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 young Michigan quartet had perhaps the strongest Grammy showing of any guitar-based rock group this year. With nominations in all the major rock categories (performance, song and album) and an additional nod for best new artist, it’s clear that they are the Grammy consensus pick for 2018’s breakthrough rock act.
It’s easy to see why.
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 music-biz meme in their 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 & 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 them out for best new artist as well.
More ambitious rock innovation is present among the Grammy nominees, however. It just so happens to a few categories down, in the metal and alternative divisions. While 2018 is yet another year when “alternative” is an essentially meaningless descriptor — a weird category holdover from the ‘90s — but Grammy voters definitely 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 their fourth album, “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love,” which expanded their sound into more hopeful, accessible terrain.
A Grammy nod likely won’t do much to please the black-metal niche that remains skeptical of the atmospheric band, but between them and a nod for the Oakland-based doom-metallers High On Fire, it’s a promising twist for a genre doing much of the legwork that rock used to do in moving guitar bands forward.
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 a range of top-flight collaborators from all over the music world (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 always 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.
For breaking music news, follow @augustbrown on Twitter.