Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Everything's Stolen or Borrowed?

From Splice Today, on the release of Helplessness Blues by the Fleet Foxes, and the (sometimes self-conscious) use of old art in new art:

The Fleet Foxes come from a long tradition of pop cleaning up folk sources. Indeed, the tradition is so long that it’s sometimes hard to figure out where the pop starts and the folk ends.... The song “Lorelai” is a tribute to “Fourth Time Around,” Bob Dylan’s snipe at the Beatle’s “Norwegian Wood,” which was itself a tribute to Dylan. “Everything’s stolen or borrowed,” Robin Pecknold sings with just a hint of a nasal tic to remind you of Dylan’s mannered vocals, as the background harmonizers lilts in rapturous layers of pristine production to remind you of the sparse harmonies of John and Paul. The Foxes even include an odd, swirling out-of-time break, as if they lost their sitar and were forced, on the fly, to substitute genius arrangements and a state-of-the-art studio. “I was old news to you then/Old news, old news to you then,” Pecknold repeats on the chorus. Old news is good news, especially when it’s new and shiny and on the web.

He may have a point, to a degree...

The Beatles, "Norwegian Wood"

Bob Dylan, "Fourth Time Around"

Fleet Foxes, "Lorelai"

There is some significant borrowing taking place here. But Splice Today adopts the position that this kind of borrowing is a bad thing:

There’s something disturbing about listening to a band so enthusiastically celebrate the fact that it has no soul.

I agree with Joey. To the extent that one criticizes more modern generations for their retrospective, rather than prospective artist drive, then they should at least cite an example of true ex nihilo artistry for purposes of comparison. Otherwise, let's leave the "soul", whatever that may be, out of it.

1 comment:

  1. The similarity with "Fourth Time Around" is more pronounced in the album version where the guitar is picked through -

    Also, what does this mean? "the ache in Paul Simon’s songs is a plangent lament for the fact that he’s not African, or Brazilian, or something more interesting than a New York Jew. To listen to Graceland is to hear the sound of a contortionist privilege crawling weeping into its own fragrantly thick shithead."

    I can't wrap my mind around the second sentence. It reads like criticism, but I think in the next paragraph he hoped for at least something similar in the Foxes, only to be disappointed that "the past-obsessed Fleet Foxes would have that thin tang of longing as well. But no."

    It's at points like that where I can't stand music criticism. Reviewers end up having to try to make bungling statements about music history and authenticity and thin tangs of longing in the imitations of other bands because, since everyone can just as easily listen to the song for free and decide whether the song itself is good, the reviewer has to make an argument that is immaterial to anyone's enjoyment of the song that explains why you shouldn't actually enjoy it. What it comes down to is - Sure, everyone imitates and borrows, especially in the pop/folk transition, but these guys do it too well or too shamelessly for you to like it without also being disturbed by the soullessness. I feel like he's just sick of saying music is overproduced so he's trying to come up with a different way of saying it.