Blurring the line between musical genres has become almost de rigueur for “edgy” indie-rock musicians. A couple of days back I was discussing with a friend the amusing (and exquisite) rise of indie-dance: “It was inconceivable in the late 90s to go to the [Empty] Bottle and see indie-rock, punks dancing while the bands were playing.” Although a bit high on hyperbole, the point is well stated: for a time certain brands of music had become decidedly insular. But then dance beats and rhythms infused their way into traditionally staid and somber indie repertoires and the kids were getting all pumped on glow-sticks and strobe light effects. Personally, I am all for blurring the lines of art. Not to get all academic and intellectual, but it’s essentially the Hegelian Dialectic in effect – from two oppositional or contrary notions, a third idea will emerge that is synthesis and (arguably) progress. (For the scholarly set, this is an un-nuanced description, I know.) Fast forward to the 21st Century where there rarely are only two ideas or forces acting against each other; these days, culture/music/art is ever more a blending and melding of oppositional or non-related forms. (In case you are wondering, yes I was an English Lit/Crit major.)
Enter the Brooklyn by way of Philly singer/songwriter Santigold. On her second album, Master of My Make-Believe, she continues the musical meshing and fusion project of Santogold and, in my opinion, improves on the promise of that record. What engrossed me by Santigold on her debut was always the unbridled creative energy and rawness of her music. Curiously, what inspires my excitement for her new record is the precision and polish of its songwriting and production. “This Isn’t My Parade” (of which I previously wrote) and “The Riot’s Gone” are slow, disarmingly simple-sounding but intricately layered and well-crafted tracks. In tempo and feel, “The Riot’s Gone” reminds me a great deal of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps”. Both are pensive and inquisitive depicting the songwriter coming to an awareness of the changing landscape of the present, in other words, it sounds like they are “growing up.” I don’t mean to suggest that either Santigold or Karen O were immature, but these songs are powerful because of their honesty: the songwriter is exposing herself, questioning and uncertain of the right answers. Contrast these two songs against Santigold’s “You’ll Find a Way” or the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Our Time” (from their debut EP), both of which illustrate a youthful single-mindedness and unabashed belief in the self and ideas. For me this is what makes following artists enjoyable, watching the personal and emotional development.
But, maturation does not equal a retreat on creative energy and passion, Santigold still has a great deal of self-confidence as displayed in the opening track “Go!” (“People want my power and they want my station, stole my winter palace but they couldn’t take it“), perhaps the best example of her cross-genre aesthetic on the record (e.g., English dub, Euro and 90s electronica, Indian house, 80s new wave, etc.) and a great dance-floor banger! Also, she’s not afraid to get musically confrontational and lyrically aggressive , see “Fame” and “Look at these Hoes”. However, of the up tempo numbers, “The Keepers“, a song about distracting oneself from underlying problems on a grand scale, is far and away the stand-out with its Kim Wilde “Kids in America” allusions in the intro/chorus and the early 80’s Prince-like inflections. (If not already re-mixed, this would be my choice…) Enough talking, do some listening…
To Listen to Master of My Make-Believe in its entirety, click here.
In other news… so much backwards looking for inspiration these days.
For the 90s alternative rock lovers:
It also makes me want to go back to the first track I heard from them: “Lazy Eye” – Please note: To be played LOUD! (but make sure not at the beginning, it blows up.) Never seen these guys live but would love to. I can only imagine its distortion heaven.
The Dead Sea Scrolls of Shoegazer Rock have been remastered and reissued on CD: My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything, Loveless and EPs 1988-1991. If you love this band and/or its progeny, these should provide countless hours of enjoyment. (Of the three, I am partial to Loveless, perhaps the defining (musical) text of Shoegazer rock.) Here is a link to order any of the three via Insound.
- For those curious, here is a fairly short and accurate definition of Shoegazer from Wikipedia: “The shoegazing sound is typified by significant use of guitar effects, and indistinguishable vocal melodies that blend into the creative noise of the guitars.”
For the neo folk-rock lovers:
Yellow Ostrich’s “Elephant King” – This is what you get when you mix Tallest Man on Earth with uppers. Seriously, a great track of folk-infused-indie-dance rock. (I don’t have enough hyphens).
To the Mothers, an early Happy Mother’s Day!
To the children, partners, siblings and friends do not forget!