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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

May 15, 2009 at 10:08 AM

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The Gaslight Anthem at Sasquatch: innovation, authenticity and Rick Ross

Posted by Andrew Matson

The other night, two friends/music writers and I argued into the wee hours about innovation and authenticity in pop/rock/rap/dance music, whether they matter, and if so, when and why. For people like us, it's an inexhaustible topic.

I brought up The Gaslight Anthem for its flagrant disregard of innovation. (The band is one of the oddball populist bids at Sasquatch 2009, like Nine Inch Nails, in a field dominated by supercoolness (Animal Collective, of Montreal, Erykah Badu...I could go on and on).)

So: innovation. I say it's not a requirement for sonic goodness. Like it or don't, TGA's "The '59 Sound" is a supremely effective song, and, as personal hero Tom Breihan wrote in his Pitchfork review, completely, unashamedly rips off "Born to Run"-era Bruce Springsteen.

There is nothing innovative about the song below. Even though it offers a distinct story in its lyrics, it succeeds by resuscitating an archetype: knocks you back with ruff n tuff blue collar rock, sucks you under with secretly eloquent, awfully sentimental storytelling. Classic heart-hurter. It also succeeds because it's believeable. This band means it, is ALL ABOUT meaning it, and gleefully drops out of the cool-guy game in favor of hardscrabble authenticity.

More after the jump.

The Gaslight Anthem's flouting innovation and embracing authenticity is one thing.

But what if an artist dismisses both? What kind of art is that?

Required reading: Jon Caramanica in The New York Times on the death of authenticity in hiphop re: the rise of popular rapper Rick Ross (not playing Sasquatch).

Ross' music is certainly not innovative...he raps self-satisfied, from the point of view of a cocaine kingpin, over stately beats...a hiphop archetype, for sure. It's like if Scarface had a happy ending.

But, unlike The Gaslight Anthem, he's totally faking it. His image has nothing to do with reality. It's a big story. I could break it down, but it's best to read Caramanica's article. Seriously. It's a masterpiece of contemporary music journalism.

Ross' "Mafia Music" is an extremely effective song, and like "The '59 Sound," breathes new life into in an old stereotype, but he stops at your ears. "Mafia Music" succeeds 'cause it sounds good. Rick Ross is nothing to believe in, only something to listen to, and does not matter at all except to point out "mattering" is one of many holy grails.

So what kind of art does one make if one is neither innovative nor authentic? Well, potentially, good music that does not matter. And I guess "matter" means "emotionally resonate."

It's one of many musics I like to play in my car, loudly, with the windows down.

Rick Ross - Mafia Music from JC Aviles on Vimeo.

What do you think? Do you care? Is the argument worth having? Am I right?

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