Monday, December 12, 2005

Originality is passé

The Onion: What do you yourself listen to most?
Merritt: What I listen to most would probably be ABBA. An important band. And basically the people who are doing what I'm doing, which is plagiarize. Stereolab, for instance. [...] I think records should sound somewhat familiar. They should grapple with what's gone before. Right now, there's been no new technology in music for the first time in a long time. [...] There being no new technology, we have only the old stuff to recombine all the time in hopefully slightly new ways.

Plagiarize? Yes, plagiarize. The line between homage and theft gets crossed - so what? Anyone who claims to be doing something totally original in the realm of music should be approached with deep skepticism. Whether it's reusing folk songs collected by Alan Lomax or sampling, mimicking distinctive production styles, or throwing clichés around, Merritt has never shied away from appropriation.

So, there's an obvious legal issue with plagiarism, but there's a way to deal with that. A Time article mentioned Merritt's encounter with the book The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) (well worth the read!), and inside it, there is a discussion of copyright laws and the concept of groove:

...gangsters of the groove from Bo Diddley on down believe they have been ripped off, not only by the business but by all the artists that have followed on from them. This is because the copyright laws that have grown over the past one hundred years have all been developed by whites of European descent and these laws state that fifty per cent of the copyright of any song should be for the lyrics, the other fifty per cent for the top line (sung) melody; groove doesn't even get a look in.

Lyrics are 50%, and the top line melody is the other 50%. That's it! Anything else - rhythms, accompanying melodies, chord progressions - doesn't count.

Merritt's beloved Stereolab has several obsessions, including vintage keyboards (Moog and Farfisa, especially), lounge music, and 70s Krautrock. Many Stereolab songs use the bass drum-abusing motorik beat (a.k.a. "Apache beat"), directly lifted from drummer Klaus Dinger of Neu!, and astute fans have noticed that Stereolab's groove on their epic-lengthed "Jenny Ondioline" is pretty much identical to the one on Neu!'s track "Hallogallo." Similarly, Stereolab borrows heavily from another Krautrock classic, "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl," by Faust, for two different songs: "Animal Or Vegetable (A Wonderful Wooden Reason...)" and "Anemie," available on their stellar radio session compilation, ABC Music.

Auxiliary Stereolab member Sean O'Hagan has his own band, the High Llamas, which is an outlet for his own pop yearnings and enormous Beach Boys fixation. In O'Hagan, Merritt has a kindred soul, as both share a complete disinterest in writing lyrics that are personal, not to mention the 60s fetish. With sparkling, intricate arrangements featuring a variety of strings and electronics, the High Llamas build upon their influences and make possibly some of the most underappreciated pop music today. Merritt is particularly fond of their 1998 album Cold and Bouncy (which features this week's first selection, "The Sun Beats Down"), one of his TimeOut New York picks for that year, and in an interview in 1999, he mentioned that it was "...the only pop record from the last year that I’ve played more than ten times."

The High Llamas - "The Sun Beats Down"
Stereolab - "Anemie"

By request, the Young Marble Giants tracks are up for another week:

Young Marble Giants - "The Man Amplifier"
Young Marble Giants - "N.I.T.A." (demo)


Blogger Kuba said...

thanks muchly!

6:03 PM  

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