2015: Rock

Thu Feb 04 2016

It almost seems like an insult to relegate a band to this boring umbrella genre, but I'm not splitting up prog and indie and psych and whatever else you might want to use to distinguish your favorite band. If it's dominant instrument is an electric guitar and it's not metal, for the purpose of this exercise, it's rock.

Topping this category for me: Lanterns On The Lake's Beings. I had never heard of this band before last year and haven't delved into their back catalog yet; is this their best work yet by far, or are we just suffering from xenophobia over here in America for not having fallen for this band yet? I still haven't noticed anyone else talking about it, actually, and that really bugs me. Not that it's some profound lyric, but Hazel Wilde captivated me the moment I heard her sing "Last night I passed out on the kitchen floor" in the album's first track, the amazing "Of Dust And Matter". I feel the conviction in her voice; the way she sings makes every touch of melodrama remind me of something very real from my past. The album carries on as a gorgeous piano-shoegaze tragedy, urgent and melodic and devastating, "fractured lives like fault lines", whether the disconnection is between two lovers or all of society or within our own divided selves, I can feel it. There are moments of healing and hope, though...even if they're tenuous, even if they're ambiguous, like in "The Crawl" when she sings "I need another drink to see the skin I'm in/I guess I'm one of those.../I'm not the only one to have pieces gone", that is hope, and I can feel that, too.

Another favorite: Dungen's Allas Sak, but certainly not for its lyrics, because they're in Swedish and I can't find a translation anywhere. How do we not yet have a google translate+transcribe app yet? The future is so lame. This music rules, though. The first song is instant vintage psych/prog bliss complete with Ringo-aping drums and warm comfort-sax textures. My favorite track is called "Franks Kaktus", which I'm guessing is not a Swedish phrase. It's driven by a flute melody so sweet the Moody Blues in their heyday would’ve been jealous, and I'm a guy who likes to walk around whistling as it is, so I’m pretty confident that this song has positively driven my coworkers insane. The album has its slow moments, but it flows beautifully and holds your attention despite not knowing what the hell they're singing about.

Unexpected: the return of weird Wilco! After 2011's The Whole Love got marginally noiser than the previous couple of records (which I loved anyway, I can't deny it), the smart money was on a return to the dadrock bread and butter of Wilco (The Album), but nope. The surprise drop Star Wars revealed the heaviest Loose Fur influence since A Ghost Is Born, which maybe shouldn't have been such a shock considering the propensity for caustic improv Wilco displayed on tour last winter. There are lovely mellow songs on Star Wars that aren't exactly catchy (“Taste The Ceiling”, “Where Do I Begin”, “Magnetized”), and upbeat numbers that are a little uneasy (“Random Name Generator”, “Pickled Ginger”) and old-school halting, swaying rockers (“Cold Slope”, “King Of You”); basically the overriding ambiguity of Jeff Tweedy's attitude, captured more succinctly than we've become accustomed to. I don't think I'll be able to fully assess my feelings about this record until I see these songs live, so come on, guys. I’ve already connected with this album pretty deeply; I just need a little push over the edge to get back into full-on Wilco obsession.

The Wilco dudes are no spring chickens and still putting out good music. The members of Killing Joke are downright old, and their latest album, Pylon, is about as loud and pissed off as anything they've done. Evidently you have to be old these days to admit to anything resembling a political opinion in music. The post-punk pioneers can still craft a groove, too; “New Cold War”, “Euphoria”, “Delete” and “I Am The Virus” are such propulsive, infectious pieces of music, they almost make you forget the past two decades of industrial even happened (did they, even?). True, “Virus” totally rips off the riff from “Rockin’ In The Free World”, which seems odd, but something tells me Uncle Neil isn’t gonna come after them for royalties or whatever Tom Petty’s lawyers think they have to do. When all is said and done, Pylon is kind of comfort food for the ears; it’s a huge sound, its beats are simplistic, it’s heavy for rock but mild for punk or metal. The songs are memorable as hell, but you won’t feel guilty about your urge to throw up the devil horns.

Finally, I have to mention Foo Fighters. Lord, how I hate to. Dave Grohl has come to symbolize everything that’s horrible about rock stardom, and his last couple albums have been pretty much garbage, but now he releases this free EP after his preposterous HBO look-at-me-save-rock-and-roll thing, and son of a bitch, it’s really quite the return to form. I hate myself for it but I totally dig all five of these stupid songs. Please don’t make me go back and listen to Wasted Light to see if I like that now because that’s a terrifying thought. I prefer to think he threw me and all the rest of the fans who thought FF were pretty much the best rock band in the world in the late 90s a frikkin bone with this St. Cecilia thing. The world didn’t need any more back-to-basics post-grunge riff rock, but I’ll take the free download. Thanks, Dave. I’m still not gonna come to your concerts.

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