Having taken a trip through memory lane to celebrate the greatest guitar albums ever made, journeying through the ‘60s and ‘70s – the big bang moment for rock guitar evolution – and on through the ‘80s to the 21st-century, it’s time to do some horizon planning.
What albums of the present era will go on to become classics? Which albums present the electric guitar in a new light? That find new modes of expression on acoustic guitar? There are no certainties except the uncertainty that the future of guitar music is not yet written. It is being written, and it will continue to evolve.
With art, there is no settled history, but particularly when we examine the practice of guitar playing, in which players are still pushing the boundaries with technique, and guitar companies are finding more innovative ways for players to access new sounds and get creative.
Here we take a look at five albums from the recent past that could well be reference texts for guitarists in years to come, with each presenting the next generation of musicians inspiration, offering new ideas of where we might take guitar music next.
- The greatest guitar albums of the ’80s
- The greatest guitar albums of the '90s
- The greatest guitar albums of the 2000s
- The greatest guitar albums of the 2010s
Nova Twins – Supernova (2022)
With their fusion of rap, punk and metal, it’s tempting to compare Nova Twins to Rage Against the Machine – an observation helped by Tom Morello himself, who tweeted that they are “an incredible band who deserve to be huge."
It’s not that Amy Love (guitars) and Georgia South (bass) sound like Rage. It’s that they have the same kind of passion, energy and originality that made Rage’s debut so exhilarating. But Nova Twins could never be from LA; they are from southeast London and sound like it.
There are nods to grime and UK drill in the sound, and some of the fattest, filthiest basslines anywhere. There are also irresistible melodies sitting alongside enormous fuzz riffs. Their collaboration 1x1 – with Bring Me The Horizon – put them on the map and if Supernova doesn’t make them huge there is little hope for humanity.
The exact contents of their enormous pedalboards are a closely-guarded secret but everything, even the analogue synth noises all over Cleopatra, is made by live guitar and bass. If the lyrics to single KMB (Kill My Boyfriend) don’t put the fear of god into mediocre rock bands, the fact Nova Twins blow them all out of the water should.
Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime (2021)
Of all today’s guitar superheroes, Mdou Moctar has the best origin story, having grown up in rural Niger, building his own guitar out of sardine cans, bike cables and spare wood, and learning in secret so as not to offend his parents’ sensibilities.
That determination and ingenuity would be put to good use once he started using a proper guitar, settling on a Fender Stratocaster through a Roland Jazz Chorus and some judiciously chosen stompboxes to make his Tuareg guitar sound really pop. But what is that sound? Moctar has a restless ear for composition.
On Afrique Victime, his wiry electric guitar coils around the beat, dancing out of the way of his vocal. It is a beguiling phantasm of a sound, summoning the spirit of the desert, giving his songs an electric presence that reinterprets traditional Tuareg styles as something unorthodox, psychedelic and timeless.
Recorded on the road, Afrique Victime sounds alive and vital. Moctar’s quicksilver phrasing speaks to the eternal possibilities of the instrument.
Black Midi – Cavalcade (2021)
Guitar-based but not guitar-dominated, Black Midi are the band to hear if you ever feared there was no genuinely surprising guitar music left. They’ve covered Hendrix and namechecked AC/DC, so there’s a firm foundation with rock guitar greats, but their freewheeling experimentation has the boundless possibilities of prog and jazz.
On Cavalcade, opening track John L hits you with syncopated chord stabs before a swirling chromatic riff. Geordie Greep’s speak-singing sometimes recalls Talking Heads’ David Byrne, while the band is as adventurous as the best krautrock. On the single Chondromalacia Patella, Greep comes on like Hendrix playing funk, moving through a jazzy, melodic verse and building to howling, fuzz-drenched feedback.
Slow has an angular, unpredictable guitar solo from Greep that has speed and drama with no trace of conventional blues licks, while there’s a cartoonish humour to the way the music moves between chaos and melody in Hogwash And Balderdash, exemplified by its many left turns.
It’s brilliant and genuinely original, and if you like this, there’s a wave of equally imaginative post-punks in their wake.
Covet – Technicolor (2020)
Guitar music has evolved to the point where elite-level technicality has spilled out of shred and into all-new contests where the virtuosity can augment every root and branch of the song. Of this new generation, Yvette Young is a guitar player nonpareil.
What Covet play is sometimes described as math-rock, but – even if mathematics is one of the few paragons of truth in the universe – that terms seems a little reductive, ignoring or downplaying the soul behind Young’s note choices. Young jokes that she plays “detail rock," and there are a lot of details to be heard.
What she does with her citrus-colored signature Ibanez Talman does need to be witnessed in person or on video, if only to be believed. Her two-handed tapping and fingerstyle wrings all the juice from the instrument, tracks such as Parrot serving fresh sounds never heard before.
Cutting her teeth on violin and piano, she is another example, if needed, that playing another instrument besides guitar can only make you a better player. Technicolor is hypnotic, bewildering and life-affirming, with Young’s melodic sensibility laid over alien-jazz rhythms creating a conversation that you can’t help but earwig on. There are no vocals but... it kinda feels like there are, right?
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gatherum (2022)
The Australian psych-rock collective are such a welter of creativity that pressing play on any of their 20 studio albums is to submit to the overwhelming; to embrace chaos. It will still be there when the record finishes.
Omnium Gatherum is a remarkable album, not least because it reportedly sprouted from off-cuts, and of course, the jam. The Dripping Tap opens the album with an 18-minute jam that somehow remembers to incorporate an audacious hook amid the fevered rush of instrumentation, climaxing with a supernova of ascending lead guitar squall.
On occasion, synths pull focus with a spaced-out groove, or they’ll park themselves in a lounge-room Prince R&B vibe, but then they’ll burl round 180 degrees and record a metal song like Gaia. Prog, soul, R&B, metal, psych – anything goes when musical freedom abounds. In another timeline, maybe Frank Zappa would have had them open for him...