Is rock ’n’ roll in 2016 a dinosaur? Yes a fucking T-Rex! And it’s coming to rip your guts out!
But seriously, boys and girls, Seattle trio Night Beats viz. Danny Lee Blackwell (guitar / vocals), Jakob Bowden (bass) & James Traeger (drums), do not quite care whether their music is relevant or not.
What the fuck is ‘sparkle punk’? It’s probably an ironic made-up genre but that and the fact that there’s a song called “Cock” is what caught my attention.
Welcome to the world of Glasgow ‘glitter trash’ trio Breakfast MUFF. The Feels is the very anti-thesis of everything is ‘proper’ about popular music in 2015. Y’know lofi, shambolic, amateurish, three chords, low grade fuzzed guitars, disturbing lyrics, songs that never hit 3 minutes and singers who sound like they don’t give a fuck!
Musically it reminds me of edgy, post-punk guitar pop-rock of 1979-era XTC, The Slits, The Raincoats and Wire – which never hurts.
I’m just a bit concerned that The Feels might be a novelty record. I fucking hope not!
If I wasn’t aware that “Magic Cup” was a new song, I would be at a loss to identify which decade it was made in.
The blues riffs, the swampy rhythm section, the distorted vocals and the general shambolic vibe evoke 60s garage rock effortlessly. I would not have been surprised to find out that this was a Sonics or even Blue Cheer track.
But of course, it’s not. It’s Sloom – a rock n roll band from Sydney’s Inner West – with an utterly unoriginal sound that works for the 3 minutes and 33 seconds.
Will we ever see a band like Nirvana again? It’s hard to believe that the Nevermind album – which changed the face of the music industry in the early 90s – is now 24 years old! And since the decline of rock ‘n’ roll music in the late 90s, no other rock band has come remotely close to replicating the impact of Nirvana. Yes, we have had successful rock bands since viz. Nickelback, The Strokes, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay et al BUT relatively speaking, these have been minor successes when compared to the seismic pop culture impact of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce and the like. Artistically as well, most of these aforementioned bands have failed to deliver.
Curiously enough, the last time critics declared the demise of rock ‘n’ roll was in the late 80s, when Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston ruled the roost, but as the wheel turned rock bands like R.E.M., Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene ascended to the top of the charts. Well, it’s almost 25 years now and there appears to be no sign of rock ‘n’ roll ever returning to those levels of influence in the mainstream pop industry.
Still, that does not mean that good rock ‘n’ roll music (whether in the guise of pop-rock, indie pop, hard rock, electro-pop, blues rock, garage or punk) wasn’t being made in the last 15 odd years, it’s just that the environment of the music industry has been altered so drastically that it is virtually impossible for what happened in the early 90s to occur once again. The decline in record sales, the rise of singing contests (American Idol, X-Factor etc) and the ubiquity of Youtube, has meant that the major labels have had to hedge their bets and cynically control the musical output and fan appreciation thereof.
This has resulted in the most basic pop formulas viz. hip-hop/R&B accounting for the lion’s share of the chart action. These are 3 of the top 5 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 right now.
The one main thing connecting all three singles is a highly designed discipline to present the melody/rhythms as simplistically and repetitively as possible so that the hooks are very easy to remember. A deliberate lack of musical sophistication that dumbs down to the lowest common denominator creating an audience that is not able to appreciate anything that does not sound like what it hears on a non-stop basis on the radio. The perfect marketing tactic.
In fact, guitar rock is totally absent for the Top 20, with the nearest example being Maroon 5, and even though the music video for “Sugar” shows the band with guitars, it does not sound like there are any guitars on the song itself! In fact, it adheres greatly to the hip-hop/R&B formula with Adam Levine’s vocals heavily auto-tuned. Talk about soul-less! Going down the rest of the chart will depress any fan of rock ‘n’ roll with the genre’s utter lack of representation.
So, are the rumours true? Is rock ‘n’ roll dead? Well, not at the grass roots level of course, as both in the USA and the UK, there continues to be scores of bands who create great rock ‘n’ roll music, it’s just that even with the oft assumed ability of the internet to connect bands and fans, it’s the major labels leveraging on radio stations, streaming services and Youtube (again!) who will have the attention of mainstream music fans.
There’s the rub. If the major labels feel that the new rock ‘n’ roll have the fan base to make them sit up and notice, then they might feel the need to throw money that way. The question is — will the youth of today ever get tired of the formulaic pop stars being paraded before them? Will they ever hunger for something different enough to alter their listening habits? The signs have not been encouraging. The irony is that whilst the internet is always being trumpeted as the champion of free and alternative choices, the harsh reality is that the internet is still ultimately the tool of our corporate masters to dictate what food we should eat, what clothes we should wear and of course, what music we should listen to.
However, for those of us who are able to think critically for ourselves, the internet provides a means of escaping these corporate shackles and we can only do this by supporting the bands that do not conform to the grand masterplan of our overlords. Then, these bands might have the opportunity and liberty to create the kind of music we desire and love. So, is rock ‘n’ roll in a crisis? Not if rock ‘n’ roll fans continue to support the right bands and be evangelistic about the music they love.
Yes, PoP visitors, the ball is in YOUR court…
In the meantime, check out the Power of Pop playlist at Spotify highlighting 30-odd British guitar rock bands you should be supporting! Please FOLLOW!
Fourth album from these Brooklyn-based melodic rockers finds the band in psych-garage territory. What does that mean you might ask? Well, basically it’s mid-60s flavoured three-chord pedal-flooring bubblegum tunes with heavily reverb-drenched harmony vocals. Can’t decide whether the album is played straight or tongue-in-cheek – doesn’t really matter I suppose.
Tunes are kept simple as are arrangements but be warned that the lo-fi, echo chamber sound is artifice in the extreme. Oddly enough, the dreamy albeit atonal soundscape that is “Silent Minus” is one of my favourite moments on The Dead Age. It demonstrates that Unicycle Loves You has more to offer than the meat and potatoes spinning in a wash cycle ambience that characterizes too much of this album.
That said, one cannot help but be entranced by the much of the repetitive atmospheric motives of tracks like “Endless Bummer” and “Any Daydreaming Morning” where psychedelic flourishes rule the day, in a pleasant way. A mixed bag but worth checking out by modern rock fans.