Modern Rock for the Classic Rocker?
September 13, 2009 12:41 AM   Subscribe

Best modern bands for a classic rock fan and musician who wants to hear some genius?

Who are the best *musicians'* bands out there today?

I'm a big classic rock fan, especially Led Zeppelin (for sheer awesomeness), and The Beatles (for variety, creativity, and brilliant songwriting).

I tend to like interesting music with variety in harmony, structure, and arrangement. But I also like a good 3-chord jam if it's got some real grit and groove to it, especially if there are genuine soloists. (Lynyrd Skynyrd's 3 chords, yes; Limp Bizkit's 3 chords, not so much).

Current bands I do like:
The White Stripes
The Mars Volta

I'm NOT a stylistic purist -- it doesn't have to sound like classic rock. Hip hop elements are fine, electronic elements are fine (I like System of a Down), metal is fine, genre-crossing is fine. Also, when I ask for musicians, I don't necessarily mean progressive/virtuosos -- I'll take brilliant songwriting, clever arranging, etc. Basically, who are the really, objectively, *great* bands out there today?

Bonus question: What did I miss in the 90s when I was listening to my Zeppelin box set instead of joining the grunge era? I like Radiohead and NIN, and I'm prepared to take a dip in the Nirvana pool to catch myself up -- what other worthwhile 90s bands should I seek out?
posted by Alabaster to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
"What did I miss in the 90s when I was listening to my Zeppelin box set instead of joining the grunge era?"
The Pixies?
posted by Dreamcast at 12:57 AM on September 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Also worth mentioning: Beck: Odelay is right up my alley.
posted by Alabaster at 12:58 AM on September 13, 2009

JET and The Darkness both come to mind.
posted by sully75 at 12:58 AM on September 13, 2009

Response by poster: Also worth mentioning: Gogol Bordello is awesome.
posted by Alabaster at 1:05 AM on September 13, 2009

Seconding sully75's answer.
posted by amyms at 1:24 AM on September 13, 2009

If you like Southern Rock, the Drive-by Truckers are fifteen tons of Skynyrd-esque awesomeness.
posted by essexjan at 1:27 AM on September 13, 2009

I just popped into this thread to recommend Drive-By Truckers! Well, now, let's see... Maybe Clutch is for you? Excellent and groovy blues based hard rock, at least on their last few albums. Also try Mastodon, to me they pretty much define "interesting music with variety in harmony, structure, and arrangement".
posted by soundofsuburbia at 1:42 AM on September 13, 2009

First, I'll start with side projects, related bands, and solo efforts of bands you know and love.

If you like System of a Down, there's always Serj Tankian's solo album Elect The Dead. I'm not a big fan of it, but it's worth a shot. I know people who consider it better than some SOAD albums.

If you like the White Stripes, Jack White's also involved with the Raconteurs and, most recently, the Dead Weather. I'm not a big listener of the Stripes, and, therefore, haven't listened to that much of these bands, either. (Bonus points: Dean Fertita, who is involved with both the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, is also a newly-inducted member of Queens of the Stone Age, a band that I think blows all these others out of the water. If you end up liking QOTSA, check out Eagles of Death Metal.)

More bonus points: Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Josh Homme (QOTSA), and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin[!]) have just formed a band called Them Crooked Vultures. Keep an eye out for their debut album; sounds like it would be right up your alley.

Thom Yorke from Radiohead has a solo album titled The Eraser. If you like Radiohead, it's a fair bet you'll like this just as much.

Finally in this vein of recommendations, the Mars Volta's Omar Rodríguez-López has a lot of avant-garde-ish solo work. (Bonus points: during the mid-/late-90s, there was a band called At The Drive-In. When they split up, two bands were formed from the ashes: the Mars Volta and Sparta. ATDI are definitely worth checking out.)

Disclaimer: I don't much like Sparta.

Second, based on how those bands sound, I'll make this recommendation: Wolfmother. They have a similar heavy-guitar sound, and I love it.

Sorry if this is/was overwhelming.
posted by reductiondesign at 1:45 AM on September 13, 2009

Try Built To Spill. I don't know all their stuff, but highly recommend "Keep It Like A Secret", "Perfect From Now On", and "Live" for incredible guitar work that often transcends more than pure wankery. (Speaking of classic rock, they do a sick slow burn version of Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer" on the "Live" record, and I saw them do a live, non-ironic "Freebird" several years ago.)
posted by zoinks at 1:47 AM on September 13, 2009

Older Modest Mouse - everything before "Good News for People who Love Bad News". Simply amazing songs.
posted by scose at 3:11 AM on September 13, 2009

Seconding Omar Rodríguez-López's solo work, as well as El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodríguez-López.

This is less guitar-heavy, but for sheer structural and arrangement genius, there's Foetus (a.k.a. J. G. Thirlwell, if you watch The Venture Brothers you'll know his music).
posted by transporter accident amy at 3:17 AM on September 13, 2009

Seconding Raconteurs. I would also add Wolfmother.
posted by jhighmore at 3:51 AM on September 13, 2009

So happy to see the Truckers getting some love. They really are the best thing going, IMO, and their live shows (freely available on are a lesson in how to put on a big rock show, especially if you catch a "bottle show", where they bring an unopened bottle of whiskey on stage and begin passing it around the band and they don't stop until it's empty...

In another vein entirely, I'd like to recommend a specific record that, while never really achieving any commercial success, was probably, next to Nirvana's "Nevermind", the single most influential record of the 1990s:

Spiderland, by Slint. You won't get it the first time you listen to it. You probably won't get it the second time. But when you DO get it, you'll put it on the same shelf as Exile on Main Street, Blonde on Blonde, and Trout Mask Replica. It's a dark, moody record that relies on minimal instrumentation, plainspoken narrative lyrics, and a breadth of tone from tenuous to thunderous. It's an anomaly. It really shouldn't work, but it does. Nothing else Slint did was, IMO, very good or vaguely interesting. But Spiderland is a masterpiece. That's the record you missed in the 90s.

posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:55 AM on September 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

For your hip hop appreciation (with writing and musicianship) check out The Roots. Phrenology might be right up your alley, but Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart are better albums.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:26 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

For some off the wall stuff I would also check out Matisyahu (his first album the rest are kind of wankery) and the John Butler Trio.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:27 AM on September 13, 2009

Muse, Brit technical alt-rock.

Opeth, Swedish melodic/prog/folk/death metal.
posted by Bodd at 4:55 AM on September 13, 2009

Sufjan Stevens is probably worth a listen, too.
posted by lucidreamstate at 5:34 AM on September 13, 2009

Pearl Jam and The Flaming Lips come immediately to mind. Against Me! are a good intelligent punk sort of band... Fountains of Wayne to satisfy any power pop leanings you might have. And I'll plug Treat Her Right (80s-ish pre-Morphine Mark Sandman) for good bar blues/rock.
posted by speeb at 5:34 AM on September 13, 2009

Kyuss, Blues for the Red Sun and Welcome to Sky Valley. One song from each.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 5:52 AM on September 13, 2009

If you like Zeppelin, Radiohead and the White Stripes, and you missed grunge - Soundgarden. Unbelieveably underrated band. Start with Superunknown.
posted by fire&wings at 6:05 AM on September 13, 2009

Don't kill the messenger, but Jethro Tull is all sorts of awesomeness. Aside from the early blues based albums like This Was and Stand Up, in the 80's and 90's Tull offered a trio of great rock albums. Stormwatch, Broadsword and the Beast, and Crest of a Knave offer great rockers like Seal Driver and classic prog rock masterpieces like (A night in )Budapest.

If you've even liked the Clash for one minute you should check out Joe Strummer
posted by Gungho at 6:19 AM on September 13, 2009

The Bevis Frond. Nick Saloman is a phenomenal player and a prolific songwriter. I bought The Auntie Winnie Album more or less at random because I liked the name and the cover, and as soon as I heard the first chord I had no choice but to turn the stereo up to 11 and risk major speaker damage. His occasional collaborator Bari Watts is also an amazing player; perhaps a little less range than Saloman, but what he does he does so, so well. I recommend ingesting certain herbs and letting Once More (track 4 from Inner Marshland, if memory serves) have its wicked way with you.
posted by flabdablet at 6:27 AM on September 13, 2009

Check out the Decemberists for some really great songwriting across several genres that should be familiar to you- their older stuff is folk-rock Americana, their new album is a full-blown prog rock concept album.
posted by mkultra at 6:36 AM on September 13, 2009

Nthing Opeth, Muse, and the Decemberists. Also check out Porcupine Tree, who are pretty much the smartest band in the world right now. Beautiful classic harmonies, psychedelia, prog, occasional terrifying metal bits. They've got a new album coming out in a couple weeks, and I'm giddy at the prospect.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 6:41 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pearl Jam- the first 3 or 4 albums are brilliant, then they get lost in the wilderness for a while. Their last album, however, was a fantastic straight-up rocker.

Wilco- start with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. The latter brought on board Nels Cline, who kicks some serious guitar ass.
posted by mkultra at 6:42 AM on September 13, 2009

Yo La Tengo
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:44 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would check out Delta Spirit. They've got a bit of a soul/rock sound, and even their production values have this "70s" feel to them. I am similar to you in not listening to as much new music as many others, but their latest album (Ode to Sunshine) is now one of my favorites.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 6:48 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't want to be overly dramatic, but the Hold Steady's "Separation Sunday" renewed my faith in Rock 'n Roll.
posted by mr_felix_t_cat at 6:52 AM on September 13, 2009

If we're starting in the 90s and metal is okay, may I recommend Tool and Meshuggah.

Tool are a bit art-wanky but it's good solid hard rock with a proggish bent.

Meshuggah - they can be quite hard to listen to if you're not really into metal to begin with, but their crazy rhythms and off-kilter "melodies" were jaw-dropping when they first hit the scene with Destroy Erase Improve, and are still probably the most imitated band in metal these days.
posted by vanar sena at 7:28 AM on September 13, 2009

Black Crowes.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:47 AM on September 13, 2009

Your question has way too many perimeters for me to be able to answer succinctly and I don't think that, "objectively," there are any great bands out there.

When I want to impress someone with musical prowess, however, and/or they've specified a liking for hard rock, I generally put on

Black Mountain
The Psychic Paramount
Black Angels
Lightning Bolt
Man Man

For songwriting I recommend

Stuart Staples
Bill Callahan (aka Smog)
James Hunter (Soul)
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:05 AM on September 13, 2009

If you missed grunge, Alice in Chains.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:20 AM on September 13, 2009

My Morning Jacket - great songs, killer guitar, and amazing vocals.
posted by noahv at 8:31 AM on September 13, 2009

Yeah, The Hold Steady should be right up your alley - awesome love of classic rock combined with brilliant lyrics and epic guitars, piano, everything. "Separation Sunday" is amazing.
posted by mediareport at 8:32 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

You may enjoy the Crystal Antlers.
posted by brevator at 8:44 AM on September 13, 2009

I like You Should See the Other Guy's answer, but add "Sleepy Sun"
posted by schyler523 at 9:23 AM on September 13, 2009

Queens of the Stone Age bears repeating! Others worth checking out:
Monster Magnet
Big Sugar (Now defunct, but super excellent blues/rock)
Masters Of Reality (especially 'Sunrise on the Sufferbus' with Ginger Baker on drums.)
If you like Soundgarden and QOTSA, check out Eleven- there's a lot of cross-pollination there.
posted by usonian at 9:25 AM on September 13, 2009

Oh! other 90's bands that meshed with my own 70's rock predilection, some of whom are still around:
Failure (especially 'Fantasic Planet')
Sugar (not to be confused with Big Sugar, sometimes accused of being too far on the pop end of the spectrum, but for my money some of the best riff rock of the decade.)
Primus - not easily pigeonholed but Les Claypool is one mean bass Player.
Jane's Addiction
King's X (killer riffs with Beatles-like harmony. Start with 'Dogman'.)

Also, check out Adrian Belew.
posted by usonian at 9:43 AM on September 13, 2009

Wilco's last couple of studio albums have been a little too laid back for me in terms of production, but their live shows since adding Nels Cline have been everything I expect from a rock show (aside from preening frontmen). Check out their live album Kicking Television, or the bootleg of their first show at the Ryman.

My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves lies somewhere between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Pink Floyd, in a good way. Their earlier stuff is a little folkier--sub Neil Young for Pink Floyd in the above description--and their later stuff a little funkier--sub Prince for Pink Floyd.
posted by Benjy at 10:48 AM on September 13, 2009

I came in here to recommend The Hold Steady. At least two people got to it before me, but oh well. Great songwriting and unselfconscious rock.

I'm also suggesting Built to Spill, Wilco (I listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the first time this summer and I'm in love), Dinosaur Jr, The Replacements, The National, Okkervil River, and Spoon. Not all of these might be to your taste, but I think they all have a kind of classic feel to them.
posted by MadamM at 10:56 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Elliott Smith was a pretty singular (and amazing) songwriter, but also an unabashed Beatles fan -- particularly of George Harrison. (He covered "Isn't It a Pity," "I Me Mine" and "Because".) Particularly if you like All Things Must Pass, you should check him out. (I'm on my phone now and can't link, but somewhere in the AskMe archives there's a thread called something like "What Elliott Smith album should I start with?" I love Either/Or.)
posted by lisa g at 11:00 AM on September 13, 2009

I didn't see Dead Meadow or the Black Keys mentioned. I think both are worth checking out.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:50 AM on September 13, 2009

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks (Their latest album, Real Emotional Trash, is tons of fun, with intricate song structures and more than a few especially satisfying hard rock turns. ...Imagine the best parts of Wings and Thin Lizzy.)

For Stonesy hard rock, you might also like Black Lipstick [Band website has free, legal MP3s... Check out B.O.B.F.O.S.S.E from "Sincerely Black Lipstick"]
posted by applemeat at 11:55 AM on September 13, 2009

FYI - Lotsa overlap in this somewhat-related question.
posted by grateful at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2009

Argh! Sorry to spam the discussion, but I'm in the same "wish there were plain old rock bands like in the 70's" camp, and love threads like this. I knew there were a couple more that were escaping me:

Super 400
Stone Axe
posted by usonian at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2009

Alberta Cross
The Rockford Mules
Danko Jones
Nashville Pussy
(this is for your Lynyrd Skynyrd hard-rock needs)

if you like electronica elements, but like the hard rock, you might try Chemical Brothers or The Crystal Method for a nice dose of big-beat, rhythmic electronic music.

The Decemberists latest, The Hazards of Love, is fantastic and will suit you to a tee. You may not like their earlier material, as it's more folky and less throbbing guitars.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:33 PM on September 13, 2009

The New Pornographers, especially Twin Cinema
posted by markjamesmurphy at 11:23 PM on September 13, 2009

I'll just throw in what has already been said, if you like The Mars Volta you will probably like/love Omar Rodriguez Lopez's solo work, start with Old Money since that is his best and probably most accessible. You will hear a lot of early Mars Volta tracks in his work which is quite cool for the fanboy to hear.

Queens of the Stone Age will be right up your street, heavier but oh so dark and sexy with it, try Lullabies to Paralyze and Songs for the Deaf as your start there, incredible albums.
posted by tumples at 8:45 AM on September 14, 2009

Am going to also sign onto Hold Steady and Built to Spill given your parameters.

And Wilco - you mention Radiohead so that might be what catches the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot suggestion, but if you really are more of a classic rock person I would actually say that Being There is a really great starting point and a good rock album all around.

What about P.J. Harvey - she knocks out some really loud ones with big old riffs and lyrics that are nice and tortured. Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love are both ridiculous, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is a stylistic shift but actually has your buddy Thom Yorke on it.

Magnolia Electric Company puts out a nice classic rock type of sound. Mid-seventies Neil Young is a touchstone for sure, but it stands on its own without those references.

If you end up liking Nirvana, you might check out Scout Niblett - her guitar work will sound familiar. And good. And her drumming is cool.

Also, one band you missed in the 90's is Superchunk. Another is Pavement. Not sure if you would like them, but if you were primarily listening to Led Zeppelin there is a good chance you missed them.
posted by kensington314 at 5:13 PM on September 14, 2009

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