4B - Thursday, January 11, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Folk: the adjective, the tradition
Courtesy of Geffen
Just try and jack this dude's beats.
By BRIAN CHEN
Timbaland didn't just produce
two No. 1 albums and perhaps the
best single of 2006 - he made it
look easy. Arguably last year's most
successful and prolific producer,
he's established himself as a gen-
uine auteur, transcending genre
classifications while retaining his
Among his highlights last year,
Timbaland produced almost all of
Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/
LoveSounds and Nelly Furtado's
Loose. He has a singular ability
to convincingly reinvent artists,
from crowning the former boy-
band member as the King of Pop to
transforming Furtado from a win-
some folk singer to a promiscuous
When Justin Timberlake
described his first single as "Bowie
and David Byrne covering James
Brown's 'Sex Machine,' " it was
hard not to anticipate a crash-and-
burn like fellow 'N Sync mem-
ber JC Chasez. Yet "SexyBack"
accomplished all that it set out to
do, at once stupefying and mes-
merizing. Timbo even made us
accept Justin's startlingly pruri-
ent boasts of "bringing sexy back"
without dwelling on their asinin-
ity, an achievement in and of itself.
"My Love," the latter half of the
punch, was the icing on the cake,
a pop masterpiece-reinforcing Jus-
Meanwhile, Loose might as well
serve as a blueprint for artistic
rebirth. Cynics predictably label
Furtado a sell-out, but Timbaland
makes the transformation seem
organic, as if the mainstream arena
were a natural progression. In
"Promiscuous," Furtado sounds
entirely comfortable over Tim's
n a and
flute loops and rapturous synths,
surprisingly believable with her
talk of casual sex. I can't recall a
producer that has so impressively
brought out the best in his artists
since Dr. Dre or Rick Rubin.
What's surprising is that Tim-
baland never really changed his
method of production. His idio-
syncratic staples - thrilling, ebb-
and-flow synthesizers, stuttering
bass-heavy beats and his signature
low mumbling - are still essential
elements, yet his tracks now gam-
Bringing cred to
that "I'm Like
a Bird" girl.
ble with a shocking unconvention-
ality foreign to mainstream radio.
His ability to blend familiarity
with avant-garde experimentation
is a talent few can emulate.
And now in 2007, Timbo is sure
to have another eventful year,
soon set to release his second solo
album, titled Timbaland Presents
Shock Value, with a smorgasbord
of guest artists including Dr. Dre,
Bjork, Lil Wayne and Elton John.
The first single, "Give tt To Me,"
featuring (who else?) Furtado and
Timberlake, already finds Timba-
land venturing into more experi-
mental territory with minimalist
synth stabs laid over tribal bon-
gos. He even raps, bragging "I'm
respected from Californ-i-a way
down to Japan /I'm a real producer
and you just a piano man."
Self-aggrandizement aside, Tim-
baland has nothing to prove - he's
already cemented his status as the
most entertaining and stimulating
producer of 2006, if not the decade
Granted, iTunes isn't the most reliable source.
But when it labels Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Jolie
Holland and Joanna Newsom all under the folk
genre, it's hard not to tilt your head slightly to
the left and giggle at the thought of all three on
stage with acoustic guitars singing "This Land is
Your Land" in three-part harmony. Then again,
Newsom's early albums Walnut Whales and Yarn
and Glue are actually labeled "rock," and to fur-
ther discredit this genre business: iTunes claims
that Regina Spektor is both folk and anti-folk.
Damn, talk about versatility- you know a musi-
cian is impressive if she can be both the thing
itself and its opposition.
All contradictions aside, the more interest-
ing problem with this iTunes genre business (or
whoever rocks the Gracenote CDDB database)
is that the walls defining the genre of folk have
become so thin that even a wailing harpist can
squeeze in. This is because modern use of the
word "folk" in regards to music has almost com-
pletely evolved into an adjectival role. Folk as
one of many descriptions, folk as an influence,
folk/blues/jazz or even folky or folkish instead
of just plain folk music.
This doesn't mean that folk music is dead,
and this isn't an implication that today's "folk"
musicians are less deserving of this label than
early-20th-century musicians like the Carolina CLOCKWISE FROM TOP
Tar Heels. And it's not catastrophic that the
iTunes folk genre is so blatantly misleading. the word folk in their
Yes, it would be more accurate for Gracenote are far from this orn
to describe Newsom's new album as folk/alter- still a few who relis
native/indie, or something of the like, instead
of making a one-word generalization, but the
strangeness in its conception of the folk genre W hat's
is far too interestingto become indignant about.
Today, folk is casually attached to acoustic iTunesI
music that tells a discernable story, but before
and during the romantic period, folk music was ans
categorized as music created by and for the com-
mon people; it's association with the lower class
was especially prevalent during the 19th centu- tions of folk music, ta
ry. As American folk music (primarily from the feeding them to youtf
Appalachian mountains) became popularized in knowledge of Joan B;
the mid-20th century with musicians like Pete Life Aquatic With Stev
Seeger and Woody Guthrie, it also became a tool ics would consider BC
of activism while remaining rooted in its tradi- folk/bluegrass/countr
tional forms. What's unique about folk music is ditional tunes such at
the anonymity of the authors and composers; Grove" and numerou
with less emphasis on who actually wrote the one of the few group
song and more emphasis on passing the music their roots. Last winte
down from generation to generation, folk music of seeingthem atTheI
isn't so much a genre as it is an oral tradition. by Aoife O'Donovan's
Althoughmostoftoday'smusicians whoboast Eggleston's outrageou
V .'.5C7 OT E BOOK
On 'Love,' allyou
need is the Beatles
Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkoays, Vanguard, Drag Cty, Signature
LEFT: Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie Joanna Newsom, Crooked Still.
r biographies and reviews
ginal definition, there are
h and thrive in the tradi-
[n a name?
has all the
king classic melodies and
ful audiences whose only
aez is her song on the The
'e Zissou. While most crit-
ston's Crooked Still to be
y, their renditions of tra-
s "Darling Corey," "Shady
s others establish them as
s who remain devoted to
r, when I had the pleasure
Ark, I was not only stunned
delicate voice and Rushad
s and uncontrollable cello
playing, but also completely in awe of their abil-
ity to retain the authenticity ofAppalachian folk
music without allowing the its stigmatisms to
hinder their original interpretations and alter-
native approaches to the age-old tradition.
Groups like Crooked Still beg us, as musi-
cians, scholars of music and listeners of music,
to approach today's redefinition and reappro-
priation of the folk music genre with a certain
degree of caution. Joanna Newsom's music
certainly has folk influences, and using folk as
an adjective to describe her music seems com-
pletely appropriate, but there is something jar-
ring about her and musicians like Jolie Holland
and Bonnie "Prince" Billy being thrown into the
same iTunes genre simply because their music
includes storytelling or finger-picking.
Yes, genres in general are limiting and mildly
unnecessary, but looking aside from this, we
still resort to them in an attemptto organize and
classify something so unmistakably unclassifi-
able - which is probably the best genre option
iTune's offers - and thanks to alphabetical
order, it conveniently falls right in between
"nbergenre" and "world."
InninntcI .. IInInnc_
By ANDREW SARGUS KLEIN
As if "Because" - the second
track on the transcendent second
side of Abbey Road - wasn't ethe-
real enough. The track's isolated
vocals, with a subtle backdrop of
chirping birds, sound nothing less
than a troupe of chanting monks.
The viewer's ear, instead of filling
in the rest of the instruments, can't
help but be trapped in awe - the
vocals seem to hang suspended
in time, untouchable, holy. That
is, until the opening chord from
"A Hard Day's Night" barges in,
extended with samples from gui-
tar solos on "The End" right before
effortlessly launching into "Get
Thus begins Love, the recent
remixing of the entire Beatles
catalogue by none other than the
group's original producer George
Martin and his son Giles - who
else would have the permission,
the authority to undertake such
a project? Part of a collaboration
with renowned theater group
Cirque du Soleil, Love and its sig-
nificance nevertheless extend far
beyond simple logistics.
Not since 1988 have we seen any
reissues of the Beatles's masters.
Choose any track off of Love and
you'll find clear evidence of a dire
situation: We need more remas-
ters of our favorite Beatles album
(that would be all of them, right?).
Without question, the sound qual-
ity is staggering: Every single track
sounds tremendous regardless of
insipid Mac speakers or half-bust-
ed car stereos. We're listening to
serious, professional-grade remas-
ters, and the quality is impossible
And let's not forget (how could
we?), this is the Beatles we're talk-
ing about. They're untouchable,
remixes and remasters be damned.
But Love can't escape playing a
large part in a dialogue that will
extend for as long as there is music
to be talked about. Here we have
is the only two people quali- biographical element. It's as if we
handle the original Beatles can find out something more about
George just by isolating his voice.
And these moments are all over
Reverence Love. They're uplifting at points,
such as the demo used for "Straw-
nd tact reign berry Fields Forever" and the
string section on "Eleanor Rigby."
on 'Love.' History is being picked apart and
reanalyzed under an aural micro-
scope, and damn, the Martin boys
know what they're doing. "Being
al, creating an album that for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" ends
h its interpretations and with the birthpangs-of-metal
ositions is revealing some- outro from "I Want You (She's So
about those four lads from Heavy)"; "Drive My Car" mixes in
ool that we didn't know the riffs from "The Word" and the
- at least, that's the impli- resplendent "What You're Doing."
When vocals are isolated The placement and layering of
ginal demos put in place of seemingly disparate tracks is near
tracks, that's when we hear perfect - as perfect as perhaps
hingnew. George'slone vocal anyone could achieve.
oustic guitar on "While My But (of course, they're had to be
Gently Weeps" doesn't have at least one "but") Love isn't the
lapton's riffing - it doesn't first album to do just this. The three
. Tracks like this take on a anthologies from the mid '90s and
the two volumes of masters from
the late '80s are completely full of
revealing moments. On Love, those
moments are fewerbut emphasized
by the juxtapositions of samples.
You won't find as much insight into
the Beatles, but - and maybe this is
the simplest, most necessary thing
that can be said about the album
- you'll end up appreciating them
and their unmatched accomplish-
ments even more.
Appropriately, the album ends
with instruments and vocals from
several tunes and ending with
loose studio chatter from the boys.
The message is simple: The album
was put together with a love only
the Beatles and their music can
Love won't make its way into
any of your Beatles top 10 lists, but
it's a touching addition to the most
important section in your music
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