It’s the basic foundation of any rock band, but at a concert with flailing vocalists and squealing guitars, it could be the easiest thing to overlook—the rhythm section. Rather than attempt another all-time best list (Entwistle and Moon; Deacon and Taylor; and Jones and Bonham have all gotten their due), today we’ll take a look at some of drum/bass batteries that have popped up in the last 15 years or so that haven’t yet received that level of acclaim.
A busy drummer isn’t necessarily a good drummer. As anyone that’s ever started a band at a young age with inexperienced musicians will tell you, there’s nothing that will derail a good song like overextended tom fills or an unnecessary bludgeoning of the ears by a double-bass drum attack. But the Rural Alberta Advantage’s Paul Banwatt finds room to make the art of over-playing work for him. With a band that is comprised of one guitar, keyboard and drum player, Banwatt has the room to step out and show off his chops without taking away from a song. The intensity of like “Stamp” and “Don’t Haunt This Place” lean on Banwatt’s marathon-runner stamina and fills, and it’s safe to say the band’s great melodies wouldn’t sound the same without him.
Defining moments: “Stamp,” “Don’t Haunt This Place”
Behind a wiry guitar and some sparse keyboards, Mew’s 2006 album, ...And the Glass Kites, kicks off with one of the cleanest, muscle-pumped rhythm sections that will probably ever emerge from Denmark. Drummer Silas Jørgensen comes down on his kit like it’s part of a carnival competition and Johan Wohlert follows along with gnarled, distorted bass lines. It’s an almost polarized, but appropriate contrast with high-register vocalist Jonas Bjerre’s fragile voice—like a big brother backing up his sibling—and is a force to be reckoned with in a live setting.
Defining moments: “Circuitry of the Wolf,” “Chinaberry Tree; “Am I Wry? No”
The National’s rhythm section has the ultimate leg-up when it comes to locking perfectly—It’s made up of two brothers. While the two aren’t the most explosive or hard-hitting duo, the Devendorf brothers are master students in the school of dynamics. Every note and beat played is as carefully anticipated, executed and sustained as the one before it. The Devendorf brothers can sound huge and uplifting (“Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Abel”), reserved (“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”), and melodramatic (“Fake Empire”) all within a 15-minute span of a set. Without the two, The National’s layered melodies and baritone moans would lose their grandeur, and elegance — and that would be a terrible thing.
Defining moments: “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Anyone’s Ghost,” “Abel,” “Squalor Victoria;
On paper, it would be easy to toss Maps and Atlases in the “math rock” pile and leave them there. They have all of the elements—the tapping, sporadic guitars and time signatures only music majors could count out by themselves. But on tape, the band is never too mechanical or inaccessible thanks to bassist Shiraz Dada and drummer Chris Hainey. By utilizing wood blocks and xylophones, the duo adds a human quality to Maps and Atlases’ frenzied guitar parts. Dada teeters the line between showman and songwriter in the hooky bass parts that owe more to Motown than Don Caballero, and Hainey always wows crowds with drum fills that come out in fluid bursts.
Defining moments: “Every Place is a House,” “Solid Ground,” “You and Me and the Mountain”
A lot of things are better because they aren’t complicated: PB and J sandwiches, Beavis and Butthead and Nickolai Fraiture’s bass part in the second verse of “Is This It.” Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti have been setting the no-nonsense backbone of indie rock for almost a decade now with an approach that’s still catchy and celebrated. The duo established themselves on Room on Fire with “Automatic Stop,” but new songs like “Taken for a Fool” show that Fraiture and Moretti are still the real deal.
Defining moments: “Is This It,” “Reptilia” “Taken for a Fool”
The Dismemberment Plan’s rhythm section covered a lot of bases in a short period of time. They played some form of freaky-funk that had punk roots, but did so without compromising their approach to their instruments. Maybe it’s most apparent in Emergency and I’s “Girl O’ Clock,” where Easley and Axelson channel Travis Morrison’s lyrics of paranoia and desire without even saying a word. Axelson’s creeping bass plods over Easley’s frantic, over-the-top drumming, but there’s still something sort of catchy about it. The band’s most inspiring moment, however, is “The Other Side” from Change. The track blended a simple, but effective bass part over a frantic, seems-too-fast-to-be-real beat that still has drummers everywhere throwing their hands up in disappointment that they didn’t write it.
Defining moments: “Girl O’ Clock,” “The Other Side; “Spider in the Snow”
The original Battles lineup, before Tyondai Braxton’s 2010 exit, turned every sound it made into a part of an always-evolving, stacked beat. Working double duty on guitars and keyboards, it wasn’t uncommon to see Tyondai Braxton beat boxing or Ian Williams finger tapping a melody on guitar with one hand while laying down a synth-bass line with the other. The result was one of the more unique sounds the music world has heard in a long time. But at the center—literally, sitting at the front and center of the stage – was drummer John Stanier, whose metronome-sharp pounding and too-high crash cymbal set the foundation for all of the chaos.
Defining moments: “Dance; “Race: In,” “Snare Hanger”
Although Death Cab for Cutie is a band that’s seen a slew of decent drummers, none of them complemented the band as well as Jason McGerr did starting in 2003. Making his debut with the band on their breakthrough album, Transatlanticism, McGerr added an extra flair to Nick Harmer’s wandering bass with all of the clarity, precision and control of a seasoned vet; And it’s apparent from the first crash hit of “The New Year” and still rings true in later years with “Cath…” and “Crooked Teeth.” The pair sounds brilliant in the studio and even better in concert.
Defining moments: “The New Year; “Crooked Teeth,” “Summer Skin”
Interpol’s rhythm section had plenty to teach bands emerging out of New York in the early 2000s: How to craft a tasteful bass line, how to gracefully lag around a beat and how to make full-octave jumps and low-slung basses fashionable again. But the most important thing bassist Carlos D. and drummer Sam Fogarino brought to the table as a unit was an impeccable sense of restraint. The power behind their section’s dramatic entrances and exits in songs like “Specialist” and “Evil” don’t add to songs — they define them.
Defining moments: “Evil,” “”Specialist, “Take You on a Cruise”
It’s not often that a frontman is completely overshadowed by the musicians around him, but for Josh Homme of Them Crooked Vultures, it’s inevitable. With one of the most iconic hard-hitting drummers of the ’90s in Dave Grohl and multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and former-Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, Them Crooked Vultures’ rhythm section is hard—if not impossible—to top. Tracks like “New Fang” and “Elephants” are instantly groovable thanks to the duo and had fans shaking it in concert before a note of music hit the Internet.
Defining moments: “New Fang; “Elephants,” “Mind Eraser, No Chaser”
Owen Biddle, bass; ?uestlove, drums (The Roots)
Kristofer Steen, bass; David Sandstrom, drums (Refused)
Juan Alderete, bass; Jon Theodore, drums (The Mars Volta)
Aaron Stovall, synthesizer; Clayton Kunstel, drums (So Many Dynamos)
Armistead Burwell Smith IV, bass; Christopher Prescott, drums (Pinback)
Tell us your favorite rhythm sections in the comments section below.