Remember live music? Whether you loved big amphitheater performances with 15,000 fellow music lovers, cozier downtown shows in beloved, sleek venues, or even DIY set-ups in suburban basements, most people haven’t seen a non-virtual live show in over a year due to the global pandemic. But with vaccinations and tentative tour dates on the rise, it appears that concerts may be reintegrated into American life within the year. While I, like other music lovers, await the chance to finally experience canceled or delayed 2020 shows (for me, Real Estate and Tame Impala), I have found great solace in listening to noisy music whose lo-fi production style or noise-rock/pop genre elements create a concert-like listening experience. Here are 10 vibrant, noisy songs that effectively simulate the feeling of being at a live show (and don’t forget about our mid-pandemic list of live albums, either).
Fans of the six-piece Brighton band are no strangers to noise. From bright, buzzy tracks like “Getting Back Up” to heavily textured, drum-based songs like “Buy Nothing Day,” The Go Team! knows how to pack in the sound. “Ladyflash,” an early track on their 2004 debut LP Thunder, Lightning, Strike, samples nine different songs, borrowing soulful hooks from Fontella Bass, The Soul Searchers and Archie Bell & The Drells. The combination of that signature ‘60s and ‘70s soul sound with lead singer Ninja’s raps and the song’s flute solo interludes make for a jaunty, super upbeat four-minute ride.
“Loveblood,” a blaring single from English band Sundara Karma’s sophomore album Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect, will satiate your alt-pop, indie-rock cravings. In it, Sundara Karma frontman and lead guitarist Oscar Pollock belts out in the track’s synth-soaked chorus, “Hey, what’s that from above / Is it love for blood?” “Loveblood” is ferocious with its brash drums, Pollock’s slurred sing-song and the ascendant final verse that follows an increasingly intense post mid-song breakdown. “Loveblood” is the perfect track for rock fans looking for a diddy to do a soft at-home mosh to.
While noise-pop band Sleigh Bells may be better known for more subdued, Funkadelic-sampling songs like “Rill Rill”, “A/B Machines,” another song from their 2011 debut album Treats, packs more of a punch. “A/B Machines” is a simple noise-pop song. Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss repeats couplet lyrics “Got my A machines on the table / Got my B machines in the drawer” upwards of 15 times as Derek Miller’s guitar sirens out. But its simplicity results in an inviting, climactic four minutes of mayhem. Listening to “A/B Machines” is the musical equivalent of watching the cylinders of a car engine pumping at full capacity before fully giving out. It’s exasperation and excitement combined and sonified. The feedback incorporated into the track’s loops does well to conjure the bittersweet experience of standing too close to the speakers at a show.
The title of “Kerosene!,” Yves Tumor’s collaboration with vocalist Diana Gordon, says it all. This song from Tumor’s LP Heaven to a Tortured Mind is explosive,lyrically capturing the high highs and low lows of a passionate, possessive love triangle, as Tumor and Gordon tell one another “they’ll be anything” one another needs. Aside from the audible alchemy of Tumor’s grounded, gravelly voice and Gordon’s sopranic softness, “Kerosene!” is marked by the electric guitar that bursts through the track’s vocals again and again. The resounding riffs encapsulate the thrill of witnessing an impressive guitar solo.
Nathan Williams, the frontman of San Diego rock outfit Wavves, is no stranger to upbeat bummer music. After all, in “Demon to Lean On,” Williams belts out, “Holding a gun to my head / So send me an angel / Or bury me deeply instead / With demons to lean on.” Tonally, “Post Acid” is on par. But in this Wavves song, Williams personifies misery and asks her to hold his hand. While “Post Acid” is about the nadirs of a bad trip and difficult comedown, the song gurgles with gladness,boasting dance breaks, staccato transitions and a 15-second bit in which Williams growls the word “you” with increasing loudness. “Post Acid” sounds like all of the campy fright and fun of a Halloween flash mob. An evening listen will surely call to mind the grime and sweat-coated joys of your favorite local rock venue.
“Up, Up, Up” is a warm, high-energy standout from 2011’s indie summer. GIVERS, the Louisiana rock band behind the song, is distinguished by their inclusion of xylophonic twinkling sounds and tambourine in their music. In fact, the most exciting, concertesque aspect of “Up, Up, Up” is the final minute of the song, which explodes against the song’s earlier lush, poppy singing. Before the somewhat vuvuzela-sounding instrumentation breaks through in the end, the band’s lead vocalist and percussionist Tiffany Lamson ushers it in with a wicked xylophone solo. If you’re yearning for the pleasant musical catharsis of a mounting indie track with unabashed, well-choreographed concluding musical chaos, look no further than “Up, Up, Up.”
The internet will have you think the Cocteau Twins are the most lovely, indiscernible Scottish rock group. If that be true, then The Skids, the band behind the 1979 punk track “Into The Valley,” are a close second. In “Into the Valley,” Skids vocalist Richard Jobson trills about his political frustrations concerning the recruitment of Scottish youth for army service. It’s no surprise that this punk song is raising the proverbial middle finger to hegemonic institutions. Jobson sonically soliloquizes as his fellow bandmates and the song’s listeners can chime in with some sprightly call and response. When Jobson ostensibly mutters “land, sea and sky” (people do not know the real words to this song) you go, “Ahoy! Ahoy!”
Experimental noise-rock group Animal Collective has been releasing multi-layered, psychedelic freak-folk music since the early 2000s. On their beloved 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavillion, there are a number of noisy, danceable dittes like “Lion in a Coma” and, of course “My Girls” a song with such expansive reach that Beyonce sampled it on Lemonade. While these tracks are great, “Brother Sport,” the album’s final song, is an energetic, reverb-heavy and often-overlooked tune. According to Panda Bear, a core Animal Collective member, the song’s house influences were coupled with a Brazillian drum beat to result in a borderline anthemic song that closed out Merriweather Post Pavillion in the epic, rather than mellow, way to which they aspired.
Fang Island was initially a musical project by a group of RISD students. “Daisy,” the lead single from the group’s self-titled 2010 album, is distinguished by its electro-organ instrumentation and anthemic sounds. For the majority of the song, band members repeat the following mood-driven, meaningless lyrics: “Ooh, that’s right / Hey, that’s okay / Yah, that’s ri- / Yah, that’s whoa, whoa.” While the song doesn’t exactly lean into Shakespearean lyricism, its atmospheric offerings are abundant. “Daisy” sounds like spinning, tilt-a-whirling, grounded fun. It’s the kind of life-giving music that’s easy and accessible, but in no way simplistic. For more Fang Island joy, check out the “Daisy” music video, in which a face-painted, cape-clad foursome dance beside Al Gore in Dirty Dancing T-shirts.
Tune-Yards, Bay Area artist Merrill Garbus’ music project, has produced some mighty fine loop pedal, lo-fi percussive music. In “Bizness,” one of Tune-Yards’ more beloved songs, Garbus bellows out, demanding that her life not be taken away. Garbus’ voice sounds like submerged salvation. She, like Brittany Howard and Yola, two fellow talented rock vocalists, commands a deep, enveloping voice with grace. In “Bizness,” Garbus showcases that voice so well, rupturing a wall of loops and saxophones to ask repeatedly, “What’s the Bizness?” The song is a perfect choice for people looking to immerse themselves in a more dance-punk environment.
Adesola Thomas is a screenwriter and culture writer. She loves talking about Annette Benning’s performance in 20th Century Women and making lasagna.