As our most loyal readers and haters know, we love us some lists. At their best, lists (or listicles, if you must) function as great conversation starters and shit-stirrers. They're fun to argue about and get outraged over. (Yeah, we published a drummers list that put Questlove over Neil Peart. The nerve!) No one ever totally agrees with them, and that's kind of the whole point.
So predictably, we took some umbrage at Spin's just-published list pointedly titled “The 50 Best Rock Bands Right Now.” Deerhunter at No. 1 we can totally get behind, but Vampire Weekend at No. 3? Really? And while Arctic Monkeys (No. 24) have made some great music over the years, are they really one of the best rock bands right now? More so than, say, the Black Lips, or The Kills, or any number of other mid-'00s buzz bands still kicking around and finding new wrinkles in their signature sounds?
The one thing we got the most outraged over, initially, was the list's obvious New York bias. Five bands from Brooklyn alone made the cut, 10 from the greater NYC area, and a whopping 18 from the entire Northeast Corridor, which seems much more like a byproduct of Spin's New York headquarters than actual proof of that region's dominance over contemporary rock & roll. Like most publications (including ours, if we're being honest), Spin is sometimes guilty of not looking much past its own backyard, except to eternally trendy corners of the rock universe like Britain (four bands) and the Pacific Northwest (three bands — or four if you count Sunn O))), but more on that in a moment).
Not surprisingly, the corollary to Spin's NYC-centric view of “rock right now” is to skip over L.A.'s fertile rock scene almost entirely. Even the few L.A.-based bands that did make the list add up to what feels like a weirdly back-handed compliment. It's great to see Haim at No. 12, but they're barely a rock band — a point Spin takes pains to drive home by referencing their #girlsquad bestie Taylor Swift not once, but twice. Sunn O))), at No. 15, represent L.A. on the list seemingly by accident; Spin describes them as “Seattle mystics,” apparently unaware of or uninterested in the fact that founder Greg Anderson has lived in L.A. since the '90s (the group's other main member, Stephen O'Malley is now based in Paris). Joyce Manor are a surprising but worthy inclusion at No. 19, but the Torrance-based punk band has always operated outside of any existing L.A. scene. (Then there's Girlpool at No. 31 — also great, but no longer based here. They moved to Philly earlier this year. Conversely, Deafheaven, at No. 7, are now based in Los Angeles but have little artistic connection to the city — they even returned to their original home base, the Bay Area, to record their latest opus, New Bermuda.)
Suitably outraged — how dare you ignore our thriving rock scene, Spin? how dare you??? — we sat down to write up a list of all the worthy L.A. bands they snubbed. And here's where we ran intro trouble. Because with one glaring exception, Health — whose transformation from noisy art-punks into a glittery, goth/industrial dance band on this year's Death Magic was nothing short of brilliant — we couldn't come up with any.
Here's the hard truth about L.A.'s rock scene in 2015 — while it is teeming with many very, very good bands, it is currently home to hardly any great ones (unless you want to start name-checking legacy acts like Van Halen and L7, but that misses the point of Spin's list). FIDLAR, Best Coast and Wavves certainly would have belonged on Spin's list a couple years ago, but their latest efforts felt like running in place rather than giant leaps forward. Dawes may do the rootsy retro-rock thing better than any other band in America, but this year's All Your Favorite Bands was their weakest effort to date. Silversun Pickups are solid but sound like yesterday's news. Ditto The Airborne Toxic Event. Warpaint are fantastic, but haven't done much lately.
No Parents, our pick for “Best Band” in our Best of L.A. issue, absolutely kill it live, but the songs aren't quite there yet for them to have a national impact. Wand and Fuzz can shred with the best of them, but again, their music isn't game-changing.
Past those groups, you get into the bands that are loaded with potential but haven't quite broken through yet. There are legions of them: Together Pangea, Cherry Glazerr, Drug Cabin, LA Font, Tennis System, Talk in Tongues, Death Valley Girls, Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel, Mystic Braves, Corners, Tijuana Panthers, Obliterations, Behold! The Monolith, and that list only scratches the surface. And we have brilliant solo artists for days — Ty Segall, Ariel Pink, Colleen Green, Jenny O., Hanni El Khatib, Meg Myers — but they're just that, solo artists. The Spin list is about bands, and over the past year, not one L.A. band (except Health) put out an album half as good as Ty Segall's Manipulator. Or, for that matter, as good as Tenement's Predatory Headlights — and they're just the No. 50 band on Spin's list.
We'll get tons of shit for saying this, and maybe we'll deserve it. Taste is a subjective thing, and maybe you've been to every single Satellite and Silverlake Lounge Monday night residency this year and been blown away by every band you've seen. But from where we're sitting, Spin got it right. L.A. may be setting the pace in hip-hop and electronic music right now, but not in rock.
So take this as a wake-up call, L.A. rock bands. Step outside your little Burger/Lolipop/Smell echo chambers and see what else is going on in the world. Better yet, go hole up in a garage or rehearsal space for six months and stop paying attention to what anyone else is doing, especially your friends' bands. Find a new L.A. sound that isn't an endless rehash of this surf/psych/garage thing most of you have been doing for the past five years. Give us a reason, next time Spin does one of their NYC-centric lists, to call bullshit on more than just their continued obsession with Vampire Weekend.
Note: An earlier version of this article failed to include Deafheaven among the band's on Spin's list with ties to Los Angeles.