Some new rock music

My As We See It column in the November 2021 issue of Stereophile was a sincere expression of regret over my inability to connect with current rock music. It ended with a request for recommendations. I got 'em. What's more, most (but not quite all) of those who responded found themselves in the same situation: They too found most current rock'n'roll difficult to relate to.

So, it seems appropriate to share some of the responses, right here on this page. But first, I'll note a few bands and albums from the last couple of decades that I like very much but failed to mention in that column: Spoon, especially Transference; Wilco, especially Yankee Hotel Foxtrot; TV on the Radio, especially Return to Cookie Mountain.

Those albums, though, are a little bit old, so beyond the scope of my current plea, which was for music of the present moment—released, let us say, during the last several years by bands that weren't around until a few years before that. Some of the recommendations below violate one or both of these requirements—the band has been around too long, or the music isn't quite recent enough. I decided to include them anyway because they're pretty recent and they're good.

I received far too many strong recommendations to include on this page. This is just a sampling, but if it's on the list, I've listened to it and, while I may not connect with it deeply, I can at least understand its appeal.

The musical act most frequently recommended: Wet Leg, comprising two young women from the Isle of Wight. They don't have an album yet—just two singles. Both are hilarious and catchy as hell, especially "Chaise Longue." They're almost a novelty act, but then so was Devo. So were the B-52s.

Here's an excerpt of an email I received from Chris Livengood (who, with his wife, whom he met "in underground punk/hardcore clubs in the '90s," runs EMBER Audio + Design in Winston-Salem, North Carolina). "There is so much great shoegaze, post-punk, hardcore, and metal worthy of exploring, but a crux for me has always been that it needs to be lyrically relatable and make me want to raise my fist or convulse as well as this aging body will allow." Chris recommends Drug Church, specifically their LP Cheer and recent single "Tawny." Both, Chris writes, "are seemingly built from familiar parts, but a recombination with more brains, insight, and verve than seemingly exists elsewhere." He ends with, "if it doesn't sound good on your system, head to the car, roll the windows down, drive far, and turn it up. It's balm for you, not your gear." Hear, hear.

Jerry Jarvis of Midlothian, Virginia, took an oblique approach to satisfying my request for new music: "Why not try going deeper on the Glory Days of artists you already like or even their contemporaries? For example, I'm a big Linda Ronstadt an, and I've had a great time finding old Karla Bonoff albums and listening to her originals of many of Linda's best tunes. ... Another great example is Georgie Fame—his transition from rock and skiffle in his early days to the wide variety of jazz he does now is always an enjoyable listen." Rick Dembicki of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, recommends Freedom Fry. "Check out their cover of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.' And yes, I am old enough to know the original." Rick also recommends Montreal's Fwonte. "'Peyi' is a beautifully crafted—nay, near-perfect—three-and-a-half minute, highly danceable wonder. I look ugly when I dance, but I just can't help it when I play this man's music."

Mike Harkins, who is based in Austin, Texas, and so has ample opportunity to hear new music, writes, "For a real blues-rock experience, I heartily recommend Carolyn Wonderland's new release, Tempting Fate. Carolyn just got off a tour with John Mayall, and he doesn't hire slouch guitar players."

James Price, another Texan—from Galveston—offered these recommendations: "Wooden Fields, S/T; Motorizer, Seduction; Mercury Boys, Return to Cinders; Devil's Witches, Cherry Napalm; Laino & Broken Seeds, Sick to the Bone; Night Beats, Outlaw R&B."

Not everyone who wrote in was a stranger. I received the following from Kurt Gottschalk, who, in addition to contributing music reviews to Stereophile, hosts Afternoon New Music Tuesdays at 3pm on WKCR, the excellent Columbia University radio station. (Yes, there's an internet radio stream, so check it out.) Kurt writes, "Here's a sampling of rock albums from 2021 I enjoyed: Black Midi, Cavalcade; Fucked Up, The Year of the Horse; Big Brave, Ilk; Melvins, Five-Legged Dog; Liturgy, Origin of the Alimonies; Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg; plus the new Nobro single."

London-based Phil Brett, another Stereophile music reviewer, also recommended Dry Cleaning's New Long Leg. Phil calls Dry Cleaning a "great South London post-punk band" and their new album "Brilliant. Female spoken vocals over fantastic beat. Worth checking out. Competing with Pharoah Sanders's Promises for new release of the moment." Interesting juxtaposition.

I also heard from Jason Davis, who has written two My Back Pages essays over the last couple of years. Jason offered a long list of thoroughly annotated recommendations, all on the heavy side, almost enough for a column all by itself. I'll save most of that for a different moment and include just one of his recommendations here. "Deafheaven's Infinite Granite," he wrote, "is my album of the year."

Mastodon's album Hushed and Grim, released in September, was recommended by several readers.

From Josh Zeckser of Portland, Oregon: "Nova Twins"—you're welcome! Can I have a free tube amp now, please?" Sure you can—wait, you meant from me? No, sorry.

I'll end with what might be my favorite email so far: "I am sending this for my brother Steve. He has a suggestion. Call him at [phone number deleted], 8am–8pm EST before November 1."

Anton's picture

Did we criticize middle aged people in the 60s for not relating to the new rock music of the time?

Did they not say that the music of 40 years prior was where it was at and they just couldn't get the modern idiom?

Really, we are just old.

The Struts are as compelling as Queen (I think better, actually.)

Manneskin could be The Stooges.

Also, getting a new record at age 12 was a totally different thing than it is now. Your tenth record would obviously have more relative impact than your 3,000th.

I was also more moved by 20 year old women when I was 20 than I am now, but I don't think anatomy has changed much.

I also wonder if audiophilia plays a part in this. When you were 18, a slamming pair of Cerwin Vegas might sound great. Now we rate albums based on 'sonics.' We never rated the actual Sonics based on 'sonics,' but we do that now.

We are old and we've seen more things, it's harder for ANYTHING to have an impact the size of things we experienced when we were young.

There is fabulous music out there, we just need to turn up our own energy and be as open to new and exciting things as we used to be.

Old man rant over, thank you for the suggestions! I'm gonna search them out!

Jack L's picture


It depends, my friend. On the contrary sometimes.

Classical music is not for impulsive listeners, young or old. Like many vinyl fans, I threw out my old records to make up for the arrival of 'new' CD era some half a century back. I unexpectedly picked up the same records in local thrift stores a few year ago. Frankly I somewhat got the fond 'impact' of owning back again such old music masterpieces which my young self was not seasoned enough to appreciate their timeless value.

Like you, I'm no longer young at all.

Jack L

downunderman's picture

A line from one of his songs: 'There aint no rock and roll no more, just music of the young'

Long-time listener's picture

"Your tenth record would obviously have more relative impact than your 3,000th."

Good observation. Absolutely right.

"I was also more moved by 20 year old women when I was 20 than I am now, but I don't think anatomy has changed much."

"Anatomy" has changed. Generations after me (us) liked Guns 'N Roses or Coldplay or whoever was playing at the time, but does anyone think Guns 'N Roses or Coldplay are the equal of the Beatles? Or Hendrix? Or even It's a Beautiful Day? Coldplay fans LIKE Coldplay, but they didn't react with hysteria or worshipful devotion. Coldplay fans won't be watching 8-hour documentaries 50 years from now to search for the secret of their creativity -- because they didn't have all THAT much of it.

Anton's picture

You add more facets to this great topic!

Jack L's picture


Sorry, not that "absolutely right" for me.

Jack L

Long-time listener's picture

"Absolute" was way too strong. I still find new, interesting, enjoyable stuff, and I'm delighted when it happens. I guess I was thinking of the fact that my 10th Beethoven 5th could never have the impact on me that my first one did. Even if the 10th one turns out to be the best performance and recording out of the 10, it will still be, for me, just another variation on what I've already heard before. Pleasing perhaps, but no longer earth-shaking. And greater familiarity with music in general, from Monteverdi to Miles Davis, also unfortunately means that I tend to hear less "newness" in new stuff, and instead I hear more how it fits into all that went before.

The upside is that sometimes I can now appreciate things I never did before because my own boundaries have been extended. I now, finally, appreciate what Prokofiev was doing in some of his symphonies, whereas in the past there were parts of of those symphonies that simply sounded ugly to me.

Jack L's picture


Now we are on the same page.

Classical music is for in depth understanding & appreciation, not for impulsive "impact" like pop music. More listening more enjoyment. It's some long-term 'commitment', IMO. Seldom got tired of it like many pop music.

That said, I find some pop music I still love after some half a decade.
e.g. the Beatles, the Eagles, the Beach Boys, etc.

Of course, the way of 'liking' is no longer impulsive 'impact' or excitement I got when I was young first listening to them. Yet my 'liking' of the same music now transcents from excitement to deep appreciation & enjoyment.

Just like burgers get so excited to kids. When we all grown up, we still like burgers of the same make but in different way, right ?

Jack L

JHL's picture

As the universal language it clearly is and is said to be, music is always the cultural reflection of the times. Good rock of decades back may have been a shock to the classisists but it wasn't bereft of either meaning, composition, or musicianship.

The preponderance of pop stuff of the last twenty years is bereft, however, especially of meaning. Obviously it can't hold a candle to either prior era.

Culture did that. All are invariably reflections of the caliber of their respective times. The times always speak.

Popular music may eventually recover from the late 20th and turn of the century, but should it do so, narcissistic and meaningless eras have already self-identified as such. They're telling us outright that's what they are.

(If the B-52's and Devo are and were novelty acts, that observation is objective. Music, like everything else, has absolutes.)

It's not age and it's not identification. Dare to critique; raise the bar. It's why the magazine means something.

Anton's picture

"The preponderance of pop stuff of the last twenty years is bereft, however, especially of meaning. Obviously it can't hold a candle to either prior era."

I think what you said applies to all eras, it's just that music from more than 20 years ago has been through the 'crap filter' and we don't run into it. The chaff has already been separated from the wheat, so to speak.

Oh my gosh, go back to any of your halcyon years and look at the Billboard charts for those times.

Crap, crap, and more crap.

As new stuff arrives, it hasn't had time to be culled by the crap filter, and we end up with a lower opinion of it.

(I am happily chatting, no disagree-ability intended.)

I semi-randomly picked 1974 to look at:

The top of the charts for the year:

To me, absolutely overflowing with pop crap.

Only 3 of the top 10 are not crap.

Not to name names, but I count 63 crap songs in that top 100.

And of the good ones, I have probably only intentionally played ~7 of them in the past decade.

I don't think modern pop is any crappier than the pop that came before is all crap heavy. We just tend to recall the good stuff!

JHL's picture should be relatively straightforward listing a hundred genuinely creative, technically adequate, and musically fulfilling pop songs from any recent decade.

Myself, I don't recall hearing even five in 20 years.

_cruster's picture

You’d have to be a fool to think that with the sheer number of songs made publicly available in a calendar year that, somehow, every single one is inadequate - I can’t tell if you’re just trying to play the role of the curmudgeon, or if you honestly believe your “hot take”, but you just sound ignorant. There are many, many fine pop songs being released every year. You’re either not hearing them, or just pretending you’re not hearing them for effect.

JHL's picture

...that having temporarily forgotten a suitably representative example of good pop music for every forty-eighth month or so of the last two decades - even by my tragically flawed definition - you wish to move to the next and most personally deductive and insightful stage of our brisk online discourse on same.

Funny, because I can't recall them either. The songs, I mean.

Long-time listener's picture

"Culture did that. All are invariably reflections of the caliber of their respective times. The times always speak."

Yes. While you can find good or excellent musicians in any era, only certain periods of time produce startling new creative developments that end up being transformative.

PeterG's picture

I've been listening to Study by the new band Test Subjects. It's a concept album with multilayered synths, great humorous lyrics and vocals. You can hear ELO, Fleetwood Mac, and psychedelic era Beatles, but it is not retro, it's an extension

deckeda's picture

And familiarity breeds contempt. Yeah yeah, two sides of the same coin, right?

Genres more free to be free tend to begat more creativity. Now is not a great era for say, big band or pop to produce iconic melodies. I'm not saying it can't be done or that it won't happen, only that it isn't happening.

Weird music that doesn't go too far afield interests me, like Dry Cleaning's New Long Leg. I can dig it. But will I remember it? Not like I'd remember Penny Lane, but that's not the point. Should I BUY it? Probably.

I'm less of a fan of the band's representative not responding to a question I posed thru Bandcamp: The LP is out of stock there, yet in stock on the label's website ... I'd prefer to buy from Bandcamp for all the reasons anyone would prefer Bandcamp.

Chris L, if you're out there, yours are some interesting suggestions. And your store looks amazing.

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I used to listen to WERS during my commute and NPR on my day off but now I'm retired and got out of the habit. Here are some recentish artists you might like: Keane, Franz Ferdinand, The Electric Soft Parade, ChVrches, The Avett Brothers, Dawes, Diane Coffee, First Aid Kit, The Frames and Glen Hansard.