New rock music as an odd musical niche

My tastes coalesced around rock music, particularly the harder and faster kind, by the time I was in middle school. Earlier, they were oriented toward pop: The Beatles are my first and forever musical love.

My two older brothers were into music. One of them skewed pop/top-40. The other skewed Doors, psychedelic, and prog. Both were influences. My best friend at the time had an older sister who was well-versed in rock music and the '70s rocker-girl lifestyle; she turned me on to the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Cream, and in other ways. Also, it was the heyday of rock-FM in the vibrant metro–New York City market. I started making mixtapes early.

Later, that friend with the cool sister went away to prep school, got kicked out, and returned a fan of Chicago electric blues. Another friend introduced me to Pink Floyd, and together we discovered David Bowie. I grew up in the 'burbs, which meant more hard rock and metal than punk and new wave, but some of that music was on the radio and caught my ears. One of my brothers brought back a pile of punk albums and singles from a semester in the UK. Another influence.

Throughout all this, my parents (footnote 1) worked hard to instill a love of classical music—which made rock'n'roll all the more alluring—but eventually it "took." There was jazz in the house—I played some in my high school band—but it took me some time to love it.

Little rock music recorded in the 21st century has moved the needle for me. I find much of it repetitive, derivative, and boring, or it's made by 20th century artists who are sad shadows of themselves in their primes. Much pop tries too hard to reference hip-hop, or it's too obviously derivative of the Beatles or Beach Boys. Ever since the decline of 1990s grunge, for me it's been slim pickin's.

Every year, though, a handful of new albums goes into my rotation, and some stay. Occasionally, a new album or artist manages to bend my rock aesthetic. Hope springs eternal.

Streaming, for me, is a dream realized: I can now listen to pretty much anything I want, anytime, in any setting I choose. It's a wide-ranging, efficient way to check out new music.

Each week I get an e-mail from "Sebastian at Qobuz" touting the latest releases. (Sebastian doesn't exist, the folks at Qobuz tell me; "he" is an amalgam of Qobuz writers who contribute new-release announcements.) I then scroll through the new releases and give at least some of the songs a 30-second test. Usually, I feel like Charlie Brown kicking the football, or trying to; so often, modern-music Lucy pulls the ball away at the last second. I'm left unentertained and unengaged. But the rare exceptions are joyous discoveries.

A few weeks ago, in a single week's releases, five rock (or rock-ish) albums made it into current rotation. Here's a list.


Jack White is an alt-ish modern rocker with an old, blues soul. His new album, Fear of the Dawn, is modern in its loud, jangly, hard musical edges, but its songs feel and sound a bit like early Black Sabbath with a smattering of Led Zeppelin and a sprinkle of Iron Butterfly–style psychedelia. It's a booming, rude romp, and it feels as raw and manic as these times.


Wet Leg's self-titled debut is also loud and rude. And plenty fun. Brits Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers are the core of the band. The album sounds modern with its produced-in-the-computer feel. Wet Leg blatantly references David Bowie, and their attitude reminds me of earlier women rockers: Chrissie Hynde, Exene Cervenka, Poly Styrene, even some Joan Jett and the Runaways. There's a hint of Velvet Underground in those Lou Reed spoken-word vocals.


One of the freshest-sounding debut albums I've heard in a long time is Growing Up by The Linda Lindas, a group of California teens and preteens—also this issue's Recording of the Month. They can play as hard and fast as the Runaways but have a bit of that Go-Go's sound. They feel like a spring breeze and are just as welcome after two-plus years of COVID and mopey, inward-looking albums from other pop and rock artists. The future of rock music may be female.


Alt-rock Tex-Mex band Calexico has been around a while. Their music references Los Lobos, but they're more eclectic. El Mirador, their latest, is standing up well to repeated listens. It makes great driving music—plus, it's fun: Look no further than "The El Burro Song."

My recent stretch-the-envelope find is Bronco by Orville Peck, an obvious pseudonym. Interwebs sleuths say Peck is actually Daniel Pitout, a South African–Canadian drummer from the punk band Nü Sensae; apparently they have the same tattoos. Peck performs masked, often with fringe covering his mouth. His album is old-school Nashville country meets Elvis Presley near Bakersfield. Peck's schtick may be too thick for some, but if you listen without prejudice, there is much to like. The gem of the album is the last song, "All I Can Say," a duet with Bria Salmena of the Canadian rock band FRIGS. This could work on repeat as you drive west, post-breakup. If you like Bronco, also check out Peck's first album, Pony.

You have to dig deep, but there's some good new stuff out there. Finding it requires persistence and luck.

Footnote 1: The recording and mastering team Wilma Cozart and C. Robert Fine.

johnnythunder1's picture

Morrissey. Demo music for me. His guitar and voice are recorded beautifully.

avanti1960's picture

to stay on top of emerging rock trends.
Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot are Chicago rock critics who have carried the unofficial torches of Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh. They have had a weekly show of sorts for 866 weeks, either on air or online. They manage to keep rock quite fresh for me and have lots of reviews and buried treasures.
Some of their recommendations from 5, 10. 15 years ago are now as treasured as the music of my youth and then some.
Listen to this tune and see if it doesn't kick your ass in a new modern rock way...


Metalhead's picture

I mostly hang with my OK Boomer rock a majority of my listening time but enjoy dipping my toes into what the youngsters are up to.

Love what I have heard of Wetleg and thinking of scoring it. Bought the Target special splatter vinyl of Fear of the Dawn and LOVE IT. I think Jack White is a fantastic artist. I have numerous White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the three Dead Weather albums. If you want to hear some fantastic newer rock throw one of the Dead Weather on your turntable. I almost want to marry Alison Mosshart as bad as Lana Del Rey.

Mr. White also did a great job producing Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose and Wanda Jackson's The Party Ain't Over albums and both are superb spins.

Happy Spinning!!!!

Anton's picture

His first LP arrived like a first exposure to David Lynch.

And, he has sustained it well, so far!

Your entire list is pretty great. Wet Leg makes me wanna relax and hang on a chaise 'loung.'


It's interesting Stereophile's blog seems new music positive, while all the Waldorf and Statlers at Analog Planet get thrown into a tizzy when new music is discussed.

windansea's picture

Wonderful to see Stereophile expanding its horizons. I'll check out all the artists mentioned.

There's a serious avant garde in black metal, but the recording techniques are purposely primitive for the most part. Here's a 2020 example from Denmark with not-so-awful recording:
Afsky - Ofte Jeg Drømmer Mig Død

Doctor Fine's picture

And who cares?

While you experts are obsessing over corny out of date music with nothing in particular "new" to say?
Rehashing old styles (girl rock) and old forms (punk anyone?) and old artists (I believe Lyle Lovett is a feature?).

The new thing right now is a form of "Stoner Rock."
Slightly Folk.
Slightly Surf music.
Slightly synth music like the 70s.
But with a MESSAGE.

That message is that you can be FREE!
Free of rationalizing your daily activities.
Free to savor the moment.
A form of music focused on "Be Here Now" like some Baba Ram Das Timothy Leary mutation.

Instead of "turn on, tune in, drop out."
It's more like "Turn it OFF, tune in, avoid idiots..."

Today's music is a celebration of not being "hung up."
Unlike Stereophile writers who for the most part are still trying to re-live Woodstock or some such nonsense...

Give a listen to:
Kurt Vile.
Courtney Barnett
The Magnetic Fields
Cut Worms
Kacy and Clayton
Cass McCombs
Kate Le Bon

I mean---where are you guys, stuck in a rut or something?
My two cents.
The Doctor.

GDubAZ's picture

1969 called . . . they want their Hippie Manifesto back.

"I just smoked pot for the first time and now I understand everything! Wheeeee!"