Autre Ne Veut, How to Dress Well, Rhye, and James Blake. Four white dudes getting their sex jams on.
That the four of them have come into prominence recently is an interesting (and unsurprising) trend/subgenre in independent music (whatever that means anymore). I guess it’s to be expected, contemporary R&B has been going through a kind of resurgence recently (Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, The Dream, and Miguel have all put out albums that were critically well-received hit albums) as has the sounds of 80′s and 90′s R&B. Just try counting the rototom fills.
What’s compelling is how far these four artists have gone in incorporating R&B elements into their music. It would be a lie to pretend that they aren’t appropriating R&B (black music) for a white audience (indie kids). But, that being said, it’s a two-way street. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon sang all over the last Kanye album, Beach House has been sampled about a thousand times, and Jay-Z went to a Dirty Projectors concert. Then there’s the Gorillaz, who do a pretty awesome job at everything on top of being cartoons. That’s how things are today. It’s not Elvis singing songs on the radio before the civil rights movement and it’s not (thank God) the horrible frankenstien-ing of rap and rock that Limp Bizkit inflicted upon us either. This feels like a more honest collaboration, each group influencing the other on their own terms. Rap has always been sample-based, so to turn to indie and electronic music as source for those samples makes sense. R&B, meanwhile, has injected independent music with a sensuality that was by and large missing. As a result, the genres are becoming more porous and more interesting.
As for the four artists mentioned at the beginning of this post, they’re contributing to that.
I love the Autre Ne Veut and Rhye albums. They’ll probably both make it onto my 2013 albums list. I read an interview with Autre Ne Veut (ugh, his band name is the worst) on Pitchfork that talked about his primary inspiration for the way he sings being the kind of go-for-broke singing style that you see at karaoke. I think that’s great. The idea of just going full-on and trying to hit all the vocal runs of a real singer and not reallllly being able to do it is great. That’s not to say that he’s not a good singer. He is. But he’s no R. Kelly. Meanwhile, Rhye put out a video of himself playing piano and singing “Open” to his girlfriend, by candle-light. Dude’s got some moves. But the video is just such a great performance and sweet, honest idea. That video sold me on the album, which didn’t disappoint.
The other two, I’m less excited about. How To Dress Well, while interesting, is a little too slow-paced and not catchy enough for me. James Blake just put out Overgrown, which–after only a couple listens–I like much more than his first album (which I couldn’t get into because pretty much every song had one lyric that he’d repeat over and over again). Blake is interesting though. Lots of cool noises.
Anyway, maybe this Sade-influenced indie music is a flash in the pan. It could be, but I don’t think so. It’s my hope that pop music keeps moving forward this way, and it becomes the norm. It’s good times for music. Anyone who says otherwise is full of shit.