Van Fleet taps key retro vibe

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Au­gust Brown au­[email protected]­

The rock cat­e­gories at the Gram­mys have, for more than a decade, largely been a sub­sidy pro­gram for Dave Grohl and his ’90s-post-alt con­tem­po­raries.

But noth­ing gets Grammy rock vot­ers hot­ter than a pop­u­lar new band that nods back to older bands (see re­cent wins from the War On Drugs and Cage the Ele­phant), and this year has a ma­jor con­tender in Greta Van Fleet.

The Michi­gan quar­tet had per­haps the strong­est Grammy show­ing of any gui­tar-based group this year. With nom­i­na­tions in all the ma­jor rock cat­e­gories (per­for­mance, song and al­bum) and an ad­di­tional nod in the new artist cat­e­gory, it’s clear that they are the Grammy con­sen­sus pick for 2018’s break­through rock act.

Like Kings of Leon or Haim be­fore them, they’re a mostly sib­lings act with clear ref­er­ence points to the sta­dium-rock era of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Their break­through LP, “From the Fires,” de­liv­ers ex­tremely time-tested plea­sures (like, 40 years’ worth) of high-oc­tane arena-blues from very at­trac­tive young men. A sin­gle such as “High­way Tune” is such an ob­vi­ous easy sell to Grammy vot­ers that the band has be­come a mu­sicbiz meme in its own right.

Thus, Greta Van Fleet is new enough to feel re­vi­tal­iz­ing to Grammy vot­ers, but em­bod­ies an era when a lot of boomers thought rock ’n’ roll peaked. That’s prob­a­bly a shoo-in for at least a few big rock awards. Given some po­ten­tial R&B vote-split­ting be­tween Chloe X Halle, H.E.R. and Jorja Smith, and a lack of rock com­pe­ti­tion in the cat­e­gory, don’t count the band out for best new artist.

More am­bi­tious rock in­no­va­tion is present among the Grammy nom­i­nees, how­ever. It just hap­pens to be a few cat­e­gories down, in the metal and al­ter­na­tive di­vi­sions. While 2018 is yet an­other year when “al­ter­na­tive” is a mean­ing­less de­scrip­tor — a weird holdover from the ’90s — but Grammy vot­ers know what metal is, and this year the cat­e­gory has a few pleas­ant sur­prises.

The now-L.A.-based blackgaz­ers Deafheaven earned a nod for “Hon­ey­comb,” off the group’s fourth al­bum, “Or­di­nary Cor­rupt Hu­man Love,” which ex­panded its sound into more hope­ful, ac­ces­si­ble ter­rain. A Grammy nod likely won’t do much to please the black­metal niche that re­mains skep­ti­cal of the at­mo­spheric band, but be­tween it and a nod for Oak­land’s High on Fire, it’s a promis­ing twist for a genre do­ing much of the leg­work rock used to do in ad­vanc­ing gui­tar bands.

Over in al­ter­na­tive, St. Vin­cent and Arc­tic Mon­keys earned nom­i­na­tions for al­bums that are, by a long­shot, the least “rock” of their ca­reers. St. Vin­cent’s “Masse­duc­tion” was as sleek and smart as an arty pop al­bum could hope to be, with topflight col­lab­o­ra­tors from all over (Jack Antonoff, Soun­wave, Ka­masi Wash­ing­ton, Lars Stal­fors).

Arc­tic Mon­keys’ “Tran­quil­ity Base Ho­tel & Casino” was a con­cept al­bum about burnouts in a ho­tel bar on the moon, with singer Alex Turner be­hind a piano do­ing his best de­pressed-David Bowie moves (it’s way more fun than that sounds).

It’s hard to write off a le­gend such as David Byrne or a pre­vi­ous al­bum-of-the-year win­ner such as Beck, but given St. Vin­cent’s nod in rock song as well, she looks to be the front-run­ner there.

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