Rock music

New rock music as a strange musical niche

My tastes coalesced around rock music, especially the harder and faster kind, by the time I was in college. They used to be pop oriented: the Beatles are my first and forever musical love.

My two older brothers were into music. One of them skewed pop/top-40. The other biased, psychedelic and prog Doors. Both were influences. My best friend at the time had an older sister who was well versed in rock music and the 70s rock girl lifestyle; she introduced me to the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Cream and other ways. Moreover, it was the heyday of rock-FM in the vibrant metro and New York market. I started making mixtapes very early.

Later, this friend with the cool sister went off to prep school, got kicked out, and became a Chicago electric blues fan again. Another friend introduced me to Pink Floyd, and together we discovered David Bowie. I grew up in the suburbs, which meant more hard rock and metal than punk and new wave, but some of that music played on the radio and caught my ears. A brother of mine brought back a pile of punk albums and singles from a semester in the UK. Another influence.

Throughout it all, my parents (footnote 1) worked hard to instill a love of classical music – which made rock ‘n’ roll all the more alluring – but ultimately this” took”. There was jazz in the house – I played it in my high school band – but it took me a while to like it.

Little rock music recorded in the 21st century has moved the needle for me. I find a lot of it to be repetitive, derivative and boring, or it’s done by 20th century artists who are sad shadows of themselves in their primes. A lot of pop tries too hard to reference hip-hop, or it’s too obviously derived from the Beatles or the Beach Boys. Since the decline of grunge in the 1990s, for me it’s been pretty slim.

Each year, however, a handful of new albums enter my rotation, and some remain. Once in a while, a new album or a new artist manages to bend my rock aesthetic. Hope is eternal.

Streaming, for me, is a dream come true: I can now listen to just about anything I want, anytime, in any setting I choose. It’s a wide and effective way to listen to new music.

Every week, I receive an e-mail from “Sebastian at Qobuz” touting the latest releases. (Sebastian doesn’t exist, the people at Qobuz tell me; “he” is an amalgam of Qobuz writers who contribute to news announcements.) test. Usually I feel like Charlie Brown is kicking football or trying to; so often in modern music Lucy takes the ball out at the last second. I am left without entertainment and without commitment. But the rare exceptions are joyful discoveries.

A few weeks ago, in single-week releases, five rock (or rock-ish) albums have made it the current rotation. Here is a list.

Jack White is a modern, alternative rocker with an old blues soul. His new album, fear of dawn, is modern in its loud, loud and harsh musical edges, but its songs feel a bit like the first Black Sabbath with a smattering of Led Zeppelin and a dash of Iron Butterfly-style psychedelia. It’s a booming and gross game, and it feels as raw and manic as it gets these days.

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Wet Leg’s self-titled debut album is also loud and crass. And lots of fun. The Brits Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers form the core of the group. The album sounds modern with its computer-generated feel. Wet Leg blatantly references David Bowie, and their attitude reminds me of previous rockers: Chrissie Hynde, Exene Cervenka, Poly Styrene, and even some Joan Jett and the Runaways. There’s a hint of Velvet Underground in these Lou Reed speaking vocals.

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One of the freshest debut albums I’ve heard in a long time is Growing up by The Linda Lindas, a band of Californian teens and tweens, also this issue’s recording of the month. They can play as hard and fast as the Runaways but have a bit of that Go-Go sound. They feel like a spring breeze and are equally welcome after more than two years of COVID and mopey, introverted albums from other pop and rock artists. The future of rock music could be female.

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Tex-Mex alternative rock band Calexico has been around for quite some time. Their music references Los Lobos, but they are more eclectic. The Watchtower, their latest born, holds up well to repeated listening. It makes great catchy music, plus it’s fun: look no further than “The El Burro Song”.

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My recent expandable find is Broncos by Orville Peck, an obvious pseudonym. Interwebs sleuths say Peck is actually Daniel Pitout, a South African-Canadian drummer from the punk band Nü Sensae; apparently they have the same tattoos. Peck plays masked, often with bangs covering his mouth. His album is the meeting between the old-school country of Nashville and Elvis Presley near Bakersfield. Peck’s schtick may be too thick for some, but if you listen without prejudice, there’s a lot to like. The jewel of the album is the last song, “All I Can Say”, a duet with Bria Salmena of the Canadian rock group FRIGS. It could work repeatedly while driving west after the break. If you want Broncosalso discover Peck’s first album, Pony.

You have to dig deep, but there’s some good new stuff out there. To find it, it takes perseverance and luck.


Note 1: Recording and mastering team Wilma Cozart and C. Robert Fine.