Sunday, February 08, 2009

word is there's a new girl in town

Right when muxtape collapsed, I had this idea for a mix. It turned into a CD that I sent to a few tolerant friends. The premise of the CD had to do with derivation. When Jet first released Look What You’ve Done, a whole lot of us thought they were trying to trick people into thinking they were the Beatles. When The Silversun Pickups released Lazy Eye, I had to listen carefully before discerning that it was not in fact an unreleased Smashing Pumpkins song.

Of course, in neither of those instances did I find myself offended by the new songs or bands. I compared that to my reaction of listening to Creed for the first time. I remember feeling absolute rage about that band trying to sound like Pearl Jam. In the 90s, having a deep, low crooning voice filled with angst became so ubiquitous that it turned a lot of people off the original sources.

I like to think the difference has to do with motivation. Those 90s knock-off bands seemed like they sprung up, molded by record companies who seemed to have decided the formula for success was to dress a decent looking fellow in a grunge uniform and put him on stage. It worked too- some of those bands were more accessible, more willing to market themselves and put themselves through the machine, and so they got plenty of radio time.

On the other hand, now when I hear the derivation, when I hear the hints of other songs and bands, I am less cynical about it. I remember now that I’m not a teenager. Now influences from my childhood are blooming forward in interesting ways, I like to think.

If you were going to pick a band to mimic, I doubt a record company would encourage you to try to imitate the Pixies. Critical darlings, sure, but not exactly associated with mainstream, rolling-in-the-green success. So, I don’t really have a bone to pick with Kings of Leon.

W and I used to, sometimes in college, go to these record stores that had listening stations. You threw a big pair of headphones on your head and listened to a few CDs that had just been released. We would, every once in a while, hear something that was familiar. It was familiar because it sounded like some band we had recently heard, or because the lyrics were about something that we seemed to recognize, or because the way something was phrased was just exactly how we would have wanted it put. Whatever the reason, we would glance over at each other and nod, exchanging knowing glances.

I don’t know that W was ever a big Pixies fan. He put up with my fondness for The Breeders, and would patiently listen to me explain the connection. But still, I’d like to think he’d hear these two songs back to back, and we’d be able to smile about the similarities.

Technically, there is a lot that is different between The PixiesGigantic and Kings of Leon’s I Want You. But still, take a listen to the opening bass on both songs and it’s hard to not catch that there’s some connection between the two songs. Me, I’m always going to prefer Gigantic- because that was the first time I heard that moody bass and then the building crush of guitars in Kim Deal’s chorus. Also, I associate the Pixies with adolescence- there was so much subversion in their music that, for an Indian girl growing up in EBF, it always felt like an act of rebellion to listen to them. You always felt you were getting away with something, listening to songs like these.

I Want You, however, is a perfectly respectable song. It’s probably more than that, really. It makes more use of that moody bass, lets it build into a yearning instead of catharsis. It’s not punk like Gigantic. The vibe is more of straight-ahead rock, and so are the lyrics for that matter. Kings of Leon are really good at capturing what the underbelly of a city would sound like.

But I don’t really hold it against them, the similarity between this song and Gigantic, except when I do. A band like Kings of Leon, I’ll always like them. If I was in a bar and their music started playing, I would order myself another drink and settle in for the night. But I find it hard to get hyperbolic in praise about them. It feels instead like they are part of a progression of a sound. So I note them down and think, huh, this is what the Pixies have yielded, cool. I recognize this is faulty thinking- everything was derived from something. Matter is conserved. But still, I find it hard to ignore the past when a bass line in my ear insists on reminding me.

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