Sunday, March 7, 2010

Contenders Series #17: Caribou - "Odessa"

"It reminds me of African records, which are always beat-up and personalized.  They're not perfect, but you have to remember that it's because it was somebody's life.  The scars and bruises tell a story.  It's really something that's kind of lost now, but back in the day, people identified themselves by the music they listened to." - DJ Shadow

The DJ Shadow quote above comes from from an article about Northern Soul pioneer Keb Darge in the latest issue of Filter Magazine.*  It's an interesting quote, largely because I believe Shadow is completely wrong here, but that his underlying point is ultimately correct.  And, somewhere along the way, we'll talk about this new Caribou song.

*And I would link to this article if I could find it, but it apparently doesn't exist online.  I suggest you do what I did, which is grab one of the free copies stacked on every table at Popscene.  Maybe take two.  They're everywhere.

Northen Soul (and I didn't really know about this, either) was a movement in Britain in the early 1970s where a bunch of kids, sick of the soft rock ubiquity of the time, started obsessively digging into obscure American r&b and soul from tiny American labels.  Organizers like Keb Darge would throw huge dance parties where they would trot out the most obscure stuff they could find, selling mixtapes of their discoveries, and generally giving a second life to artists and songs that barely even had a first one.

Darge, the focus of the piece, was a music obsessive like few before or after.  Sick of paying local record dealers huge markups for records that were only semi-obscure, Darge robbed local drug dealers* to put together the money for a trip to America, where he scoured the country for records no one else had.  Keb Darge, I think we can all agree, identified himself by the music he listened to.

* Just like Omar!

However, I think Shadow is confusing the issue when he says that we've lost the drive to identify.  I think we identify ourselves by our music exponentially more than we ever have.  For instance, I could, right now, download a 67 CD, 4-gigabyte torrent of Northern Soul songs (this is completely true, no exaggeration).  It would have every song in Keb Darge's collection (okay, that's an exaggeration), and probably even a few he couldn't find.  I could sign up for a account, and you could follow, in real-time, every time I listen to one of them.  I could upload them all to LaLa, and you could see them all in my online library, like trophies on a mantle, even if I never once listened to them.  I could comment on Facebook, and Twitter, and maybe on an overly-wordy music blog that six people read. I could take a collection of MP3s and create a whole personality out of them.

The point, though (and this is where Shadow is right), is that this wouldn't really say anything about me.  If you can have everything, immediately, maybe you lose the ability to identify with it.  Maybe.  Even if not, it does become impossible to tell what matters to you and what doesn't.  I love the Hold Steady, but I certainly didn't rob any drug dealers for my copy of Boys and Girls in America.

And the song we're talking about, Caribou's "Odessa," is even further down that spectrum.  I know nothing about this band.  I know nothing about this genre.  I don't even know which genre this is.  There is literally nothing, physically or emotionally or philosophically or even geographically, that connects me to this band, or this song.  So ... do I identify with it?  Sure.  I thought enough of it to post it on my blog.  I think it's great.  I'd like you to listen to it, and, if you enjoy it, I'd like you to think of me.  But ... do I IDENTIFY with it?  Well, not in the all-encompassing, life-swallowing way that DJ Shadow meant the word, no.  But, on the other hand ... so what?

Download:  Caribou - Odessa

Official Site
Hype Machine
Pre-order Swim

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