The Strokes appear to be the latest in an endless string of bands struggling with a case of the Beatles. This curse isn’t about the uncertainty of whether you’re going to reach the same level of fame as the Beatles; only rappers and an occasional Irish band flirt with such hubris. Rather, the nature of this curse is that almost every band since said Beatles has been left with the belief that artistic vibrancy demands that you dramatically evolve your sound over the course of your career.
The result of this curse is that even diehard fans have an album or two from their favorite artists that they can barely identify and wish they could forget. I, for one, am forever left with the image of Eddie Vedder holding (and playing) a ukulele.
A few weeks ago, The Strokes released a curveball that sounded like A-Ha without the wink. Motives unclear, fellow parents everywhere feared that The Strokes had gone from spelling us from kids’ music to covering such.
With its slouchy swagger and doo-wop touches, The Generationals produce pop music put through a musical Hipstamatic. But this woozy jangle is the perfect pop soundtrack for the afternoon interlude between Easter feasts.
Here’s a new song from The Strokes: their first new release in five years. And, as we do when any once-loved band releases a new song after a long hiatus, we have to hold our breath and see if we once again have to blame the Beatles.
It used to be, more often than not, artists had grooves. You had a band, you had a sound, you wrote songs that sounded like… well, you. But then the Beatles blast through town with their constant reinvention and everything goes up for grabs. Artists who are lucky enough to have found huge success with one sound feel compelled to keep mixing up their style in the spirit of creativity. (Side note: very few hip-hop artists are afflicted with this restlessness. A topic for a future post.)
But this relentless restlessness has its ripple effects: fans start to sniff at follow-up records, dismissing them by saying “it sounds just like their last album.” Why, for a band that you already really like, is that such a bad thing? The Beatles, that’s why.
When asked about their upcoming release, The Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valenti said that they inevitably would find themselves battling “Chinese Democracy Syndrome.” Not sure if that is a reference to unfortunate applications of headbands or equally-tragic cameos on the Super Bowl, but I can say that The Strokes have avoided that (whatever it is) and have also dodged The Beatles Syndrome.
Here’s a song that sounds just like them, and thank goodness.
With the digitally driven democratization of music creation, what can we call an instrument these days? Who qualifies as a musician?
As it often is, the purist’s argument is tempting. It’s easy to clear one’s throat, gather the right gravitas of righteous indignation, and proclaim that instruments are what instruments have been: the presence of a demo version of Garage Band on your Mac doesn’t create music any more than does Guitar Hero.
As a music fanatic, I almost feel compelled to take a stand on this side of exclusivity. The respect I have for live musicians borders on reverence, and its rarity elevates the impact of this talent.
But here’s the thing: I have (almost) enough respect for what people can create through the re-mix. The ability to take create an entire song around a sample is the background of hip-hop music. With that fact, the turntable became an instrument. And the more recent technology that enables us to create music from a hyper-kinetic tableau of pop culture (think Girl Talk) has turned the laptop into an instrument. Yes, it has.
Now just because you know how to loop a beat doesn’t mean that you have musical talent. Trust me, I know this from experience. Aside from spectacularly futile short-term jaunts with the clarinet and the guitar, I’ve had no success whatsoever with traditional instruments. I guess that’s one of the reasons that I’ve been drawn to dj-ing: considering my creation as the selection and sequencing of music. Using ideas and juxtapositions and builds to create and bend moods and atmospheres. I’m still somewhat amateurish at it, but it’s quite fun and quite the creative challenge. Here’s an old mix that I hadn’t shared digitally prior to now. Enjoy this mix from 2003, I’d imagine for some of you it will be a nice bit of nostalgia and for others perhaps a bit of a musical discovery. If all goes well, you should be able to click here and download the zip file with the music. If that link doesn’t cooperate, try this one: http://www.mediafire.com/file/ujvy1tnzydo/Holiday%20Mix%202003.zip
And here’s the track list. Do hope you enjoy it, holler if there’s anything that you’re particularly liking. Am I a musician? Probably not. But an improving dj? Perhaps.