Rock Has Another Trick Up Its Sleave

Garrett Hartman


With the erosion of the album and the death of the rock star, discovering new rock music has become a sporadic journey through nonsensical algorithms and random chance. For young rock fans, it seems the only way to go is back, finding the classics of the genre. 


However, what about fans of rock's newer subgenres? It isn’t that far back to when your favorite genres had their peak in the 1990s-early 2000s. Finding the future of Pop Punk and Grunge has been my ultimate goal in the quest for new music and I believe I’ve finally reached an answer.


While Pop Punk has somewhat managed to cling to relevancy from the continued popularity of bands like Twenty One Pilots and Panic at the Disco, Grunge and Hard Rock generally have suffered a waning interest, with Billboard’s Top 100 being dominated by Rap artists


In fairness, one name that popped up several times on the Billboard top 100 as of the writing of this article has made an attempt at reviving the genre. In 2020, Machine Gun Kelly released the album “Tickets to My Downfall,” an album in which the musician who was known previously for his rap, brought back the Pop Punk sound to significant success.


However, the biggest issue with these more modern representations of the genre is their seeming overproduction. Part of what makes Grunge and Hard Rock generally so appealing is the raw energy. 



The appeal of songs like Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” is the chaotic and unstable energy:  the way the song always feels like it’s seconds away from losing control. These types of songs are best performed when the line between playing the instrument and just hitting it as hard as you can is blurred. 


This kind of punch-you-in-the-face attitude is what really serves this music well. While early Pop Punk bands reined this in a bit, the genius of the genre was giving subtle structure to the chaos. 


Pop Punk adds production and poppy song structure but without taking away any of the “attitude.” This is best exemplified in the use of violins and other more classic instruments utilized in the “American Idiot” album by Green Day.


It seemed as though a more raw less produced sound was out of the picture. With all the tools available to musicians, more digital sounds have become easier and more intriguing to use.


Modern rock had lost this more bare sound and with it its chaotic energy, or so it seemed. Several bands have found ways to take advantage of the new technology and digital sounds without forsaking their gritty energy. 



Sleave exemplifies this. Sleave released its first full album in late 2019 on the Engineer Records label. The 12-track album served as a personal renewal of faith in the Alternative Rock genre as a whole.


Their songs call back to what makes Grunge and Pop Punk so great. They play on the line between control and chaos with songs like “Check Myself” and their biggest hit “Homebound,” which expertly shift from tame, and melancholic to big emotional crescendos.


The band discusses increasingly relevant topics like mental health in songs like “Swept” and is able to convey the feeling of a real and personal emotional journey with its emotional singing and their raw, crunchy guitars. 


However, Sleave isn’t the only band bringing this kind of attitude back into music. Bands like Fidlar, SWMRS, and PUP have also been channeling the deeply personal emotional journeys Pop Punk and Grunge used to bring their listeners.


In some respects, these bands feel like their own genre, this bizarre combination of newer indie rock that calls back to and never forsakes the ‘90s Punk/Grunge roots. 



All of these bands are moving into a new phase of these genres. While the call back to the home of what makes Alt Rock great, they don't concede to just dig up the past. They push forward. 


On Fidlar’s latest album “Almost Free,” released in 2019, the title track is an entirely instrumental blend of funk and big band music. A track like this seems to contradict the Alt Rock angst they call back to however it seems to fit into the album perfectly.


Similarly, SWMRS “Berkley’s on Fire” and “Lose Lose Lose” use groovy basslines and interesting rhythms that separate them from the standard order Alt Rock, but still have enough attitude and Punk guitars to be described as anything else. 


It feels almost disrespectful to compare these bands with each other because of their undeniable individuality. While they call back to similar themes and sounds, they still never feel recycled or unoriginal.


This is the true beauty of these bands, and Alt Rock in general in the modern age. With algorithms creating more homogenous playlists, it's refreshing to find a group of bands that are able to so expertly maintain their independence while still carrying on what makes their chosen genre so great.



Author Bio:

Garrett Hartman is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


Image sources:

Micadew (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Sven-Sebastian Sajak (Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Fidlar, Too album ( Mom + Pop Music, Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

Sleave EP

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