A few months back I played one of my favorite songs of the year, “Rockabilly Party” off of the newest Quasi album on Sit or Spin. The song, a Neil Young style guitar rave up, is nothing revelatory or new but it’s a great SIMPLE rock song.
I always have and always will preach the importance of simple rock music. Don’t get me wrong I like weird and complicated music. Music that stretches the boundaries of what music is or used to be. Music that pushes the envelope and creates something completely new. BUT, not everything has to be new and original. A lot of “original” music tries to hard to be original and falls very short of being revelatory. Thus the brilliance of “Rockabilly Party”. Its takes an old archetype without simply rehashing it, it recasts it in a new light, creating something completely new. Some people don’t like simple rock music, one of the panelists that night was one of those people. He claimed that it was passe to make rock music, he said that everything that could be done had been done with rock music. He only liked “new” and “original” music. The “new” and “original” song he played was a song by a band Autechre, a three minute drone that had no melody or music to it at all. It sounded like a broken air conditioner frankly, and it was only “original” because it wasn’t music, it was just sound.
That night made me think about how a lot of great—not necessarily simple— rock music has been made since the beginning of this year. The great southern rock shit-kickers the Drive-By Truckers released one the best albums of their career, and maybe of the year, employing a crunchy guitar onslaught and somewhat twisted, story driven lyrics. The Hold Steady released their newest album Heaven is Whenever which has the same immediacy and enthusiasm of previous records. Although this album has the band reaching for the cheap seats and singer Craig Finn is in somewhat of a dad mode, the music has the ferocity and punch that we as fans have come to expect from the Hold Steady. Speaking of ferocious, one of the best rock records of the year come from New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus. The Monitor grabs you by the throat and never lets go. It’s an album rooted in classic rock nostalgia—paraphrasing Springsteen, “tramps like us/baby we were born to die”— and punk spirit. It has true grit and true tenacity and it is rooted in the ethereal experience of rock music. All three bands are rooted in the immediacy and experience of rock music.
The Black Keys are another band that has added to this year’s collection of great rock music. The Black Keys gained prominence with a few albums of meat and potatoes rock music but in more recent history the band has stretched out their sound. On their last album, Attack and Release, Dangermouse was behind the boards and his influence is hard to miss. Attack and Release found the Black Keys moving into a more adventurous, psychedelic direction. Brothers mines a lot of the same vein as Attack and Release while also moving the band into newer unmapped territory. Cuts like “Next Girl” and “Tighten Up” are archetypal Keys tracks both sounding like they could have been outtakes for Attack and Release — in a good way The most surprising changes in the Black Key’s sound is their Motown and soul leanings.For the first time on record lead singer Dan Auerbach sings in falsetto, a far cry from his bluesy howl, while songs like “Never Gonna Give You Up” find the band in a more Motown-y head space, it is easy to say that this is the most adventurous Black Keys album to date.
Rock music isn’t about flash or reinventing the wheel, because the wheel keeps rolling There is an immediacy to rock music and an immediate gratification, that’s why it doesn’t need to be complicated or challenging.Life is complicated and and challenging, why not just enjoy the simple things in life?
Nick Van Huis