Used to be that garage rock was a nameless fusion of surf tunes and rockabilly, a sound typically described by ’60s-era music critics using some combination of the words “fuzzy,” “distorted” and “noise.” Then it became a genre. Then a relic. Recently, with help from acts like The White Stripes and The Black Keys, garage has seen a healthy revival, spurring musicians to crank up the distortion and trade in cushy post-production effects for raw, lo-fi recordings and stripped-down melodies. It’s rock and roll the way it should be. These 10 songs best capture the genre today. Click the button below to hear them on Made Man’s Spotify.
1. “Mr. Driver” by Black Lips
Few bands channel the garage spirit as aggressively as Black Lips. Noted for their sloppy style and frantic, punk-inspired pacing, the group offered a tighter, more refined sound on their 2011 album, Arabia Mountain. “Mr. Driver,” the album’s fifth track, sounds like something Iggy Pop wrote after a few glasses of Jack, then forgot about after a few more. And yes, that’s a good thing.
2. “Ffunny Ffriends” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Oregon-based three-piece Unknown Mortal Orchestra gained some traction on the Interwebs last year after “Ffunny Friends” became a fast favorite among indie music bloggers. Leading off with a minimalist drumbeat that wouldn’t be out of place on a mid-nineties hip-hop single, the track quickly changes pace with the introduction of a few deliberate guitar chords and front-man Ruban Nielson’s understated vocals. The distortion is heavy. The awesomeness is heavier.
Ty Segall’s take on “Buick Mackane” is a thick and heavy electric attack that makes you want to lose yourself in a pair of oversized headphones.
3. “Birdies Singing” by Kelley Stoltz
Kelley Stoltz has been favorably compared to The Velvet Underground. Those are some weighty words, but Stoltz lives up to the praise without falling into the easy trap of mimicking his storied forbears. “Birdies Singing” showcases Stoltz’s affinity for the kind of loose, jangling rock and roundabout melodies that would make a heroine-addled Lou Reed grin and groove out.
4. “Buick Mackane” by Ty Segall
It may be a T-Rex song, but Ty Segall’s take on “Buick Mackane” does away with Marc Bolan’s glam-rock overtures and plants the track firmly in the garage category. The result is a thick and heavy electric attack that makes you want to lose yourself in a pair of oversized headphones.
5. “Unknown Brother” by The Black Keys
Not to give them too much credit, but The Black Keys deserve an ovation for kicking rock in the ass and bringing it back to basics. The duo has been tearing it up for over a decade, offering a no-frills approach to songwriting that fuses classic Delta blues with aggressive, proto-punk sensibilities. “Unknown Brother” is one of the Keys’ slower tracks, perfect for a hot summer afternoon spent working on that old Mustang in your garage.
6. “Hallucinations” by The Raveonettes
“Hallucinations” is quick and dirty, a fuzzed-out three-minute run with upbeat choruses and a dropdown verse that puts the whole thing on pause before taking off again in a tangle of squealing guitar strings. Who knew the Danes could rock so hard?
7. “Be My Girl” by Smith Westerns
Smith Westerns were just a trio of high school kids when they released their eponymous full-length in 2009. That fact makes the group’s garage-influenced sound all the more authentic, with tracks like “Be My Girl” hinting at a distinct lack of technical expertise. Of course, expertise is vastly overrated, and it doesn’t take a trained ear to know these gents write some damn fine rock numbers.
“The Sun Goes All Around” plays like something out of a weird alternate reality where analog never died. You can almost hear the vinyl crackling.
8. “Outta My Mind” by The King Khan & BBQ Show
The King Khan & BBQ Show are what The Black Keys would be if they were somehow even more raw and uninhibited, and if they had developed an early obsession with doo-wop. The result often makes for difficult listening, and KK&BS can be hard to follow at times. But on tracks like “Outta My Mind” the group focuses its efforts and puts on a hell of a show.
9. “The Sun Goes All Around” by Thee Oh Sees
There’s a certain degree of whimsy surrounding Thee Oh Sees, and it comes out in full force on “The Sun Goes All Around.” High-pitched vocals over crunchy, down-tuned guitar make for an ear-pleasing combination that plays like something out of a weird alternate reality where analog never died. You can almost hear the vinyl crackling in the background.
10. “Parted Ways” by Heartless Bastards
While Heartless Bastards draw comparisons to The Black Keys, the group offers up a notably cleaner sound than their blues-loving colleagues. Front woman Erika Wennerstrom delivers breathy vocals that carry loud and clear over coarse guitar work and driving beats. “Parted Ways” is the kind of song you put on at the start of a soon-to-be epic road trip, preferably while driving along the waterfront in a 1969 Buick Electra convertible.