The J word is back in earnest. Today, write-ups of remotely jangly rock music will loiter on the descriptor that was mostly quarantined in the ’80s and derived from the “jingle jangle morning” line of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” It’s justified, though—“jangle” is fun to say, it’s fun to write down. It’s fun to flood your practice amp with reverb and dribble out the intro to “Driver 8.” Crucially, the music is fun to listen to. And that’s increasingly true as more and more bands take up the mantle—or should that be “take up the jangle”?
Jangle is in the throes of a renaissance. The Bay Area is one locale boasting a bounty of anachronistic groups—The Reds, Pinks & Purples, The Umbrellas, and countless others that idle in Bandcamp’s jerkwater nooks. Toronto’s Kiwi Jr. and Ducks Ltd. are other notable forerunners. Both released extolled LPs in 2021 with a sound likewise indebted to New Zealand’s Flying Nun roster and the British indie acts featured on NME’s C86 compilation tapes. Speckling the rest of the continent and beyond are like-minded songwriters with similar sonic touchpoints, such as Chicago’s Dehd and Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.
What qualifies something as jangle pop? The parameters, as with all great indie niches, are somewhat nebulous, and there are overlaps with dream pop, power pop, the slacker side of indie (e.g. Courtney Barnett), and even more recondite post-punk. We know this nostalgic, guitar-led music features literate, often forlorn lyricism with esoteric references (see Kiwi Jr.’s “Swimming Pool” about Brian Jones’ abnormal death). The song structures are typically short and snappy, the band names playful, and a handful of labels are behind the key releases, such as Slumberland, Sub Pop, and Tough Love.
This list surveys the central players in the new wave of jangle pop—the spiritual successors of R.E.M., The Clean, Felt, et al—and indemnifies the bands that have spent too long sitting alone at the lunch table of the ’80s.
New Zealand did for jangle pop what Ireland did for shoegaze, or the Midwest did for emo. The “Dunedin sound,” coined by the 1982 Dunedin Double compilation EP, encompassed a certain subset of the country’s clattery pop bands, most of which were signed to the South Island’s foremost indie label, Flying Nun. This oceanic college rock profoundly informed the transatlantic bands that succeeded it. A case in point is Kiwi Jr., who named themselves in honor of their mood-board country (the “Jr.” suffix elevates things to a Mascis-approved cool). Based in Toronto but hailing from Prince Edward Island, the four childhood friends released a flawless sophomore record, Cooler Returns, on Sub Pop last January, defined by very jangly open chords and Jeremy Gaudet’s detached delivery of learned lyrics. He straddles the bygone and the topical with musings on Toronto’s gentrification, turn-of-the-century baseball incidents, and election politics, while his surrogate bros harmonize around their 21st century Brian Wilson.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Years after the Dunedin sound entered the indie lexicon, it was Australia’s turn for a colloquially named jangle subset: “dolewave.” Initially a pejorative term, then self-deprecatingly embraced, dolewave refers to the DIY musicians who hail from Melbourne’s less affluent corners, and who evoke such Oz forefathers as The Go-Betweens (more Flying Nun’s alumni). “This is music that also comes directly out of the ‘makeshift venue culture’…in open park spaces, in warehouses, rundown pubs, front rooms of share houses,” The Guardian’s Everett True explained. One of the most compelling dolewave proponents is Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Led by a triad of guitarist/singer-songwriters, the Blackouts’ counter-pointing lead lines establish an uneven but exhilarating floor across which their despondent lyrics may wander. Endless Rooms came out on Sub Pop this month, but for the jangliest offerings of all, see their earlier EPs.
Most of us remember the day we got our license and trundled onto the highway, windows down, music distorted by the shitty car stereo, intoxicated by our newfound freedom. “The moment I got my license, driving and listening to music was just all I did, and all I wanted to do”—that’s one of the audio samples from Massage’s “Half a Feeling” music video. As guitar feedback and drums fade in against the background hum of the city traffic, we hear people recounting their relationship with LA, Massage’s hometown. Naturally, a lot of that’s tied up with driving (and sepia-hued sentimentality). But it perfectly tees up Alex Nadius’ opening gambit: “Get away / Away from the family tree / Your Blue Ridge Mountain in Tennessee.” Wistful, easy-going, and sincere, the quintet’s music is well-suited to life-defining ephemera.
Slumberland Records, which has operated out of the Bay Area since the early-’90s, enjoys a stacked resume of stellar jangle groups, and remains one of the pre-eminent champions of the genre today. Choosing which artists from their catalog to feature is no easy task, but there’s something intriguing about Kids on a Crime Spree. Far from the most punctual band, the Oakland trio undertook a years-long mission to restore an antiquated 16-track recorder, eventually resulting in their second album, Fall in Love Not in Line. Led by Mario Hernandez, the Kids are committed to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound approach, but apply it to their rumbling, evanescent echo pop. Plucky surf-guitar lines and coltish drum cuffs feast on the immediacy and urgency of lovesickness (“When Can I See You Again?”), with the results suitable for a John Hughes soundtrack. Hopefully they don’t disappear for another 11 years.
In some cases, the pasty north of England out-strums California to produce the most unadulteratedly joyous jangle. Calling the cathedral city of York home, Bull is a band that wants to make people happy and believes that the best method is to keep things copacetic. Discover Effortless Living is the title of their 2021 debut, and if its variegated guitars weren’t enough to keep the black dog on a leash, you can pop by their merch stand to purchase sea monkeys and skateboard decks. With venerable British janglers such as The Wedding Present and The Smiths forming a short drive away, Bull instead looks to the U.S. for guidance, paying homage to Pavement’s “Range Life” on their song “Bedroom Floor” and generally pervading their tunes with a white-picket-fence optimism.
Ducks made a splash last year with their debut album Modern Fiction. The record’s opening line is a kind of band thesis: “Just about OK living the old way.” Through scrambling guitars and furrowing bass belts, Tom McGreevy and Evan Lewis denigrate the contradictions and unpleasantries of modern life/fiction—their “prideful, sneering, wounded nation.” (McGreevy even described their approach as “computer music trying extremely hard not to sound like computer music.”) Any misanthropic modernity, though, manifests as unceasing energy, like their video for “18 Cigarettes” in which McGreevy literally sprints through the city, across bridges, train tracks, and parks. The album’s soft center, “Under the Rolling Moon,” for which they teamed up with The Beths, supplants The Waterboys’ 1985 hit as the most affecting lunar guitar pop song.
Kitchen-pop pioneer Glenn Donaldson releases music with the regularity of an on-peak subway timetable. His current outlet, The Reds, Pinks & Purples, gives an audio tour through San Francisco’s polychromatic Richmond district, his muse and writing partner. With a clear affinity for Robert Smith and Stephin Merritt, Donaldson’s light-handed songs, driven by fluttery drum machines and milky open chords, originate during meditative walks, on which he observes the weather, flora and fauna, and fragmented memories of late-summer love and fleeting happiness. These lukewarm shards float away over pastel-hued townhouses, but not before he commits them to Pro Tools. The project’s fourth installment, Summer at Land’s End, was released last February. Between the shuffling ebullience of “Pour the Light In” and the doleful instrumental “Dahlias and Rain,” Donaldson's mood—and ours—keeps pace with the weather throughout.
Perhaps the least overtly jangle group on the list, Chicago trio Dehd’s unique selling point is its passionate, uninhibited vocals. Emily Kempf told Pitchfork, “I think of my voice like a house with many closets and lots of outfits that I can put on. Can I do whispery Lana Del Rey voice? Or operatic, bird-noise voice?” It follows that no niche has yet claimed Dehd. Still, the prevalence of jangle in their hollering post-punk is undeniable. It’s in the watery ripples and plucky, skeletal riffs of tracks like “Loner,” “Haha,” and recent single “Bad Love.” Dehd’s new album Blue Skies looks to catapult them to superlative heights—not that they’re bothered. As Kempf says, “Shit’s fucked up and the world is on fire. We’re just making some happy tears. We know that being in a band is not serious.”
These Bay Area romantics make music that kicks back between The Pastels and The Moldy Peaches—twee, affable, and the auditory equivalent of wrapping up in your favorite oversized sweater for the season’s first frost. Indeed, their songs are tonally related to those mid-’90s rom-coms in which yuppies drag Christmas trees down sidewalks and up brownstone stoops—an easier, simpler era. The group even takes its name from the quintessential rom-com talisman and weapon of inciting incident chivalry. Matt Ferrara and Morgan Stanley’s voices link arms, their lyrics distilling lives of love into lucid back-and-forths with song titles that jump from “Lonely” to “Happy,” “Summer” to “Autumn,” “Near You” to “Never Available.” One minute they suggest, “Let’s lay in the sunshine / Just you and I.” But the very next, ask, “Why am I not happy anymore?” Listen to The Umbrellas during the summer rain and the winter sun. They’ve got the transient juxtapositions covered.
In a world where The Jesus and Mary Chain were the famed helmsman and AC/DC equivalent of a less flatulent butt-rock family, I’d want to see Andy Pastalaniec as the substitute teacher in The School of Jangle Pop. The Bay Area veteran of indie DIY offers a masterclass in retro guitar music with his Chime School project, a one-man band that places its 12-string electric front and center. Pastalaniec played in Cruel Summer and Seablite before distilling a long list of Creation Records alumni into his self-titled debut, which dropped last November. Its 10 easy-going tracks span the short distance between light and bouncy lead single “Taking Time to Tell You” and the vagabond punk rocker “Anywhere But Here.” If you’re looking for guitars that sound like they’re dipped in gold, stop here.
Rose Vastola’s flowing Sprechgesang feels like home. She’s a conductor of therapeutic chord changes, a solicitous foil to a genre dominated by male malaise. Maybe it’s a Freudian thing—did my mother front an indie band while she was carrying me? Over on the East Coast, away from all the Bay Area boys, Vastola leads the Queens, NY trio UV-TV, whose unpretentious compositions harness the energy of New York’s sprawling, intractable alternative music scene. The Floridians’ adopted home is both a blessing and a curse, though. In UV-TV’s sole online interview, the band says they feel like outliers who don’t belong anywhere. Then again, that ostracism engenders such maverick fruits as “Back to Nowhere”—and isn’t nowhere still somewhere?
Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook calls his last solo album as Young Guv “a document of my two years away from the world. My healing.” GUV III was written in the desert of New Mexico, where Cook lived a bohemian lifestyle for nine months. “The energy there was unlike anything I’d experienced,” he revealed in the press release for the album (which is already slated to be eclipsed by a GUV IV this summer). The product of this Into the Wild–esque inertia speaks for itself. Young Guv’s melodies move with the breeze, undemanding and steeped in a half-awake languor. The lyrics reveal a craving for human connection, and despite his meditative state, the writing is still chiefly concerned with hooks that Teenage Fanclub would approve of. In other words, Zen and the Art of Guitar Pop.
Jason Quever has lived a high-stakes life. Raised in a commune until he was 10, he lost both of his parents while still in his teens. Now the singer/songwriter is channeling his experiences into musical cocoons that he makes in his home studio. “I don’t want to hit people over the head. That’s just not who I am. I don’t necessarily like to be the center of attention,” he’s clarified. Although not the center of attention, Quever’s presence has pockmarked the DIY indieverse, from his producing credits (Beach House, Luna, Owen Ashworth) to his long-running project Papercuts, which recently released Past Life Regression. Its reams of misty guitars, quivering synthesizers, and Spector-esque production confirm that Papercuts doesn’t let go of the past, but finds a way to harness it to heady, euphonious results.
The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness
Straddling the European continent, The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness are Andrew Taylor, who resides in Edinburgh, and Gonzalo Marcos, who calls Madrid home. Adapting their name from the famously neurotic New Jersey group The Feelies—who used to categorically refuse to play in New York City—the Boys are comparatively chill. “You say that you miss me, but you know I don’t mind,” goes the opening track from their 2021 debut Songs From Another Life. There’s hardly an ounce of melancholy in their zestful, crisp compositions—a welcome break from despondency. These boys next door are onto better things (as far as I can see).
The closest thing to the renaissance’s benevolent patriarch, New Jersey’s Real Estate have seen it all. Since their first album in 2009—a decade before some of the bands on this list existed—the suburban sky-gazers have survived the acrimonious departure of a disgraced founding member, been welcomed onstage by Special Agent Dale Cooper, and have five flawless albums under their red blazers. With a timbre that can most aptly be described as—and I’m reluctant to use the word—breezy, their feathery pop textures are accessible enough for your parents, while their Tom Verlaine–indebted guitar lattices endear and intimidate peers. Real Estate have their formula locked and loaded, avowed abiders of the “if it ain’t broke” platitude—and isn’t that what jangle pop is all about? Finding a new way to tell an old story. Darling, no one does it better.