Mod music for a colonial

I’ve always admired the UK’s mod scene. I love the scooters and suits, the streamlined aesthetic and confident cool. And of course I love the music, but mod’s kind of unique this way–much of the most beloved music in mod culture could never have been made by the kids themselves. They revered American R&B and Jamaican ska as much as homegrown rock bands like the Who and Small Faces. Contrast that with almost any other subculture scene–punk was about snotty kids forming their own rude bands, and what could be more metal than learning to shred the guitar yourself? Some of the best compilations of mod and Northern Soul music are out of print or unavailable in the U.S, so I decided to recreate a set using YouTube. Enjoy!

Everything old is new again, and again, and again

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!

“Left of the dial” in 1985

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.