Cage the Elephant has been getting better and better. When they started out they seemed like they’d formed a band because they’d heard a Raconteurs record. But they quickly grew out of that comparison. They’ve become one of the best guitar bands, full stop. Quirky and smart guitar rock is one of the most endangered genres right now, and it’s become rare to hear rock songs that have a spirit and vitality reminiscent of sixties music without aping it chord for chord. This is, of course, the kind of growth that comes from years and years of dedicated work, of writing and performing and recording, sometimes to great acclaim and sometimes to deaf ears. It’s a long term relationship between an artist and their work and their fans.
I never get tired of listening to Evil Friends. Ever since 2013, it’s been a favorite. One thing comes to mind now, though, that goes a long way towards explaining why Portugal. The Man appeals to me so much. It’s that I really like male singers with high voices. It’s pretty unusual and I find it charming. John Gourley’s entire vocal range is full-on falsetto. Not as much as Rhye’s lead singer Milosh, who sounds so much like a woman that it blows away the entire concept of biological gender itself, but Gourley definitely has a uniquely androgynous voice. Without seeing what the group looks like, you could question if the singer is male or female, or even come to the conclusion that there’s one of both. Then you see them and they’re just a bunch of totally average-looking dudes. Like, not even the kind of dudes who think they’re hot edgy rebellious rock stars for wearing eyeliner and earrings. Just a bunch of guys who need to shave better. But, damn, they sound like nothing else.
I remember this song being on the radio, back in 2013, and I didn’t know what it was. It was another few years before I started listening to Arctic Monkeys, so I missed the bus on that discovery. It reminds me of the early 2000’s rock revival, though. I think I would have really loved it in 2001, but that would have been a good five years before Arctic Monkeys made their first record, or even existed as a group, for that matter. But it’s funny, in a way, how a 2013 song reminds me of bands from the early 2000’s who were all trying to sound like bands from 1979. It’s just the cyclical way music works. All the hooks come around again and again, freshened up with new hairstyles.
Going back to the summer of 2013, a great year for music. It must’ve been some kind of serendipity, but I discovered a lot of artists in 2013. There were just so many great songs on the radio, the kind that make you say to yourself, “What is this, I want more!” Portugal. The Man was one of those groups, with some amazingly catchy songs like Modern Jesus and Purple Yellow Red and Blue. The album Evil Friends has become a favorite, a definite keeper, one of those records that you remember an entire decade by. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend it.
I can’t recommend The National enough for all of your mournful, mopey needs. Do you need something to stare balefully at the rain to? Do you have some shitty cooking wine or bottom-shelf liquor you need to consume? Has it been three or four days since you’ve talked to your love interest? Are you getting yourself all worked up remembering that time you were really depressed? The National is here for you. Now, I’m not going so far as to say that it’s music for when you’re actually really depressed. You can make your own judgement call on that one, but for me it’s just gloomy and not straight-up scraping-the-bottom music. You know, there’s a distinction between performatively sad and, like, really depressed and stuff. You can have a performatively sad day, because, I don’t know, maybe you’re not getting enough dick or something, or all of your friends are jerks, or whatever makes you feel the most sorry for yourself.
As far as simple pleasures go, good music will always top the list. There’s nothing like the manufactured angst of another person to soothe our own worries. Like anyone, I love a good emotional ballad. I think this one is well on its way to becoming a classic – at least in my canon! Jake Bugg, of course, has established himself as an artist who’s here to stay. As I was saying last week, the boy wonder had to deal with the growing pains of growing out of his ‘boy wonder’ hype. A challenge for any artist who burst out very young. Bugg has the advantage that he’s always sounded wiser than his years, which makes it easier to become an actual mature adult. (As opposed to someone trying to outgrow an adolescent persona.) Hype itself can do as much harm to a young career as it does good, and it must be a relief to be able to operate and make creative choices without having all that pressure. So here is a young man who got clobbered with a lot of hype right out of the gate, and he’s been growing up ever since, with increasingly less hype but more creative freedom. Some people thought Jake Bugg’s second album was a let-down, after all that hype. Too well-produced! Too similar to the first one! I did think that the Rick Rubin treatment was uncalled for; not every promising young talent needs to be bundled off to Rick Rubin. But in the context of the artist’s progression, it’s a very natural second step, and as you can hear, there’s some great songwriting going on.
From this plaintive ballad you’d never guess that The Joy Formidable are one of the loudest and feedback-happy indie pop groups on the scene. They outshine their peers by sheer fire and fury. Which, in an ocean of tinkly keyboards, is frankly a breath of fresh air. But even the most fierce frontwoman – which Ritzy Bryan most certainly is – needs to take a quiet moment sometimes, and she’s not much of an artist if she doesn’t know how to be vulnerable. I don’t necessarily want to hear an entire album’s worth of plaintive ballads, but I very much want to hear at least one. Because I want to see another side of the artist, get to know them better as a person and whatnot, you know. Are they really someone I can relate to. I can relate to three-quarters fierce and loud and one part plaintive and sad.