All things considered, I don’t spend a whole lot of time listening to standard rock music. A majority of what I listen to would fall under the Greater Rock umbrella genre, to be sure. However, there are a fair many differences between bands in that genre, and my default stance lately has been that mainstream rock (or rock following mainstream patterns) is devoid of creativity. When I listen to rock, I am usually listening to bands with subgenre caveats, such as math, noise, etc.
But not always. Today I’m going to walk through a couple of great bands that are, at their heart, simple rock groups. Nothing too fancy, nothing particularly unpredictable, but all bands that caught my attention in the past few months for reasons other than purely technical acumen.
These guys are a sincere throwback to grunge. On the radio, I hear bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam receive a disproportionately large amount of airtime compared even to popular contemporaries such as Alice in Chains or Stone Temple Pilots. In a sense, this genre has been left behind. Therefore, Pile really brings something interesting to the table by resurrecting it. When I heard Baby Boy, it made me go “wow, THIS is grunge!” for the first time in many years.
They bring an interesting combination of the slow, grungey/stoner tone with what feels like high energy rock, even without the tempo that you’d ordinarily associate with “high energy”. What really made my ears perk up was Prom Song. It is a soaring high point on their album Dripping (which I recommend) with an ending-section that is not to be missed.
It’s hard to pin down the type of band that Dartz is (which is generally the case when last.fm settles for “Indie” as the prevailing description). I hear a lot of elements of pop-punk in their songs (e.g. Once, Twice, Again!), but they’ve got a math-y side to them as well (e.g. Harbour).
A lot of the technicality in the band comes from the guitar, but I actually quite like the way the bass and the drums interact in their songs. The breakdown about halfway through Laser Eyes is a demonstration of what I mean. It is my favorite song off This Is My Ship, and it’s because of how they manage the little things, such as that section. There’s nothing wildly technical going on, but that combination of grooviness with the general sense of motion in the song really worked for me.
This is one of those bands that gets a lot done with only three people — it’s something I’m a fan of in rock music in general, and why groups like Chevelle remain memorable to me. They’re also an example of a band that has good interaction between the drums, bass, and guitar without getting exceedingly technical. See: the captivating intro to A Hole in the World. That song also has a pretty bitchin’ solo section, to compete with Prom Song.
As a distinction from Pile, these guys are a high energy band that DOES have the tempo to go with it. They’ve got a lot of songs like Black Lions and Blood Dance that are fast-paced and upbeat. I also enjoyed Nova Scotia, which has a poppier feel to it.
We’re beginning a bit of a departure from the theme here, because it is questionable whether Cymbals Eat Guitars qualifies as “standard” rock. Eyebrows would probably raise at Indiana, which is some kind of weird psychedelic folk track. However, what got me listening to them was actually a pretty straightforward rock song: Airbed. What they do on that song is the hallmark of a good rock band, in my mind: even though they’re playing exactly the same chords throughout the entire song, they somehow still go places. The song changes while not changing. They get a lot of a little. A tip of the hat to the power of the loud/quiet dichotomy that I rave about so often.
Not every song they have is like that (in fact, most aren’t). However, there is so much variety on their albums that they nonetheless have many badass tracks. Cold Spring is another good one. And it has some weird combinations as well… post-hardcore… folk… post-rock? Just a really interesting listen off a really interesting album.
We’re going to take the departure even further now because these guys are just so cool that I had to bring them up. This band is a side project of some members of Red Sparowes – a band I do not find interesting at all, as it happens – that have developed a really intriguing sound for themselves. As you can hear on Southern Eye, it’s a peculiar juxtaposition of dark, guttural instrumentation with the bright, mesmerizing voice of their vocalist. Oddly enough, that sound actually reminds me of Chvrches, genres notwithstanding.
Kitsune is one of the most based AND dank albums I have heard in a while, and at 25 minutes I’d recommend just listening to the whole thing. The gravity of the guitar/basswork is absolutely brutal. Salome is a step away from the (essentially) sludge of Kitsune toward a more experimental but still quite dark direction. The drums get to shine more because of it. The vocals are enchanting either way.