Influence is a curious phenomenon that takes form in so many different ways in music. It’s impossible to say that there is even one song in music history that has had no influence whatsoever. And even if a band was pioneering in its genre style or musical sound, the fact is that people, as individuals, draw on inspiration to do the things they do, especially in the case of art.
This week’s New Noise looks at two different directions that influence can go in. Though The Strokes and Binary Star make their comebacks by returning to the sounds that influenced them in the beginning of their careers and established them as groups, Wavves and Frank Ocean contemporize vintage styles that paved the way for their music and, ultimately, define them as artists.
The Strokes: “All The Time”
The band’s last release, 2011’s Angles, left some die-hard Strokes fans scratching their heads in confusion over the almost 180-degree change in style that the band had taken on, while others praised the new direction.
One of the most arguably appealing things about The Strokes was its seeming aversion to change — both its enormously influential debut album Is This It and its near-perfect sophomore album Room On Fire employed virtually the same blueprint in regard to production techniques and vocal delivery style. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Of course, this was one of the things that the band was criticized for as well, with some critics declaring that the band was unable to step outside of their comfort zone and evolve as a group.
First Impressions of Earth saw the band implementing the same musical styles, but this time the production was different — gone were Julian Casablancas’ slick, distorted vocals and the tight control of the instruments. Instead, a much looser, laid-back sound was introduced.
Just two years after Angels, the band is already back with a new album, Comedown Machine. The first single, “All The Time,” is a return to the early sound that made The Strokes the genre pioneers they always were. The quick rhythm guitars, the never-miss-a-beat drumming, the metronome-like bass and the vibrato-heavy vocals all make a return, making “All The Time” the perfect song for lovers of The Strokes’ early days.
Wavves: “Afraid of Heights”
For a split second, the beginning of Wavves’ new single, “Afraid of Heights,” sounds like the iconic intro to Blur’s “Song 2,” with the no-nonsense drumming introducing the chaos to come.
The San Diego surf-rock band has been around since 2009 and the eponymous first single from its fourth studio album finds the band perfecting its unique blend of surf rock, pop and grunge.
The surf-rock genre is mostly associated with upbeat, poppy ambiances, but although Wavves has the pop sensibilities in “Afraid of Heights” — especially with the “ooooh”s in the chorus — there’s a dark cloud hanging over the entire song.
Lead singer Nathan Williams lazily croons “I’ll always be on my own,” and even though his statement is backed by poppy harmonizing vocals, the song is overall grungy and almost dismal in nature. Wavves has honed this sound of theirs extremely well — Making a grungy rock song catchy as hell by setting it against a surf-pop backdrop is no easy feat, but Wavves manages to accomplish this melange of styles with ease.
Binary Star: “Big Bad Wolf”
After more than 13 years away from the limelight, Binary Star is back and better than ever with a new eponymous EP. The duo has always been influential in the underground hip-hop scene, despite breaking up after only two years with personal and creative differences.
You might say they were the less-drama-and-drugs-and-suicide version to underground hip hop of what the Sex Pistols were to punk. (Almost). Though both One Be Lo and Senim Silla released solo material throughout the aughts, the pair didn’t officially reunite until recently, and the Binary Star EP is the first release since 2000’s critically acclaimed Masters of the Universe.
The EP serves as a kind of celebration of the duo’s 15th anniversary together and is (hopefully) a prelude to a full-length studio LP. “Big Bad Wolf” is classic Binary Star — perfect flows and rhymes, catchy sing-along sections and retro samples that fit in seamlessly with the contemporary flow of the track. Here’s hoping the “Big Bad Wolf” stays bad and releases some more tunes for fans both old and new.
Frank Ocean: “Super Rich Kids”
The always unconventional Frank Ocean’s newest single from his debut album channel ORANGE is “Super Rich Kids,” which features Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt. The song is often described as R&B, but in true Ocean style, there’s a twist.
The rhythmic beat is hypnotizing and almost monotonous but somehow never boring. The mix of nonchalant raps and Ocean’s singing is a refreshing contrast, and though the melody of the song is reminiscent of old school R&B/pop, the unique, thumping beat changes up the entire mood of the song.
The song is also simultaneously full of soul and cynicism, satirically criticizing the tedious lives and lack of responsibility displayed by some people belonging to the upper echelons of society.
And the lyrics are dark and there sure isn’t a happy ending, making the compelling piano-led beat all the more ominous.
“Super Rich Kids” is like the soul version of a Bret Easton Ellis novel and proves, once again, why no one does R&B quite like Ocean does.
Rishbha Bhagi is a graduate student pursuing a degree in communication management. Her column “New Noise” runs Wednesday.