Aside from the ethically bankrupt (who seem to be more and more publicly ubiquitous in recent years), I’m not sure there’s anyone I pity more than the so-called music fan who thinks there’s no good rock ’n’ roll being released today. These people have been around at least since Elvis joined the Army, and they’ve always, always been comically wrong, plugging their ears as thrilling cultural explosions go off all around them. It’s like somebody who dies of thirst 10 steps from a water cooler, except it’s worse because in this case the water needs someone to come drink it or else the water doesn’t get paid. And there these fuckers sit, parched, remembering all the legendary water they used to drink in their youth. Dumb, dumb, dumb. But it is a truly special kind of pathetic to hold this position in twenty-twenty-goddamn-three, when you can hear a thousand new bands in a day without leaving the comfort of your classic-rock-themed bedsheets, provided the phone charger reaches from bed to wall.

The real bummer, though, is not the young contemporary musician’s low streaming numbers. That don’t pay jack anyhow. No, it’s the nearly empty bar where brilliant new music echoes off the Pabst advertisements, enjoyed by single-digit numbers of lucky, lonely rock ’n’ roll fans like myself. Kayde Hazel blew me away at just such a bar in early January, and, not for the first time in the past six months, I was kicking myself for missing this until now. Believe me, a great new band is playing live in your city tonight, and you probably ain’t going. Pardon me if I ask, but why the hell not?

I live in Boston, and my personal local music renaissance began last summer with Alex Walton. Her 2020 record Shame Music is my favorite album of the decade so far. On first casual listen, I was delighted by the aesthetic but figured it was a surface-level affinity—lo-fi, Phil Spector–meets­–Richard Hell kinda stuff loaded with hooks, carefully arranged sober, played drunk. But listening more closely to the vocals is what really made my jaw drop. “Vaseline” does something to me emotionally that nothing any music blog has recommended to me this decade has come close to. Alex is a master of that most effective poetic move: juxtaposing an evocative detail (“I talk about books that I’ll never read/She talks about the Rangers”) with a barefaced existential gauntlet toss (“I always give too much too soon/To complete strangers”). I don’t know what your emotional life is like, but it’s like she’s inside my goddamn head.

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