This May Sound Sexist, But Women Are Just Better Than Men at Rock Music: A Playlist

NOTE: This list is uh not safe for the whole family.

Rock represents (or at least one point did) rebellion, a pushing of boundaries beyond the mainstream. It has consistently expanded, pushing beyond itself when it was the status quo, through its sub-genres: psych-rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge, emo while at its core remaining the same.

The oppression of women and their treatment is broad and long and does not need to be discussed here–their role in rock music is more the exception than the rule with a select few carrying the torch through a field of men. Even now, a struggle for recognition exists, though more underlying than explicit: women are accepted in rock music, but women are not in rock music. Of course rock music exists strangely today–it’s dominant, but those who dominate radio play are one-hit wonders rather than super stars. Mainstream rock is stale, as a 60 plus year genre should be, but as always there are great bands making great music on the fringes.

Women are making the best rock music right now–there is no question in my mind. There are so many little scrappy bands right now throwing together rock songs fit to be listened to in crowded garages–with short, speedy, belted out jams that are purely delightful. They tell stories akin to those in rock (and especially punk’s) early days, expressions from the fringe, taking angst often birthed from a sexist society (Trump anyone?) and turning into a musical rebellion, sometimes crass, but always creative.

Here is a wide, yet non-comprehensive playlist of what is currently happening–jump on board.

Sleater-Kinney

Foremothers (if you will) of sorts to this whole thing, Sleater-Kinney have been making rock jams for a long time. This year saw the release of their eighth album, showing that the group has not missed a beat.

Courtney Barnett

A singer-songwriter who leans toward punk-tinged rock music, Barnett’s specialty is her wit where she is a master at crafting lyrics. Tongue-in-cheek songs about making excuses to get out of going to a party and lawn mowing techniques–she’s very observational, creating stream-of-consciousness songs about what she sees around her and relating it to deeper personal tensions and insecurities.

Makthaverskan

A Swedish punk band whose name translates to “women with power”, they combine forward moving punk songs with a sort of 80s synth melody. Living up to their name, Maja Milner gets personal about her experiences with men, fighting through them in explicit and passionate ways.

Potty Mouth

Sounding like they’re coming straight from the garage, Potty Mouth embodies a sort of low-key aggression common amongst most the bands present on this playlist. Their guitars are fuzzy, the lyrics are straightforward, and the songs are catchy without ever getting poppy.

Ex Hex

Singer/guitarist Mary Timony has had a long road to the 2014 Ex Hex debut album Rips, as a seminal part of 90s noise pop group Helium and later super group Wild Flag in 2010. The Ex Hex debut was a wonderful rock and roll album filled with quickly paced and very catchy songs. It’s a perfectly capable album that anyone who enjoys guitar driven rock songs could definitely enjoy.

Screaming Females

Leaning on a more heavy sound than most of the groups listed here, there are moments on their most recent record Rose Mountain that are shockingly intense. This is lead by Marissa Paternoster’s strong vocals which are powerful enough to knock you back at any moment. The breakdown toward the end of “Burning Car” is pretty epic, reminiscent of those days I was super into metalcore.

Savages

Also a group that trends heavier and more serious, Savages burst onto the scene in 2013 with a very anti-technology/social media/distracted youth message. While they lack the sort of tongue-in-cheek attitude of a lot of these groups, they make up for it with the passion of their message, as lead track “Shut Up” shows, Savages are not afraid of confrontation.

White Lung

Definitely not for the faint of heart, White Lung leans toward the more old school side of hardcore when it comes to punk. These songs are aggressive, filled with quickly paced guitar solos, and pounding drums.

Hop Along

A group that probably rides or dies on the talents of its vocalist, singer Frances Quinlan goes all over the place showcasing a raspy yell backed by a tight backing band. Most of the labeling of Hop Along is as a folk rock group, likely because of the group’s origins (a solo project by Quinlan), but at this point they are definitely a rock band, fitting in quite nicely to the modern day emo revival.

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz has revived the alt-rock of the 90s, giving it a modern indie rock feel, with definite punk influences. Another group that started as the solo project of its lead singer (Sadie Dupuis) and grew into a full-fledged critically acclaimed rock group (does this lead us into female rock star auteur theory?).

Tacocat

Taking on The Ramones’ at their most surf rock, Tacocat goes full tongue-in-cheek, exploring the female perspective with a full blast of irony. These are perfect beach songs, even if “Crimson Wave” isn’t as pure a surf song as it might seem upon first listen.

Alvvays

Indie pop filtered through a slacker rock aesthetic, from their purposefully misspelled name to their songs about getting married and grappling with the irony of growing into an adult, and Molly Rankin’s voice which always features a wink to it.

Chastity Belt

Reappropriating a device typically used to inhibit and to censor, Chastity Belt takes it on with a badge of irony, letting their feminism shine through the mores of old. Musically the band very much fits into a punk vein, but does so much more slow and pronounced than typical.

Perfect Pussy

Confrontational to its core (as their name might suggest), they originally started as a fake  band for a movie, but now are here to provide the most blatant and in your face group of the bunch. Their debut album clocks in at a brisk 29 minutes–nearly all of which is distorted and screamed.

Childbirth

https://childbirth.bandcamp.com/track/cowling-at-the-moon

Childbirth actually features two members from groups listed above (Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt, Bree McKenna of Tacocat) and takes on the same comic feminism as both of them. Their new album is aptly titled Women’s Rights, is filled with brash lyrics, more obscene than thoughtful reflections about feminism, but punk has always been brash, and Childbirth do it more hilariously than most.

Tales From Christian Music III: The Christian Weird Al & Good Charlotte

There are Christian versions of every band. I previously discussed this, but in order to understand the subculture of Evangelicalism that was Christian music you must understand this point. Some are obvious– of course kids who grew up listening to Linkin Park are gonna make their own versions of the band from a Christian perspective and of course Christian labels (some of which are owned by large mainstream companies) are going to try to profit off of any trend (including boy bands).

One of the strangest Christian versions out there though was the Christian Weird Al. Yes there was a band whose purpose was to create parody songs, but rather than turning them into strange comedic bits, they Jesus-fied them. Instead of ripping off a band’s style, why not straight up rip off the song and change the lyrics to make them safe for the whole family? The band was called ApologetiX (a play on the Christian practice of apologetics: essentially a look into the reasons why Christianity is viable and defensible logically).

To their credit, they have been around since 1992, and contain some self-awareness (in their song “We’re in a Parody Band” they admit to being “[part] Weird Al…[part] Billy Graham”). Yet the whole thing feels anomalous–even those deeply entrenched in 90s Christian culture might be a bit embarrassed by their existence.

Yet as a kid that didn’t have a whole lot of access to popular culture, it was easy to latch onto these songs. They were an entry point into songs that were essential to surviving in the world. I couldn’t listen to Kid Rock (this was probably a blessing in disguise) but I could listen to the ApologetiX version of “Cowboy” called “Choir Boy”; this literally became a talking point for me one baseball practice. “The Real Slim Shady” was a pretty explicit song, but “The Real Sin Savior” sanitizes it, opening with the lyrics: May I have your repentance please? Will you tell Him ‘Save me’ and please stand up?. That’s like listening to Eminem without having to feel guilty–really the best of both worlds.

Cut to 2003, my musical tastes had begun to take off a little bit. Pop-punk was starting to hit the mainstream and I had discovered MxPx, Relient K, and Slick Shoes inside of Christian music stores, while hearing Blink-182, Yellowcard, and Simple Plan on the radio. My counter-cultural consciousness was rising and the anti-everything spirit of punk rock had developed in me. At the time Good Charlotte had a hit song called “Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous”. It criticized celebrity-dom, talking about their shallow complaints and decrying the inequity of a world where celebs leverage their wealth and fame to avoid the consequences of the terrible deeds they commit. This song resonated with me, pointing out the injustice of the world, and exposing the fraudulence of fame.

Then I entered into a Christian book store–one of my favorite places to go growing up because of the vast amount of music and books they had there, all of which were safe for me to consume. In these stores they used to have sample CDs that were already open and you could take to CD players to see if you wanted to purchase it. I saw that ApologetiX had an album and I wanted to check it out. On the album they parodied Eminem, Jimmy Eat World, and yes Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles…”. The parody version was called “Lifestyles of the Rich and the Nameless” and is a pretty straight forward telling of a parable that Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus, a poor beggar. The rich man suffers because of his lack of generosity and ApologetiX uses the parable to say that earthly wealth makes no difference to God.

The themes sort of align with the original, but the band uses these ideas to quote a lot of Scripture rather than to really hammer the point home. I stood there confused as to why they felt the need to parody that song. Didn’t the themes of injustice and the anger at celebrity worship already align with the stories in the Bible? This wasn’t taking some shallow love song or explicit rap verse and changing it to include Christian theology. It wasn’t even sanitizing the song, it was just taking it and adding Bible verses to it in order to present it to a particular market. That’s when I began to see the band, the store, and the culture for what it was–a place scared of ideas, scared of a world outside of certain boxes, scared of things that didn’t reference the Bible. It wasn’t about combating the prejudices of the world that allow the “rich and the famous” to reign, it was about separating oneself from an outside culture. Sacred spaces were built to the exclusion of others, censorship was enacted for the sake of censorship. Outside ideas could be accepted only as long as we could attach a Bible verse to them.

I had always seen these ideas of separatism as generally good. Even if they were consistently embarrassing, I’d rather be ‘not of this world’ in order to hold to ideals that were true (there’s something secretly punk about that) than go along with a hedonistic culture. But what I saw that day is that the lines were arbitrary. I saw the other side and they looked an awful lot like me. There was a false safety in the confines of the Christian book store and that day it exposed itself, laying bare a larger world. I could accept a separation from the world for the sake of truth and better living, but the censorship that existed was not for this reason. I can’t even be sure of the exact reasons they tried to Jesus-fy the world so that culture at large was erased–most cynically one could accuse the Christian music world of trying to make money off of naive youth or maybe they themselves were seeking out the safety that comes from having a side in a grand US VS THEM narrative–it’s hard to tell and to squarely place blame.

That day, like Neo with the pills in The Matrix, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, I experienced something transcendent. The most perverse part of it all is that it’s all due to a cheesy Good Charlotte song.

What Kind of Music do You Like? (A Guide)

In the never ending world of small talk and social formalities, simple get-to-know you questions are always asked. It starts with the necessities, gradually deepening either to the point that you realize you have no interest in speaking with this person on a deeper level or to where a genuine relationship is formed. In the midst of this social sparring, right at the point when your cheeks are starting to hurt from overemphasizing reactions to the other’s answers, is when the question is often asked. This question has haunted me for years. It is one that camouflages itself as an ally, but stabs you in the back in its near impossibility to answer. Yes it is posed after “where are you from?” and much before “what are you doing tomorrow?”, it is one that is specific, but general; it is “what kind of music do you like?”

For some of you, this may seem like nothing at all. A quick “oh a little bit of everything” or “whatever’s on the radio” or “everything except country and screamo” may suffice and this thread will be over. But for those of us who are music fans, pop culture fiends, who have paid less than 50 bucks for a concert ticket, or actually bought music at a store, this question becomes the 8 ball just waiting to be knocked into a pocket.

As soon as the last word of the question is uttered, panic floods into the mind. It’s like that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie has finally reached Santa’s lap and has been asked what he wants for Christmas; his mind goes blank and he screws the whole thing up! You want to say something, anything, but every single band you ever liked has been locked away and the key has gone missing. Only the easiest answers come to mind, “uh… rock. Yeah I listen to a lot of rock” (ROCK!?!? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?! ROCK!?!?)

Once you’ve gotten around the panic attack of again being asked this question and again not having an answer for it, the tricky part comes; figuring out how to shape the best answer for maximum impact. Does this person have a genuine interest in music and is looking to discuss your tastes with you? Is this person just asking you as a conversation starter? Is this a kind of person you should be vague with?

Discovering their intention is the best way to figure out your answer. If they don’t really like music all that much then starting with a broad answer and describing more specific artists and genres is usually a good way to be engaging without being snobbish. If you want to be snobbish then go all in with whatever you are most knowledgeable about, whether it be Christian emo bands, 60’s jazz, or psychedelic rock and you are sure to scare them off. 

The most important part about this is getting the desired amount of engagement out of the conversation with the other person. Again, gauging the intention is an important first step, next is testing the waters. For our purposes we will assume that the other is someone who is fairly interested and knowledgeable about music, but certainly not the experts like we are. You want throw out something and see the other’s reaction to it. If you throw out “I like hip-hop” and the other person just goes “oh”, then there is no real reason to keep talking about it and it is probably best to change artists or genres. If they pull out a “like who?” or a “which era?” or even a “really?” (though they are certainly judging you at that point, but hey no shame) then you are ready to go deeper.

At this time, you probably want to throw out some more well known artists that you like to listen to. It’s best to do this in 3’s, getting vaguer and to the core of what you like with each artist listed (if you don’t like vague, lesser known artists, you’ve probably stopped reading). Here are some genre examples:

Jazz: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus

Hip-Hop: Kanye West, Drake, Killer Mike

Emo: Jimmy Eat World, Sunny Day Real Estate, Jets to Brazil

R&B: Usher, Frank Ocean, Miguel

Indie Rock: Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Tame Impala

Punk: Blink-182, The Ramones, The Descendents

If any of these ring a bell to your conversation partner, expanding on albums or concert experiences becomes appropriate. If not, other genres or artists can be named. 

In order that you don’t get stuck in the previously mentioned rut of not being able to think of any sort of music there are a couple of other quick potential go-to’s: consistents and new faves. 

The consistents are bands or musicians that you can listen to at almost anytime. These tend to be broad, crowd pleasing artists though not necessarily bad ones. The Beatles or Beach Boys are always safe ways to buy yourself more time to think of more specific people. 

New faves is self-explanatory and can be introduced by saying “Oh, lately I’ve been really into…” this allows you to be able to list whatever has been on your iPod or record player last before this conversation. This can even be combined with consistents and our genre rule of 3 like this:

“I love Bob Dylan, he’s one of my all time faves, but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of folk music like The Avett Brothers…Fleet Foxes…Kurt Vile”. 

Probably the most important thing is throwing bait out for the other person to grab and continue the conversation, going deeper into the meaning and memories that music inspires. Perhaps the relationship will grow, the rhetoric will change; “what kind of music do you like” evolves into “hey, I really think you’ll like…” as mixtapes and playlists are swapped, really, isn’t this what we all want?