The New Folk-Rock Movement
Despite the runaway success of Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers—and others—my fellow rock critics have been partially incorrect, when it comes to proclaiming the comeback of folk-rock, in recent years. That’s because the sound never totally disappeared. It’s just that, from the mid 1970s onward, it became so deeply intertwined with rock music proper that it no longer was recognized as a separate movement. This explains why, by the 1980s, R.E.M. could create what was essentially a modern iteration of vintage American folk-rock, even if critics and fans alike rarely labeled it as such. (More often than not the group’s sound was regarded as alternative rock.)
Where the New Folk-Rock (also commonly referred to as alt-folk and neo-folk) differs is in its throwback embrace of the “folksy” part of the equation. The music of the Mumford & Sons, for example, is far more rooted in acoustic instrumentation and earthy sounds. Early R.E.M was never big on banjos and mandolins; the Mums on the other hand can’t get enough of them. But this shouldn’t imply that the New Folk-Rock is a flat-out rejection of modern pop. The situation is more nuanced than that.
In general, this music offers a savvy negotiation between folk, rock and pop. This is immediately apparent with Imagine Dragons (one of rock’s biggest breakout stars of 2013). The Las Vegas outfit’s huge, soaring choruses—go straight to the smash hit “Radioactive”—share quite a lot in common with both the Mums (as well as with Fleet Foxes), yet these choruses often come encased in grinding hip-hop beats, or else audacious touches of electronica. Then there’s Jake Bugg, the cheeky British troubadour who filters his love of skiffle—a jazzy, folk-pop music popular in England in the late 1950s—through the dynamics of modern Brit pop and indie.
In addition to all the artists already mentioned, our New Folk-Rock playlist features key contributions from The Civil Wars, Frank Turner, Of Monsters And Men, Passenger, Phillip Phillips, Jamestown Revival and more. Now get listening!