I too get sick of hearing that rock is dead. These days it’s easy to forget that the genre drove pop culture for quite a few decades there. It had its turn. I’m trying to figure out if there is such a thing as mainstream rock any more. My suspicion is that if there is, it’s kind of the same thing as mainstream country, which is great because rock and country crowds were so dismissive of each other when I was a kid. As with any music, it will take somebody insisting that I hear it before I’ll seek it out, and that’s unlikely to happen on social media, where image is so important, and it’s unlikely to happen in real life, where not many people I hang out with are into discovering new music, least of all mainstream-y stuff. Maybe rock music as a viable career is dead, but there are still warriors toiling in relative obscurity in its various subgenres, and now you’re gonna hear about a few of them.
Maybe the fact that rock has been divided up into so many different things has all but obliterated its basic essence; I suppose you could put Health&Beauty in the “psych” category if you must. Shame Engine / Blood Pleasure is a rare instance where the artist’s own promo copy nails their actual sound: “for fans of Jim O’Rourke’s song-based output, as well as appealing to anyone who enjoys Tonight’s The Night-era Neil Young”, says the bandcamp page, and, yup. In fact the guitar tones are almost uncomfortably Neil-ish at times, but what do you want? It’s hard to do much better with wood and steel and electricity.
Next up, Mannequin Pussy, whose Patience marks possibly the first record on the Epitaph label that I’d consider for a top-anything list. To me this sounds like emo but I don’t see this term on their bandcamp page so forget I said that. I mean, not all of the songs, but for instance, the best song, “Drunk II”, is that not emo?? I got a little obsessed with this song for a while and it sort of dwarfed the rest of the album for me, which is often a good sign; if you can knock their socks off with just one song, well, hopefully in this day and age people will still come back for the rest of the album because if you can write one song that good, how bad could the rest of it be? Please take this to heart; bands are still making albums and you should still listen to them.
A couple years ago, I bought Le Butcherettes’ first LP on a whim because what I’d read about the band enticed me and it was on a label, Ipecac, that I am generally a fan of. Note to anyone under 30 who might be reading this: For many years this was THE NORMAL PROCESS FOR DISCOVERING MUSIC; are you better or worse off, I couldn’t say. I listened to it a couple times, thought it was okay, but given the foolishness of such an impulse buy in this day and age, there was a touch of buyer’s remorse. I forgot all about Le Butcherettes until a buddy of mine mentioned seeing them open for Incubus, which…didn’t in itself pique my curiosity but hey what the hell Spotify. It turns out their new one, bi/MENTAL, is fucking fantastic, way more ambitious than the first album, more exotic and more aggressive and it features Jello Biafra and Alice Bag making guest appearances! ‘Nuff said?
I hope you guys all listen to the Armed Fauxes radio program on Mondays noon to three on WMSE; it’s just one of many you should be listening to but this one especially if you like the rock musicks and Faux Eyes himself turned me onto the stupendous Useless Coordinates by Drahla. I could’ve definitely put this in the Alternative piece but that’s the beauty of doing this this way—if you forget an album you can sneak it in somewhere later if you’re quick about it. This angular, skronky post-punk speaks very directly to me on stylistic and lyrical levels; Luciel Brown speaks the truth about the relative importance of social constructs, human life, time itself, in terms I’ve thought and written about. I also find the chiming guitars and pulsing beats utterly irresistible. I want to be at this concert in my speakers really badly.
Now comes the part of the year-end coverage where I try once again to sell you on the genius of Tanner Olson. He’s been quietly releasing solo albums and remixes and such over the past few years while I waited patiently for the true follow-up to Across Tundras’ 2013 album Electric Relics, itself not one of my very favorites but you really start to jones after five years or so. Then The Rugged Ranges of Curbs & Broken Minds finally arrived and oh my goodness people. The best thing he’s done since Sage, which may still be my favorite, but then I started listening to some of those solo albums more in earnest (because he always sends you a bonus disc or two any time you order something from him) and holy crap, I have been slacking. His Earthen Pyramid from last year might be even better than this new Tundras thing, I don’t know, but let me tell you that driving through the mountains of Colorado, my wife and I could hardly bring ourselves to listen to anything other than Tanner’s music. Nothing compares.
Hey, wait! Elbow is kinda mainstream rock, huh? I mean, my impression is that they’re pretty huge in the UK, and they’re essentially guitar-based and they do those soaring anthems and such. I have to admit I’d grown increasingly dismayed by their output ever since 2011’s Build A Rocket Boys! but their new one, Giants Of All Sizes, has really taken me by storm. Guy Garvey sounds so reinvigorated, as if he’s shed some self-consciousness in his writing, bold and broad strokes left and right within streams of very lucid consciousness, and the band’s dynamics have never been more lush and varied. Tasteful orchestration comes off as a part of the band rather than augmentation, making for an overall experience like a less dour Radiohead album, but not blindly optimistic or anything. In the end I am once again dazzled by Garvey’s ability to combine lyrics and melody, for instance in “Doldrums”, and how he expresses them as if he’s just arriving at the payoff himself for the first time. This may be his least distinctly personal album and I don’t even miss those super intimate moments. He’s probably too unabashedly British to ever conquer the world but I’m rooting for him. Please let this album fill you with a little bit of hope and joy as we enter what will hopefully be a joyous new year.