For my inaugural post, I've got two things on my mind:
1) In today's Best New Music review of current blog flavor-of-the-second, Vampire Weekend's debut album, the reviewer makes extensive comparisons with the Strokes. It's an amusing comparison that should have occurred to me long ago. They don't particularly sound alike-- for those who don't follow these kinds of things, VW sound basically like the Shins, et al, but with the added gimmick of using clean, arpeggiated, vaguely African sounding guitars, a la Paul Simon's Graceland. It's actually a pretty good gimmick, and they have a handful of really enjoyable pop songs. The problem is, like The Strokes, they are Upper ___ Side preppy douchebags to some degree, and so there's a natural hate instinct.
That aside, it inspired me to pull out The Strokes' Is This It. It's an interesting album for several reasons.
- It was arguably the first indie album to receive the kind of huge substance-less internet hype that is now routine within the blogosphere, despite the fact that there was no such thing at the time.
- It was released in September 2001, and as such, one of its tracks, "New York City Cops," was pulled from the American release out of sensitivity for New York's Finest after 9/11. An amusing time capsule/reminder of those weird days when everyone was so freaked out and worried about upsetting people. Today, with the Giuliani campaign, 9/11 is on the verge of becoming a punchline.
- Divorced from the hype, it's actually a pretty good pop album. It's derivative as hell and wears its influences loudly on its sleeve, but so does much of rock and roll. And beyond the obvious New York proto-punk influences that people focused on at the time (because they were so absent from mainstream music) it's interesting now to hear the more straightforward pop and Motown that was just as present in their sound. The playing is simple, the guitars/bass/drums intersect in interesting ways and the vocal melodies are pretty damn infectious. It's got some filler, and the band was comprised of the worst kind of proto-hipsters, but I'll actually defend this record.
Interestingly, the Strokes and the Shins followed a similar trajectory-- strong first album (though the hype for the Shins post-dated that album's release), second album that doesn't sound too different and arguably builds on the strengths of the first, seriously lackluster third album. I see that pattern more and more these days. I think the concept of the sophomore slump is giving way to what I guess would be called the junior slump.
2) Appropriately for my first post, the Beatles. I have nothing original to add to what has been written about the Beatles, except to note that in my boredom at work, I have started listening to all of the Beatles albums in chronological order (since I haven't listened to a Beatles album in a good year or two, having memorized almost every note). Please Please Me, their debut, is an absolute revelation. It's by far the most primitive and stripped down of their albums (most of it was recorded in one marathon all-day session), but listening this time I was absolutely blown away by, in particular, the sophistication of their harmonies. Though they don't get into the worldess doo-wop contrapuntal vocals that Brian Wilson would use to perfection during the Pet Sounds era, the harmony lines are amazingly unpredictable. They use all kinds of contrary motion, and never do the lazy back-up-vocalist-occasionally-singing-a-third-above-the-lead thing that so many "Beatles-influenced" pop bands do now.
Listen to a song like "Please, Please Me" and seriously try and figure out what's going on there-- especially in the bridge, on the line, "Whoah yeah, why do you make me blue." Or, even better, "P.S. I Love You." It's one of Paul's earliest and dippiest dippy love songs, but listen to the way the harmonies come in at the top of every other measure during the verses. They're so dark and weird, especially given how corny the song is. Or, "There's a Place"-- check out the blend between John and Paul on "And it's my miiiiiind..." Perfect.
(embedding youtube isn't working on this computer, so you'll just have to take my word for it).