Part of the problem with contemporary rock is that it has come to include such a wide range of sounds that the term itself has become an almost meaningless description.
Consider, as an example, the Cocteau Twins' performance at the Towson Center last night. Given the band's instrumentation and orientation, it seems accurate enough to refer to their music as rock. But it's kind of like calling a butterfly a bug; it gets the general idea across, but misses all the important details.
This, after all, is a band like no other. Instead of the usual rumble and grind of electric guitars, the Cocteaus' instruments chime and shimmer, coaxing forth soft, billowing clouds of sound that hang like haze behind the melody.
It's a languorous, contemplative sound, yet full of detail and subtle dynamics. "Blue Bell Knoll" opened the show with an urgent synthesizer ostinato pushing ghostly chords across each verse as Liz Frazer spun the vocal line into intricate arabesques. Later, "Pitch the Baby" layered sleigh bell guitars, pulsing synths and a lithe, loping bass line behind a vocal line that glistened like sunlight on a snowbank.
The Cocteau Twins' music leaves quite a lot of room for listener interpretation. Part of that, of course, stems from the group's habit of emphasizing color of harmony and texture over rhythm.
But a fair amount of the blame also lies with Frazer, a singer whose singing is utterly delightful from a musical standpoint but thoroughly incomprehensible when it comes to lyrics. For Frazer, words are just sounds, and sounds can be stretched like Silly Putty.