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Rock's Not Dead

March 31, 2016

written by Brian Shesko

Is rock & roll alive or is it dead?

“Of course rock’s not dead! Just look at how awesome Dave Grohl is! And even though album sales in general have been steadily decreasing since 2008, rock album sales remained the highest of all genres even in 2014 with an impressive 85.25 million albums sold.”

“Grohl Shmohl. Plus, who still buys albums? People who don’t know what BitTorrent is and rich people who can afford vinyl, that’s who. Besides, streaming music is all that matters, and no one streams rock. Rock is DEFINITELY dead. Just look at the ‘charts’. How often is a rock band anywhere near the top 50, let alone top 10? Maybe twenty one pilots. Sometimes Coldplay. Does DNCE count? No, they don’t. And who cares anyway. Rock is dead.”

A conversation like this takes place every day in the hearts of music lovers everywhere. But regardless of what you think, and regardless of your current listening habits, we think rock & roll is alive & well, and in fact is quite good right now. So whenever you get sick of throwaway pop, whenever you just can’t take any more of The Weeknd and Drake, and the Jesus Culture songs you need to wash off The Weeknd and Drake, here are three pure rock suggestions* to cleanse your palate.

#1 - FOALS (2,357,581 monthly listeners)

Albums – What Went Down (2015), Holy Fire (2013), Total Life Forever (2010), Antidotes (2008)

Why, look at whose name is on the headliner lists of Coachella, Glastonbury, and Lollapalooza this year! It’s Foals, arguably the finest modern rockers Oxford, England has produced since the great Supergrass. You know they deserve main stage treatment when you encounter the driving power and energy of their studio albums, an energy they carry to their live shows, which earned them a Q Award and 2 NME Award nominations for Best Live Performance. For a good, first listen, you cannot go wrong with their latest album What Went Down, with their 2013 release Holy Fire right up there in terms of completeness and accessibility. Like all good bands, the further back you go, the more raw it gets, but Foals have had such a great musical head on their shoulders from the beginning, combining the excellent technical skill of their prog/math rock backgrounds with gorgeous melodies and rich, electronic/synth textures.

#2 – DUSTIN KENSRUE (266,119 monthly listeners)

Albums – Thoughts That Float on a Different Blood (2016), Carry the Fire (2015), Please Come Home (2007)

Though it was pathetically few of you, some of you lucky students got to see Dustin Kensrue perform live in the LaHaye Event Space in September. The Thrice lead singer just released an album of cover songs, recorded at a live show in Santa Ana, CA in December, some of which he performed at the Event Space show, such as his versions of Lorde’s Buzzcut Season, Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, and Down There By the Train by Tom Waits. Other songs on the album include Bruce Springsteen’s road anthem State Trooper, Radiohead’s classic Creep (clean version), and the haunting and beautiful song Jesus Christ by Brand New. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the artists or tracks on the album, it’s a perfect introduction to the thematic depth and artistry of the musicians Dustin covers, but performed in his style and with his incredible, heavy growl. Perhaps more importantly, it’s the respect paid by one artist to another, but with a Christian eye towards the message of each song, newly appropriated, sanctified even, making the listening experience far more than just hearing another, live performance.

#3 – THE BRIGHT LIGHT SOCIAL HOUR (73,175 monthly listeners)

Albums – Space Is Still the Place (2015), Self-titled (2010)

It’s never bad to get in on a band early. The Bright Light Social Hour out of Austin, Texas made their first mark at SXSW in 2011, winning a whole bunch of awards including Band of the Year. You’ll see them described as “psychedelic rock”, and you definitely get plenty of that with spacey guitar tones and funky bass lines throughout their two albums. You also get a distinct, Southern alt-rock flavor along the lines of My Morning Jacket or early Allman Brothers; the lead track on their most recent album, Sweet Madelene, even has a lyrical nod to the Allman’s great track Whipping Post. They move towards the progressive rock side of psychedelia with the unbridled soloing they’re capable of. In fact, pause right here and go play the song Rhubarb Jam from their first album. Like all excellent, classic rock groups, they move seamlessly between jam and groove, never out of place in any tempo, with the groovier aspects of their songs helped along by subtle, capable electronic/dance elements. Theirs is the kind of music that hearing the studio album makes you want to hear it live, the hallmark of any great and lasting band.

Rock is dead. Long live rock and roll.

*Suggestion parameters: Three artists, classified as “rock” (alt, modern, indie, math, or otherwise), with at least 2 albums, each one based on Spotify average monthly listeners – one artist of 1 million+, one artist of 100,000-500,000, and one of less than 50,000.