Should the garage rock duo end? Should we be over garage rock, or any kind of rock, duos? Has the gimmick been stretched beyond its breaking point? Let’s use three current rock duos and their 2017 albums to examine this question.
Duo garage rock bands are cute no more. Everyone seems to be doing it at this point. Everyone seems to be doing it since quite a while back. It was fresh and raucous with the White Stripes and fun with the Black Keys, but then it caught on and basically became its own little scene. My point is that a rock duo is not a gimmick any more, no matter how much the Brits in Royal Blood may think it is, and neither is having the usual guitarist replaced by a bassist, another thing the aforementioned Royal Blood seems to think is a gimmick, or maybe it is just some of their fans. I am sorry, Royal Blood does not deserve this crap from me, but I found this year’s album of theirs, How Did We Get So Dark?, unforgivably derivative and dull when they have the potential to be so much more.
The above being said, Death from Above (aka, Death from Above 1979) are both a Canadian rock duo and a band with just a drummer and a bassist, and they do this amazingly. It is just Jesse F. Keeler on bass guitar, synthesizer, keyboards, and backing vocals; and Sebastien Grainger on lead vocals, backing vocals, drums, and other percussion.
Sure, sure, Death from Above started way back in 2001 before their at the time unusual combo became common. Yet, since forming, they have only released three albums, including this one. So you must forgive people in 2017 for nearly viewing these guys as if they were a brand new act, even keeping in mind the fact that Death from Above – especially with their debut album, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine – has influenced other rock acts of a similar vein, like the aforementioned Royal Blood, and keeping in mind that Death from Above are actually very fresh and maintain their own unique, original sound. Is that needed in the 2017 rock scene! Yes, yes, it is.
Death from Above’s 2004 debut broke new ground, exciting many fans. Then the band kind of kept a low profile until 2014, with their sophomore slump, The Physical World. It was fine but disappointingly so. Many fans had given up hope until this year. Outrage! Is Now may be no You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, but it is a fine record.
Outrage! Is Now has a fantastic rock punchiness and liveliness to it and a diversity of uniquely Death from Above sounds. I also enjoy some of the things they are poking fun at and criticizing, like our current society’s love for drama, being offended, and hating for empty reasons on the title track, or like the inherent silliness of our culture’s shallow interaction with and treatment of religion on “Holy Books.” If you enjoy blues-influenced garage rock but have not seen anything good come along in that vein for a while, check this out.
Now, let me introduce you to another awesome 2017 record from a garage rock sort of duo, the Japandroids’ Near to the Wild Heart of Life.
Japandroids play an anthemic, propulsive, energetic, outspoken blend of classic, punk, and heartland rock in a very garage-y setting played by a duo – Brian King on guitar and lead vocals, David Prowse on drums and backing vocals – that just will not stop. These Canadians have been around since 2006 and dropped their first record in 2009, but it was their sophomore release, 2012’s Celebration Rock, that gained them notoriety, boosted by notice from Pitchfork. Even so, not enough people know Japandroids, in my opinion one of the best rising rock bands today. But how is their third album here?
It’s pretty dang good! It continues Japandroids’ commendable restraint. Each album so far is just eight songs and thirty-five minutes, no bull, no filler. Not that all albums must be around forty minutes, but that length works excellently for many bands, and it does so for Japandroids as well, with their lean and mean approach. Then, on top of that, the guys took more time with this one, adding in some synths and, overall, more carefully assembling the album. In doing this, they have avoided the pitfalls that other similar bands, like the Black Keys, have unfortunately often fallen into.
I am not going to lie and say, “Japandroids don’t even sound like a duo!” Yet I will say the solid, sometimes complicated drumming, chord heavy guitar, and – here – the occasional synths fill everything out nicely. Besides, I have a history of loving good duos, especially the White Stripes and King of the North, a far-too-unknown Australian hard rock act whom I will hopefully get the chance to talk about someday.
Near to the Wild Heart of Life is not quite as good as Celebration Rock, and it contains some awkward or badly placed lyrics. Plus, I would have liked to have heard a few solos. Yet, other than that, it is really good.
You know, though, what sets these guys apart from similar garage rock acts? The fact that they do not stick to a formula, and they even sometimes put out thoughtful and exhilarating material. Check these guys out.
So back to the question: Should garage rock duos end? If all we got was stuff like Royal Blood, uninspired material, I would say yes. However, that is not all we get. So I say no, not if they are done well.
Tell me what you all think about this subject. Are you done with rock duos trotting out their gimmick? Do you want this thing to keep going? Or does it really not matter to you as long as the music is good?