Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Best in Lit-Rock

If there's one thing that can define music of this past decade it's that we will constantly find new monikers for every conceivable genre to describe nearly every single musician's unique take on the art form itself. More genres have popped up since the millennium than houses foreclosed upon in the last year. (What? Is it too early.) Lit rock is one such genre.

Without getting into too many specifics, lit rock is basically a form of progressive/alternative/ college/indie rock that is highly literate and almost pretentiously filled with references to all the great novels and their endless themes. Lit rockers are either failed novelists writing songs to pay the bills. Another way to identify lit rock is to find music that English students would love. Dylan, the Kinks, and Costello are probably the greatest influences on the genre.

Here is my list of the ten best lit rockers right now.

10. The Hold Steady
Admittedly, I don't even listen to The Hold Steady. I can't get past front man Craig Finn's vocal style. It just sounds like he's reading straight from a book. I guess some people like that stuff.

9. Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura comes to us via Belle & Sebastian territory. I don't know how literary their lyrics may or may not be, but they do sound like a band that an English major would love.

8. Bright Eyes
I already realize people will have a problem with this pick. People hate the little Dylan from Omaha, but he can write. Sure, his songs are typically overwrought with allegory and self-pity, but what could be more literary than that?

7. The Mountain Goats
this is another band on the list that I haven't really adopted as my own. It doesn't mean I don't like them. They just have stuck. Anyway, I cannot deny what I have heard and what many, many others think. Songwriter John Darnielle insures the band's spot on this list.

6. Decemberists
Reviewers' attempts to describe this band might be where the term "lit rock" originated. This what you get when a bunch of grad students who love Morrissey as much as they love Faulkner get together and write songs about pirates and gay teenagers.

5. Destroyer
This one was a stretch, but I think Dan Bejar's lyrics speak for themselves.

4. Silver Jews
Lead Jew, David Berman, is one of the few (if not only) musicians on this list who is actually a published author. He's a poet with a penchant for all that is dirty in Nashville. American Water could stand up to any novel written in the last fifty years as a great literary piece of Americana.

3. Belle and Sebastian
Our friends from Galsgow are every thinking man/woman's favorite mope rockers. Stories about failed artists and transgendered school children litter B&S's seven albums and numerous EP's. The name comes from a French children's book.

2. Okkervil River
Besides the literary tales Okkervil River weaves, they might have the most compelling figure in Will Sheff of any of these bands. All the great writers were dynamic people, but few could captivate an audience the way Mr. Sheff does.

1. So I lied. I don't have ten lit rock bands. A list of the top nine just didn't have the same ring. Besides, I'm sure all of you have thought of at least one band I have left off this list. So, speak up. suggest your favorite lit rock performer in the comments.


We like to make lists said...

You forgot Nick Cave as another published author. His novel is called "The Ass Saw the Angel."

Pizza Cottontail said...

There's a minor singer/songwriter from the late 90's/early 00's named Jim Roll. For his album Inhabiting the Ball, he enlisted the help of a couple of good authors--Rick Moody, who did Purple America and The Ice Storm, and Denis Johnson, who wrote Jesus' Son and Tree of Smoke--to do the songwriting.

Also, Stephen King and Amy Tan are in a band together, if that counts.

GE said...

What about Sufjan? Lots of arcane state history, plus I think he was a wannabe novelist before songwriter.