The History of Rock Music: The 2000s

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi)


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

Droning psychedelia

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

Rock music owed a lot to psychedelia. The search for a psychedelic sound had been the first and foremost motivation to cultivate progressive structures and creative arrangements. Without that motivation, rock music might have been stuck in Chuck Berry's riffs forever. Psychedelia was in a sense the "big bang" of rock music, from which the expansion began. However, after four decades it was difficult to see what that original impulse still had to offer that had not been heard already a thousand times.

The sound of droning guitars was not particularly exciting anymore, shoegazing ecstasy was becoming the equivalent of the new-age music of the 1980s, and psychedelic folksingers were beginning to sound senile.

Boston's Paradise Camp 23, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Erik Amlee, indulged in the 47-minute shapeless space-noise jam that takes up most of Bar-BQ Dungeon (2001) and then unleashed the 46-minute drone-based jam of Solitaire (2002), bathed in cosmic electronic noise.

Seattle's duo Growing turned psychedelic trance into an austere and pure science with its subliminal ambient dronescapes for guitars and electronics: Epochal Reminiscence, off The Soul Of The Rainbow And The Harmony Of Light (2004), that diluted a folkish melody into a cycle of ear-piercing tones; the pulsating galactic tsunami Wide Open, off His Return (2005); the dense hyper-dilated slowly-shifting Blue Angels, off Color Wheel (2006).

Minnesota-based duo Glass Organ (Justin Meyers and Tom Helgerson) dealt with acid/abrasive droning music on Our (2007), containing three pieces each lasting eleven minutes and eleven seconds, at the intersection among hyper-doom metal, psychedelic raga, Japanese noisecore and shoegazing music.

Acre, the project of Seattle-based digital musician Aaron Davis, used mixers, samplers and assorted sound effects to fashion the undulating and multi-layered cosmic drones of Candyflipping (2007) and Monolith (2008).

The abstract instrumentals of Expo'70 (1), the brainchild of Missouri-based guitarist Justin Wright, bridged the keyboard-based cosmic music of the 1970s and the guitar-based droning music of the 1990s on works such as Mystical Amplification (2007). Animism (2007) formalized Wright's ambient abstract progressive-rock, and Black Ohms (2008) de facto coined a new genre of austere guitar-based soundsculpting.

Expo '70 were emblematic of the trend towards the "ambient space jam", also represented by San Francisco-based one-man band Horseflesh (Dereck Donohue) with Synthenesia I (Chambara, 2008), and by New York-based duo Destructo Swarmbots with the colossal Banta, off Clear Light (2007).

Pocahaunted, the Los Angeles-based duo of Amanda Brown and Bethany Sharayah, delved into the psychotic tribal droning freak-out of Island Diamonds (2008).

New York had a vast community of droning free-folk music. Lichens was a project by 90 Day Men's Afro-American bassist Robert Lowe devoted to droning improvisations for electronically-processed voice and guitar, bordering on Tibetan mantras and Indian ragas on The Psychic Nature Of Being (2005). Hototogisu was a collaboration between the Double Leopards' Marcia Bassett and Skullflower's Matthew Bower that released dozens of albums of free-form noise such as Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens Of The 21st Century (2004) and Ghosts From The Sun (2005). Bassett was also active in GHQ with Pete Nolan (from the Magik Markers): their Cosmology Of Eye (2006) and Heavy Elements (2006) were devoted to ethereal laid-back free-form spaced-out droning raga-folk music.

San Diego's duo High Mountain Tempel (Maquiladora's guitarist Eric Nielsen and noise-maker Keith Boyd) employed field recordings that exhibit an "African jungle" quality as well as ghostly human and animal voices buried deep into the mix to craft animate dronescapes that nurtured tiny metabolic events on Pacific Sky Burial (2007) and A Screaming Comes Across The Sky (2007), each album sounding like the brooding soundtrack to collective spiritual catharsis.

Los Angeles' hyper-prolific duo Robedoor epitomized the dark-drone movement, that borrowed from both droning psychedelia and doom-metal and produced countless lo-fi recordings such as Hidden Ascension (2006).

By the mid-2000s droning music (whether psychedelic or doom/metal in nature) had become a genre in which the musicianship did not matter much. Vulture Club (Kansas-based guitarist Thomas Lee) took that fact to its extreme consequences by almost letting the guitars play (or, better, "drone") by themselves on Pure Agitator (2006), scored for a guitar and amplifier. If the former album was merely a rotting corpse, Live Young Die Fast And Leave An Exquisite Corpse (2007) was actually alive, breathing and moving, the drones undergoing a metabolism of their own while the "music" played.

Britain's "black psychedelia" was born from a fusion of acid-rock and black metal. The dark distorted heavy hypnotic psychedelic jams of Ice Bound Majesty's A Tomb To Erect (2007) blurred the boundaries among progressive folk, black metal and ambient music. The guitar-less duo Skultroll sculpted Skultroll (2007) with hyper-distorted bass and frenzied drums.

Ireland's Bonecloud (a duo featuring Tim Hurley) unfurled dreamy acid droning tides of sound such as the 44-minute Snow Burial, off the double-disc Bonecloud (2006), and the 40-minute piece of Drawing Spirits In Crystals (2007). The prolific Hurley was also active as Quetzolcoatl, delivering ethereal blissful ambient music for stringed instruments on works such as Where Are We Going Sister (2006).

Natural Snow Buildings, the French duo of male guitarist Mehdi Ameziane and female cellist Solange Gularte, alternated between brainy chamber post-rock freak-folk interludes, droning psychedelic trips and abstract ambient music on the double-disc The Dance of the Moon and the Sun (2006).

New Zealand's Bad Statistics (1) combined noise, doom, drone and repetition (and psychedelic vocals) for the two lengthy jams of Static (2007).


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

New York's Asobi Seksu paid an unabashed tribute to the walls of distortions of My Bloody Valentine on Asobi Seksu (2004), and were perhaps the best of the orthodox shoegazers.

However, others went well beyond those premises.

Georgia-based Deerhunter (1), fronted by vocalist Bradford Cox, split Cryptograms (2007) between surreal instrumentals and psychedelic lullabies.

Georgia's Atlas Sound, the brainchild of Bradford Cox, took Deerhunter's pensive side to new heights on Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (2008).

New York's A Place to Bury Strangers sounded like a louder version of My Bloody Valentine's distorted bliss with Jesus And Mary Chain-style melodies and new-wavish keyboards on its debut A Place to Bury Strangers (2007).

San Francisco's Wooden Shjips, influenced by both the Doors and Spacemen 3, filled Wooden Shjips (2007) with barbed garage-grade riffs and hypnotic throbbing rhythm.

A similar combination of Spacemen 3 and the Doors also inspired New York's Religious Knives, fronted by organist Maya Miller and guitarist/synth-man Michael Bernstein (both members of Double Leopards). The lengthy trance pieces of Remains (2007), tinged with exotic and electronic overtones, laid the foundations for the chanted noise-songs for motorik rhythm and electronic drones of the mini-album The Door (2008).

Texan trio Indian Jewelry, featuring vocalist and keyboardist Erika Thrasher, gave an evil and drunk spin to shoegazing on Invasive Exotics (2006).

The relatively simple idea of feeding distorted music into heavy music and viceversa was pushed to a higher degree of paranoia by New York's trio Heavy Winged in the lengthy jams of A Serpent's Lust (2006), Blacc Stork (2006), Taking the Veil (2006), We Grow (2007), making them the most relevant pupils of High Rise.

New Orleans' duo Belong (Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones) took shoegaze-rock to a higher (noisier) dimension with October Language (2006), a victim of the chaotic glitch aesthetic but still devoted to the psychedelic cause.

In the late 2000s a new fad was a kind of swaggering lo-fi shoegaze-pop, a fusion of sloppy instrumental mayhem and catchy vocal hooks that Adam Elliott called "romantic nihilism", something like the marriage of Dead C and Pavement. After Ohio's Times New Viking, fronted by Adam Elliott and featuring keyboardist Beth Murphy, debuted with Dig Yourself (2005), their example was followed by Ohio's Psychedelic Horseshit with Magic Flowers Droned (2008), and Oregon's Eat Skull with Sick To Death (2008).

French electronica duo M83 (1) transposed shoegazing psychedelia into an age in which keyboards had replaced guitars as the pivotal sound-effect instrument. After the display of studio mastery and encyclopedic musical knowledge of M83 (2001), they indulged in the idea of making heavy rock using keyboards instead of (or in addition to) guitars on Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (2003), juxtaposing both ambient and cosmic passages.

France's Abstrakt Keal Agram achieved a balance of shoegaze, glitch and droning music on their album Bad Thriller (2004), with psychotic electronic keyboards and creative drum programming, that made them sound like an ominous version of M83.

French quartet Cyann & Ben evoked Bardo Pond's space-rock, Cocteau Twins' dream-pop, Mogwai's post-rock and Low's slo-core on Spring (2003).

Norway's late shoegazers Serena-Maneesh (1) blended My Bloody Valentine's introverted ecstasy and the Velvet Underground's pulsating neurosis on Serena-Maneesh (2005).

The poppier side of post-shoegaze psychedelia was represented by Flotation Toy Warning (1), whose Bluffer's Guide to the Flight Deck (2004) offered mellow psychedelic variations on the pop ballad enhanced with Vicky West's string and keyboard arrangements.

Folk freaks

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Loose folk-rock jamming of the kind pioneered by the Incredible String Band in the 1960s ("freak folk") was one of the most abused praxes of the 2000s. By the mid 2000s several psychedelic-folk "collectives" were active on the East Coast.

The No-Neck Blues Band's keyboardist John Fell Ryan launched Excepter (1) with the digital psychedelic collage of Ka (2003), that matched if not surpassed the dementia of his old band. The album still tried to retain a semblance of the song format, but the EP Vacation (2003) let the sonic mess drift ad libitum. Throne (2005) was another "concrete" symphony for electronics, guitars and wordless vocals.

New York's Akron/Family (1) played soundscape-oriented instrumental background music for warbling surreal elegies and litanies of metaphysical loss on Akron/Family (2005). Love Is Simple (2007) was a more conceptual affair, of grander proportions, that reconstructed tribal and choral hippie music in a modern context.

New York-based psychedelic-folk collective Wooden Wand coined a tribal and dissonant form of urban folk music via L'Un Marquer Contre La Moissonneuse (2005), containing two free-form soundtracks for the afterlife of drug-addicted ghosts, Buck Dharma (2005), an evocative work approaching the ambience of latter-day Swans, and the percussive, demonic and distorted rituals of The Flood (2005).

Oregon's duo the Plants stretched out with the three lengthy "songs" of Double Infinity (2006) that were melodic fantasies for neoclassical instruments (flute, cello, piano) seesawing through slow-motion sloppy drones and setting the stage for devil-angel male-female harmonies (Joshua Blanchard and Molly Griffith).

Spectre Folk, that released Spectre Folk (2006), and Folk Spectre, that released The Blackest Medicine (2008), were the same project by the Magik Markers's drummer Pete Nolan. They were meant to sound like primitive folk recordings: warped folk lullabies drenched in crackle-and-hiss background noise, like a folkish version of shoegazing, or a slower version of garage-rock.

Department Of Eagles the duo of Grizzly Bear's guitarist Daniel Rossen and Fred Nicolaus, achieved a nostalgic fusion of orchestral pop and freak-folk on In Ear Park (2008).

Rhode Island's Black Forest Black Sea, one of many collectives that played improvised psychedelic folk music in the mid-2000s, marked the progress of this genre's artistic ambition by evolving from the fragmented Black Forest Black Sea (2003) to the two lengthy jams of Black Forest Black Sea (2007).

Another Rhode Island-based combo, Urdog, mixed organ-driven prog-rock and freak-folk, like a meeting of Nice and the Incredible String Band, on Garden Of Bones (2004).

The Vermont-based collective Feathers jumped on the bandwagon of psychedelic folk with Feathers (2005), that sounded like a summary of 40 years of the genre, from Donovan to the Incredible String Band to Marc Bolan.

Espers, a sextet including Greg Weeks on electronics that headed the Philadelphia scene, were more preoccupied with crafting melancholy, evocative, zen-like ambience than penning acid-folk ballads on II (2006).

Philadelphia's Fern Knight, fronted by singer-songwriter Margaret Wienk, played gothic folk-rock that bridged the Celtic and Appalachian worlds, and channeled the timbral opulence of their instrumentation into something akin to baroque chamber music, notably on their third album Fern Knight (2008).

The groups of the Midwest were harder to categorize. New Mexico's Brightblack Morning Light (1), fronted by guitarist/vocalist Nathan Shineywater, conjured the hazy slo-core atmospheres of Ala.Cali.Tucky (2004) and then ventured into a psychomusical journey, not unlike the ones attemped by avantgarde trumpeter Jon Hassell, on Brightblack Morning Light (2006): its warped funk, jazz and blues visions evoked places and ages without quoting any particular geography. Wisconsin's collective Davenport ("conducted" by Clay Ruby), as documented on Free Country (2004), performed electroacoustic country music that mixed primordial droning, free noise, anemic shamanic vocals, tribal beats, guitars, fiddles, keyboards, percussions and environmental sounds, sounding like a sedated version of the Holy Modal Rounders.

British combo Rameses III introduced a transcendent variant on this genre with the sweet dreamy ambient guitar vignettes of Parsimonia (2004).

Belgian ensemble Silvester Anfang improvised tribal satanic hippy music that bordered on both acid folk and gothic rock on Satanische Vrede (2006), containing the suite Demonische Agricultuur II, Echte Vlaamse Geiten (2007), containing Demonische Agricultuur, and Kosmies Slachtafval (2007), containing just two lengthy (and more ambient) pieces.

Erik Skodvin inaugurated the project Svarte Greiner with Knive (2006), an album of mournful slo-motion free-form acoustic folk dirges drifting through distant and murky acoustic soundscapes.

Australia's Brothers Of The Occult Sisterhood (the duo of siblings Michael and Kristina Donnelly) were among the most chaotic acts in the world: Run From Your Honey Mind (2005) and Goodbye (2006) demonstrated meandering atonal, tribal, cerimonial music sprinkled with electronics over a bed of found percussion.

San Francisco post-hippies

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It was inevitable that San Francisco, the homeland of the hippy movement in the 1960s, would eventually get the lion's share of the phenomenon.

The Franciscan Hobbies, featuring three members of Thuja (Glenn Donaldson, Loren Chasse and Rob Reger) plus other local musicians, were emblematic of the loose Bay Area collectives that still congregated around the Jewelled Antler label (around the pioneers Thuja and the Skygreen Leopards) for which the communal spirit mattered more than the improvised amateurish psychedelic-folk music with mystical and idyllic overtones that they played on albums such as Masks & Meanings (2003).

One-man folk orchestra Steven Smith of Mirza, now disguised as Hala Strana, employed a huge arsenal of instruments (both classical, ethnic, home-made and found sounds) to revisit the traditional music of Eastern Europe on Hala Strana (2003) and the double-disc Fielding (2003).

The Alps (1) played languid lo-fi ambient drone psychedelic-folk on Jewelt Galaxies (2005) and Spirit Shambles (2006), but then absorbed German electronic "cosmic" music for III (2008), apparently heading towards a rhythm-less kind of atmospheric music while retaining the old scaffolding of spaced-out vocals, ghostly pianos and distorted guitars.

The Elemental Chrysalis, i.e. the duo of ambient composer Chet Scott and James Woodhead, employed an arsenal of instruments to craft the celestial atmosphere of The Calocybe Collection (2005), which was basically instrumental ambient folk music. The double-disc The Dark Path To Spiritual Expansion (2007) explored an oneiric, magic and nebulous underworld, basically a high-brow version of freak-folk.

The duo Barn Owl dreamed up meandering instrumental drumless space-folk for guitars, bass, banjo, harmonica, synthesizer, organ and drums on Barn Owl (2007).

Finnish elves

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However it was Finland, of all places, that had possibly the most vibrant school of "freak folk", specializing in primitive electroacoustic production aesthetics.

Kemialliset Ystavat, a hippy collective a` la Incredible String Band, devoted their entire career to droning improvised freak-folk for casual chanting, atonal strumming and primitive drumming. Their philosophy of art was best summarized on their second album Kellari Juniversumi (2002).

Avarus (1), a collective of musicians derived from fellow Finnish ensembles, pursued the most avantgarde form of "free folk", bordering on both free jazz and musique concrete. The fundamental elements of their sonic whirlwinds of the mid 2000s were guitar feedback, primitive instrumental plucking, haphazard drumming, and amateurish garage rave-ups; but then the product was subjected to a variety of tortures in the studio, distorting it via tape loops, enhancing it with samples, playing it backwards or at variable speed. The result often resembled abstract noise. The most creative jams were those on A-V-P (2003), II (2006) and Rasvaaja (2007).

Islaja (Finnish female singer-songwriter Merja Kokkonen, a member of both Avarus and Kemialliset Ystavat) multitracked her voice over the sparse pastoral droning psychedelic sounds of Meritie (2004) and the more touching Palaa Aurinkoon (2005). Ulual Yyy (2007) added horns and electronics.

The hyper-prolific (and inevitably sloppy) Keijo Virtanen masterminded meandering jams of loose, improvised, cluttered and droning ambience for detuned instruments, spastic tribal drumming and erratic vocals. His first official disc was After At Once (2006), but he had already self-released a dozen albums in three years.

At least two female singer-songwriters graced this commune and represented a gentler side of Finnish free-folk: Kuupuu (Jonna Karanka), who delivered the dreamy Yokehra (2006), and Lau Nau (Laura Naukkarinen), who sang the otherwordly lullabies of Kuutarha (2005).

The super-prolific Uton were emblematic of these wildly redundant and self-indulgent forest hippies. Their sub-amateurish chaotic psychedelic freak-outs, often wed to glacial drones, were a new form of shapeless background music, and sometimes, like in the case of Highway Nation (2006), Background For Silence (2007), or Ground's Dream Cosmic Love (2008), they hardly moved at all.


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

Madness without a method sometimes fared better than madness with a method. The generation after Bardo Pond reinvented space-rock and the "psychedelic freak-out" as a much wilder and looser form of non-music.

Philadelphia-based quintet An Albatross introduced themselves as sort of the Red Krayola for the age of grindcore with Eat Lightning Shit Thunder (2001) and especially with their second We Are The Lazer Viking (2003): frenzied keyboards-based acid-rock with shrieked vocals, except that they opted for grindcore-style bullets rather than side-long freak-outs.

New York state's Burnt Hills ventured into a hyper-psychedelic, primitive and tribal sound, which was inspired by both Dead C and Crash Worship, with their To Your Head (2006) for five guitars, bass and three drummers. The abrasive, propulsive one-hour piece of Stoners Pot Palace (2007) set a new standard for their recordings, that now became hour-long streams of consciousness, notably on Tonite We Ride (2008) for seven players.

Instrumental synth-spiced space-rock was best represented by New York's Titan, indulging in the three live jams of Titan (2006) and the 40-minute live jam of Pilzmarmelade (2006). The suites of their cousins La Otracina on Love Love Love (2006) and Tonal Ellipse Of The One (2007) were emblematic of the electronic intersection of acid-rock, prog-rock and post-rock.

New York's Gang Gang Dance (2), fronted by Liz Bougatsos and featuring guitarist Josh Diamond, keyboardist Brian DeGraw and drummer Tim DeWitt, debuted with the jam-oriented electronic psychedelic tribal music (a` la Animal Collective or Residents) of Gang Gang Dance (2004). They rediscovered the song format and crisp production for the surrealistic God's Money (2005) and then they also rediscovered the groove for Saint Dymphna (2008).

Chicago's Plastic Crimewave Sound, the brainchild of vocalist-guitarist Steve Krakow, harked back to Blue Cheer's stoner-rock and Hawkwind's space-rock, adding Eastern, orchestral, motorik and electronic elements on their second album No Wonderland (2006).

However, the most diligent revisionists of Hawkwind's abrasive hard-rocking space-rock were perhaps New York's White Hills, notably on Glitter Glamour Atrocity (2007).

Santa Cruz's wildly psychedelic Residual Echoes (the brainchild of guitarist Adam Payne) were the most extreme heirs of the Comets On Fire with a freak-out that bordered on Japanese noisecore and chaotic free-jazz, feeding on extreme shrieking and/or extreme distortion, as documented by Residual Echoes (2004).

Iowa's Raccoo-Oo-Oon, the brainchild of Shawn Reed, dabbled in dense tribal hysterical jazz-tinged acid-rock with electronically altered vocals, fuzzed guitars and gnomish synthesizers that seemed to sum up the 1970s of Hawkwind, Gong, Neu and Faust via the Animal Collective. Is Night People (2005) and The Cave Of Spirits Forever (2006) toyed with a prism of rock subgenres.

Australian collective Grey Daturas ran the gamut from extended guitar workouts to wildly acidic garage-rock on Grey Daturas (2002) and Dead In The Woods (2004).

Shit And Shine (13), an English collective featuring multiple drummers and guitarists, concocted a seriously damaged nuclear fusion of garage-rock and heavy-metal music on You're Lucky To Have Friends Like Us (2004). The 42-minute jam Ladybird (2005), featuring little more than the incessant pounding of the drums and massive distortions, was to psychedelic music what Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music was to progressive-rock: an abominable terminal point. Another colossal nightmare, the 30-minute Practicing To Be A Doctor, off the double-CD Jealous of Shit and Shine (2006), the two jams of the mini-album Toilet Door Tits/ The Biggest Cock In Christendom (2006), and Cunts With Roses (2007), documenting the first ever live improvisation by the band, as well as the apocalyptic single Cigarette Sequence (2008) for multiple drummers, bass players and electronic noise makers, displayed the same visceral and pointless impact.

In Japan the generation of Acid Mothers Temple and Ghost had laid the foundations for a more subdued form of psychedelic rock. Suishou No Fune (2), formed by female guitarist Pirako Kurenai and male guitarist Kageo, accompanied their reverb-drenched slow-motion lullabies with hypnotic mellow lightweight free-form twin-guitar noise. Suishou No Fune (2005), particularly the 17-minute The Blue Bird - Betrayal and Freedom, and the three improvised jams of Writhing Underground Flowers (2007) rehearsed the format that peaked with the mournful dilated ballads of the double-disc Prayer for Chibi (2007), a requiem of sorts. LSD-march, the brainchild of guitarist Shinsuke Michishita, debuted with the mellow anemic ballads a` la Lou Reed of Shindara Jigoku (2004) but the double-disc Nikutai No Tubomi (2007) contrasted the 40-minute harsh juggernaut Nikutai no Tubomi and a disc of ethereal fantasies, showing that it had transformed into an octopus of acid-rock, noisecore and post-rock.

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