Crispy's Guide to the New Rock 'N Roll
what is the perfect rock song?
Where things went wrong was in the rejection of the blues tonality and structures that always
have to be heard as the essence of the rock form. Rock originates out of r&b and country: the
fundamental sounds would be represented by, let us say, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. The
early Stones and Beatles were already revivalists of this form. Then people like Clapton, Paige,
Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison set out on a systematic investigation and innovation of the blues form.
This had a tendency to be obscured by art rock or slick pop or glam of the seventies. We could
say that the early Ramones/Pistols punk is a neo-classical blues rock: focused on simplicity and
intensity of expression. Hardcore, on the other hand, is not fundamentally concerned with blues
structures, though obviously something of the intensity and attack of the blues is there. But a
fundamental turning point is when Minor Threat gave way to Fugazi, which unmoors punk from
blues. This basically extended into grunge, though certainly there are bluesy moments there. But
it's muddy and devoted to a kind of sensitivity (real or feigned) rather than, let us say, clarity and
forward drive. Even today's pop punk a la Blink 182 sets a static structure and, um, kinda carps
over it, with little momentum.
That I want to hear the blues is my fundamental prejudice about music, so imagine my delight a
couple of years ago when I heard the Strokes and the White Stripes. This is exactly the right
place to go, and now there are a lot of people doing similar things. Of course there are always periodic roots revivals: think Blasters, Georgia Satellites, Stray Cats. This
seems somehow a hipper and more successful movement, perhaps because it's come as a such a surprise. Reference points, obviously,
are sixties garage rock, early blues rock a la the Yardbirds and Stones, proto-punk like MC5 and
Iggy (Detroit is a center), and at least an early-punk dedication to aggression. There are
problematic aspects of this whole thing however. The fucked-up production is obviously a pose
in a certain way: it evokes garage rock, or conveys a faux naivete. Obviously the Strokes can
afford studio time. The same is often true of the playing, where sometimes you have the
impression that the guitarist is making mistakes on purpose so that the thing sounds rough.
Nevertheless, and in part by such means, a lot of this music does convey the impression of real
simple, healthy vitality. So now I'm gonna run through some of the bands. More will be added as
I go along. Let me know whom I should hear.
Black Keys (Akron)
When Emma played this for me, I couldn't believe what I was hearing: raw white blues with a
contemporary feel and mastery of the trad. About fucking time. Actually I could wish for a bit of
a cleaner sound, but maybe that's exactly wrong. If they need a harp player (they do) I'm
available. Extreme vitality and urgency and truth. yearnin'
What a great band. Very garage, but good playing, good singing, and a Farfisa organ sound
on some cuts that evokes ? and the Mysterians. Rigorous riff rock that's pretty raw, melodic, good, and fun.
One of the best of this sort of band, I believe.
Cato Salsa Experience (Norway)
Very much more on the rockabilly/country rave-up wavelength than most. But also with the occasional heavy metal riff.
Very rough sounding, but also well-played and made. A pretty wild-eyed synthesis. super gyration
The Datsuns (New Zealand)
The Detroit Cobras
Strong, basic rock in a variety of modes with excellent female vocals. Cleaner and sweeter than
some of these bands, with more poppish melodies: a bit of girl group too. Also capable of
breaking off a straightup blues rocker, a rockabilly, a touch of Eddie Cochran or even Blondie.
Very intelligent with a lot of life as well.
unlike, for example, cato salsa experience, the dirtbombs have a great name, perfect for a band that
plays this kind of music. in fact, i'd say it's a perfect name for this style of music in general, and, using my shamanic power of calling things by their true names, i hereby dub the whole thing "dirtbomb."
mick collins is fundamental to the detroit scene, and this music is some of the most vital rock now being made. sometimes termed "neo-soul,"
the dirtbombs actually are completely ecelectic, feeding bubblegum, hard rock, whatever, through the fuzz and the thrash. very, very good music. ode to a black man
The Hives (Sweden)
More punky than most. "Hate to Say I Told You So" may be the single best moment of the
whole genre: a perfect, raucous, melodic, neo-classical single.
this band is at the moment (8.03) in heavy rotation on fuse with a steaming rock song: "are you gonna be my girl." every time they
come on, vincie calls me to the tv. the singer's got an ac/dc t-shirt; the guitarist a flying v. i picked up a four-song ep: classic
rock indeed. in fact, they kind of remind me of black crowes or the cult: 80s/90s revival of 60s/70s blues rock/hard rock. they're better
than the crowes, though, who kinda grate on me, and not just because the singer used to date my ex-fiance.
Rudimentary, but not uninteresting. Dark. Actually, esp when the girl starts singing, they remind me
of X. On the other hand, i hate X, and not only because Exene was a bitch to me when I tried to interview them.
She especially had a sucking problem: her voice was not much, and her lyrics were not nearly as good as
people thought. Anyway, the Kills are bluesy with very much a punk inflection, but the melodies are
perhaps simply too extremely repetitive.
The Mooney Suzuki (NYC)
Unlike most of these bands, the Mooney Suzuki resorts a lot to direct quotation (even sampling?)
of the styles they emulate ("Louie Louie," e.g.). But they twist the quotations around and back
on themselves, and deliver the whole schmeer with a lot of power and joy. I'm always groping for the
source, but I'm enjoying the song while I am. electric sweat
probably usually thought of as a pop punk band, the peawees are actually vital rock archivists who make
perfect clean trad rock. echoes of buddy holly, elvis, etc, all looked at through the lens of the ramones.
below is one
of the best albums ever.
The Raveonettes (Sweden)
Kinda spooky. I'm not a big fan of the singing, but the song structures are strong and the sound
is big and classical. I'm trying to think of reference points: they'd be in the late sixties, along
with a hint of punk sensibility. Much more carefully produced than most of this stuff, but hence
a bit stilted.
The Strokes (NYC)
The band that brought this movement to a lot of people's attention. As guilty as anyone can be of
the simulation of naivete, but for all that great: excellent varied melodies, a coherent style both
historical and original, real urgency.
The Vines (Australia)
They're often mentioned in roundups of "the new garage rock" etc., but should probably be
detached. Much too sweet, Beatley, or BeachBoyesque for my taste, with sweetish harmonies.
Still there are obviously some strong songs.
Von Bondies (Detroit)
Scumbled-up guitars coming at you through echo effects and howling vocals. There's a touch
too much seriousness for my taste; they could use a lighter touch. Still, when they get it, they get:
the stuff flat-out rocks. So flat-out it's scary sometimes. The title of one of their songs - "The
Sound of Terror" - kinda sums it up. Sergio Leone meets Black Flag. I'm a bit surprised Jack White could kick their ass. c'mon c'mon
White Stripes (Detroit)
Welcomed as geniuses, and you can see why. Actually the sound is more contemporary than
most of these bands': good production, and some sort of almost rigid, mechanical underlying
rhythms that bespeak the third millennium. Also, many of these bands can be a mite . . . incessant,
but the White Stripes play in a variety of tempos, instrumentations, etc. Jack White reminds me of Robert Plant, though
other folks I know seem puzzled by the comparison. Very much a variety of tempos and attacks,
and some damn near perfect, real rock songs. Much more varied and eclectic than most of these bands