Rock has been around the block a few times in the past half century. It seems almost like every pop hook, guitar riff, and chord progression has been used a thousand times before. When artists come up with a great new melody, there's always a nagging doubt as to whether or not someone else has used it already.
So how do artists today deal with this kind of uncertainty? They get creative. Probably the best example of this in the modern day scene is Iron & Wine. Less known by his real name, Sam Beam, I&W made his name down in Florida by sharing his extremely lo-fi recordings of his plucking and whisper-singing, coupled with the great array of sounds intertwined. Take a listen to his newest album, The Shepherd's Dog. Then take about 5 more listens, and I guarantee you'll find new things each time that you didn't before.
Bands with this kind of theory layer their music with so many different instruments and every day objects that it becomes a journey to spin their album and pull out all the sounds. When used correctly, it has the ability to make the music tremendously enjoyable.
It isn't hard to look back in time and find the forefather of this technique. Pink Floyd pioneered this movement, utilizing airplanes, screams, cash registers, cuckoo clocks, spoken voices, children's choirs, and countless others to buffer tracks from Pink Floyd's extensive discography. How they were able to stay so far ahead of the times and still top the vast majority of contemporary acts is as far beyond me as that other side of the moon.
Smaller bands today have brought in this style and created a nice little niche for them in the scene. Arizona band What Laura Says essentially takes it, crafts it and molds it into their own genre of folk/blues/jazz/rock/alternative/too-many-genres-to-count reminiscent of querk-heroes Animal Collective. Lyrically, this band is far from as fluent as the aforementioned bands, but their debut album is a far cry from anything in the norm. The record sounds like a compilation; Each song sounds like it's from a different band. They change from every genre to style to up-the-sleeve trick with ease from song to song. The querkiness factor is enough to sit down and listen through it all with a perpetual smile.
Even when done subtly, such as the rolling of a film at the beginning and closing of a song, this layering can make all the difference. It makes Faded Paper Figures' "B Film" sound infinitely better. With mature lyrics that reflect the modern turn of music, the clicking beat and flim scrolls turn this into one to remember. Likewise, a tiny indie band from Germany that (surprisingly) no label will sign uses the film scroll. Museum, as they are called, call forth lyrics that would make Roger Waters proud. Many of Museum's sounds appear to be digitally edited instead of scrounged from the crawl space, but they break their music from the zombie pack regardless. It's a wonder why they haven't been picked up yet.
Let's face it. The guitar/bass/drum/vocal combination has been all but exhausted. These days, it takes an extraordinary voice or highly experienced, talent-laden instrumentalists to excel with this now-bland combination. This is why the keyboard and violin are speedily picking up momentum. This is why generic rock is slowing down, and it doesn't help dying major label record sales. With this new generation of small-scale local talents, you have to be bringing everything to the table to avoid the stereotypical pop hooks that attract teenage girls like flies and push away sophisticated listeners like lepers. Bands like Iron & Wine, What Laura Says, Faded Paper Figures, and Museum are doing that, sometimes literally.