Welcome to the new edition of Be Here Now, a column/playlist where we compile inspired new music for busy folks who would like to discover outstanding contemporary artists.
Here is a link to the Be Here Now Spotify playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more.
Critics have been bemoaning the vitality of rock music for nearly 45 years. But it’s hard to deny that in 2021 rock has become a niche genre, albeit a large one, in the contemporary music landscape. Rock music rarely makes its way to the pop charts; it streams at a much lower rate than hip-hop and its representation in the larger cultural conversation usually results from a celebrity artist (Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus) making a reverential retro rock album. Nonetheless, rock artists still maintain a sizeable following of loyal fans who are less fleeting than pop consumers, and still thrive in a live setting where they headline festivals and fill stadiums and arenas.
Of course, this begs the question of what it even means to be a rock artist in 2021, and how much that question even matters. But that is a column for another day. Today, we’ll focus on artists working in a recognizable rock mode who are making compelling new music and are worth your time.
The Strokes, Weezer and The Killers have all had huge success for many years and their legacy and fanbase would be secure if they never produced another new song.
However, each band has released an inspired, hooky, highly listenable album in the last year and all have avoided simply repeating their past efforts. The Strokes’ jittery “The Adults are Talking” snaps and crackles and Julian Casablancas’ inspired falsetto carries the song to a heavenly finish.
The Killers have always been influenced by 1980s dance music and Springsteen anthems, and on “Caution” they perfectly meld those sounds behind one of the biggest choruses of the year. Weezer’s new album, OK Human, has plenty of references to life during the pandemic and features the kind of melodic, quirky songs Weezer is known for, often with an orchestral-pop production.
Recent years have seen the proliferation of a number of psych-rock bands who make music that is perfect to zone out to in the comfort of your home or with friends at a music festival. Turkey’s Altin Gün reimagines traditional Turkish songs as trippy, mind-bending tunes that are vaguely familiar yet exotic. The UK band Temples creates a glorious haze that allows endless sonic possibilities in their song “You’re Either On Something.”
Royal Blood is one of the few bands who manage to get played on both mainstream and alternative rock stations, making heavy music that maintains a contemporary sensibility and sound. The band DeWolff’s blues-rock riffs evoke the Black Keys but don’t sound stale and 21-year-old Brit Declan Mckenna channels Bowie, the Beatles and U2 in his ambitious conceptual and often topical songs.
Canadian-American singer Grandson’s message of social change is masked by irrepressibly catchy melodies and electronic elements. The Neverly Boys manage to evoke Father John Misty and Warren Zevon in the same song.
There are plenty of other great rock artists on this playlist. Are they going to change the world? Are they going to lead to a new rock renaissance? I have no idea, but they manage to put forward a welcome vision of rock in the 21st century and for that I am grateful.
Header image of Altin Gün courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Thesupermat.