The Slacker Rock Revival

By Faith Vara
Music Journalist

I love the term ‘slacker rock‘. Whoever summoned up the phrase to describe the sound and musical approach of early ‘90s acts such as Pavement, Guided By Voices and Dinosaur Jr, really hit the nail on the head. The genre consisted of bands who purposely played a bit sloppy, with slightly out of tune guitars being strummed loosely, and lyrics being sung by singers who often didn’t have the best pitch control. The music has this sort of irresistible lo-fi charm to it, and I personally I find it easier to enjoy and relate to music recorded in this fashion.

Pavement, arguably the most notable group to emerge out of this genre, took musical elements from the grunge movement and blended it with a more lo-fi laid-back approach. This lo-fi sound, most noticeable in tracks such as “Grave Architecture” and “Harness Your Hopes”, would become the staple sound of slacker bands everywhere. Later on, other acts such as Beck and Ween started to incorporate other genres into the slacker rock feel. While their sounds began to widely differ, the slackers almost always incorporated lyrics about recreational drugs, casual love and laziness (usually with pinches of sarcasm and absurdity).

Since the grunge phenomenon was fading going into the new millennium, rock music as a whole began to disperse from pop culture and the charts. There was a sort of ‘slacker dysphoria’ as the slacker persona grew out of popularity, eventually growing into overinflated pop and pristinely produced rock. However, recently there has been a bit of a slacker rock revival, with artists now putting their own special twist on the sound.

The slacker rocker has always been identified as someone who’s paradoxically detached yet socially accepted; lazy, yet actively curating their cool aesthetic. And many artists, such as Vacations and Mustard Service, are still carrying on the slacker persona today. Instead of taking influence from the ‘90s grunge scene, these modern bands incorporate jangly, reverbed guitars, with a vocal delivery that channels just enough edge and soul to deliver a blurry, subdued emotion. Although today’s slacker sounds are much different than the original sounds produced in the ‘90s, these artists approach their music with the same lazy lo-fi feel that the genre was originally established on. Other artists, such as Good Morning and Mild High Club, also heavily contribute to the modern-day slacker scene.

Even though the genre has evolved into a much newer sound, there are still artists who have stayed true to the original slacker sound. Artists such as Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett and Kane Strang have all managed to keep the classic ‘90s slacker sound alive in the modern age. Another great example of this sound is presented in “Slop” by Forth Wanderers, where the spiraling instrumental never merges into any real forward momentum. Instead, the sound sinks and swirls, just like many slacker anthems that came out of the ‘90s.

With any sort of revival, change is inevitable – especially in music. However, even among strict alternative rock listeners, there has been a growing acceptance of Mustard Service’s and Vacations’ less edgy yet smoother sound. Rather than listening to the straightforward punchiness of Dinosaur Jr.’s hard-hitting rock, the new slackers of today perform from behind an indeterminate haze, singing soothing words into your ear from a distance.

So whether you’re a fan of the classic ‘90s sound, or the more modern feel, the wide variance in sound between the old and new all converge on a common theme: the slacker character remains constant, regardless of the continual redefinition of the genre.

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