Never was a metaphorical sword so dangerous to its owner as nostalgia. We remember our childhood (or nation) through a golden haze of “the good old days,” and even more surely judge music when thinking of the songs that played over the intense emotions of our youth. I repeat this mantra to help keep myself clear-eyed when ruminating on some of the musicians who are reviving the sounds, techniques, and feel of 1970s rock and soul.
Some of these are just the continuation of longer-term trends like stoner rock. Find some way to get Wolfmother or Blood Ceremony onto an 8-track and pass it to a hesher in 1976; they’ll be completely fooled. But the past few years have also seen a resurgence in ambitious, complex soul/fusion from geniuses like Janelle Monae, Brownout, and Thundercat. There’s also an interest in the gentle, gorgeous sounds that emanated from Laurel Canyon–First Aid Kit and Fleet Foxes are both international sensations.
This kind of music always runs the risk of slavish copying–well done and enjoyable in its own way, but ultimately pointless, endlessly circling an artistic cul-de-sac laid down long ago. That’s why I most admire acts who take the spirit and techniques of those times and do something totally new. Jonathan Wilson and Midlake make albums that are producer-centered, evoking a time of dropping the needle on pristine vinyl, playing it in your bedroom with a friend or two and a joint to keep you company, lying back, and listening. Troker starts with an unlikely combination of party funk and Zappa style freakout, then adds sampling and hip hop elements. Russian Circles make post-rock (itself just a sneaky way for indie kids to avoid saying they like prog) and injects a hard-edged energy to get heads bobbing in the concert halls.
As per my usual strategy here’s a playlist of some music that I think falls into this modern revival. By all means let me know if you want to recommend more, or if you disagree what’s here!
This was 30 years ago? Come on, I mean . . . this does NOT feel like 30 years ago.
Close your eyes and you can almost believe it’s 1995.
The Replacements coined a musical term that meant a lot: “left of the dial.” It meant that when you were driving in an unfamiliar city and turned on the radio your first step was to turn the dial all the way to the left; if you didn’t find good music before you hit 92 FM, you were shit out of luck. College radio always broadcast on those frequencies–still does–so you’d hope to get a strong enough signal to get music that spoke to you. Because otherwise, my friend, it’s Madonna or REO Speedwagon or Whitney Houston for you. There are a few pop hits in the playlist below, but mostly these are the sounds you’d here on “progressive” college radio back in 1985.
Man, these are exciting times. Beyoncé dropped Lemonade and I’m still taking it in–in fact, the current trends in hip hop and R&B generally are damned exciting. Bob Mould has come roaring back with his best album since Sugar’s debut; the revival of 70s AOR sounds is picking up steam; Wax Idols and Savages are still carrying the post-punk flag. Hope you enjoy.
OK, I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now. I’ll go into more detail about each of these albums later, but for now here’s a YouTube playlist featuring songs from my favorite albums of the year.
Back when I was a college radio programmer (that an a buck will buy you a cup of coffee) Chapel Hill, North Carolina was one of the most musically exciting communities in the world. One of my favorite rock and roll bands, Southern Culture On the Skids, helped organize a local festival called Sleazefest. It’s been going on and off ever since, but this was the very first one, and they made a documentary about it. There was never a DVD release–this was 1994, kids!–but you could find it on videotape if you were lucky. Apparently it was available online at one point, but that site’s gone dark.
So I’ve rectified that. If you want some great performances from underground American music in the early 90s, check out some of the great psychobilly performances of Sleazefest.