Monday, March 7, 2011

The Gaslight Anthem - a discussion of Punk Revivalism in Indie Music

Got asked to recommend music for someone who likes The Gaslight Anthem. Figured I would do a similar blog post to the one I did on Frightened Rabbit a few weeks back. A little bit of background: The Gaslight Anthem and New Jersey bred revivalist punk rockers with a penchant for 50's imagery. They have released two albums to significant indie acclaim - 2008's The 59 Sound and 2010's American Slang. I'm a big fan of The 59 Sound... so this will focus more on that album.

I thought that The 59 Sound was a good track to establish the hallmarks of TGA's sound and a little discussion of their influences.

Punk Rock Backbone - The drum-line is virtual double time - and has a classic punk pace to it. There's an important tipping of the hat here to core punk roots - Ramones and Replacements records like this:

Replacements - Left Of The Dial by user201380

The Ramones - The KKK Took My Baby Away - 17.mp3 by user3082784

Revivalist Sentiment - The most easily identifiable traits here are the fact that Brian Fallon sounds like Bruce Springsteen and that the songs carry a nostalgic obsession with an America that seemingly comprises  of leather jackets, high top sneakers, girls with eyes big enough to stop time and continual reference to teenage melodrama as if Fallon is trapped in some dead end of middle america. For the music nerds - this sort of middle america nihilism has its roots in country music but Bruce Springsteen made sure its spirit would reside in New Jersey once the 70s began. The '59 Sound is a classic example of the dichotomy this music creates - it's an up-tempo, anthemic sing along about the death of a friend.

(Additional Tangent for non-Americans: New Jersey's position as a suburban wasteland of sorts is continually reinforced throughout the history of American film, a nice fairly recent example is Zach Braff's Garden State)

Melody and a Pop sense of timing - Thing is,  punk is the easiest of the modern guitar-based musical art forms to nail - (Tangent: this is why it had to get faster, louder and noisier - as these allowed for a level of differentiation by talent because once Ramones got out - EVERY guy in america was starting a punk band) - the trick with The Gaslight Anthem is the utilisation of basic punk tricks (the gear change in the middle of a chorus, refrains like the end of one of my faves, "High and Lonesome" or on "59 Sound")  done at punk pace but integrated with intricate melodic guitar work to accentuate hooks and bridges, all of which has it roots in more bluesy and traditional rock impulses.

The key to the Gaslight Anthem's sound is the integration of these 3 elements - on its own, the lyrics wouldn't be able to hold the weight of their sentiment - but when those pop-rock impulses and punk propulsion are mixed in - you get anthemic rock gold.

So you like The Gaslight Anthem and want more music like this:
The Gaslight sound is both a pleasure and a problem. The problem being its uniqueness. Suffice it to say, there is no band I know of, out right now, who achieve a similar sound . So, my 2 recommendations here focus on bands who may have things in common with The Gaslight Anthem that are more thematic and conceptual than sonic. I'm not going to go into indie punk elements of noise-punk and lo-fi grunge like Japandroids, No Age, Surfer Blood and Male Bonding, instead I have 2 bands who maintain a loyalty to a punk ethos in a different way.

1. Wavves - King of the Beach

Wavves - King of the Beach by Bella Union

Wavves is to West Coast punk revivalism as The Gaslight Anthem is to New Jersey revivalism. His sound is more blatantly punk and rougher around the edges than Gaslight - but then that is West Coast punk - East Coast bands sound tight, West Coast bands sound loose. The reason I'm such a big Wavves fan is the same reason I am a Gaslight fan - its way more than punk - replace Springsteen and Jersey nihilism with California Sunshine and a bratty skateboarder's order to achieve this, leader Nathan Williams moves intelligently between west coast signature sounds - most notably the dream pop vocal layerings pioneered by the Beach Boys and grunge-y lo-fi'd riffs. Last year's record was on of my favourites.

2. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor

TITUS ANDRONICUS // A More Perfect Union by influxmusic

The Gaslight Anthem are not the only New Jersey band who count Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements as primary influences. Titus, though, as their name would suggest, have a flair for the dramatic - where Gaslight turn the nostalgia dial to 1950 to channel those influences, Titus Andronicus set the dial to 1830 in the creation of last year's unbelievable The Monitor - an indie punk concept album based on the American Civil War. Thing is though - it is a masterclass in anthemic punk driven rock and roll and they deliver songs which somehow, have sufficient soul and sheer fuck-you rockability to give credence to their album concept without coming across as intellectually pretentious little shits. One of my top ten records of 2010.

So that's that. As always, I enjoy writing these - so if you have a request, let me know on twitter (@MarlonBowman) and I will happily complete one for you. Next ones up will probably be a more detailed review of revivalism as a theme and one on what I am calling Hip-Hop's hyper-realism movement, powered by acts like Curren$y, Drake, Das Racist and Tyler the Creator and his crew Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All.


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