Mahgeetah: rock music in America

A while back, I wrote of Spoon and My Morning Jacket, who have been busy keeping rock music alive in an era of laptops, turntables and synthesisers. But now that those bands have become deconstructionists and funk-explorers respectively, who fulfils the role of the revivalist?

Girls, the creative partnership of Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White, have a great personal mythology which is important to, but not necessary for, the success of their music. On last year’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost, they became less scrawny (though, in “Honey Bunny”, we learn girls “don’t like my bony body”) and invested in the rich tradition of the lovesick American songwriter. The guitars seethe with unrequited emotion; the Hammond organs purr to suggest ascension; everywhere, there are characters roaming bars late at night, searching for salvation, or just the faintest glimpse of an ex.

The predominant aroma of concision is punctuated by a few more epic compositions, notably “Vomit” and the magisterial “Forgiveness”. The latter is particularly incendiary, with the tumbling floor toms and sultrily struck acoustic guitar of the first half ceding to a sudden explosion of strangled electric guitar, backmasked piano and an atmosphere thick with potential.

New Jersey’s Real Estate are more suburban in their background and their material. Side projects are for gentle experimentation; the main gig is for languidly roaming through wide tree-lined avenues on summer evenings. The tone is nostalgic but doesn’t try to reclaim times past. Their songs are jangly and hit on the same chords in different songs. Frontman Martin Courtney sounds a little like Ian Brown of the Stone Roses; the music behind him sometimes takes on a similar psychedelic swirl to that iconic band.

On their second album, Days, what could sound monotonous is rescued by two masterstrokes. Halfway through, we get “Out of Tune”, which is bled into by the effortlessly stargazing synthesizer-work of Daniel Lopatin a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never. Then, at the end of the album, the band pull out a seven-minute chugger, “All The Same”, which was built to soundtrack more urgent motorway cruising. Over a ticking motorik pulse, the guitars expand to fill the entire landscape unfolding before the driver’s eyes.

The guitar is not dead to America—where I have talked about Girls and Real Estate, you could easily look to The War On Drugs, Kurt Vile or St. Vincent instead. Back in 2010, I wrote, in crowning The National’s High Violet my album of the year, that “when austerity bites, it’s best to face the music”. Eighteen months on, this new set of artists allow us to transcend the grim reality of a faltering economy, tanking house prices, or any other of your chosen American faiblesses, and take in music that conjures up a more golden age.

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