Brooklyn, New York
The Strokes, Kings of Leon, Jet, the White Stripeswhat do these groups have in common? Well, they're rock, for one. They all, um, rock, too. They also have very little to do with anything new. Maybe that's all right, though. They all sound pretty good and certainly point toward the possibility of somethingbetter. Then again, if rock is dead, the recording industry is dead, and two of the four Beatles are dead, maybe straight-ahead rock is new all over again. Even better, it's a little faster this time.
Can White Stripes be garage punk and Zeppelin disciples at the same time? Can a band with a rhythm section as dynamic as the Strokes really owe that much to the Velvet Underground? The more you listen the harder it is to pin down, which is what good bands do.
The folks who think Jack White is a great blues guitarist are the same folks who think the Strokes sound like Television.
Sure-shit sign that a CD's going to be huge: hearing "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button" in a leather bar the week Elephant came out.
Don't the White Stripes seem a little too white for their own good? And I'm not just talking about their complexions. Like, would it kill them to get out in the street and mingle with some brown people once in a while? I mean brown people that aren't dead or really old bluesmen, or Mick Collins? Or that scaryslave, er, bodyguard they hadwith them on Conan O'Brien.
Without a doubt, the debut of the year was by the U.K.'s Led Zeppelin. I know, everyone says they're just ripping off the White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, but they are so much more than that. Who else would have the guts to debut with a three-disc live set? Their deadpan take on every conceivable '70s rock excessincluding, hilariously, the de rigueur 20-minute drum soloworks as well as it does because these guys can actually play!
It's absurd to dislike Cold- play because they're not as good as Radiohead. You should dislike Coldplay because they're not as good as Styx. Well, not yet; when they really get their jackass semi-falsetto orchestral bombast tight, their "Come Sail Away" will be right around the corner, followed swiftly by "Too Much Time on My Hands." Anyway, 2004 is going to be a good year for '70s and '80s synth-pop that was too pop to be prog. Next comes, get ready, ELO. I predict seven articles by June about how they were really goodno, geniuses. It's a good time for blue skies, mister.
While everyone yaps on about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Distillers, there was one rock band with a female singer that actually sold records this year and didn't sound like a throwback to 1983, or 1977: Evanescence.
Amy Lee's the coolest Christian since my mom and my best friend, Xian Hoard. For the millions of religious middle- and high-schoolers navigating sexual and social awakenings and difficultiesand the s/m-derived Hot Topic fashions that caricature themshe's a lone beacon, wrapped in thunderous guitars and weeping strings, moral chaos made No. 1 single.
Brooklyn, New York
A few years ago I accidentally asked the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt if he meant all that stuff he said in 69 Love Songs; he stroked the cat in his lap and made fun of me for taking Nirvana seriously. Last year I accidentally asked Justin Hawkins of the Darkness the same thing; he told me to hang on a second and asked the very loud groupies filling his tour bus to please keep the noise at a dull roar. Then he asked what the question was again.
My Morning Jacket's crossover success was classic grass- roots trickle-up. Indie kids caught the lo-fi vibe, followed by a bear hug from the jam band community appreciative of the group's hard-touring, psychedelically-inclined aesthetic, and finally the old-timers and musos circling the fringes began taking notice of some adept juggling of classic influences.
FRED M. MILLS
Wadesboro, North Carolina
The latest resurgence of Southern rock has steered clear of the Scylla of regional scorn and Charybdis of inherited racial guilt. So all that's left for axe-wielding New South rednecks to do is rail against the sinister incursions of Wal-Mart and Uncle Disney: Kentucky's My Morning Jacket with overwhelming reverb and assists from the Great White North's pastoralist wing, Kings of Leon by claiming Albion and California, Brooks & Dunn by sneaking Memphis and Muscle Shoals onto Music Row, and the Drive-By Truckers with fiery attitude and Jason Isbell's poignant family verities.
KANDIA CRAZY HORSE
The secret's in the stories, lord knows. And as anyone in the South will tell you, the stories don't have to be great as long as you tell 'em real good.
St. Petersburg, Florida
I think "screwed music" could be the new Black Sabbath and dub and blues and lots of other things, unless it isn't. I think it's intriguing that so many of the best metal albums this year had no metal on them, by which I mean no guitars. I hope somebody starts screwing and chopping stoner- metal records soon.
Brooklyn, New York
Hey, can I stop writing about "emo" and just call it "music by bands who aren't winking at you"? Because at this point, the alleged subgenre is producing the only new "rock" worth notice.
Saugerties, New York
I'm tired of whiny boy bands bitching about being slapped with the emo tag. They should be grateful somebody is willing to rake them together into one, big sappy pile. At least someone has found the time to attach a name to their pathology.
Emo is like indie rock with better production values and more hair products. Defining moment: the Dashboard Confessional video where Chris Carrabba's perfectly coiffed skinny girlfriend (or the Suicide Girl hired to play her) walks out the door and he just sits there playing with his model train. I mean, everyone's supposed to feel sorry for these guys, but everyone knows that they treat girls worse than Mötley Crüe ever did, in more boring and passive-aggressive ways.
Emo is just another forum where women are locked in a stasis of outside observation. We span from coquettish to damned and back again. We leave bruises on boy-hearts, but make no other mark.
Given the long rock-porn connection, where's the epidemic of band names taken off spam e-mailthe Penis Patch, Size Matters, Wife's First Black Cock?
Los Angeles, California
Andre 3000, with his I-do-not-want-what-I-think-I-might-got, Mango-on-SNL steez, made one of the most emo records of the year. The Love Below and Cursive's The Ugly Organ are essentially about the same topicmen grappling with their ability to love, kicking it ice cold.
Yes, one can overrate the "thoughtful power-pop" of Ted Leo and the New Pornographers' Carl Newman, and yes, it's white, white, white, but there's a story here: indie vets with dues paid up and then some making their most inviting music ever, moving units trivial to the culture but not to their labels, and essaying some good-hearted political content, all while retaining their self-respect via the complexity that's why they love the game. Better their persistence and "Look, this is what I'm good at" pragmatism than the neocon subtext behind Jack White's analog fetish.
Los Angeles, California
Right now, on a practical level, guitar bands are smart to settle for small-time audiences of passionate consumers rather than big-time audiences of dispassionate fans. I really wish it weren't this way, but then I wish a lot of things, and with Colin Powell's son at the FCC fighting to keep the channels clear, it is this way.
Brooklyn, New York
I tried to reckon with the mainstream insofar as it is supposed to appeal to me. I tried the Wilco (a year late), I tried the Strokes, I tried the White Stripes. They were all something between fine and OK, I guess. But none of them moved me like Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You." None of them had a beat in the same universe with "Like I Love You" or "In Da Club." And doesn't anybody write BASS LINES anymore?
The video for "The Laws Have Changed" featured a man torturing himself in the desert being convinced by a woman to dance, and yes, indie kids, that's a pointed message.
Brooklyn, New York
No matter what skeptics say about the Strokes/Stripes revolution of the past three years, the new rockers have at least brought swagger back to a music scene split between gruff, passionless balladeers and well-meaning amateur miniaturists. Indie-rockers have been the curators of abandoned pop sounds, and have pulled some strikingly personal music out of the charming, meager models they've made of the past they'd most like to relive. But it all seems increasingly insubstantial in the face of a hardening geopolitical situation, and a set of new rock acts tough enough for the times. Pet sounds suddenly don't satisfy.
Reissue of the Year: Let It Be . . . Naked by the Replacements. Peter Jesperson's production always was a little bombastic, and what a delight to finally hear these songs the way they were meant to be heard: "Answering Machine" without the operator message, "Androgynous" minus those extravagant finger snaps. Plus we don't have to listen to that egomaniac Tommy Stinson harping on about how Jesperson totally "ruined the essence of" his bass part in "Gary's Got a Boner."
A hip, with-it, 22-year-old girl is not supposed to like the same music as her mother. But there I was, standing in the nosebleed section of Shea Stadium in my Kill Rock Stars T-shirt, screaming my lungs out to "Dancing in the Dark" along with thousands of white, middle-aged middle managers, thinking "Every rock musician alive should just give up right now because they will never, ever be Bruce Springsteen."
Where's rock on my list?? A couple of years ago already, after All Tomorrow's Parties in L.A., a couple of friends came back scratching their heads saying, "It's funnythey're still listening to rock over there." That's the most concise way I can put it.