Speaking of pop music’s archives fever, here’s an inside look at the recycling aesthetic at the heart of hip-hop production.
Watch these producers take the raw cultural materials of the past and rework them for the present.
All music is based on appropriation. Jazz musicians build motifs and solos from standards; rock bands turn out the same chords show after show. Millions of Americans danced (or winced) their way through cover band sets and DJs last weekend. Rather than dismissing sampling, then, it is better to ask: to what end is music appropriated?
This video doesn’t answer the question, but it offers a fascinating look at the process.
At some point in your life, someone will try to tell you that noodling jam bands, wispy art rock, odd time signatures, and unstructured song-writing are more rewarding—in their intelligence, you see—than the more pedestrian pleasures for which most of us line up at the trough, week after week, to consume like barnyard animals. And sometimes they will be right.
I’ll give you an example. There is a moment in the middle of “Epitaph” on King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King that is sublimely transcendent. Under the right circumstances, it can carry you away, making apparent all of the pain and promise of the sixties in one brief chord progression. I have been moved by “Epitaph” and inspired by the entire album since a too-young age, probably twenty years. But such moments are ephemeral. In the Court of the Crimson King marked the one moment when King Crimson was a coherent band, rich with ideas; 1969 was one of only a few moments when “art” rock could move into the “real” world, “Epitaph” one of only a few songs capable of translation in that world.
Pretend’s Tapestry’d Life is nothing like In the Court of the Crimson King, but it comes close at times. It offers no era-defining moments or spine-tingling chord progressions, to be sure. But it’s not bad, either. The opening track “Wrapped in Fantasy” is cerebral and interesting, firmly planted upon the ground–unlike most other songs of its kind. All of songs are similarly grounded, and all are rich with ideas. “Patternless Tide” is a wandering yet promising reflection, but it kicks off a long series of introspections during which the band points in countless interesting directions but seems to complete few ideas. “Doors” is a reward for the patient listener in the middle of this long experiment, but its rewards, too, are ephemeral and easily forgotten. Tapestry’d Life is heavy with promise but its rewards are sparse.
The problem lies in the genre itself. The boundaries of ideas are rarely so apparent in the pulpy paperback music most of us enjoy. In pointing to new ideas, Pretend–like most “post-” whatever bands–also point squarely at their own inability to realize them. The result sounds like a band straining against its own limitations as it attempts to deal with complexity—which does not make for a satisfying rock album, but is not without its rewards.