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The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

on June 28, 2012, 12:01am
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stress e1340660678354 The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

How stressful is your work week? How many hours do you put in? When that proverbial clock is punched, isn’t there a part of you that feels at ease, as if you just tossed aside a 300-pound weight off your back? Of course, it’s a feeling everyone races towards week after week. But, here’s something to chew on: What if you couldn’t take that weight off?

That’s essentially the struggle one deals with as a musician, especially in this day and age. With the industry in such a flux, now more than ever, musicians have to keep trending 24/7/365. They’re always writing new material, they rarely step off the road, and they’re endlessly looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve.

Here’s a good example: Starting today, The Flaming Lips will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for Most Concerts in One Day when they play eight shows across Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It’s gimmicky, sure, but it’s a feat that’s turning heads and it’s also a bold indication of how far musicians are willing to go. Granted, Wayne Coyne is a madman of epic proportions, but he’s hardly alone.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a Rolodex of certifiably restless figures in the music industry today.

-Michael Roffman

Andrew W.K.

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Stress Level: 1.0 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  145/99

Being the human embodiment of the Platonic ideal of “Party” means never, ever stopping. Recently, Andrew W.K.’s seamlessly bounced between instrumental solo piano recordings (as on 2009’s 55 Cadillac), anime covers (2009’s Gundam Rock), and his signature hard-rocking anthems (as on the now 10+ year old I Get Wet). When not sitting down long enough to write, his jobs include performing frenetic live shows, hosting a children’s TV show, and even delivering a talk at the My Little Pony convention (a speech reportedly titled “How to Party Like Pinkie”). The dude is a ball of energy, never taking a breather, yet there’s never a sign of any stress breaking through his party shield. And W.K.’s ready to bring that high impact enthusiasm directly to your brain with his motivational speeches. -Adam Kivel

The Black Keys

black keys feat The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 8.2 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  159/99

With their recent megasuccess over the last two years, it’s easy to forget The Black Keys have been one of the hardest working duos around for a decade plus. Their release cycle through seven records has been relentless, yet recent news of an eighth in the works mere months after El Camino hit, itself recorded following canceled tour dates behind Brothers due partially to “exhaustion”, still seems stupefying. Through it all, they maintain a major road presence, headlining festivals across the globe (at the time of writing, they have 13 scheduled appearances left this year, many happening in different countries on the same weekend). Last year, they performed on Saturday Night Live an almost unheard of two times, and appeared with Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations to boot. On top of all that, and despite prior hesitations, they license their music to commercials and TV shows everywhere, suing those who don’t ask permission. These Akron boys have been seen all over these past two years, and it doesn’t look like they’ll become scarce anytime soon. -Ben Kaye


bjorkfeature The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 6.8 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  118/77

Björk’s inclusion has nothing to do with a crazy busy schedule; after two decades as pop’s quirky pixie, she works at her own pace. Still, that pace has made for some truly profound work, starting with the June 2009 release of Voltaïc, comprised of five separate releases of various Volta-related material. Her most significant work in recent years, and possibly of her entire career, is 2011’s Biophilia. The world’s “first app album”, Björk herself described it as a multimedia collection “encompassing music, apps, Internet, installations, and live shows.” At the very least, she started a trend by readily accepting the iPad as a musical instrument/tool. What she really did, though, was make question the true possibilities of the album concept and reconfigure the interplay between songs and accompanying visuals, which pushed the very boundaries of art itself. If that’s not tireless, then we’ll dress like a swan and honk the night away in Times Square. -Chris Coplan 

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

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Stress Level: 3.0 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  144/97

Earlier this month, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band clocked in the longest show in their 40 year career. The band’s appearance at Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu ran 32 songs and just under four hours, but those sorts of marathons are commonplace for Springsteen and his glorified bar band. Springsteen dropped the intermission from his live act in the late ’70s and never looked back. In recent years, he’s placed less emphasis on storytelling and breaks between songs, making an E Street gig a real workout, an endurance test of sorts, for both fans and the band alike. The length of a standard Springsteen show still remains a central focus of the E Street Band’s mythos, as the group (mostly in their 60s) continue to stretch the limits and definition of how long an arena rock show can and should last in 2012. -Jon Bernstein

Damon Albarn

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Stress Level: 9.7 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  178/108

Since, well, always, Damon Albarn has had a presence in the industry. For the last two years, however, he’s kept his calendar ridiculously mucked up. Following an awe-inspiring year with the Gorillaz in 2010, which included two albums, appearances at Coachella and Glastonbury, and an ensuing tour, everyone thought Blur would be next. They were, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. He’s since returned to Blur – an idea that’s stressful just to think about – and has also assembled new collectives in DRC Music (featuring Dan the Automator) and Rocket Juice and the Moon (this one sports Flea and afrobeat wunderkind Tony Allen). Between all that, he composed music for the English opera Dr Dee and was attached to score the film adaptation of his sister’s book, The Boy in the Oak. More recently, however, he’s collaborated with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and produced Bobby Womack’s latest LP. Blame it on absolute boredom, but he’s also working on an alleged solo album and set to perform at this year’s Olympic Games with Blur. Um, you can now drop the mic, Albarn. Christ. -Michael Roffman

Dave Grohl

dave grohl The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 0.0 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure: 118/78

Anyone who lists Tenacious D and Them Crooked Vultures as side projects must be busy. But helping out other musicians seems to be Dave Grohl’s favorite hobby. Never one to limit himself to one particular genre, he’s pounded the skins for everyone from sludge weirdos The Melvins to stoner rockers Queens of the Stone Age to indie folksters such as Cat Power. Just last October, amidst one of the busiest times of his life, Grohl filled in for Cage the Elephant drummer Jared Champion, when Champion’s appendix burst on tour. Outside of music, he’s shared some time on the silver screen, where he’s played Satan and a knock-off version of crazed drummer Animal in last year’s The Muppets. Currently, he’s working on a documentary about Sound City Studios, while he continues to headline various festivals across the globe with his never-ending tour de force, the Foo Fighters. One would think he’d take a break, especially given the band’s incessant activity in 2011 — a documentary, garage tour, and their best album since 1997’s The Colour and the Shape — yet Grohl keeps looking for more things to do, always wearing that excited jack’s grin of his. Did you not see him on Saturday Night Live recently? -Dan Caffrey


deadmau5 9 The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 7.1 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  159/92

The restlessness of deadmau5 probably leads back to one thing: his damn mouse mask with the rave-smile on it. How many times do you think he wakes up and looks at himself in the mirror and says, “Why, Joel Zimmerman, why did you pick this sweaty mask to be your thing?” In 2010, Deadmau5 collapsed at a show in DC due to “exhaustion”, which is dubious since he recently just gracefully acquiesced to being simply a “button-pusher”. Still, that doesn’t stop him from putting on a spastic performance when he’s up there, and touring worldwide with sets brimming over two hours — though putting on the mask every time is probably the worst part of his day. -Jeremy Larson

The Flaming Lips

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Stress Level: 1.0 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  110/75

If you could travel back in time two decades and tell the average 120 Minutes viewer that the “She Don’t Use Jelly” band would someday be releasing music inside a gummy skull with a marijuana-flavored brain, they probably would’ve thought: Well, okay, that sort of makes sense. As time went on, we started to see hints of the high levels of ambition-slash-freakiness that Coyne & Co. would eventually hit, namely in projects such as 1997’s four-disc-spanning Zaireeka or the bonkers sci-fi feature film Christmas on Mars. Looking back now, you can tell The Flaming Lips were just getting warmed up. Since 2010, we’ve seen a track-by-track cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, EPs released inside gummy skulls, tracks encased in flash drives inside gummy fetuses, a six-hour song, a 24-hour song released in an actual human skull, four collaborative EPs (one with Yoko Ono!), and a Record Store Day-exclusive collaborative double LP. All of this amidst touring, working on a new album, prepping a stage musical, and attempts to set various world records. At this point, if Coyne announces five new Flaming Lips projects on Twitter within five minutes of this story going live, no one should really be surprised. -Austin Trunick


grimesfeature The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 6.3 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  136/88

At 24, Montreal’s Claire Boucher (AKA Grimes) has truly made 2012 her own. She’s called her own material “ADHD music” and that translates into both her ethos and performances. Following the first quarter release of her third LP, Visions, the young artist has remained a courageous traveler, stomping throughout venues with absolute ferocity — she’s tenacious. At this year’s South by Southwest, she performed dozens of shows each day, bouncing (often without ease) from one party to the next and mostly alone. Taking a page from The Flaming Lips, who she’ll join on their aforementioned Guinness endeavor, Boucher has turned heads with her oddball creativity (“pussy rings”, anyone?), and proven her reach with dynamite collaborations, such as the recent L$D formation of Blood Diamonds, Tragik, and Kreayshawn. Next month, she’ll also climb aboard the Full Flex Express and choo-choo across Canada. One would hope she finally gets some sleep then. Doubtful, though. -Michael Roffman

Jack White

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Stress Level: 9.2 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  161/104

Lots of rock stars have empires, but few have worked as tirelessly to build a dynasty as Jack White has. Before he went solo earlier this year, he was the founding member of influential groups The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather, plus collaborated with everyone from Alicia Keys to Loretta Lynn. To monetize his ceaseless creative work, he founded Third Man Records, where he’s produced and/or released efforts for the likes of Black Milk and The Black Belles and even more fringe/novelty acts like John C. Reilly and Stephen Colbert. Toss in random soundtrack work, the occasional acting part, and a pretty healthy touring schedule behind each project, and it’s safe to say the Jack White dynasty is one of rock’s biggest and most-encompassing presences in the last 20 years, if not since the genre’s birth. All hail the king; may he shred from here until eternity. -Chris Coplan 

Kanye West

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Stress Level: 8.7 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  157/101

When isn’t Yeezy stressed out? If it weren’t for his private jets and comfortable shoes, the label head for G.O.O.D. Music might need to take Accupril every hour. Though, let’s be honest, he doesn’t make it easy for himself. After releasing what’s arguably his greatest record to date (2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), he quickly followed it up with one of the most anticipated collaborative records of this century: 2011’s Watch the Throne. To “celebrate,” he traveled across the globe, fronting the biggest tour of his genre. Hey, it’s not like Babe Ruth ever stopped swinging for the fences, right? One might argue the same for Mr. West, whose latest adventures include Cruel Summer, another collaborative record, this time with his G.O.O.D. Music clientele, and canoodling with the always-peachy Kim Kardashian. Someone please buy him another MacBook Air to blog from again. Please. -Michael Roffman

Lady Gaga

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Stress Level: 9.8 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  180/110

Earlier this year, Billboard ranked Lady Gaga as the fourth top monkeymaker of 2011, grossing over $25 million. That doesn’t happen sitting on your ass — you’ve gotta keep movin’. Some might argue the pop diva hasn’t seen a couch in over half a decade. Since early 2009, Gaga has kept a strong grip on the spotlight, catapulting through the respective charts with a number of radio hits, two commercially viable LPs (her next is reportedly finished), a remix album, and three of the hottest tours in the industry. Lasting nearly two years (2009-11), The Monster Ball Tour became one of the most successful tours of all time, and she quickly followed it up with this year’s globe trotting, 110 date-filled Born This Way Ball. But even when she’s not on the road, she’s drowning in the creative, releasing sprawling and scenic short films that become the sort of publicized event that haven’t been seen since the Golden Age of Michael Jackson’s career. What’s more, she’s crossed off the mandatory celebrity appearances on both Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, and at a time when most of us were spiking our egg nog and reaching for thermal socks, she was out working celebrating with A Very Gaga Holiday — alongside Tony Bennett, no less. It’s no wonder Madonna is so ticked off. -Michael Roffman

The Melvins

melvins buzz The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 7.0 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  130/110

Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover have certainly been busy working as the Melvins, endlessly touring, releasing 20+ albums in 25 years, and outlasting many of their counterparts from the Seattle scene. That said, this year they begin what may be their most insane challenge yet. The duo (with bassist Trevor Dunn along for the ride) are attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the first band to have a tour step in all 50 states (plus Washington DC) in just 51 days. Let’s hope they’re able to sleep on van and plane trips. -Adam Kivel

Neil Young

neil young feature The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 8.1 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure: 

Neil Young’s musical output alone is enough to get him on this list. Even if he didn’t still tour (which he does, relentlessly), he’s released 34 studio albums as a solo artist, four with Crosby, Stills & Nash, and three with Buffalo Springfield. And that doesn’t even include the countless live records, film soundtracks, and bootlegs. But what makes this genre-reinventing maverick even more distinct (as if that were possible) are his non-musical endeavors. He’s directed movies—most notably the bonkers Devo collaboration Human Highway, collaborated on graphic novels, and holds seven U.S. patents for co-inventing control systems for Lionel model trains. What’s more is that his bottomless swamp of creativity refuses to dry up in the face of hardships such as divorce, the deaths of bandmates, nearly dying himself, and raising two sons with cerebral palsy. His other accomplishments are too numerous to list here (we didn’t even get to the Archives Series or Bridge School benefits), but fans can rest assured that there will be no shortage of Neil Young material in years to come. He recently reunited with Crazy Horse on Americana, and they’ve already recorded another album of new songs. Did we mention he’s 66 years old? -Dan Caffrey


radiohead snl 1 The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 8.2 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  156/97

Being in Radiohead might not be the most physically exhausting gig in rock, but mentally it has to be downright maddening. To be fair, they reap what they sew. The band’s catalogue is a virtual murderer’s row of sonic knockouts, from certified classics like OK Computer and Kid A to ’90s guitar rock masterstrokes like The Bends. Onstage, they only further their legacy, gutting out awe-inspiring marathon sets that most nights clock in around the two-to-three hour mark. There’s a danger to being so consistently good, and following their latest gem, 2011’s The King of Limbs, expectations for the band are practically insurmountable. After almost 20 years of continuously reinventing the pop music landscape, the view from up top has to be flat-out petrifying. But with a track record this good, it’s foolish to expect Thom Yorke and company to lose their footing. -Ryan Bray


rihanna feature The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 7.3 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  121/81

Party girl gimmick aside, Rihanna has always been quite the busy little Barbadian bee. Since 2005, she’s released six albums, almost one a year save for 2008 (although a re-issue of her third LP with new songs did hit stores in June of that year, so she gets partial credit). With each new album comes a massive global tour, complete with over-the-top stage show featuring intricate dance routines and costume changes, and a healthy number of music videos for album singles/stand-out tracks. Rihanna’s also been slowly making her name in Hollywood, appearing Saturday Night Live three times (’09, ’10, ’12), acting as judge on The X Factor, and recently starring in the ultra-horrible Battleship. What makes her hard work that much more satisfying is that, as a full-fledged pop diva, her schedule could be a quarter what it is and she’d still be praised by her legions of adoring fans — pretty inspirational stuff. -Chris Coplan

Robert Pollard

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Stress Level: 7.6 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  175/112

Robert Pollard is a walking paradox. He’s got a work ethic and artistic drive that never quit, and a thirst for the wild side of rock ‘n’ roll that’s equally unquenchable. Such a volatile combination would destroy a lesser person, but at 54, Pollard is a one man wrecking crew still working in high gear. His solo records come with such frequency that even his staunchest supporters struggle to catch their breath, while Guided by Voices has released not one, but two new records since January. And the booze. My God, man, the booze. Watching Pollard at work onstage is enough to give fans a hangover in itself. He works hard and plays harder, and with close to 30 years in the game, it’s fair to say they don’t come more hardened and iron clad than Uncle Bob. -Ryan Bray

The Roots

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Stress Level: 7.5 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  141/95

Releasing four albums in two years and organizing an annual music festival/picnic shindig is plenty to deem The Roots as truly tireless. Yet years of an intense release and touring schedule wasn’t enough for Illadelphia’s finest, so they signed on as Late Night with Jimmy Fallon‘s house band in March 2009. In that time, Questlove and the crew have been a crucial part of the show’s storied series of hilarious and prolific collaborations, pairing up with the likes of Fiona Apple, Justin Vernon, tUnE-yArDs, Beyoncé, and even President Barack Obama himself. Aside from these all-star team-ups, the band has aided in the show’s other historical musical occurrences, most notoriously the Michele Bachmann debacle, which only generated more attention and steam for the Roots musical express. In just a few short years, they’ve offered up volumes of worthwhile musical moments and ensured that millions of viewers stay up late enough to tune in night after night. -Chris Coplan

Ryan Adams

ryan adams 2011 The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 7.0 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure: 

Ryan Adams would release a 15 LP box set of live recordings. He’s that kind of musician—ostensibly releasing everything he records, for better or for worse. This filter-less approach works out for the obsessives who’ve been following him since Whiskeytown and results in the occasional non-album gem (i.e. “Empty Room”, a low-key duet with his wife Mandy Moore). But there’s also been some duds along the way, like the cowpunk non-sense Adams released under the moniker The Shit back in 2006 (an apt moniker, as proven by this bizarre song about Burger King). He used the mp3 medium to show fans his goofier side, intermittently releasing side-projects like The Shit when he wasn’t playing with the Cardinals or working on solo albums. Last year’s Ashes & Fire saw the return of the sensual Ryan Adams–the one who writes ballads instead of comedy songs. Let’s hope he stays that way. -Jon Hadusek

Ty Segall

ty segall The 20 Most Restless Acts in Music Today

Stress Level: 8.3 out of 10.0
Estimated Blood Pressure:  143/91

While Ty Segall’s only recently taken off, the San Francisco garage-psych rocker has been in the game for some time, releasing a slew of splits, EPs, 7″ singles, 12″ singles, and full-length LPs each year. Beyond the sheer number of releases, Segall’s something of an indie booster, releasing his efforts on several smaller labels (Goner, Drag City, etc.) while working with rock contemporaries like Tim Presley (aka White Fence) and Mikal Cronin and Emily Rose Epstein, who together form the Ty Segall Band. Segall’s true restlessness stems from the fact that even after creating a massive back catalog that some artists couldn’t match in 20-plus years, he’s working tirelessly to increase said pace (at one point this year, he had three albums coming out) and expand into new genres (he’s been at work on an evil space rock/glam record). If you haven’t done so by now, it’s time to get used to the Segall name. -Chris Coplan

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