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What to Listen to Now Based on Your Old Favorites

Stuck in a music rut? Here’s how to find your new favorite band

slideshow of rap band Run the Jewels with Public Enemy, Anthrax with Mastodon, R.E.M. with Parquet Courts

Nothing makes a man feel older than cranking up a classic from high school on the car stereo, only to hear one’s teenagers complain about having to listen to “oldies.”

Oldies? Oldies! Are their minds not melted by the buzzsaws of Sonic Youth, their souls not stirred by the plaintive wails of R.E.M., their revolutionary spirit not touched by the angry calls to arms of NWA?

Are they not entertained?

Well, no, they’re not. And if that scenario sounds familiar, it’s probably time for you, too, to move on, musically. Which is not easy, because let’s face it, the ‘90s kicked ass, and the late ‘80s weren’t bad, either. So where can we turn to find new music that presses the same emotional buttons that our favorite bands and artists once did? What songs fill the void left by Weezer or Oasis or golden-age hip-hop giants like A Tribe Called Quest and Dr. Dre? Who champions synth pop worthy of Erasure or Depeche Mode?

We’ve got some answers. Here’s a quick look at a handful of key ‘80s and ‘90s genres and some current bands that are bringing those musical styles forward.

Maybe your kids will shut up and listen.

College rock If you loved guitars, some rhythmic drive and lyrics a cut above the usual pop clichés, you likely indulged in a steady diet of R.E.M., the Smashing Pumpkins, Better Than Ezra and Soul Asylum.

This subgenre, now known as indie rock, runs the gamut from hard-edged to gauzy, but six-string-driven melodies mixed with smart lyrics still abound in the music of Parquet Courts, which combines biting wit, driving guitars and jumpy tempos. UK rabble-rousers Idles somehow manage to rage while demonstrating empathy and social consciousness. Bartees Strange was trained in opera as a kid and played in a hard-core band before diving deep into left-of-center rock on his excellent 2020 debut album, Live Forever. And Motorcade conjure vintage guitar and keyboard vibes with a sharp sense of melody.

Heartland rock This was the sound of the ‘80s and ‘90s rock mainstream, with classic ‘60s-inspired songcraft fit for arena sing-alongs as delivered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, the Black Crowes, Tom Petty, Gin Blossoms and Steve Earle.

Though what was once known as heartland rock has largely been absorbed by mainstream country, you'll find heartland-like punch in the Americana bin with artists such as Jason Isbell, who layers earnest, well-chosen words over country-tinged rock anthems. Amythyst Kiah plays alt-rock with a bluegrass feel. And Margo Price brings a bit of Nashville twang to influences that swing from country to classic rock.

Golden-age hip-hop Hip-hop came of age in the ’80s and ‘90s, morphing from party music into something more substantial, with lyrical chops matched by inventive beats and textures: Wu-Tang Clan, 2Pac, Public Enemy, Notorious B.I.G. and the Beastie Boys.

Though trap dominates today's hip-hop, the hard beats and inventive rhymes of rap’s golden age live on in the music of Kendrick Lamar, whose lyrical skills earned him a Pulitzer Prize. Run the Jewels blend the talents of New York City–based producer-MC El-P with Dirty South philosopher-king Killer Mike. And few rappers can match Vince Staples’ knack for vivid storytelling about life on the mean streets in his native Long Beach, California.

Thrash metal: The ‘80s and '90s were a magical time for bands that brought speed and punk attitude to metal’s bombast. The thrash-metal scene produced giants such as Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Testament.

Though some of these giants carry on today, a new wave of head-bangers has emerged in the last couple of decades that sound equally adventurous. Baroness resists genre constraints but its metal roots remain apparent. Mastodon’s hard-core background informs its concept-album approach to songwriting. Converge plays heavy music with a daring sense of arrangement and tempo. Zeal & Ardor slams together black metal, blues, and slave spirituals and makes it work. And Deafheaven routinely breaks the “rules” of what heavy metal can be while putting a hard-hitting spin on everything from post-rock to shoegaze.

Synth pop Electronic music bubbled in the underground during the ‘70s, but by the ‘80s and early ‘90s it had begun invading the pop charts, thanks to the catchy songs of New Order, Eurythmics, the Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark; the gothic drama of Depeche Mode; and the droll disco of Pet Shop Boys.

Though club music today is dominated by EDM DJs, vintage synth sounds still dominate the songs of Ladytron, the mix of ambient introspection and dance music generated by Australia’s Cut Copy, the funk-influenced dance-pop of La Roux (British singer Elly Jackson), the exotic electro pop of Little Boots’ Victoria Hesketh and the mix of psych-pop and electro proffered by France’s La Femme.