Like the blues before it, rock clearly has made the transition from art to craft. Where art is the domain of revolution and insurrection, craft champions evolution and mutation. The former looks to overthrow history and tradition, while the latter interfaces with them. Considering all this, we have to be honest here: Rock no longer creates revolutionary sound; it no longer produces music that's utterly unlike anything that has come before it (i.e. art). There are no more Exile on Main Streets or Dark Side of the Moons or even Appetite for Destructions coming down the pipe. What the modern rock fan instead consumes are albums by bands and musicians who create meticulously tailored permutations and iterations of the myriad influences proudly worn on their sleeves. Craft, in other words.
Culture critic Simon Reynolds explores these phenomena in his 2011 book Retromania: "The 2000s was also the decade of rampant recycling: bygone genres revived and renovated, vintage sonic material reprocessed and recombined." If you're familiar with Reynolds' work, then you know he takes great issue with the rise of recombinant activity. I, too, have reservations. After all, I love being blown away by sounds I've never before encountered. At the same time, I'd also be an inflexible wanker if I didn't acknowledge the fact that a lot of killer rock 'n' roll has been made in the recombinant age.
Take Napster's No. 1 rock album of 2013, for example: Endless Boogie's Long Island is one of the hardest grooving jams of the last 10 years -- no debate about it. The music achieves this lofty distinction precisely because the band is so skilled at recombining its influences. The Big Apple Neanderthals -- who interestingly enough are an amalgam of fresh and old rocker-meat -- have engineered a synthesis of three major movements: There's the Bo Diddley beat diaspora ("Who Do You Love" > "Sister Ray" > "Keep On Chooglin'" > "Urban Guerilla" > "White Line Fever" > "Down On the Farm"), third-gear boogie awesomeness (John Lee Hooker > Canned Heat > Hound Dog Taylor) and, lastly, the finely engineered motorik hypnotics invented by Krautrock icons Can and Neu! So yeah, I know exactly where Long Island is coming from, as well as where it's headed. But that doesn't mean I can't be utterly mesmerized by its expert sense of craftsmanship. It RAWKS, plain and simple.
Similar claims can be made about Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats' Mind Control ('70s heavy metal making proggy love to early grunge scuzz) and Jake Bugg's Shangri La (pre-arena rock Ray Davies hanging with the Mavers brothers), both of which were real standouts this year. Even Nine Inch Nails' savvy comeback, Hesitation Marks, expresses the recombinant impulse. With its bold employment of various electronic processes and slick club grooves, it's arguably the most cutting-edge/nonconformist album on the list. Yet how exactly Trent Reznor got his groove back revolves around him reaching back into his past and reclaiming the fundamental components of the industrial-dance lineage from which he initially emerged; dude totally rediscovered his muse in all those awesome EBM and Wax Trax! plates he bought when he was nothing more than just another Demonia-boot-wearing youth, partying all dystopian-style in the mid-'80s.
Obviously, I could cite numerous other examples from our Top 25: Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age blurring stoner rock into David Bowie-brand glam; the sublime Laura Marling setting up camp in British folk rock's mustiest corners; our rowdy bros in Five Finger Death Punch smacking around post-grunge arena balladry with Pantera's groove metal. You get the picture, right?
Listen up: Be sure to piss off your uptight neighbors by cranking our Top 25 Rock Albums of 2013 playlist until the morning sun breaks that frigid horizon. After that, take a quick disco nap and begin the ritual all over again, only this time crank it until the eviction notices begin clogging up your mailbox. That, of course, would be the rock 'n' roll thing to do.