10 awesome bands that deserve a bigger audience
Okay, the reality is that most bands - most - get the audience they deserve. We listen to what we are sure are our cutting edge groups and cry out about how they deserve to be bigger - but they don't. They're not making music that suits everyone. Their music works for the niche they've created/targeted. And that's that. Most often that's the case. But we can always dream, right? That's part of being a fan - being incredulous that the world hasn't caught up with this; isn't thinking just exactly as you are.
As I write this I'm listening to Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - the name alone could send shudders down the spine, could make any ignorant blog commenter rush for their default "your a hipster" bum-out, that fearsome burn.
But goddamn, their music is great; the music sends shivers down the spine. And yes, I kinda hate the name - but in spite of that I was curious enough to listen. I'll have a review up on Off The Tracks by the time you read this - or soon after. It reinforced what I felt yesterday when watching the Drive-By Truckers Live From Austin, TX DVD - such a great band. They deserve a bigger audience. It's probably as pointless a cry as determining someone who also - happily - writes about Dire Straits and Phil Collins a hipster.
Or for that matter, labelling someone a dad-rock bore when they write about a range of music - old and new - day in, day out. But hey, what's the internet then without a bit of self-righteousness? Today, I offer you 10 Awesome Bands That I Think Deserve a Bigger Audience. And in the way of this blog, rather than any "article" or "review" or "essay", I invite you at the end to do the same. Share the bands you think should be bigger than they are.
1. Drive-By Truckers: I'll start with the obvious, since this band in the reason for today's post. As I mentioned, I watched the live DVD from 2008 just yesterday. On the back of already gushing about this band most recently here and - I guess - rediscovering them anew with this year's great album, English Oceans. The perfect tight-but-loose band, top-notch songwriting, just so great - you want The Rolling Stones? They can do that. You want Ryan Adams? They trounce him. You want a return to the No Depression-era first wave of alt-country. Sure. They got it. They'll take you back to Uncle Tupelo and surpass the best efforts of that band and splinter groups Son Volt and Wilco. They have the dynamism of The Roots and Little Feat. They deserve to be huge! Well, in my mind they do...
2. Clutch: Find a Clutch fan and you'll hear all about this band's live ferocity. Wipe that fan's spittle from your face and you'll be wondering if the group could really be as good as the words-within-the-drool are trying to tell you. But they are. And better even than that. I didn't think this band could get any better - and then I heard their latest album, spent time with it, and wow! We think we are missing great rock bands. And yet here's one with a fearsome body of work and showing no signs of slowing or weakening.
3. Tinariwen: I listen to the sidewinder-snake guitar lines and wonder, always, why more people aren't hooked into these hypnotic sounds. It's a whole new sound - compared with the often lazy guitar shapes that are passed off as blues-based/blues-derrived. You could pick almost any album from this band and be happy but the new one is really, really good.
4. Bushman's Revenge: I only got onto this Norwegian group this year with the release of their sixth album - so there's five more waiting for me. And I've been exploring some of their earlier work on YouTube. Dizzyingly good workouts of psychedelic rock and jazz and sprawling, spiralling Krautrock-meets-jam-band sonics, the players all with dynamite chops; some people will still tell you - straight-faced - that if you can remember the sixties you weren't really there. Here you get to hear what the people who are so proud of their bad memories are probably on about.
5. Bitch Prefect: I was sold on the sound of this Aussie band with their second album, Bird Nerds. It's a bit like the very early Paul Kelly music merging with Violent Femmes' later stuff; a marriage between The Go-Betweens and The Replacements. You get the feeling this band would just slay in a wee bar somewhere. And I'm kidding myself - and you - to even suggest they deserve to be playing really big theatres. But I'd like, at least, to turn a few people onto their sound. The songwriting is so good.
6. Webster Wraight Ensemble: A throwback to the beautiful arrangements, when producers and arrangers framed the words and the tune. It's like the very best elements of the Morcheeba/early Portishead vibe mixed with the big band era/mixed by Mathew Herbert, with the arrangements of Jimmy Webb or Bacharach and Billy Vaughn. Beautiful and, er - I hate this word, usually - lush. Check out the album. Gorgeous.
7. Warpaint: I was a fan of this band as soon as I heard the early YouTube clips, the first EP and then debut album - then I forgot all about them. The new, self-titled album has reminded me that there's a very special energy about this group, a sort of jilted, slightly off-kilter feel to the rhythm section. It's the rhythm section that sells the sound of this band for me. That's the very special component.
8. Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: Well, Marc Ribot is always worth hearing. He's been a crucial part of Tom Waits' sound, he's made music on his own and with Elvis Costello and John Zorn to name just two further musical giants. But here with his Ceramic Dog he's revisiting/redefining the idea of the power trio. Great to hear this guy - such a talented player - let rip with some punishingly good rock-guitar sounds. He can really wail.
9. Seeds of Orbit: Really, I'm just interested to see where this Kiwi act can go - I really loved the EP.
10. The War on Drugs: I arrived at this band via Kurt Vile. I'm sure many did. I particularly loved 2011's Slave Ambient. It took me a while to get my head around it. And I like that. As I finish writing this post up for today I'm listening again to the band's new one, Lost In The Dream. I'll have a review for you next week. It's both a continuation of the group's sound - hints of that languid, loping, liquid guitar sound, as on Slave Ambient, as Vile is still pursing in his own way too - and a strange, wonderful re-imagination of aspects of the 1980s. I'm certain this will not sell it for you, but several of the songs on the new album feel like they could be album tracks from Lindsey Buckingham's early solo records or the Fleetwood Mac of the 1980s. More than one song has the feel of Don Henley's Boys of Summer. I shouldn't like that. But I do. I really do. Have a listen to An Ocean In Between The Waves. Amazing. I'm hooked! It's taken me back to a band I already loved but at the same time it feels like something altogether different, a totally new sound with just hints and traces of the band's early ideas and Vile's too.
So, there's ten awesome bands that - in the perfect world we all live far from - I'd like to see with bigger audiences. What bands do you think of when you think about awesome groups deserving of a bigger audience, of wider appreciation?
Postscript: I was always going to enjoy Neko Case's gig last night - I've seen her before. But last year's wonderful return-to-form album, her best in a decade certainly helped to sell the idea of the show to me. Here's my review. I mention this because she's playing again tonight in Wellington and tomororw in Auckland. If you can get along, if there are still tickets, you'll have a great night. It's a wonderful show.