by Richard Southard, The River Editor
I find “rock music” to be such a general term. I don’t often find myself describing music off the word alone, or at least not without some other descriptor attached to it. Most other blogs, websites, and databases don’t appear to have a problem with it, though, so perhaps it is just me. I have been known to be picky with labels.
I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that the first music I heard was rock. I recall many car rides throughout my childhood where my father would put in a cassette tape of Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Beatles, or Creedence Clearwater Revival (his all-time favorite). I began to call it “old-people music” despite not knowing any other music to compare it to.
Of course, I’m not just referring to classic rock. As I went through school, as well as the many phases that come out through adolescence, rock music was the go-to sound in my headphones. I was a guy always listening to metal on the bus, during class, and on my walks up and down my dirt road.
But alas, this isn’t about me. It’s about music. So as always, here’s some to try out:
Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Post-rock could’ve made this entire list, but I’m shooting for a bit of variety. So, here’s one of my favorites of the style. Hardcore is a what I’d call a “rainy day” album; a bunch of chill, (mostly) instrumental tracks with many great riffs and seamless progression. The more intense moments have buildups that head towards a climax, before echoing or fading themselves out. Mogwai has done similar works in the past, but I find Hardcore to be the most streamlined effort of it.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Alt-J (a.k.a. ∆) is certainly not an “under-the-radar” suggestion, but it is a good one. With a style that has been described as “smart pop” and “art rock”, there’s a wide variety of instrumentals and effects here. Joe Newman’s vocals are as unique as the production. “Taro” is definitely my favorite track here, with a sort of east-meets-west groove that starts early on and continues throughout the great vocal harmonies. This Is All Yours, their album following this, is also great.
Swans – To Be Kind
I have the habit of suggesting a least one slightly inaccessible album, and that continues here. What quickly becomes clear through Swans music is their use of repetition. “Bring the Sun” (my personal favorite) has nothing but two notes for about the first two minutes. However, some patience will show that even the repetitive moments hold a surprising amount of variation, with their progression and cathartic build-ups. This one took me time to like, but it’s become one I really like.
Cult of Luna – Vertikal
Pushing the definition of “rock” on this one, since this would probably be much more along the lines of metal. But when the 1927 film Metropolis is the main source of inspiration, it’s certainly something to talk about. Vertikal is described as “post-metal”, taking some of the progressive, unconventional techniques you might find from bands such as Mogwai or Swans, and expressing them from a more aggressive, metal-oriented style. Some of the dark interludes even remind me of Boards of Canada, but that post is now in the past.
TesseracT – Altered State
I feel like I have tossed around the word “progressive” too much already, but “progressive rock” is part of this band’s description. Split into four parts, Altered State is a blend of crisp guitars, breathtaking atmospheres, and melodic hooks. The vocals are also excellent, and I appreciate how they move with the instrumentals, growing tense or loosening up as the tracks vary in intensity.
As with many genres, I’ve left out other examples. It seems that I’ve left out punk, other metal genres, lots of indie rock, folk rock, grunge, and of course “old people music”. But as always, the goal here isn’t to state the best and greatest albums of each genre. That would be a long and arduous process that I know I’m not prepared for (I’d have to eat and sleep, at some point). The goal is to introduce something new, and if I’ve done that, then mission accomplished.
If not, then there is always next week. Thanks for the read, and enjoy the weekend.
Additional note: If there is an artist or album that you believe I should be talking about, then don’t hesitate to send word out to me, whether it be in the comments, on social media, or through The River email. Just as I’m always giving suggestions, I’m always looking for them as well.