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The rock star look has always been an important part of the package. Whether it was permed manes and denim jackets or tight leather and back-combing, what you see has paradoxically been almost as important as what you hear when it comes to the next big thing in music. Just look at Lady Gaga, for Christ’s sake.
Over recent years, the revenge of the hipster has hijacked all areas of society, from humble coffee shops and barrooms to more outlandish spectrums such as the concept of breakfast, so their incursion into the recording studio was always going to be inevitable. More and more frequently, we’re seeing apparent impersonators of the hunter from Jumanji muscle their way onto our airwaves, so it’s surely only a matter of time before Jools Holland becomes buried beneath an avalanche of moustache wax.
Having said that, the hipsterism phenomenon has brought some great things with it: craft beer, for example. The triumphant return of the satchel. Acceptance for environmentalists. Handmade mania and artisanal everything… and perhaps even the rebirth of rock. A few of the proponents of said music are laid out for your perusing pleasure below, as well as some other artists who are still resisting the hipster revolution.
Essential Album(s): ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’ (2013), ‘Race for Space’ (2015)
“This is Apollo Control at one hundred two hours into the flight of Apollo Eleven // It’s grown quite quiet here in Mission Control.”
A band which personifies the modern fascination with all things twee and tweed, PBS are a geeky enigma who go by the pseudonyms of J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth. Dispensing with the bothersome business of singing altogether, the pair take samples of excerpts from radio, propaganda broadcasts and public information shorts and weave enthralling rock anthems around them.
The second album is a particular accomplishment, focusing on the escalating competition between the USA and the USSR to conquer the final frontier.
From JFK’s inspirational speech set to orchestral backing on the opening track, it’s infused with an energy and excitement that makes you want to go back and live the years of space conquest all over again. ‘Go!’, ‘Gagarin’ and ‘E.V.A.’ are especially memorable.
Essential Album(s): ‘Tamer Animals’ (2011), ‘Rituals’ (2015)
“Oh, living for the city and it’s always troubling // To keep it in the hot lane, I don’t care about no scenery // And you run from it then, now you can’t escape.”
Moving slightly away from the overt hipsterism of the two acts above, Other Lives are still a band of impressively bearded men, but they seem to focus less on their image and more on the music.
Hailing from Oklahoma in the States, they originally collaborated under the name Kunek before releasing their debut as Other Lives in 2009.
However, it wasn’t until 2011’s ‘Tamer Animals’ that they really reached new musical heights, with the title track in particular drawing praise from all quarters and even meriting a remix from Thom Yorke.
The 2015 album probably stepped up the consistency of the album quality as a whole, without ever reaching the same loftiness of ‘Tamer Animals’ itself.
Essential Album(s): ‘An Awesome Wave’ (2012), ‘This Is All Yours’ (2014)
“Do you know where the wilds things go // They go along to take your honey, la la la la // Break down now weep build up breakfast now // Let’s eat my love my love love love, la la la la…”
It doesn’t get much more hipster than naming your band after a hotkey shortcut on Mac computers. As well as choosing a triangle symbol for their moniker, alt-J also look the part… but thankfully, they sound it too.
‘An Awesome Wave’ was the best album to come out of the UK in the last decade, earning them the Mercury Music Award and a shedload of exposure which saw overinflated hype on their second effort. As often happens in such circumstances, the album failed to live up to its predecessor, though it was probably a victim of its own anticipation. Ignore the obvious drop-off in quality in comparison to their debut and you still have a very fine album.
The first offering is so chock-full of great songs embellished with fantastic lyrics that you can’t really go wrong; on the second, ‘Hunger of the Pine’ and ‘Warm Foothills’ (featuring guest vocals from alt rock legend and hipster forerunner Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame) are good places to sink your teeth into.
Essential Album(s): ‘In the Evening Air’ (2010), ‘On the Water’ (2011), ‘Singles’ (2014)
“People change, even though some people never do // You know when people change // They gain a piece but they lose one too // Because I’ve been hanging on you.”
The lead singer of Future Islands, Samuel T. Herring, is quite an interesting character. Though his onstage persona is (presumably) an act and his image a striking one, you’d probably be harder pushed to find someone more removed from the hipster movement.
Favouring black t-shirts and plain jeans, the man lunges, Russian dances and gesticulates his way around the stage, throwing in the odd throat rasp for good measure. In fact, his smooth moves even became quite the talking point on the Jimmy Kimmel show in the States.
Quite apart from his eye-bulging appearance and ludicrously good rhythmic cavorting, Future Islands are also a laudably prolific and consistent band. All three of the albums named above don’t contain a single bad track on them, and though they may be guilty of being a little ‘samey’, the constantly high quality level of music on them is not to be underappreciated.
Essential Album(s): ‘In the Pit of the Stomach’ (2011), ‘Unravelling’ (2014)
“We act alone // We act on impulse // And all this talk of death // Has really brightened up my week.”
In addition to having perhaps the best band name in history, this Scottish four-piece from Edinburgh are also an incredibly unassuming and unpretentious bunch. They set out their stall with the compelling 2009 debut, ‘These Four Walls’, which enjoyed significant airtime on the radio and in television shows in the States – more so than in their native UK, in fact.
Following up on that success was no mean feat, but the band managed to pump out not one but two albums in the next five years, with both offering the same raw dynamism of the initial album but adding something different. From the second album, ‘Act on Impulse’, ‘Sore Thumb’ and ‘Human Error’ are the obvious choices for a first listen, while ‘Peace Sign’ and ‘Moral Compass’ are perhaps the most accessible from the most recent effort.
Perhaps this preoccupation with the overriding image of the 2010s says more about me than it does about the artists – in any case, it certainly backseats the most important point at play here: the music. Fixating on fixie bikes neglects the chance to highlight some of the other fantastic alt rock bands who burst through in this period, including the laid-back, plaintive kids from Parquet Courts, who have released an impressive five albums in almost as few years. Drenge and Beach Slang also swanned onto the scene in the last few years, blending punk and grunge in an interesting new blend of noise.
More established acts coming back with yet another effort in this time include Nick Cave, Paul Weller, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr, while Johnny Marr branched out on his own for the first time with a brace of two solo albums.
Who am I missing?
Moustachioed or not, drop them in the comments section below.
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