Sunday, November 5, 2023

Revenge of the Aughts or the Resurgence of Indie Dad Rock


I have been a Dad for 30 years, so maybe that is why I am recently obsessed with the concept of “Dad rock.” Now I am a grand-dad, too, but when I go down this rabbit-hole, I decidedly don’t mean the new Beatles or Stones.

Growing older is getting comfortable in your own skin, learning to admit that you like what you like, and truly appreciating those things for what they are. In music, it’s also admitting that as far as fandoms go, you are a friend of “dad rock.”

“Dad rock” is one of those weird niche sub-genres that is as much a mere demographic & one with a damaged reputation, at that. As a known genre, its origins are mostly pejorative, as some trace its roots to Rob Mitchum’s review of Sky Blue Sky back in 2007, where “Dad rock” means “receding into the comfort zone” or “the stylistic equivalent of a wardrobe change into sweatpants and a tank top.” 

While the impulse seemingly exposed by the writer is a tendency for domesticated-comfort as opposed to pursuing edgy experiments, it’s not a foregone conclusion or close to consensus among Wilco fans. In actuality Wilco has reclaimed & reframed it as something entirely irresistible, somehow defying the traps of soft safety or instigating irrelevance. Tweedy defended the tag with these insights: “When people say dad rock, they actually just mean rock. I don't find anything undignified about being a dad or being rocking, you know?”

It’s wild for me to contemplate the combinations that contribute to my listening binges. As a recovering addict & as an adult diagnosed with ADHD in my 50s, the beauteous breadth & stunning simplicity of streaming services are so welcome & can send me down many rabbit holes, taking back many layers to many mysteries, really getting into deep grooves & hours of happy distractions. Even contemplating my current obsessions with “Dad rock,” this fascination also admits that I have the free time to reflect on such idiosyncrasies of fandom, while making massive playlists to fit every mood, day, or season.  

For months, earlier this year, I was stuck in the musical dirt that stained my jeans & boots, becoming the genres that are as strong to my region as the soil on which we stand. For many moments, I thought I would only ever want to listen to scratchy raggedy folk & Appalachian alt-country for the rest of my days. Think Tyler Childers, Logan Halstead, Cole Chaney, or Charles Wesley Godwin. After falling for the new Zach Bryan, was I admitting that I actually liked “country” music, even sometimes without the “alt” prefix? 

But call it the revenge of the aughts or the resilience of dad rock, now I am stuck inside a 2020s resurgence of the endless mellowish indie alt-rock in the Dad demographic. Honest, it is sometimes a blurred line where our left-of-center country Americana ends & this misunderstood genre of “Dad rock” begins. 
Of course, to some folks, “Dad rock” is simply the music your Dad listens to or bands with Dads in them. As Gen X & Millennials age, “Dad rock” could just be admitting that I still listen to R.E.M. & U2 after all these years & still love them both. “Dad rock” could be just admitting that I was always a Deadhead despite my best efforts to deny this. 

But to me, just like Wilco & Jeff Tweedy were accidentally tagged as the torchbearers of the Dad scene, there is a subtler yet more obvious way to explain “Dad rock,” some precise on-point “Dad rock,” that is somehow warmer, sadder, fuzzier, more sparkly, more reliably comforting & addicting. It’s that kind of “Dad rock” that I am naming the “Dad rock” of my current indulgence. No shade toward other definitions or movements with “Dad rock,” but when we get to the list of artists and new albums, we will see the spin I am placing on this. 

From great new material & tours from the leading icons of “indie Dad rock” (the aforementioned Wilco, & of course, the National), I am hereby declaring 2023 the year of the great “indie Dad rock” resurgence & resurrection. I have cobbled together a list of new records that fit the vibe for me, & I want to see your suggestions to expand it out even further. But the focus here, these are artists with new music this year, which certainly relegates as ineligible, some of the other groups worthy for “Dad rock” tags.

Now some people will take this idea & automatically say the Stones, but that would be to miss the fundamental fuzzy to which I am currently moving. If the roots of this tree are Wilco & the National, it will also mean other alts from the aughts, who are also currently making a comeback, as well as groups that seem to fit that lineage like a comfortable slip-on house-shoe.

The self-doubting voice-in-my-head wants to say, please don’t think this modest listicle as a boring old-guy (goddess forbid) almost-as-bad as Jann Wenner move, because I am sure there’s also a feminist-in-flannel “Mom rock” emerging, too. Also, as an amateur music-critic with only nominal influence, my views here don’t have enough heft to go viral. I am, however, seeking other artists that belong under this general umbrella, keeping in mind it’s also an old blanket set down on the mossy ground for a picnic potluck of ideas where everyone brings their own.

Although there’s at least one “Dad rock” podcast that I found that combines parenting discussions with music discussions & is co-hosted by two Dads, the younger human that I helped raise turns 30 this week, so I am personally kind of past the how-to-juggle-parenting-advice with music fandom phase. That said, we are not limited to those who are partnered, or who co-parented kids, or even middle-aged, or approaching old age in my case, though accepting & leaning into these life-facts for those for whom they are real, these can be part of the “Dad rock” revelation. Some of us are certainly old enough to be “Granddad rock” by now (I am). We are also experiencing a revival in queer artists in indie-rock & psych & folk & Americana, in all of these & adjacent genres, so please no cisgender or heterosexual gate-keeping in so-called Dad rock, either. 

Just came here to acknowledge & celebrate left-of-center meaningful, literary mellow-rock being made by & for people who make the time to make massive playlists & rambling blogs accordingly. 

40 New “Dad Rock” Albums of 2023 - help add to the list with your suggestions

Wilco - Cousin
The National - First Two Pages of Frankenstein 
The National - Laugh Track
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - Weathervanes
Will Johnson - No Ordinary Crown
The Gaslight Anthem - History Books
The Hold Steady - The Price of Progress
Fruit Bats - A River Running To Your Heart
Deer Tick - Emotional Contracts
City and Colour - The Love Still Held Me Near
Animal Collective - Isn’t It Now
Sufjan Stevens - Javelin
Bonnie Prince Billy - Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You
M. Ward - supernatural thing
Susto - My Entire Life
Matthew Logan Vasquez - As All Get Out
Scott McMicken and the Ever-Expanding - Shabang
Glen Hansard - All That Was East Is West Of Me Now
Great Lakes Swimmers - Uncertain Country
David Wax Museum - You Must Change Your Life
Buck Meek - Haunted Mountain
Slaughter Beach, Dog - Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling
Bonny Doon - Let There Be Music
Cut Worms - Cut Worms
Hiss Golden Messenger - Jump for Joy
Josh Ritter - Spectral Lines
Kevin Morby - More Photographs (A Continuum)
Shakey Graves - Movie of the Week 
The Bad Ends - The Power and the Glory
Alien Eyelid - Bronze Star 
Fust - Genevieve 
Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains
Mapache - Swinging Stars
Cactus Lee - Caravan
A. Savage - Several Songs About Fire
Eyelids - A Colossal Waste of Light
James and the Giants - James and the Giants
Hayden - Are We Good
Sluice - Radial Gate
Wye Oak - Every Day Like The Last

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