David Kinney: The New Classic Rock
It is no small secret that our generation is afflicted with early onset nostalgia. More than once I’ve found myself in a situation where several people have said aloud their first AOL screen names. The names are nearly always something like BaseballGuy89 or BackstreetLover21 , and they are nearly always met with warm, wistful laughter. A generation 25 years old already has its antiques, its curiosities from yesterday that are fun just to remember.
Whatever explains this collective nostalgia trip, those who monetize culture have caught on. Nickelodeon, for instance, airs Doug and Rugrats after midnight. I refuse to accept that the words “high, nostalgic 22-year-old kids” were not uttered in the Viacom boardroom during discussions that led to this programming decision.
Nostalgia, of course, has always sold; we need look no further than FM radio, a stalwart holdover from an old-media world. If you are like me and you often forget to bring an iPod adapter on long car rides, then you know that every moderately populated region of the United States has the same station, just with a different name and number: the classic rock station. The spot on the dial changes with every 20 miles you push the Subaru you borrowed up 1-91, but the music remains the same: a litany of guitar-driven hits that came out between 1965 and 1988. It ranges from the excellent — Janis Joplin, something from Led Zeppelin II, something from Revolver or Exile on Main Street, something from Appetite for Destruction, Bowie, late Clash, etc. — to the truly awful — Journey, Boston, Aerosmith, and Mr. Neil Young.
I would argue that this genre is not really ‘classic’ rock, at least not for people our age. The word ‘classic’ does not just mean old. Something that is classic within a particular cultural realm is supposed to serve as a model, something of a how-to guide for making art within that realm. In theater and literature and art and philosophy, the Greeks and Romans apparently fulfill this role that for us; that’s why you can major in classics.
Are the Greeks and Romans of guitar-driven music still Led Zeppelin? A quick glance at the canonical influences of today’s rock yields instead a diverse array of older bands, bands who might be famous now, but certainly weren’t in their time: The Velvet Underground, Big Star, Joy Division, Mission of Burma, Gang of Four, Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Fugazi, etc. 
But there is a second meaning to the word ‘classic,’ and that is the one I am concerned with here. Often the term is used simply to denote that which makes us nostalgic and sentimental. As far ‘classic rock’ is concerned, the scenario goes like this: Dad in the suburbs hears Ke$ha on the way back from soccer practice and equates that with “music these days.” Then he drops off the daughters and turns the dial to 104.3. He hears “The Weight,” and leaves smugly satisfied that music was better “back in the day.” Something is classic in part because it reminds us of a supposedly better time in the past.
As much as I want to yell in this apocryphal suburban dad’s face about how The Rural Alberta Advantage is better than nine-tenths of his cherished discography, the reality is that a part of me shares his sentiment, albeit with a truncated time frame. While similar in style and quality with much of what comes out today, the music that came out between 2001 and 2004 nevertheless sounds different to me. It sounds more innocent, more vulnerable, more exuberant and more fun, because it comes from a time in my life when I was that way.
That’s the thing about nostalgia, about classic rock. It sounds better not because of the music, but because it is from when we were kids. We will always miss being kids. So while there’s a 22-year-old in me who wants listen to Kurt Vile and fall asleep at midnight on a Thursday, there’s also a 14-year-old who wants to steal his parents’ vodka and listen to “New York City Cops” on repeat.
So for the sake of nostalgia, here’s my nomination for the essential, if somewhat brief, New Classic Rock playlist. I don’t pretend like these songs aren’t well known or popular. They are. But that’s exactly what classic rock and nostalgia are about: telling you what you already know you like.
- The Strokes – “Someday.” To my 12-year-old self, this song and its accompanying video might as well have been subtitled “How to Be Cool.” I don’t care that they didn’t live up to the hype, that they suck and hate each other now, or that they were basically born into fame. There was a time and a place for me when the Strokes were the coolest thing in the world.
- Mando Diao – “Can’t Steal My Love.” The most tragically overlooked band of the era, part of the ‘Swedish Invasion’ that never really was. I love the line in this song where he talks about asking a girl he met at the library if she wants to watch Kids with him.
- The Libertines – “What A Waster.” The runaway-train dual guitar work and casual allusions to a drugged-out performance piece of a life sounded edgy and cool when I was 14.
- The Hives – “Main Offender.” Howlin’ Pele Almqvist, please get 10 years younger and teach us all over again how the lead singer of a rock band is supposed to swagger.
- The White Stripes – “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart.” Elephant was the best album of 2003, and this was maybe the best song on it. Jack White’s confessional, self-deprecating lyrics and mournful slide guitar made me want to have feelings I didn’t have yet.
- The Thrills – “One Horse Town.” The guys all used to make fun of me for liking this underappreciated Irish band that broke up too soon. Being a socially anxious early teenager, I stopped championing them in public, and I’ll always regret it. This song is so fucking good.
- The Rapture – “House of Jealous Lovers.” The Rapture are getting famous now because everybody sounds like they did in 2003. The girls I knew all loved this when it came out, and us guys didn’t get it. We were wrong.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps.” The best rock song of the previous decade.
- Kings of Leon – “Trani.” I hesitated to put this on here because I didn’t want to come off as one of those assholes going on about how much better some world-famous band’s earlier stuff was, but this effort from the Followill boys beautifully evokes a down-and-out Southern mythos while it builds to a manic crescendo. It still sounds fresher than anything they’ve put out since.
- The Raveonettes – “Attack of the Ghost Riders.” The Raveonettes are still making great music, but I had to pick this because of all the hard-edged, female-vocalized punk this turned me onto. I never would have listened to X-Ray Spex if I hadn’t listened to the Raveonettes first. I’m sure there are other men out there who followed this trajectory, and it’s a good thing.
Guilty Pleasure Bonus Track: All American Rejects – “Swing Swing.” This was decidedly too Midwestern-emo-kid, too heavily rotated on mainstream radio, for any of us to take seriously when it came out. Even though we all made fun of it, I think we all knew in the back of our heads what a great song it was. Not that I still listen to it or anything.
Maybe music was better in the good old days that we are too young to have.
1 Cultural context aside, no one should’ve let their daughter use this name on the Internet.
2 Part of this has to do with the fact that guitar-driven music isn’t as popular a form as it once was. A rock band today is less likely to expect to make hits, and therefore more likely to derive from esoteric influences.
About David Kinney: David Kinney graduated from Dartmouth College in June 2011 and now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. He needs to get better at not leaving dishes on his nightstand.
Emily Arnow: Dubbing It Down
Just as every generation before has found its voice in song and music, so to have the Millennials.
Yet, unlike the movement for peace in the Bob Dylan era, or empowerment and individuality that even Madonna promoted in her early years, this generation’s choice of inspirational music is a cacophony sounds and bass trebles. I am talking about the controversial music genre called Dubstep.
Originating in the U.K. during the late ’90s, Dubstep began, as many emerging music movements do, in small clubs and secret concert venues, weaving the “trance noise” in and out of mainstream songs. As “the DJ” grew to become as celebrated as the lead guitarist once was, Dubstep crept its way from those underground night clubs, to house parties, to tracks on Britney Spears latest album.
Yet the “womping” doesn’t just stop at the music alone, it symbolizes so much more. In the same fashion that Janis Joplin, Jimmy Page, and Jimmi Hendrix inspired a generation to come together, embrace one another through lyrics, style of dress, and use of drugs, Dubstep has done the same.
Instead of long hippy skirts, tye dye shirts, daisy chains and marijuana, the youth today celebrating this movement don neon spandex, crop tops, bejeweled face paint, and headpieces — ecstasy tablets adorning their outstretched tongues. Festivals, just like modern day Woodstocks, have sprung up all around the country; showcasing Dubstep, light shows and neon. And just like those hippy dippie tye dyed venues, these Dubstep concerts draw thousands and thousands.
So what does this mean for this generation of music? Having recently graduated from a school heavy in to trends and youth culture, one would think I would be fully involved in all that Dubstep has to offer. But, I’m not.
In fact, I hate the genre, movement and music all together. In truth, I find it depressing to see a generation of kids, all born in the economic upturn of the ’80s, silver spoons in mouth, with education values surpassing any group before us, become so caught up in this drug-induced, meaningless culture.
It’s true, it was the same in the ’60s, when loyalists of the Grateful Dead were dropping acid or smoking joints to enhance their experience. Yet, those festivals in the ’60s represented more than drugs, they represented change, hope and peace; the drugs were subordinate and, deep down, took away from the movement itself.
Dubstep, in contrast, is a genre of song and beats produced by DJs and laptops: There are little to no words, and bass vibrations spew about creating a sense of Nirvana when under the influence of rave worthy substances. The neon light shows, featuring men on stilts and fuzzy balloon animals, cater to desires of an ecstasy trip. It’s an excuse to zone out, tune in, and go along for the ride.
Woodstock stood for a voice of unity, and brought the youth of America together in the face of a war which stood for nothing in an era of confusion, economic unrest, and dismay.
Ironically, that landscape didn’t look that different from the one today. We have multiple devastating wars with young men and women being killed left and right, a disastrous economy providing no jobs , and a political landscape brutality disjointed. We are coming apart at the seams. So isn’t this the part were the youth of America gets angry and vows to change the world? Apparently not for Millennials.
Instead of protests, songs full of hope and truth and letters to our congressmen, the Millenials are dropping out, drugging up, and spending their parents money on American Apparel jumpsuits.
Does is make me a traitor to my generation if I find it sad to see hoards of my peers strung out, seemingly lost between the easy spending boom of the ’80s teens and the over-committed, over-achieving kids of the ’00s?
We have been told since birth we could do anything and be anyone we wanted. We could change the world. We could rewrite all our parents mistakes. Maybe it was just all too much to live up to, and maybe we have forgotten what a key piece of history we have a chance to change.
I hope for my generations sake, and for the sake of things to come, that this community that Dubstep has created does not become the mark of a generation drugged, a generation lost, or generation uninspired, but a generation who can come together and fight for a better tomorrow and the future we were always told we could have.
About Emily Arnow: Born in New Jersey and raised in Massachusetts, I dance like an extra in a George Michael music video and sing like a deaf Nora Jones. Clever movies, peonies, Chapsticks, puns, leather handbags and yellow lab puppies are all interests of mine and I would one day like to use my English degree to get paid for coming up with the names of OPI nail polish colors.
Jonathan Tanners: Tweets Is Watching: A Review of Drake’s Take Care
When Thank Me Later dropped in 2009, I couldn’t stand Drake. I found him disingenuous, self-absorbed, annoying, and, while technically proficient, flatly mechanical.
But two years is a long time for a young artist and a young listener, particularly in the current time-crunch environment. Every year feels like five and we are bombarded with one release after another, devouring fruit and spitting out the seeds at lightning speed.
Drake took his time with Take Care. It shows in craft if not necessarily in personal growth.
TC is not revolutionary. It is not as emotionally raw as mentor Kanye‘s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or as stuntastic as Watch the Throne. It’s never as daring or incisive as contemporary (and collaborator) Kendrick Lamar‘s Section.80 or as radio ready as boss man Lil Wayne‘s most recent hits.
TC is, however, a polished pop rap statement, a finely calibrated hybrid creation that meets at the bleeding edges of pop, rap and R&B without daring to jump off them and really dive into the unknown. It is accessible without pandering (terrible Rihanna cameo excepted). Although it isn’t precisely catchy — it’s hard to peg a mega-hit on TC — it is a proper album rather than a semi-complementary set of songs.
In an era of the album as relic, Drake crafted a work of surprising coherence. The production, provided primarily by T-Minus and Drake’s partner in crime Noah “40” Shebib, comprises a cohesive combination of 808′s and Heartbreak inflected soundscapes (a style Drake and 40 have been mining since So Far Gone) and stadium-ready synths. For good measure, Just Blaze stops by to remind listeners of the block rocking tendencies lying dormant in the bubblegum maestro of “Live Your Life.” Blaze’s “Lord Knows” brings out one of Drake’s best stretches of rapping on TC and a memorable verse from the seemingly unimpeachable Rick Ross.
Though Drake hasn’t learned any new tricks to accompany the improved beat selection, he has focused his complement of skills. His flows are sharper (see “HYFR” for a jaw dropping technical display that would floor you were it not coming from the author of “Find Your Love”), his singing is smoother and more confident, his punch lines are generally less forehead-slap inducing (and a much smaller part of his arsenal than in past years) and his sing-song rapping is almost on 50 Cent levels (Now let that man write some choruses for you, Aubrey!).
Of course, the album and its creator will garner much hatred and likely go platinum in the process. At this point making fun of Drake is great sport. It is a favorite game of the blogosphere, manifesting itself in often hilarious memes, and blogger Big Ghost’s uproarious reviews. None of that prevents TC from being an excellent pop rap album. Criticizing Take Care for not being something else (or criticizing Drake for being “soft”) is like getting mad at an apple for not tasting like an orange. It is not supposed to, so why get mad at it when it doesn’t deliver? Just eat the damn orange!
If you don’t plan to listen to TC in its entirety at least listen to “Lord Knows,” possibly the best encapsulation of Drake’s strengths and flaws as a rapper. In one breath he drops the astute and unforeseen: “They take the greats from the past and compare us/ I wonder if they’d ever survive in this era/ In a time when it’s recreation/ To pull all your skeletons out the closet like Halloween decorations,” a line that both cleverly critiques his contemporaries, implicates himself in the process and utilizes a rhyme scheme that plays on expectations. In another instance, boneheaded blunder: “I’m a descendent of either Marley or Hendrix/ I haven’t figured it out cause my story is far from finished.” Here we see the outsized sense of self and place and the misunderstanding of what makes a legend legendary (that Drake would be just as apt to criticize in a generation of the self absorbed).
And so, it’s time for a grand statement:
Drake is the artist of this generation.
In an age of constant public introspection — of the Facebook break up and Twitter beef — Drake is a rapping extension of his age group, an artist whose first album is more memorable for the fact that it featured the word “I” over 400 times than it is for any of its songs. His persona colors his worldview completely, every observation overwhelmed by his own experience (for simple comparison, see how Kendrick can step outside himself briefly on songs like “A.D.H.D.,” weaving the deeply personal with objectivity required to critique surroundings).
Drake is a constant stream of emotions and status updates, a half rapping half singing Michelin rated FourSquare check in, Tweeting his way across 17 tracks. On Take Care, Drake turns these characteristics up to 11, making high drama of a text message conversation on “HYFR” and speaking at great length of parties and locales experienced through the eyes of a cagey, young superstar. Drake’s on record character and content have changed little since his major label debut (though he is light years stylistically from the artist who unleashed “Best I Ever Had” on an unsuspecting public). He simply seems more comfortable now expressing his weaknesses, his triumphs and his pitfalls. Just as a group of 12-24 year olds have grown into the ubiquitous over share, Drake has crafted a style that allows him to constantly and cleverly play the part of a rapping news feed.
Ultimately, TC‘s greatest failing is part and parcel of a world marked by constant sharing: Drake says a lot without really saying much of anything at all. We have a catalog of the man’s activities by the end of the record, but we really only come close to knowing what they mean on a handful of songs. Album highlight “Look What You’ve Done” is TC‘s shining example of real emotion, a bittersweet tribute to Drake’s mother and uncle that brings listeners into Drake’s past, providing understanding of motivation and mindset far better than any other record on Thank Me Later or TC. “Look What You’ve Done” points at what Drake might be if he took more than stylistic cues from some of his heroes.
While Lil Wayne could likely learn from Drake in the way of focus (hold up TC to the mess of Tha Carter 4 and tell me there aren’t lessons to be learned from Wayne’s protege), Drake could take much from Wayne, Kanye, and even Kendrick Lamar in terms of delivering raw and occasionally reckless emotion. Drake admits as much on “Lord Knows:” – “And this girl right here, who knows what she knows?/ So I’m going through her phone if she go to the bathroom/ And her purse right there, I don’t trust these hoes at all/ But that’s just the result of me paying attention.” His paranoia gets the best of him. Every word is utterly calculated, every reference measured and the nameless array of women on display an acknowledgment that Drake can never be totally comfortable letting it all show in an age of 24 hour expression and TMZ as legitimate news outlet.
If he can keep TC‘s aesthetic focus and marry it with the depth of feeling displayed on “Look What You’ve Done,” Drake will have a seriously compelling piece of music on his hands. For now, enjoy Take Care for what it is or go and listen to the latest Wu Tang compilation. It’s your call.
(All lyrics found at rapgenius.com)
About Jonathan Tanners: Born, raised, and educated in New York City (from ’88 til infinity), I’ve spent the better part of my life listening to, thinking about, and waxing philosophical on Hip-Hop to ex-girlfriends, my parents, and, hell, anyone who will listen. I have a deep passion for music, film and art — the characters that defined their pasts and the budding technologies that map their futures. In my dreams I am some combination of Rick Rubin, Woody Allen, and Patrick Ewing, but my basketball career regrettably ended in 9th grade, so I’m probably going to have to settle for a mix of the first two.
Jonah Bromwich: The Singles File — Georgia Anne Muldrow — “Seeds” (Produced by Madlib)
Georgia Anne Muldrow believes that the children are our future, but instead of belting out an anthem about it, she keeps the sentiment toned down, putting together a song that sounds mildly anxious as opposed to full-on terrified. Muldrow is a staple of the socially conscious R&B camp; not so much Badu-lite as a Badu you may not have heard of before. Here, with a huge assist from prolific beat-junkie Madlib, she births a fully-formed soul song from the still-kicking body of another, a paean to the importance of kids that links them to, well, plants. If this feels like a bit of an eye-roll don’t worry; the message comes second to a driving, fluid soul that’s occasionally punctuated by hints of subtle funk. Muldrow’s voice works perfectly in tandem with the sample, so perfectly comfortable within the pocket of the sound that it feels like she was in the studio when the original was made. The track fits the political inclinations of a lot of people I know: worrying in a vague, open-ended way about the future of the children and the world and lamenting such without actually making a salient point or even bothering to care past the point of aesthetic bliss. Which, by the way, is something that this song understands perfectly.
Muldrow is a soul-singer on the L.A. label Stones Throw Records. Georgia Anne Muldrow and Madlib are releasing a full-length collaborative project due out on March 27.
About Jonah Bromwich: Jonah Bromwich is a romantic who’s terrible with romance, a music critic who readily concedes that nearly anyone could write about music and, of course, an aspiring writer. He’s big into rap, beat music, pop but will pretty much write about any kind of music. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., he now lives in New York, working in PR and writing on the side. Send him songs, tell him what you think or insult him mercilessly at Jonah.Bromwich@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @Jonesieman.