It’s almost a given that any listing of nerd rock bands will begin with a naval-gazing debate over semantics. I, however, am mostly uninterested in sussing out the finer points of what distinguishes a nerd from a geek, a dork from a dweeb, and so on. Like a game of Dungeons & Dragons, that could stretch on for hours.
“Nerd rock,” which began as a means of describing a laughably niche subculture, is now used to classify groups as varied as GWAR and The Decemberists. That’s to say nothing of the legions of wizard rockers, time lord rockers, twi-rockers, and other subgenres tied to specific works of fantasy or science-fiction. When we can’t even agree on what the word “nerd” means (still a sore subject for the Portland Nerd Council), how can I possibly suppose to present you with this list of 10 nerd rock bands you should know?
Easy — by establishing some ground rules and not thinking too hard about it. Since this week marks the 40th anniversary of Devo’s seminal nerd rock album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, it makes sense to focus on bands that more or less followed in their path (that path being rock, punk, or new wave, vaguely).
That unfortunately leaves no room for the Chameleon Circuits and the Harry and the Potters of the world — artists whose entire raison d’être can be traced back to a single book or television series. It also excludes the nerdcore movement in hip-hop, led by rappers like MC Frontalot and YTCracker and enjoyed by nobody I know personally.
As befits a list with crate-digging intentions, I’ve also left out some of the more obvious touchstones in the nerd rock canon — your Weezers, your They Might Be Giants, your Mothers of Invention, etc. If you don’t see your favorite band among the following … congratulations! Your secret remains safe, and you’re probably a bigger nerd than the rest of us.
On that note, let’s take an intergalactic journey through the nooks and crannies of a particular kind of nerdom — the kind defined by loud guitars, infectious melodies, pop cultural minutiae, and a whole lot of unrequited love. Strap yourself in, because everyone knows seatbelts are for nerds.
Senior Staff Writer