In all the years of programming Rhapsody's Top Rock Albums of the year list, I have never made the No. 1 album something as obviously obscure as Endless Boogie's Long Island. Previous years might have included cult artists like Heartless Bastards and Graveyard, but even they have significantly larger fanbases than our shaggy heroes from the Big Apple. And besides, none of them claimed the top slot. It's just that Long Island boogies so much harder, meaner and dirtier than any other rock album released in 2013 that denying it the top spot simply because it doesn't "move units" like Paramore or Nine Inch Nails is an utterly asinine position to take. What do I care about gold and platinum status? The music is all that matters, people.
My love for Long Island reflects how I have come to define rock and roll. In my opinion, rock music is all about what Joe Carducci, author of Rock and the Pop Narcotic, calls "groove exploration." Well-written songs are cool -- if they're catchy, novel and don't get in the way of an ensemble's rhythmic interplay. Ultimately, however, I am loyal, and doggedly so, to the notion that in order to truly succeed, rock has to swing, bop, stomp, churn, etc. In other words, it has to move. This is the quality I champion, whether we're talking about Bo Diddley or Led Zeppelin or King Crimson or Endless Boogie.
But here's the ironic pickle we lovers of all things groovy nowadays find ourselves in: In order to experience our version of rock and roll (which one could argue is the truest to the movement's core impulses) we're quite often forced to venture far outside the mainstream to find it. While one could point to Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and The Black Keys as having become Billboard mainstays, let's not forget the fact that each one originally emerged from the outside, too: White from the garage-rock scene, QotSA stoner rock (a subgenre of metal, oddly enough) and The Keys from indie. And besides, they're the few notable exceptions. Nowadays, mainstream rock is really nothing more than a dumping ground for all manner of high-polish pop hybrids built from scraps of post-grunge, pop-punk, screamo and, in a fairly recent development, electronic dance music. The profoundly upside-down and inside-out state of affairs rock music currently finds itself mired in is best encapsulated by the fact that Fall Out Boy named their 2013 album Save Rock and Roll despite the fact that it contains very little music that actually rocks.
Consequently, Endless Boogie isn't the only outsider to grace this year's top rock list. The No. 2 slot is occupied by Uncle Acid & The Deadbeat's epic Mind Control. Generally considered classic heavy metal revivalists, the hard-grinding English outfit is equally indebted to the more psychedelic and progressive manifestations of early-'70s hard rock. Black Joe Lewis (& The Honeybears) might be an even more extreme example. In terms of touring, they largely have been relegated to the blues and Americana circuits, yet their latest album Electric Slave is a turbo-charged marriage of Funkadelic, Little Richard and Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones. A similar fate has met the North Mississippi Allstars. As with previous releases, New World Boogie is rip-roaring, old school blues rock appreciated by fans of modern blues almost exclusively. Significantly less steeped in nostalgia is Clutch's Earth Rocker. For years now, these meaty bros have been unleashing various permutations of funk-rock anchored by their love for P-Funk, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Pantera. Unfortunately, though, Clutch was long ago tagged as a cult-metal act, one that will never sell as many records as either Five Finger Death Punch (who actually do bring the heavy -- when they're not futzing around with post-grunge power balladry, that is) or, say, Sevendust.
Unlike Jack White or The Black Keys, the chances are great Endless Boogie will live and die having never experienced significant commercial success. That blows. If I had a million dollars to spare, I'd stuff it in in these dudes' undies for giving me so much sonic pleasure. But I'm also just thankful that groups like them still exist. While the rest of the rock world descends further into grunge-screamo-emo hell, Endless Boogie fights the good fight, kicking ass in the name of Carducci's groove exploration. Here's to all the outsiders!