Writing about World Music

Section X, Fall 2016

Author: evblanpied

The Funk

Even though everyone’s music tastes change over time, one genre has always been among my favorites: funk.  Part of what I like so much about funk is its ability to blend in with and fit in easily with many other genres.

My first exposure to funk was when I stumbled across Snarky Puppy’s song “Quartermaster.”  Snarky Puppy employs a sound of jazz funk fusion and uses many types of instrumentation to create songs that are often loud and fast but sometimes smooth and rhythmic.  In “Quartermaster,” the composer wrote the song so that it sounds like each part is trying to do their own thing, and the result is hectic and sounds pretty cool to me.

I’ve always been a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, but only after I started listening to more and more funk music did I begin to truly appreciate the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  This album is a great example of funk being synthesized with other genres; RHCP’s unique blend of punk, rock, and funk are awesome.  The Chili Peppers don’t really sound that funky in some of their more recent stuff, but BSSM has some of the greatest funk rock grooves I’ve ever heard.

Another one of my favorite funk bands is Vulfpeck, a band that takes a more minimalist approach to funk than other bands (like Snarky Puppy).  Vulfpeck consists of drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, and vocals in a few songs.  I really like their bass-heavy grooves coupled with high-pitched vocals, like in the song “1612.”

BadBadNotGood are another band who combine funk with another genre to great effect.  Their funky style and collaboration with hip-hop and rap artists like Ghostface Killa and Tyler the Creator.  Their music is very experimental and avant-garde, and some may say that is transcends all genres and creates something unique.

I Don’t Like Coldplay

This week I wanted to write my blog about something that seems like it might be an unpopular opinion among my classmates: my dislike for Coldplay.  To be clear, I’m not writing this post just to be antagonistic, I just want to  express my feelings about an issue that I take seriously.

In my opinion, there are three main reasons that Coldplay sucks.  First, they’re incredibly vanilla and bland.  Second, Chris Martin’s lyrics are boring.  Third, everyone still likes them despite all this.

Coldplay’s music is, in my opinion, boring, unoriginal, and forgettable.  It’s the type of music your mom says she likes when she’s trying to be cool and listen to current songs.  They are very reluctant (or maybe unable) to create any sort of musical originality, a fault that manifests itself in bland piano-pop abominations like A Rush of Blood to the Head.  While they have progressed sound-wise since their beginning, they have done everything but good-music-wise.  They feed off of what’s currently popular, changing to a more pop-sound for Ghost Stories for example.

Another part of what really irks me about Coldplay is that many people  see them as poets for some reason, beautifully expressing their feelings through the power of emotionally-charged lyrics.  If you ask me, that’s major bullcrap.  Their lyrics are almost as boring as the music itself.  They seem like something an angsty high schooler would write in his diary.  Martin’s ability to connect with such a large audience shouldn’t be attributed to him tapping into an extremely deep and emotional part of his soul as much as it should be attributed to his ability to create vague lyrics that makes every 13 year old girl and 40 year old mom feel like he wrote the song just for them.  Some of the lyrics are just dumb, too.  “Every Teardrop is a Waterall”?  Get over yourelf.

Lastly, and maybe most annoyingly in my opnion, is the fact that even though they suck, they’re incredibly, amazingly popular.  They’re so popular that they even let them ruin the haltime show.  I’m pretty sure they’ve never tried to be cool, and I am sure that they’ve never have been cool.  You might think this attitude would turn people off, but you’d be wrong.  That didn’t stop millions of tweens from learning the riff from “Clocks” on piano and somehow turning them into one of the most defining pop-rock icons of our generation.

 

At least they admitted that they’ll never be as good as Radiohead.

Sources consulted:

http://www.ranker.com/list/why-coldplay-sucks/jacob-shelton

https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/coldplay-sucks-right

https://noisey.vice.com/en_us/article/do-they-actually-suck-coldplay-and-the-black-eyed-peas

Are There Musical Geniuses?

In class this week we briefly discussed the existence of “genius” when it comes to music.  Basically, we asked how much influence an individual’s innate musical talent had on their musical abilities later in life.  When I researched this topic, I focused on two people who many consider to be musical geniuses: Mozart and Jimi Hendrix.

In Hendrix’s case, my research showed that his success and recognition was not a product of his God-given talent as much as it was an ability to take lessons from musicians before him and warp them into something new.  Hendrix saw the guitar not as in instrument with rules that had to be followed, but as a tool through which he could create any sound.  As he searched for ways to use these sounds, he learned many of his techniques from his predecessors.  That is, Hendrix’s style is not a completely original invention as much as it is a synthesis of  musical styles and techniques that had already been employed (at least to a certain extent).  For example, Hendrix’s use of feedback (like Jonathan wrote about this week) was inspired by guitarists like Bo Diddley.  Therefore, the guitarist who claimed “the night I was born/Lord I swear the moon turned a fire red” didn’t get his talent at birth. (Despite this lyric, Hendrix was eager to discuss his musical inspirations and most likely would have been the first to admit that his genius was was the result of a combination of others’ greatness.)

Mozart is often considered to be the greatest musical mind ever to have lived.  He wrote his first symphony at the age of eight  after he started composing when he was five.  This seems like pretty strong evidence  that he was naturally a musical genius, but the reality is not so simple.  Mozart’s IQ was estimated to have been in the 125-155 range, which is actually similar to many other famous composers, like Bach and Beethoven.  This seems to suggest that many composers (and maybe other musicians by extension) have above-average intelligence, which play a part in their ability to create music that audiences enjoy.  More intriguing, though, is the idea of domain-specific knowledge, which states that thinking skills are mostly determined by an individuals knowledge of content and that knowledge of content is mostly unique to its topic.  Mozart’s high IQ, consisting mostly of knowledge about music, (while other people either have lower IQs and/or have intelligences that are more spread out between different spheres of knowledge) may explain his abilities.

 

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140924-was-hendrix-really-that-original

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/200806/attaining-musical-genius-is-practice-enough

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9752.00270/pdf

Sympathy for the Devil

This week, I looked for a cover of a song that I found interesting for my blog post.  Eventually I came across the song “Sympathy for the Devil,” which was originally written by the Rolling Stones, but has been covered numerous times by many other bands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBecM3CQVD8

The song, written from the perspective of the Devil, was hugely popular when it was released and has only grown in popularity since.  Its subject matter most likely plays a part in its popularity among audiences and other bands alike; the Devil discussing his power over mankind is a relatively unique topic for a song.

Guns N’ Roses were he first major band to cover the tune, and the success their cover had may have influenced other bands to try the same.  Guns N’ Roses kept the drum intro to the song, but added in an entire drum kit, giving the cover a more rock-like feel.  In addition,  the singer’s voice is distinctively different from Mick Jagger’s, often opting for more of a talk-singing in the beginning of the song before returning to Axl Rose’s distinct style.

The alternative psychedelic rock group Jane’s Addiction covered the song for their 1987 live album, and strayed further from the original than Guns N’ Roses did in some aspects but returned to a more Rolling Stones-esque style in others.  Like Guns N’ Roses, they kept the distinctive drum intro to the song, and the lead singer sounds quite different from Jagger.  However, the guitar solos in their version were more integral to the song’s structure.  Lastly, the overall feeling of energy in the song was dialed back from the original.

Ozzy Osbourne also covered the song.  His version almost eliminates the pitched drums in the beginning of the song, instead allowing the drum kit’s presence to nearly overpower it.  Osbourne also replaces the original guitar part with heavily distorted guitars that are typical of his metal style.  Another Osbourne-like addition to his cover it the addition of a more prominent bassline.

Motorhead is the most recent band to release a cover of the song.  They included their version in their 2015 LP.  Their cover eliminates the pitched drum intro, but the drum kit plays a similar-sounding part in its place.  Like Osbourne’s cover, Motorhead took a more metal approach to the song.  It also  features guitars with heavy distortion, prominent drums, and a lead voice that is gruff and violent.

What is Authentic Music?

The topic we discussed in class this week that most interested me was the authenticity of music.  So, I decided to write my blog post about some of the thoughts I had when I considered what makes music authentic, what makes something music, and how music is interpreted.

First, I thought about what makes music music.  When I considered the huge variety of music that exists in the world, I could only think of one feature that was common among them all:  they all had the intent to make music.  Even 4’33”, the silent piece of music we discussed, was done on purpose.  However, if Cage had gone on stage, discovered the piano wouldn’t work, and spent 4’33” trying to fix it,  I don’t believe there would have been music.

When we discussed music’s authenticity or inauthenticity, the message I received was that most people were of the opinion that music couldn’t be authentic if it was recorded.  This assertion confused me for several reasons.  First, what quality did live music have that made it more authentic than recorded music?  Some people seemed to think that all the tiny details that are part of a live performance gave it its authenticity, but this answer isn’t satisfactory to me.  Is music that’s recorded in a studio track by track never authentic because it’s never performed live?  To take that idea even further, what about music that is never even played track by track in a recording studio?  That is, music that’s created on a computer and is only played out loud through the creator’s headphones as he writes it.  What if the creator never even played the music at all?  The idea that authentic music can’t be recorded, even though I don’t necessarily disagree it, needs clarification before I can get behind it.

I also considered whether the interpretation of music played a part in its authenticity.  Perhaps the thought process was that when music was live, it had some subconscious quality that made it much more powerful to the listener.  However, I wasn’t satisfied with this solution either.  The creator of music undoubtedly has a single purpose for creating the music, but there’s no way that two people could have the exact same interpretation of the same piece.  Everyone’s individual life experiences, values, and preconceived notion of what the music would be would effect their reaction to the music and therefore affect their interpretation of it.

I suppose maybe the only time music can be authentic is in the mind of the creator, where it’s unadulterated by any other sounds, minds, or recording processes.

While thinking about these ideas, I began to wonder about the authenticity of things other than music.  Mostly, I thought about this question: Is anything, including music, truly authentic?  Is it ever possible to convey a message exactly as one intends it?  I think it’s not.  When I’m writing this blog post, the thoughts I’m communicating are limited by the words I know.  Also, I’m limited by the words the reader knows, or  at least by the ways they know how to communicate.  If I posted a video of myself making random sounds and hand gestures that were supposed to convey the message I’m writing about here, nobody would understand.  Just like music, no form of communication is perfect, and to some people, that means that music can never be truly authentic.

RIP Phife Dawg

If you read my introduction post, then you know how much I love the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.  This group started my obsession with 90s rap music, which quickly expanded to include the Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, Fatlip, et cetera.  Their combination of jazz, bass-heavy hooks, and alternative hip-hop beats is unparalleled in any other group in my opinion.  I am eternally grateful to the Tribe for opening this door for me.

Unfortunately, one of the group’s two foremen recently passed away.    Phife Dawg’s  lifelong battle with diabetes ended on March 22.  Phife struggled with a sugar addiction for much of his life that eventually led to him becoming diabetic.  He once said “It’s really a sickness, like straight up drugs” about his addiction. (http://genius.com/68231http://genius.com/67291).  Even though Phife is no longer with us, his influence can still be seen in much modern music.  ATCQ existed in a very polar period of hip-hop music– many groups felt that the only way they could succeed is to be either extremely danceable or extremely violent.  However, the Tribe was having none of it.  They chose a route that focused on relatability and topics like safe sex, youth, and the problems they saw with the hip-hop scene.  Their music isn’t ever violent or ever particularly danceable, but it is something else that no other group had.  Their use of intelligent lyrics and pragmatic approach to the topics of their songs influenced many of today’s great rap lyricists.

Even though Phife’s days of producing more music are over, his influence isn’t.  His music continues to  affect musicians today and will in the future.  In addition, it was recently announced that A Tribe Called Quest will release a new album that was recorded before Phife Dawg’s death soon.  Hopefully this new album will have the incredible far-reaching affect that the previous Tribe albums have had.

 

Sources used:

http://rap.about.com/od/toppicks/ss/Best-Rap-Groups.htm#step23

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/a-tribe-called-quests-phife-dawg-dead-at-45-20160323

 

The 5 Greatest Albums of All Time

Hi guys,

My name is Evan Blanpied and I’m from Baltimore, Maryland.  I’ve been playing drums and percussion since second grade, and two summers I picked up guitar and bass.  I still play all three as often as possible.  So that you guys can get to know me better musically, I’ve assembled a list of my top 5 favorite albums ever.

#1- Jimi Hendrix- Are You Experienced

Even though this is the oldest album on my list, it’s the one I’ve discovered most recently.  When I started playing guitar, I figured I should listen to Hendrix, who’s considered by many (including me) to be the greatest guitarist ever.  Around the time that I started listening to Hendrix, I found my father’s old vinyl record of Are You Experienced, and needless to say, I listened to it.  To this day I listen to that record whenever I’m doing chores around the house or whenever I’m in the mood to have my face melted off by Hendrix’s awesome riffs.  My favorite song from this album is the 7-minute vocal-less guitar solo Third Stone From The Sun.

#2- Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin

When my music teacher played I Can’t Quit You Baby for me to try to get me to play it on drums, I was hooked.  Even though I now listen to every Led Zeppelin album, their first is my favorite since it was the first that I heard.  Who wouldn’t like a band with the greatest drummer of all time, John Bonham; the greatest bassist, John Paul Jones; and the second greatest guitarist, Jimmy Page?  My favorite track is the opener to this album, Good Times Bad Times.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP6KbVoalAE

#3- Pink Floyd- Wish You Were Here

Unlike the other albums in this list, it took time for me to fully appreciate Pink Floyd’s deliberately paced and avant-garde style.  But, after listening to my dad’s record a couple times, I began to see what all the Pink Floyd fuss was about.  For me, the point of this album isn’t for every song to be incredible on its own; rather, every song works together to give this album a powerful tone that I’ve never heard replicated anywhere else.  When I came to that realization,  I started to enjoy this record more and more.  Even though I strongly recommend that you listen to this album all the way through, I’ll still tell you my favorite track: Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 1-5).

#4- Red Hot Chili Peppers- Blood Sugar Sex Magik

For a while, the Chili Peppers were my favorite band hands down.  I think I went through a phase where 90% of the music I listened to was by them.  Even though I love every album they’ve released, BSSM has always been my favorite.  Its particular brand of alternative-rock-funk-punk is really unique and very appealing to me.  I love funk music as well as rock, so the fact that this album combines two of my favorite genres is part of the reason I love it so much.  Check out Sir Psycho Sexy for the Chili Peppers at their raunchiest and funkiest.

#5- A Tribe Called Quest-  The Low End Theory

The first ATCQ track I listened to, Check the Rhime, changed my view of everything I thought rap could be (and had to be).  The saxophone riff at the beginning of this song pulled me into a world of music I didn’t even know existed.  I love every song on this album because its combination of jazz, rap, hip hop, and some of the most creative lyrics I’ve ever heard.  My current favorite song on the album (even though it changes all the time) is Scenario  (also I love this music video).

Even though this list doesn’t come close to covering every corner of my musical tastes, I hope it helped you get to know me and my musical tastes and attitudes.  If you ever want to talk about music, or if you have any suggestions for music I should listen to, please let me know!  I’m always looking to learn more about music.