Since arriving in New York City for the summer, I’ve been listening to The Strokes’ Is This It religiously. Their debut is sonically infatuating no matter the locale; however, it gains a complete re-appreciation when listened to passing scores of yellow taxi cabs, sewer drains that smell like a fat man’s asscrack and cramped brownstone apartments. It’s not only important because it sounds good, but also because it’s emblematic of The Big Apple.
Certain musical pundits offer that The Strokes’ Is This It’s place in music history is only secure because of its timing. A recent article in The Atlantic certainly points to this school thought: “At the outset of the aughts, the conventional wisdom goes, rock and roll was hooked to its death-drip demise…. But just when rock’s backbeat seemed to be heading for the archives, something changed. New York’s The Strokes started catching hype for their avant-punk pastiche on their debut EP, Modern Age.”
The article from The Atlantic goes onto cite Julian Casablancas’ band of jaded rich misfits as vanguards who led rock ‘n’ roll out of some terrifying dark age. Noted, but the article casts a veiled premise: that genres can have deaths.
Genre “Death” advocates play a role in all genres, Hip-Hop included. However, assertions along these lines of zealotry shouldn’t hold weight. Where were the quoted last year when The Black Keys’ Brothers barnstormed everything from radio to smart phone commercials? And where was Nas when he claimed Hip-Hop was Dead in 2006 (also the same year of Lupe’s Food & Liquor and Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury)? All three albums seemed to signal that their respective genres were alive and kicking.
Where critics and fans alike mistake themselves is in their definitions between what’s “popular” and what’s “underground.” Sure, both terms carry their fair share of ambiguity. However, just because a particular genre isn’t selling out 100,000-person super festivals doesn’t mean it’s dead.
Saigon’s embodied this critical-commercial contrast perfectly this year. His exceptional Greatest Story Never Told has only moved approximately 20,000 units thus far—a small number when compared to the monstrous, gold numbers of Wiz’s Rolling Papers. Yet, people are listening to Sai-geezy’s East Coast puritanical product, as evidenced by his touring Europe and the countless praise cultivated from critics.
On a micro scale, the same goes for rock ‘n’ roll. Best Coast has carved out a fairly decent Beach Boys, surf pop niche. Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear have shown that pastoral folk rock is still enjoyed. And, if I’m not mistaken, The Strokes released a pretty good album earlier this year.
Music is at a point where it’s too stratified to start carving tombstones. Genres come and go in popularity, but someone is always listening. There’s no such thing as “dead” and “alive.” There’s only “underground” and “popular.” If a genre isn’t one, it’s the other.