At this point in our young century, Dan Auerbach’s trademark sound is damn near inescapable. His entrancingly fuzzy slide work, moody atmospherics, velvety reverb, and love for prominently framed percussion all pop up in albums by garage punks, shaggy hard rockers, folkies, rappers, and even pop divas. Of course, it’s through the wildly influential jams of The Black Keys (whom Auerbach has co-produced for most of the duo’s career) that his sound has left such a profound impact on modern music, but that’s not its only path. After all, in addition to maintaining a solo career—including his upcoming June 2017 release Waiting On a Song—as well as a clutch of side projects (The Arcs record from 2015 is a particularly tasty highlight), he has evolved into one of the music industry’s most in-demand producers.Much like The Black Keys’ music, Auerbach’s immediately identifiable work behind the boards has become more sophisticated with time. Patrick Sweany’s “Them Shoes,” from 2007, is a slab of husky, stripped-down blues rock that’s light years removed from the intensely textural swamp funk and gris-gris soul comprising Dr. John’s 2012 gem Locked Down, one of Auerbach’s most ambitious productions to date. Even when Auerbach, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of music history, steps outside of his rock ‘n’ blues comfort zone, he leaves a unique sonic imprint on the work of other artists. This is certainly the case with Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, on which he wraps the singer’s art-pop noir in layers of nostalgia-kissed echo and sustain so plush, your ears will sink into them. This is also true of Nikki Lane’s outlaw-country epic All Or Nothin, which boasts the same throbbing groove hypnotics heard on the Keys’ albums.Compiling tunes from all these albums and a whole mess more, including some overlooked production nuggets like the Buffalo Killers’ stoner-rock trip Let it Ride, our playlist is sure to impress even the most diehard Auerbach fans.Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
Phish’s Baker’s Dozen residency at Madison Square Garden—which ran July 21-August 6, 2017—was a doozy of epic proportions: 13 nights, 26 sets, and tons of free donuts, and all of it was webcasted to the world at large (save the donuts, of course). They were, as Rolling Stone writer Jesse Jarnow pointed out, some of the group’s most “ambitious sets in years, with an attention to detail that recalls their nineties heyday.” On top of debuting many new tunes, as well as novel transformations of old classics that surprised even longtime heads, Phish dropped a slew of first-time covers, including Shuggie Otis’ Beatlesque funk gem “Strawberry Letter 23,” Neil Young’s static-drenched riff workout “Powderfinger,” and The Velvet Underground’s dreamy ballad “Sunday Morning.”For those only now diving into the Phish zone, such tastefully hip covers may seem odd for a band that, truth be told, was outright dissed by cool indie types for most of their career. (Amazing how this has changed in recent years thanks to tastemakers like Vampire Weekend and MGMT singing their praises in interviews.) However, for those who have followed the band since, like, forever (my first Phish experience came when the original H.O.R.D.E. tour passed through the neo-hippie stronghold of Syracuse, New York, in 1992), the killer covers are par for the course. Even if you’re confident in the immutability of your anti-Phish bias, one thing’s unfuckwithable: their record collections.Since their early days up in Burlington, Vermont, Phish have put all manner of choice covers through their jammy filter: the Talking Heads’ proto-New Wave classic “Psycho Killer” is refitted with a spiky funk groove shaped by Innervisions-era Stevie Wonder and rippling improv showcasing Page McConnell’s keys; “Purple Rain” is mutated into a Flaming Lips-like alt-freak anthem featuring Jon Fishman’s crying vacuum cleaner; and Ween’s weird pop ditty “Roses Are Free” is reborn as a punchy, twangy sing-along. Even Phish’s taste in classic rock reflects their crate-digging astuteness. In addition to numerous deep cuts from the Stones’ muddy landmark Exile on Main St., they actually tackle a (very liberal) rendition of The Beatles’ musique concrète composition “Revolution 9”—and, yes, it’s deeply noisy and bizarre, like a cross between Spike Jones, heroic doses of psilocybin, and nude performance art.Part of Phish’s aim is to challenge and surprise their fans. For them, embracing the unexpected is an expression of freedom, and this extends to their unpredictable choice in cover songs. But it also has to be pointed out that covering the likes of Talking Heads, Ween, and The Velvet Underground actually isn’t all that weird, in a sense. After all, Phish—back at the dawn of their career—were considered something of an alternative band. I know this sounds strange after decades of them being hailed as the modern-day Grateful Dead (which has never been a terribly accurate comparison). But as this fogey explicitly recalls, when Phish started to make a buzz around the Northeast they had a quirky, cerebral, and mischievous reputation that owed more to Frank Zappa and David Byrne than Papa Jerry. It’s an aspect of their legacy that’s slowly re-emerging as more and more indie kids embrace their unique music. And that’s a cool thing.
There’s a tragic feeling of incompleteness to Sharon Jones’ career, and it’s best be summed up with the phrase "discovered too late and gone way too soon." The soul and funk vocalist’s story is a well-told one: a criminally overlooked session powerhouse—who clearly possessed the chops and sheer life-force to be a star when she first turned professional in the ’70s—finally achieves fame in her late-’40s only to have pancreatic cancer claim her life in 2016 at the age of 60. Fortunately for the world, the Grammy-nominated Jones and her band, the Dap-Kings, made the most of her all-too-brief stardom, dropping seven stellar studio albums, including the posthumously released Soul of a Woman, recorded as the singer underwent debilitating chemotherapy treatments.What makes the group so unique is their ability to feel unapologetically old-school, yet without any residue of weepy nostalgia. Anchored not just by Jones’ attention-seizing voice, but the group’s agilely stabbing horns and preternaturally metronomic rhythm section as well, their music pops, sizzles, and jumps with a sweaty, determined modernism. (Especially relevant in this context is their funk-spiked reworking of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”) It’s a sound that has exerted a huge impact on 21st-century pop, pushing retro-soul into the mainstream while also making the Dap-Kings, as well as their sister outfit the Dap Kings Horn Section, in-demand session musicians in the same vein as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or the Wrecking Crew.Arguably the first artist to take notice was the late Amy Winehouse, who employed the Dap-Kings when crafting her own fusion of retro and contemporary R&B for 2006’s game-changing Back to Black. The album’s co-producer, Mark Ronson, then used the ensemble’s crack horn section on his massive retro-pop hit “Uptown Funk,” featuring dynamo singer Bruno Mars. More recently, the digitally minded Kesha used those soul-piercing horns on her crushing, feminist anthem “Woman,” from her emotional tour de force Rainbow.But not every session/appearance fits snugly between the poles of R&B and pop—there’s a slew of leftfield examples, too. On her self-titled full-length from 2014, avant-garde singer-songwriter St. Vincent leans heavily on the unswerving pulse of Dap-Kings drummer Homer Steinweiss (who also plays skins for the Dan Auerbach-led Arcs), while her collaborative effort with David Byrne, Love This Giant, weaves their horns into the duo’s art-rock pointillism. Other standouts include The Black Lips, whose garage-punk rave-up Underneath the Rainbow utilizes the services of baritone guitarist Thomas Brenneck and trumpeter David Guy, and country outlaw Sturgill Simpson, who worked with the the Dap-Kings horns on A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and then brought them onstage for his 2017 Grammy performance.On top of featuring cuts from each of the artists already mentioned, our playlists dips into the Dap-Kings many related projects (including The Budos Band and Menahan Street Band), as well as veteran soul and funk singers Charles Bradley, Lee Fields, and Rickey Calloway who, like Jones, found a welcoming home on Daptone, easily retro-soul’s most important record label. Of course, the absence left by Jones’ death will forever be felt; she was, after all, a once-in a-generation talent. But it becomes all too clear when exploring this diverse array of songs that her vision and style will continue to echo throughout modern music for a long time to come.
On one level, 1972’s “Suffragette City” is pure simplicity, an amphetamine rush that proves David Bowie could unleash high-decibel intensity just as potently as he could spacey ballads or post-modern artiness. Yet things aren’t so simple underneath its glittery crunch, where a tug-of-war is waged between nostalgia and futurism. If the pounding ivories and greasy boogie long for the ’50s, then the slashing chords and razor-sharp execution lunge toward the punk revolution that’s still a few years out. This tension, acting like a slingshot, shoots the penultimate song from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars clear out of the march of history and into that archetypal realm commonly referred to as rock music that’s so badass it’s timeless. Here are five facts to help you better appreciate Bowie’s hardest rocker.Science fiction and rock ’n’ roll.“Suffragette City,” like the rest of Ziggy Stardust, is inspired by Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange. (Director Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation arrived during the album’s making.) Bowie certainly wasn’t the first rocker to embrace sci-fi (see producer Joe Meek or Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd), yet he clearly was ahead of the curve by soaking up Burgess’ uniquely dystopian vision. It’s a quality that would seep not just into punk and post-punk, but also industrial and even techno in the following decades.Mick Ronson’s killer guitar.Perhaps no early Bowie track better displays his love of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground; it all begins with brilliant guitarist Mick Ronson’s opening riff, roaring and clawing like a famished tiger. It’s an aesthetic Bowie would bring with him when he mixed Iggy and the Stooges’ 1973 landmark Raw Power, a record that helped kickstart punk and hardcore.Sexuality and gender.The live version took on a life of its own, generally becoming faster and more sneering. It also adopted a performative edge, as Bowie, during concerts, often would drop to his knees and pretend to suck on Ronson’s guitar. When a photograph of this wonderfully flamboyant exhibitionism made it into Melody Maker in 1972, it helped cement glam rock’s reputation as a movement steeped in transgression and decadence.Those blaring horns aren’t really horns.It may sound like horns during the cut’s first half when they fall somewhere between vintage Memphis R&B and The Beatles’ “Savoy Truffle.” But the sound reveals its source-—an ARP 2600 synthesizer—during the static-caked surge that ripples across the final 60 seconds. You can be sure that bands like Pere Ubu, The Stranglers, Tubeway Army, The Twinkeyz, and any other punk(ish) band experimenting with the cyborg impulse were taking notes.Film and television legacy.As with many other Bowie tunes, “Suffragette City” has racked up several IMDb credits, including Gilmore Girls, Vinyl, and Californication. The most telling, however, is 2005’s Lords of Dogtown, a period piece chronicling the Venice Beach teenagers who revolutionized skateboarding in the mid-’70s. The fact that these early shredders jammed Bowie along with The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Deep Purple stands as a testament to the artist’s lofty stature not just among punks and alternative kids, but longhaired surfers and heshers as well. There’s no messing with David Bowie.
Psychedelic culture stands at the cusp of mainstream acceptance. This may sound odd given the fact that the United States still includes LSD, psilocybin, and numerous other hallucinogens on the list of Schedule I substances, but there are many signs. Academia is in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance, with Johns Hopkins University leading the way in exploring the therapeutic benefits, while tales abound of California techies microdosing. And though marijuana is not an hallucinogen, per se, it is culturally linked to psychedelics, and it’s legal in 30 states and counting. Then there’s the recent publication of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. The book, written by celebrated author and journalist Michael Pollan, cracked the Top 10 of Amazon’s books charts and is sure to further accelerate the field’s growing respectability.Such developments were unthinkable in the mid-’60s when psychedelics, helping fuel the counterculture’s alienation from mainstream American culture and politics, were pushed underground through prohibition. Having been booted out of Harvard University in 1963, outlaw psychonaut Timothy Leary (in)famously exhorted America’s youth to “turn on, tune in, drop out”; Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, meanwhile, kickstarted the hippie movement with their Bay Area Acid Tests. Rock ’n’ roll played a central role in the spreading of this psychedelic gospel. As musicians themselves experimented with hallucinogens, they in turn penned anthems charting their consciousness-expanding adventures.The first wave of anthems, probably more inspired by cannabis than hallucinogens, sound rather innocuous, even goofy in hindsight. Bob Dylan’s double entendre-laced “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” wraps early “head” humor inside a marching band sing-along, and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” sways with childlike innocence as John Sebastian croons the slyly suggestive lines, “And you can be sure that if you’re feeling right/ A day dream will last long into the night.”In 1966, however, the folksy playfulness of these tunes gave way to noggin-blurring proselytizing. The Beatles—whom Leary, in one of his typically hyperbolic bursts of cosmic thought, described as being “endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species”—led the charge. The group dropped both “Tomorrow Never Knows,” perhaps the first rock song to truly drone, and “She Said She Said,” a cryptic reference to an acid trip with Easy Rider actor Peter Fonda, into the sonically phantasmagoric Revolver. The Byrds kept apace, unleashing “Eight Miles High,” which certainly matched “Tomorrow Never Knows” in its ability to express the acid experience through mystical lyricism and raga-flavored music.The following year, 1967, saw the Jefferson Airplane and The Doors up the ante with “White Rabbit” and “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” respectively. Both are stirring—though radically different—evocations of West Coast’s exploding psychedelic movement. Where “White Rabbit” is a whimsical call to action drenched in Alice in Wonderland imagery, “Break On Through” comes on like a freight train threatening to jump the tracks. Its expression of a consciousness freed is reckless and unnerving (but also utterly thrilling).It’s important to remember that The Doors, named for Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, a chronicle of the author’s experiences with mescaline, weren’t flower-picking hippies; they were art-school bohemians whose music charted the shadowy side of psychedelia, especially the sense of loss and disconnect that comes with untethering the mind from reality. As Patrick Lundborg points out in his 2012 book Psychedelia: An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way of Life, “In that tumultuous era, as acidhead musicians directed their creativity towards reflecting their psychedelic experiences, the looming threat and occasional reality of dark, terrifying trips unavoidably came to influence the music.”This ominousness courses through The 13th Floor Elevators’ “Slip Inside This House” and Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” two of the era’s most emotionally complex anthems. The former, swirling into vortices of reverb, creates a profoundly esoteric vision, over the course of which the promise of spiritual enlightenment and the dangers of ego death coil around one another like snakes. Pink Floyd’s early anthem, on the other hand, is a cold, paranoid, and atonal portrayal of an acid trip as a rocket ride into the black expanse of space. Needless to say, both walk the existential edge, a fact that should come as no surprise considering both the Elevators’ Roky Erickson and Floyd’s Syd Barrett embodied the excesses of the psychedelic era: psychonauts who wound up venturing too far out, damaging themselves in the process.In the United States and United Kingdom, the golden era of the psychedelic anthem didn’t last all that long, roughly 1966 to 1969. By the time Woodstock went down, more and more musicians were eschewing cosmic exploration for earthbound rock heavily accented with country, soul, and blues. The visionary utopianism so profoundly linked to altered states of consciousness simply couldn’t weather the harsh realities of a war in Vietnam that seemingly had no end in sight, the ascendency of Richard M. Nixon and his Silent Majority to the Oval Office, and the brutal Civil Rights unrest of 1968. Hippies, reeling from these bitter developments, embraced more personal forms of enlightenment: yoga, meditation, and health food, to name a few. Or, they bolted for the country.Exceptions did pop up, like Funkadelic’s moodily sublime “Maggot Brain,” not an anthem in the strictest sense yet certainly a powerful expression of mind-smashing lysergia. There also were late-to-evolve psychedelic scenes in central Europe and Japan, where hippiedom didn’t take hold until the early ’70s. A perfect reflection of this is the Switzerland-based Brainticket, whose 1971 epic “Brainticket (Part Two)” really is one of the most over-the-top anthems of the era. It’s tough to imagine anything better capturing the wild, transgressive spirit of the times than when vocalist Dawn Muir moans the line “An army of thoughts retreating towards oblivion/ A square of light, a circle of thought, a triangle of nothing!!!” as though she’s descending her entire being into an LSD-fueled orgy from which there is no return.As with most of the expansive pieces on this playlist, it’s safe to say the researchers at Johns Hopkins don’t play a whole lot of Brianticket around the lab!
I don’t have the analytics to prove it, but my gut tells me that not a whole lot of folks outside of gnarly hardcore punks fuck with British label La Vida Es Un Mus. Which is somewhat understandable, seeing as how the scene is something of a subcultural island, one perfectly comfortable with not trying to amass converts. But still, more weird-ears should be tuning to the London-based label, founded back in 1999, as they’ve been unleashing some of the year’s toughest and most engaging records not just in hardcore but across the DIY spectrum. Via a steady stream of releases, the label’s founder, Paco Mus (who it should be noted cares nothing for press attention), has expanded the parameters of hardcore punk to include all manner of underground hybrids. From repressing Aussie post-punks Constant Mongrel’s Living in Excellence—an album packed with suffocating riff-smudge, political unrest, and mutant sax screech—to releasing Spanish band Rata Negra’s Justicia Cósmica, buzzing melodic punk flaked with new wave synth-action.LVEUM are decidedly globally-minded. Of the roughly 20 full-lengths, cassettes, and singles dropped in 2018 (frantic pace, right?) they managed to chronicle thriving underground scenes in Singapore (Sial’s throttling Binasa EP), Australia (Priors’ flailing eponymously titled full-length), and the good, old United Kingdom (Snob’s irrepressibly eccentric self-titled slab). At a time when nationalism and xenophobia rip across the West, LVEUM’s championing of anti-establishment music and grassroots community from around the world doesn’t just feel refreshing but downright necessary. When digging into our playlist you’ll encounter tons of tracks from La Vida Es Un Mus’s 2018 releases, but you’ll also hear a smattering of older stuff (vital reissue-work included) from the imprint’s most beloved bands, like Es, Nailbiter, and the mighty Limp Wrist, who have been pivotal figures in the modern queercore movement. Press play and be prepared to trash shit Paris-style.
It’s tempting to frame 2018’s explosion of dark, industrialized sounds as a reaction to the election of Donald Trump, Brexit’s passing, and the waves of nationalism currently rippling across the West, but ultimately it’s inaccurate. After all, strains of mechanized dystopianism were emerging as early as the beginning of our current decade (perhaps as a response to the global failings of authoritarian neoliberalism, of which Trump himself is but an outgrowth). The early ‘10s were when we saw the first brooding recordings from Noah Anthony’s Profligate project, as well as key technoid murk from Silent Servant and Dominick Fernow’s more rhythmic cuts under his Vatican Shadow alias. Yet there can be little doubt that what started off as isolated pockets of activity has spread across experimental noise, avant-rock and -metal, and techno and coalesced into a full-blown movement. In terms of productivity and sheer inventiveness, this boom can rightly be compared to its predecessor scene of the late ’80s, back when industrial seeped into club music, ambient, folk, rock, and beyond.Indeed, many of 2018’s most vital underground records come caked in industrial grime. First and foremost, there’s Hiro Kone’s Pure Expenditure. Released on Dais Records, arguably the label most responsible for documenting the modern scene, Kone collapses dark techno and DIY electronics in on themselves, resulting in shattered groove research that’s both intensely complex and unapologetically visceral. Back in March, Dais also dropped Castration Anxiety, the debut full-length from HIDE. Featuring howler Heather Gabel, known for her unpromising stage performances, and Seth Sher, formerly of noise-rockers Coughs, the Chicago duo specialize in a slowly hammering take on rock-oriented industrial that, according to Gabel, transforms the illnesses plaguing modern society into violent catharsis.Falling somewhere between Kone and HIDE in its balance of brute force with psychic despair is Lana Del Rabies’ Shadow World, released on Deathbomb Arc, a California label that manages to document trajectories in both weirdo noise and outsider hip-hop. It’s an apt album title as the musician’s work seems to be forged inside a shadowy, liminal space that while informed by industrial also draws in elements of electronic music and an echo-drenched angst commonly associated with older styles of alt-rock. In fact, a lot of the artists found on our playlist share this very quality to varying degrees. If their ’80s counterparts pledged allegiance to industrial as though it were a political movement, their 21st-century descendants tend to avoid labelling themselves so vociferously—an anarchist’s devotion to Individual autonomy rather party solidarity, so to speak.Another big difference between the current industrial/industrial-leaning scene and its forebears in the ’80s is the sheer number of female artists now exploring these sounds. Back then, shit could get absurdly macho. (Strands of industrial rock even devolved into straight misogyny.) This time around, however, the most thrilling music is being made by women. In addition to Kone, Gabel, and Lana Del Rabies, there’s Puce Mary, Boy Harsher’s Jae Matthews, and Anna Schmidt of Milliken Chamber.Add to them to key cuts and remixes from JK Flesh, The Soft Moon, Imperial Black Unit, Uniform and The Body, and you’re definitely in for one hellishly immersive listening experience-- yet liberatory, too. Yes, a lot of this music is despairing, but through its thick, gauzy bleakness you’ll hear fresh, new voices burning with defiance and nonconformity, and that can only be an uplifting thing in the end.
On April 10 of this year, Ben McOsker announced that Load Records—after nearly a quarter-century of contorting brains—is closing up shop. To describe the underground rock and noise label’s run as stellar is a gross understatement. Few imprints that document the fringes of sound have released even half the amount of genre-defining albums that McOsker and his partner in crime Laura Mullen have: Lightning Bolt’s Ride the Skies, Sightings’ Absolutes, The USA IS A Monster’s Tasheyana Compost, Yellow Swans’ At All Ends—the list goes on. These aren’t just amazing records, they’re seeds that filtered out into the world and helped spawn a global noise movement that came to a screeching climax in the ’00s. To put Load’s legacy in its proper context, you’d have to reach back to the glory years of Touch and Go or Amphetamine Reptile for an apt comparison—though, truth be told, neither label ever ventured as far out sonically as Load.Founded in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1993, Load served as the primary outlet for the unique mix of local greaser punks and art-school transplants inhabiting the city’s sprawling underground. Lightning Bolt are the most popular of the Providence outfits, but Load also released critical titles from Olneyville Sound System, Thee Hydrogen Terrors, Pleasurehorse, Kites, Prurient, and The Human Beast. McOsker and Mullen also looked far beyond the city’s limits: By the mid-’00s, they were unleashing music from artists as far flung as New York City (Sightings, Excepter, The USA IS A Monster), Ohio (Sword Heaven, Homostupids), San Francisco (Total Shutdown, The Hospitals), and Norway (Noxagt, Ultralyd).Beyond its consistently excellent output, Load pushed the limits of what an independent record label could get away with while continuing to remain commercially viable. Most imprints—however freaky, cacophonous, and anarchic—that get a taste of success tend to begin playing it safe, opting to release records that rarely venture beyond what’s already proven to be popular. But, possessing a deep love for trickster spirit-like unpredictability, Load actually got stranger the more units it sold. How else do you explain the existence of the Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs MCs (Wid Ghatz)’s Wake Up and Smell the Piss, a descent into perverted, excrement-obsessed, lo-fi noise-hop that probably sold no more than a dozen copies? This record even confused Load’s most hardcore fans.But by unleashing such wildly uncommercial music alongside proven sellers like Lightning Bolt, Load helped give a much larger platform to genius musicians who are way too left field and individualistic for even the indie rock marketplace. For that, Load deserves some kind of cultural service award. Thank you, Ben and Laura!Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
The age of the rock ‘n’ roll shaman is nearly gone. As far as frontman archetypes go, David Bowie’s cool and detached postmodernism won and Jim Morrison’s fiery and passionate romanticism lost. The idea of rock as something sacred and visionary has gradually gone out of fashion. This makes a singer like Mark Lanegan, who just released his 10th full-length, Gargoyle, a dead man walking. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.Ever since the longtime cult artist was a young underground rocker—one clearly inspired by Morrison and haunted punk-bluesman Jeffrey Lee Pierce, whose performances were regularly described as séances and possessions—Lanegan and his dark, cavernous, graveyard groan have been evoking spirit images of archaic apparitions and the underworld. In particular, the singer’s rendition of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” (which predates Nirvana’s) sounds like a transmission from hell. Meanwhile, his lyrics come littered with Jungian imagery and references to religion and altered states of consciousness: In the 2004 single “Hit The City,” a sublimely ominous rocker featuring PJ Harvey on backing vocals, he sings about darkness, the promised land, ghosts, and kingdom come—that’s some grade A esoterica.Shamans are loners, people who participate in village life yet largely live outside of it, and that’s Lanegan to a tee. While he spent a good deal of his early years with Screaming Trees—a Pacific Northwest band who were always more in tune with the otherworldliness of ’80s psychedelia than sweaty dude-grunge—he started his solo career way back in 1990 with The Winding Sheet. Since then, the 6’ 2” brooder has cut a labyrinthine path: In addition to a slew of solo gems blending mountain folk balladry, gothic-tinged blues rock, dream pop, and even electronic, he’s racked up short-lived collaborations with stoner rock gods Queens of the Stone Age, Scottish chanteuse Isobel Campbell, fellow alt-rock icon Greg Dulli, avant-garde guitarist Duke Garwood, and electronic producer Moby. Lanegan loves working with other musicians, he just never sticks around for very long. Perhaps that’s because the vocalist, like any shaman, ultimately feels more at home in the spirit world than our own.Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
Atlanta’s Black Lips belong to a long and winding lineage of garage rockers and twang-infused punks from the South, and continue that tradition with the new release of their eighth album, the Sean Ono Lennon-produced, Satan’s Graffiti Or God’s Art? In addition to hugely influential labels like Goner, the region has coughed up a slew of the genre’s most notable pioneers. With “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” Lone Star State psychonauts The 13th Floor Elevators created what may very well be the single most important song in the mid-’60s merger of garage and psychedelia, while the lo-fi bash and screech of Memphis heavyweights Jay Reatard and Oblivions are central to the evolution of modern garage punk (with each spawning a slew of projects, spotlighted in our playlist).It should come as no surprise that a good chunk of Southern garage rock soaks up the region’s more renowned flavors: blues, soul, gospel, and rockabilly. The Moving Sidewalks, Billy Gibbons’ pre-ZZ Top outfit, blend orange sunshine-fueled fuzz with the kind of greasy R&B swing heard in East Texas juke joints; Alex Chilton’s “My Rival,” from his 1979 cult classic, Like Flies On Sherbert, is a brain-blasted concoction of ’50s boogie and eccentric New Wave that has more in common with Swell Maps than Big Star. Seratones are another telling example—the young band from Shreveport, Louisiana, have in AJ Haynes a powerful singer equally inspired by gospel and distortion-caked punk.But there are plenty of garage rockers in the South who aren’t the least bit rootsy. Nots, one of the hardest and hottest bands to emerge from Memphis’ always fertile scene, are cold, brittle, and jagged, just like old-school post-punks on Rough Trade (Kleenex, Delta 5, and Stiff Little Fingers). In contrast, Nashville’s JEFF The Brotherhood devote a lot of their creative energy to cutting garage with hook-littered power pop, glam, and shambolic indie rock. But enough chatter, people—it’s time to press play and lose yourself in a whole mess of Southern-fried snarl and reverb.Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.