The History of Rock Music: The 2000s


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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi)

Tunesmiths


(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music")

Emo-smiths

TM, ®, Copyright © 2008 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The long, long tide of emocore did not recede in the 2000s.

Continuing the cross-pollination begun in the previous decade, New York's Coheed And Cambria, fronted by vocalist-guitarist Claudio Sanchez, carried out a historical fusion of the progressive-rock tradition and the emo-core tradition on their sci-fi tetralogy, notably In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth (2003).

Pioneers of "progressive emocore" were also Breaking Pangaea in Philadelphia, who crafted the lengthy progressive emo psychodrama Turning on A Cannon To A Whisper (2001). The same city later witnessed the ascent of Circa Survive, whose fusion of hardcore, pop, metal and prog-rock peaked with Juturna (2005).

Minus The Bear rejuvinated emo-core in Seattle by stretching Fugazi's original aesthetic to accommodate progressive jamming driven by guitarist Dave Knudson and keyboardist Matt Bayles, best on the EP This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic (2001) and partially on the album Highly Refined Pirates (2002).

Oregon's 31 Knots were perhaps the most versatile and erudite in fusing progressive-rock and melodic/melodramatic emocore, starting with A Word Is Also A Picture Of A Word (2002).

The epitome of the teenage melodrama was, however, to be found in the more modest songs of New York's Taking Back Sunday, e.g. on Where You Want To Be (2004), that featured half of Breaking Pangaea (notably guitarist Fred Mascherino).

Straylight Run coined a pensive, adult version of emocore, relying on the male-female vocal harmonies of John Nolan (formerly of Taking Back Sunday) and Michelle Nolan as well as on atmospheric instrumental accompaniments on Straylight Run (2004) and The Needles The Space (2007).

Michigan's sextet Chiodos grafted screamo vocals, metalcore attitude, and heavy-metal bombast onto Mars Volta's theatrical progressive-rock for All's Well That Ends Well (2005).

There were clearly two extremes. On one hand the charts-oriented punk-pop of band such as Nevada's Panic At The Disco, that scored big with A Fever You Can't Sweat Out (2005), or Jack's Mannequin, the project of Los Angeles-area singer-songwriter Andrew McMahon, with Everything in Transit (2005), or Toronto's Silverstein, with When Broken Is Easily Fixed (2003). And on the other hand the bands that still had roots in punk-rock. For example, Cursive's guitarist Stephen Pedersen launched Criteria in Nebraska with the high-class all-out punk attack En Garde (2003).

Among the former, New Jersey's My Chemical Romance reached their lyrical peak with the concept The Black Parade (2006) in a harder and quasi-metal variant of punk-pop. Emerging from the same busy scene, Early November fulfilled Arthur "Ace" Anders' songwriting and musical ambition on the triple-disc semi-autobiographical concept album The Mother, The Mechanic and The Path (2006).

The slabs of supercharged melodic hardcore of Revolutions Per Minute (2002) by Chicago's Rise Against harked back to popcore of the 1980s.

The idea of turning emo into fun was further refined in Chicago by popcore outfits such as Fall Out Boy, notably on From Under The Cork Tree (2005), and Academy Is, especially on Almost Here (2005).

Melody makers

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The world, apparently, had not had enough of three-minute ditties. However, most bands in this genre had to resort to meticulous production in order to keep the project interesting.

Decemberists (2), fronted in Oregon by Colin Meloy, stood out from the crowd with their coupling of brainy lyrics and simple melodies. In particular, Castaways and Cutouts (2002), that included the ten-minute quasi-psychedelic meditation of California One Youth and Beauty Brigade, and Picaresque (2005), that included the tragicomic nine-minute fantasia The Mariner's Revenge Song, were tours de force of emotional storytelling.

Wolf Parade (1), the project of Montreal-based singer-songwriters Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug, employed two keyboards and an encyclopedic palette for the eclectic pop structures of Apologies To The Queen Mary (2005).

The Bay Area's Velvet Teen (1), fronted by singer-songwriter Judah Nagler, presented ambitious and melodramatic pop constructs on their second album Elysium (2004), although they steered towards a more cerebral and electronic sound on Cum Laude (2006).

Chicago's M's dabbled in retro garage-pop with vintage guitar riffs, vintage vocal harmonies and vintage refrains that, on The M's (2004), evoked just about every catchy and rocking British band from the Kinks to T.Rex.

After incorporating singer and multi-instrumentalist Janie Porche, Chicago's Bound Stems delivered the eccentric power-pop of Appreciation Night (2006).

New York's trio Oxford Collapse, fronted by guitarist and vocalist Michael Pace, harked back to noise-rock and college-pop of the 1980s as well as to Pavement's lo-fi rock of the 1990s on the virulent and angular Good Ground (2005).

Australian octet Architecture in Helsinki (1) struck an unlikely balance between naive refrains and futuristic lounge jamming on Fingers Crossed (2004), arranged with a revolving cast of acoustic and electronic instruments.

Australia's Art Of Fighting (1) were among the few who aimed for psychological depth, in particular on their second album Second Storey (2004).

Less original but more commercially successful purveyors of pop included: New Mexico's Shins, formed by Flake's guitarist James Mercer, with their third album Chutes Too Narrow (2003); Long Winters, the brainchild of Seattle-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Roderick, with When I Pretend To Fall (2003); Capitol Years, the brainchild of Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Shai Halperin, with Let Them Drink (2005); Canada's identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin, with So Jealous (2004); etc.

If nothing else, Polyphonic Spree, a large group formed in Texas by Tripping Daisy's vocalist that includes a small orchestra and a choir for a grand total of between 20 and 25 musicians, delivered pure grandiose sugary pop on The Beginning Stages (2001).

Nebraska's Head Of Femur employed 28 performers to decorate the baroque pop of Ringodom or Proctor (2003), an idea that evolved into the massive orchestral sound of Hysterical Stars (2005).

As usual, Sweden was at the vanguard of melodic rock. Peter, Bjorn & John, featuring producer Bjorn Yttling, were as derivative of the Sixties as possible on Peter, Bjorn & John (2002). Love Is All, fronted by the shrieking Josephine Olausson, shot the brief and slightly neurotic punk-pop bullets of Nine Times the Same Song (2005) and A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night (2008): retro party music with gutsy saxophone, driving rhythm and crunchy riffs.

Going against the gloomy zeitgeist of the 2000s, German quartet Banaroo delivered one of the most demented dance-pop anthems of all times, Dubi Dam Dam (2005).

Canada before the flood

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The pop renaissance of the 1990s in Canada led to a generation of deft and versatile acts.

P:ano, the project of Vancouver-based songwriter Nick Krgovich and multi-instrumentalist Larissa Loyva, managed to sound intimate and profound on their second album Den (2004).

The Dears, fronted by Montreal's sentimental crooner Murray Lightburn, indulged in psychological analysis with the lengthy orchestral noir melodramas of No Cities Left (2004).

Belle And Sebastian's folk-pop was still an influence, as demonstrated by Hidden Cameras, the project of Toronto-based singer-songwriter Joel Gibb, on The Smell of Our Own (2003).

Montreal's Besnard Lakes (1) roamed several decades of pop styles to produce Are The Dark Horse (2007), although wrapping it in an elegiac mood.

Toronto's Broken Social Scene (1) employed 15 players to craft You Forgot It in People (2002), whose parade of styles was captivating in its anarchic and protean overreaching, with the music often morphing gently into its own negation within the same song.

Azeda Booth concocted a dreamy fusion of ambient, glitch and pop music on In Flesh Tones (2008), somewhat reminiscent of Mum.

Montreal's Plants And Animals subverted the conventions of baroque pop with the lush chamber Parc Avenue (2008) because each of the songs was a busy, moody and whimsical micro-suite of styles.

Britain after the flood

TM, ®, Copyright © 2008 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The land of Brit-pop was still being haunted by an endless series of "next big things" but their credibility had greatly decreased. The Clientele played classy psychedelic pop on The Violet Hour (2003) that was arranged with a cornucopia of delay, reverb and tape effects. British Sea Power were original on The Decline Of (2003), toying with elements of progressive-rock, but then converted to Brit-pop.

Go Team (2), a sextet formed by English wunderkind Ian Parton, concocted sample-heavy party music a` la Avalanches on albums that were hyper-arranged in an amateurish manner such as Thunder Lightning Strike (2004) and Proof Of Youth (2007). If the original songs used as blueprints were simple pop hits, in the hands of the Go Team they became the emotional equivalent of a national anthem.

More trivial were the Arctic Monkeys, whose Whatever People Say I Am (2006) became the fastest-selling debut album of all times in Britain; the Guillemots, also a "next big thing" for a few days, and perhaps the most melodramatic of all on Through The Windowpane (2006); and the Libertines with Up the Bracket (2003).

Two groups from Liverpool briefly stole the show. The Coral, a sextet fronted by James Skelly and boasting organ and horns, harked back to the effervescent technicolor Brit-pop of the mid-Sixties for The Coral (2002). The Zutons, a quintet fronted by David McCabe and featuring a saxophonist, sounded like a folkier version of the Animals, less bluesy and more attuned to the sugary choruses of Merseybeat, via the pub-rock of the late 1970s on the lively and entertaining Who Killed The Zutons (2004).

Even the Last Shadow Puppets, the duo of the Arctic Monkeys' vocalist Alex Turner and Miles Kane, sounded more original than the stars on The Age Of The Understatement (2008), the ultimate retro-pop album, sampling the styles of every master of the past with grand orchestral arrangements (courtesy of Final Fantasy's Owen Pallett).

I Am Kloot started an acoustic-pop revival in Manchester with Natural History (2001). The most original of the batch were probably Elbow with Asleep in the Back (2001) and Cast of Thousands (2004).

Camera Obscura started out as pupils of Belle And Sebastian's folk-pop but progressed to the lush chamber arrangements of Let's Get Out Of This Country (2006).

Towering over the rest of British chamber pop, Lorna (2) employed sophisticated arrangements of string, wind and keyboard instruments for the folkish ditties of This Time Each Year (2003) that mixed naive female vocals with lounge-style xylophone, pastoral flute, jazzy horns and neoclassical strings. Static Patterns & Souvenirs (2005) added a further layer of otherwordly electronic sounds.

The influence of My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins was still being felt by some left-field pop groups. The Fields peppered Everything Last Winter (2007) with shoegazing guitars, dream-pop orchestration, atmospheric synths and male-female harmonies.

Los Campesinos boasted non-stop fun with a punkish verve on Hold On Now Youngster (2008).

The Wild Beasts, a trio fronted by eccentric and theatrical singer-guitarist Hayden Thorpe, evoked different kinds of stage (exotic club, cocktail lounge, cabaret, discotheque, musical theater and punk saloon) with the eclectic stylistic stew of Limbo Panto (2008).


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