Two years ago, when The Vaccines were being posited as the saviours of guitar music and the pull-quote from their first NME cover screamed “We want indie back in the charts!”, the general consensus was that they may as well try to disinvent filesharing, or time-travel back to 70’s and Inception-ize Simon Cowell into becoming a Clash fan. Coming just after a 29 year-old Journey song had been crowned the biggest-selling rock song of 2010 and a Guardian article which laid out a convincing argument for the death of rock ’n’ roll, the band’s buoyant enthusiasm looked misplaced at best, harrowingly quixotic at worst.
Today, however, it doesn’t seem so fanciful a notion. The Vaccines and Jake Bugg both scored number one albums last year, with the former having come out on top of an extraordinarily-close chart battle with Two Door Cinema Club. More significantly, as 2012 wore on, the new acts we found ourselves getting most excited about weren’t bedroom MIDI-symphonists, or yet another fucking synth-pop duo, but y’know... bands. Old-skool, honest-to-goodness bands, bands with lead guitarists and fallible human rhythm sections who made the odd mistake and everything. By the end of last year, the guitar’s resurgence had become so obvious, even the BBC’s Sound of 2013 longlist was reflecting it.
Now, fate dictates that if I write something sensationalist about how rock ’n’ roll will be the defining, all-conquering sound of the next twelve months, the Palma Violets album will crash and burn like a weaponised tungsten rod dropped from orbit. So I won’t. But as we enter 2013, there is an undeniable feeling of excitement and artistic legitimacy surrounding guitar music again.
First, let’s qualify that term, ‘guitar music’. It might sound meaninglessly catch-all and reductive, but for our purposes, it’ll have to do; even the bands who make up Birmingham’s thriving micro-scene (like Peace, Swim Deep and the awesome, under-hyped Wide Eyed) don’t have a whole lot in common other than, well, guitars. Similarly, that’s pretty much the only connective tissue between, say, Temples’ maypole-psych whimsy and the jagged post-punk machinations of Savages. Part of the reason guitar music looked to be dying on its arse a few years ago was a crippling lack of variety and imagination; its bands were pack animals, blindly chasing passing fads over the cliffs of relevance together. No more.
Instead, on both sides of the Atlantic, the guitar feels like an instrument of possibilities again. With last year’s ‘Children of Desire’, formerly-obscure Floridian avant-punks Merchandise made a gleaming, chasmic (and joyously melodic) post-shoegaze masterpiece that opens all sorts of titillating possibilities for their future. L.A skate-cretins Fidlar are writing narcotic party anthems for people who worry that Black Lips have gotten too respectable. As I write this, I’ve got California X’s pulverising neo-grunge debut pneumatically drilling into my temporal lobe, hearing loss be damned. It’s a surprisingly pleasant sensation.
Over on this side of the pond, meanwhile, it seems inconceivable that, after their respective runs of stupendous introductory singles, the Peace and Palma Violets records won’t at least be very, very good (see how I tempered expectation there?). Similarly, Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs recording their album with Edwyn Collins is an absolute no-brainer for me; all I need is a release date and enough cigarettes to see me through to it. And how could I forget Glaswegian garage-pop nihilists Baby Strange? Or the wondrous psychedelic jangle of Childhood? Or Sundowners, the next great Scouse melodicists? Or the 50 others that my wordcount won’t stretch to including?
Will any of these bands ‘do a Vaccines’? One or two will, surely: it’s hard to imagine a band like Haim not connecting with a wider audience. Others may get there eventually, two or three albums down the line. But it seems to me that guitar bands have finally learned not to chase success so rabidly, and they’re making better music because of it. If popularity follows, great. If it doesn’t, we’re still in for what looks to be a pretty spectacular year.