a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins version of McCartney’s “Monkberry Moon Delight” on WFMU. Wow.

  14. Off the top of my head, my favorite records from the past five years have been some of the obvious like The War on Drugs. But looking at them just now, I realized how many of them *I’d* only discovered in the past five years, but they’d often been around more like 10 or even 15. So death metal (I think that’s the right subgenre) band Deafheaven’s Sunbather or, even more, the various dream pop bands like Beach House and Real Estate (terrrrible band names, almost designed to be ungoogleable, but great sounds and melodies).

    Also, it was only about 10 years ago that I really discovered Mark Kozelek and he quickly became an obsession with me…and then I seemingly ruined everything, as he fell off a cliff, artistically, more dramatically and in a prolonged fashion than almost any other artist I can think of who didn’t fry their brains on drugs.

  15. Wasn’t that group previously renamed “The War on Drums” in RTH?

  16. 2000 Man

    I don’t really care if something is “derivative” or if I’ve heard it all before. So long as I like the songs, I’m in. I think Greta Van Fleet is gross, but then I can’t stand Led Zeppelin and I firmly believe that you shouldn’t mix lemon squeezing in with your Viking bullshit or it gets you labeled a pussy someday when you wind up in Valhalla, and that’s what’s gonna happen to Greta Van Fleet. However, they sold a ton of records and that helps record stores and gives the kinds that are buying their records exposure to better music, because most people that work in a record store wouldn’t play a Greta Van Fleet record if you paid them.

    I do like Courtney Barnett. I was trying not to like her because I bought a Kurt Vile album and it was so boring I figured anyone he knew had to be just as boring, but it turns out I like her. She seems to have a lot going on and there’s just something likable about her. I was surprised to see that the first Lydia Loveless album that I bought was in 2011, but her last record, from 2016 is totally different from the one from 2011, and I still like it because she’s smart and she’s funny.

    I really like Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. I suppose she’s an acquired taste, but she’s of the Bloodshot Records sorta Country sorta Rock n’ Roll, sorta Punk flavor that they do so well. I think she’s a great songwriter and I hope I get to see her someday.

    I like Jade Jackson, too. She’s a little country-ish but Mike Ness produced both of her albums so far, so the backing band sounds kind of like Social Distortion, but I think she’s cool. If you liked The Replacements and you think someone should wear that on their sleeve and not care if you’ve heard it all before, Beach Slang is pretty good. I really like their latest, The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City. Speaking of obviously digging The Replacements but not quite the homage of Beach Slang, Deer Tick is great. Their two records that came out in 2017 are super. If they had just made it one record, it would have been one of the greatest records ever, but I have no idea which 10 or 11 tracks I would have kept or cut.

    I know they aren’t new now, but Oats turned me on to Wussy and their stuff from the last 5 years is fantastic. Just to throw in my favorite two recent oldie reissues, Linda Ronstadt’s Live In Hollywood is fantastic. She couldn’t go back and “fix” things these days, so it’s pretty amazing to hear her on the tour I saw her on, essentially exactly the way it happened. She was really something. For those of you that love that Blooze Rawk, Rory Gallagher’s Check Shirt Wizard triple live album is terrific! It’s even better than Irish Tour, and I think that’s saying something.

  17. “Wasn’t that group previously renamed “The War on Drums” in RTH?”

    I don’t recall that, but a fellow drummer pal and I did listen to their Lost in the Dream LP and try to figure out how in the hell those were actual drums and not electronic. (They are, in fact, real drums and not programmed…but then oh so cleverly EQ’d to sound artificial. I don’t even.)

  18. The Illuminati Hotties: Here’s one you might have missed. A couple years ago I heard a song on the radio, this one, which was sort of pop-punk with extreme studio techniques, jump cuts, instruments in and out, crazy balance. It was a record written and recorded by an LA recording engineer named Sarah Tudzin. The album was really good and when I saw them a few months later at PhilaMOCA, they carried things off live, differently but still capturing the essence of what made the record so striking in the first place. This is the studio version of “Pressed to Death”, but there’s plenty of live stuff on YouTube if you’re interested.

  19. I’m pretty sure Mr. Mod earlier applied that “War on Drums” moniker. I know they have a drummer. Last year he organized a large group to do a concert of early Miles Davis Electric era material, focused on “In a Silent Way,” but hitting on a number of other pieces as well. They certainly pulled that off nicely.

  20. Big thumbs up for Sarah Shook. Saw her last year and she was really good. Good songs.

    Little thumbs up for Lydia Loveless. I’ve seen her a couple of times and, although I like her, she seems like she might fly a little too close to the flame. I worry about her. The documentary on her was pretty interesting.

    I saw Jade Jackson at a free show and, while not horrible, she didn’t have anything that made her stand out from light female singer-songwriter Americana, nothing like the personality of Shook and Loveless.

  21. I recall the War on Drums crack, but I don’t think that was my line. It is too wrong to share here, but remind me to tell any of you offlist my pathetic story remotely involving that band.

  22. BigSteve

    I guess there’s a limit to what can be done with guitars/bass/drums, and I don’t mind in theory if new rock bands reshuffle the sounds of the ;last 50 years, but way too often I hear or read about a band whose main influence is 70s soft rock. Laurel Canyon blahblahblah…. Please no. Just no.

    Remember when post punk was the latest revival? Is that still going on? The only band from that trend that I remember is Savages, but I never could stand Siouxie and Savages were too banshee for my taste.

    A lot of newer bands seem to draw on electropop. If you’re using synths you’d think your music would be more forward-looking than all-guitar bands. The only problem is the fetishization of older analog synths, and you hear a lot of bullshit about ‘warmth.’ Maybe the next trend should be a Yamaha DX7 synth revival, and we can swoon about how cold they sound.

  23. I’d like to think, no, there shouldn’t be any limit to what can be done with. I’d like to think that Russian band, Glintshake, that I wrote about earlier in this thread had a new sound. I’d have to agree that it fits firmly in the post-punk revival genre that you described, but the way the band plays, coupled with what I thought was pretty striking melodic content was new to me. Likewise, the Dirty Projectors in the 2008-2012 period sounded like they were an extremely novel weave of various threads, afro-beat, Beefheart, weird chorale singing is just a start. I saw them before I had heard any of their records and I was pretty staggered by how they seemed to redefine the possibilities of a standard four-piece. Pretentious and annoying, maybe, but certainly original

    I get the point about Laurel Canyon. I love the Mamas & Papas but enough is enough. On the other hand, I really like the problematic Father John Misty, who gets lumped in that schtick but would probably consider himself too cool for the crowd. I admit, I may like him solely for this song that is probably my favorite since “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

  24. BigSteve

    SO many bands these days have Can and afrobeat as big influences. I’ve liked some of them, like say Heliocentrics, but I think it’s odd that bands that had such small audiences when they were originally recording can have so many followers.

    Maybe that’s the key to finding new syntheses, resurrecting sounds that weren’t that popular the first time around. So instead of bands influenced by the Beatles or James Taylor, we’d have bands that combine Beefheart with Nick Drake. “I heard this great band they other day. They’re kind of like Microdisney with Little Jimmy Scott on vocals but with a strong Madagascaran influence.”

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