The newest release by The Black Keys, El Camino, is a perfect ending to what has been a phenomenal year in rock music. Which makes it even tougher to say that my beloved rock music has been placed firmly on the backburner. By backburner I mean El Camino is #1 on iTunes, but seems to be being ignored by rock radio and “serious” critics. Singers like Adele and snoozer singer/songwriter Bon Iver will be at the top of all the hippest best-of-the-year lists. Don’t get me wrong Adele has some serious pipes, but she’s not exactly ideal music for slamming away on an air guitar alone in your bedroom.
There have been some great albums released over the past few years (The Black Keys’ come to mind more than once, in fact), but for some reason 2011 has felt different. More exciting. There is a new generation of bands hitting their creative stride. The Black Keys and My Morning Jacket quietly began releasing music when real rock “returned” back in ’01 with the Strokes and the White Stripes, among a few others. I actually remember sitting quietly in my catholic school uniform on the school bus on the way to 6th grade while my face started melting like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark when I put Veni Vidi Vicious by the Hives in my CD player (wow “CD player” feels weird to type).
Anyway, it’s probably no coincidence that while The Strokes and The Vines burned hot until they flamed out The Black Keys and My Morning Jacket slowly rose to the top of the ranks. Good bands take time to develop and iron out their kinks (right here is where I regret not knowing enough about The Kinks to be able to insert a joke about them). Someone who heard Meet the Beatles for the first time in 1964 never would have guessed that something as different as Sgt. Pepper would come from the same band. In that sense, My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves is Rubber Soul (and, frankly, it’s better).
MMJ’s Circuital and El Camino are continuations of those bands high water marks they both started with the albums they released just prior but that’s the only similarity. Circuital is weird. The album starts with a gong and then singer Jim James mimics the sound of mariachi horns as they blast away. Most of the iTunes play counts for Circuital on my computer are around 10, but I’m even picking up more layers to each song as I listen to them now. That one is a slow burn for sure, but El Camino seems like its designed to be a soundtrack to a night that ends in a DWI…or starts with one. I’m literally too busy head banging to even try to describe it here. The Black Keys may have changed quite a bit since Thickfreakness, but they still aren’t afraid to put a loud breakdown in their songs or let the blues smolder.
There are more bands that inspire the devil horns than just The Black Keys and My Morning Jacket. Hopefully, 2011 will be a year that goes down as one when some seminal bands took their shot at greatness. Deer Tick is a band that takes the spirit of the Replacements and combines it with a taste of the Rolling Stones and the attitude of the Clash. What a combination. Divine Providence, their most recent release, is by far their best album yet. They’ve had a few uneven releases, but have always been one of those bands that you’re waiting to really explode. It seems like they’ve stopped trying to act like their influences and have finally just decided to let ‘er rip. Divine Providence absolutely RAWX. It’s shocking to me that tracks like “Let’s All Go To The Bar” and “Walkin’ Out That Door” aren’t being blasted in college bars across the country. Even if the major radio stations are behind the times, there’s no excuse for people to deny themselves some seriously great, ramshackle folk-punk (whaa? NO! It’s really that good) music. Turn this one up.
Deer Tick wears their influences on their sleeve, but some of the best new music blatantly rips off past artists. The Cute Lepers are more punk than rock, but they don’t mess around. It’s obvious that lead singer Steve E. Nix (nice one, dude) has been in a time warp for the past 30-or-so years, but it’s for the best. The Cute Lepers sound like Cheap Trick loving meth heads that decided to speed up Rick Nielsen’s sound, added a layer of keyboards and about a dozen more guitars. Adventure Time, also from 2011, roars out of the gate and doesn’t let up. This album was designed for an audience that wants to cut right to the chase and crank the volume in 1985 on the way to see Back To The Future at the drive-in.
Indie rock is fine and dandy, but a lot of it is just no fun. Rock music doesn’t always need to be original, three power chords in one song still goes a long way. 2011 was a year that brought me back to 6th grade and this may sound weird but I can’t believe I forgot how much I love having my face melted.