A Rock Reeducation

As the Strokes, on repeat, begin to splinter the eardrums, you’re met with a realization. “There’s got to be more to this rock resurgence. There’s just got to be.” “The bands” might offer a momentary escape from the MTV doldrums, but are they really reinvigorating the rock scene? Nah. Don’t be so quick to weep in despair, though. The last few years have meant great things for the world of rock. A step out of the mainstream reveals a vibrant and healthy rock revolution defined by ingenuity and distinct musical ethics. The following is part one of The Hatchet’s “Rock Reeducation.” This week we look at some slightly older releases, from the last couple of ears, which are necessary institutions within any rocker’s collection. These albums represent light in the otherwise darkened hall of contemporary rock.

1. Modest Mouse
The Moon and Antarctica
June 13, 2000
Sony

The saw becomes the sawdust as all reason melts away. Mind and body float slowly while visions of Midwest trailer parks merge with cola cans and astral skies. Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica is very literally what happens when you let a couple of idiot savants wreak havoc in an indie rock studio. Singer Isaac Brock’s voice falls expertly across quiet melodic riffs, applying perfect redneck charm. Songs like “3rd planet,” “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” and “Stars are Projectors” showcase this veteran indie band in its finest hour. This is the kind of record that will stand strong in your CD player 10 years from now. It manages mellow points, biting crescendos and a lot of weird places in between. Perhaps the most obtuse record ever made, The Moon and Antarctica is a masterful exploration of both the introspective and decadent sides of indie rock.

2. The Shins
Oh Inverted World
June 19, 2001
Sub Pop

Doo-wop, pop and rock collide as the Shins’ Oh Inverted World transports the listener to a more carefree age. The Shins have an introverted style defined by soft melodic vocals and acoustic guitars. There’s something beach-rock about the band; they would have pressed quite a few hit records if they’d been born a few decades earlier. “New Slang’s” haunting ooo’s and ahh’s mesh with the light tap of a cymbal, leaving the listener to swim in a majestic melancholy. Tears well, brought forth by both the beauty of the band’s performance and the utter sadness which it projects. More upbeat tunes like “Know Your Onion” and “Girl Inform Me” inspire Beatle-esque head bopping. Utterly driven by old school-pop sensibilities, Oh Inverted World could have supplanted the popularity of the Turtles’ most classic records, if only the Shins could find a time warp.

3. The Eels
Souljacker
March 12, 2002
Dreamworks Records

Nothing says rocking like a lumberjack on a riding mower, that is assuming he’s got a poodle leashed to the back. Eels front man E (just the letter) has always been kooky eccentric, but we can forgive him. He’s also the master of the mix when it comes to bringing together funeral dirge melodies and fuzz-box rock and roll. Souljacker showcases an edgy rock and roll buzz, fitting given E’s new facial hair. Distorted vocals adorn the A-sides of this rock masterpiece. Edgy, and not entirely devoid of poppy rhythms, songs like “Dog-faced Boy” and “That’s Not Really Funny” are traditional rock dirges with a little added zip. Balancing out E’s new rocker persona are tracks like “Fresh Feeling” and “Souljacker,” which present the band’s more subdued side. As an album, the tone shifts several times, offering traditional rock, acoustic driven electronic ballads and straight noise tracks. This record is by no means a display of E’s darker side (for that, listen to Electro Shock Blues, a depressing predecessor to Souljacker). This record is a solid, introspective and somewhat outrageous journey through the mind of a truly disturbed guitar rocker caught in his prime.

3. Midtown
Save the World, Lose the Girl
February 15, 2000
MCA/ Drive Thru

Before there was Emo, there was rock ‘n’ roll. Billed alongside label mates like Fenix Tx and New Found Glory, Midtown is easily miscast into the category of generic pop-punk. A listen to the band’s full-length debut proves that the band is hardly pop-punk. The tenants of old-school pop-rock drive them. Save the World, Lose the Girl is a solid 45 minutes of driving rock with a minor punk edge. Dueling guitars define the band’s sound, as do up-tempo sing-a-long songs. Songs like “Direction,” “Let Go” and “Just Rock and Roll” mix deep introspective lyricism party tunes, leaving the listener both mentally stimulated and thoroughly rocked out. The cold and bitter “No Place feels Like Home” is balled artistry at its best. Starting slowly, the song builds into a fiery crescendo of shouted vocals and burning guitar. Devoid of pretension, Midtown delivers as one of the most solid rock/punk bands around. They’re not quite rock, not quite punk and certainly miles from the indie scene. What they are is honest, talented and thoroughly bent on bringing back the rock.

4. Rainer Maria
A Better Version of Me
Jan. 23, 2001
Polyvinyl Records

The female voice, raised high in exultation, cracks and breaks under Rainer Maria’s watch, creating something far more melodic and far more genuine. Caithlin De Marrais’s voice rises with a slow melodic arc. She works her words quietly around slowly-driven guitar melodies, holding back, waiting for the explosion. When she explodes, her vocals fill the stereo like a sonic attack. Screams meet melody and the output is an amazingly driven pop-rock tune. Rainer Maria delivers indie rock with attitude but also a healthy dose of pure grisliness. The result, A Better Version of Me, is nine tracks driven by intelligence and honest emotion. Songs like “Artificial Light” and “Ceremony” follow the mold, seducing you with harmonious, bittersweet melodies before bringing in the rock. “Atropine” comes right out, guitars buzzing and humming, as De Marrais works her upper vocal range.

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