SWAN | Lots of Classical Music in My Spotify Library

One time I was having a classical music listening session with a friend of mine, and when he asked what we should listen to next, I suggested some of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He acquiesced, but not before mentioning that my choice was a very “mainstream” one. Whether I’m a classical poser or not, there are several moments in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that are — for simplicity’s sake — exemplary. Take, for example, the sudden thematic shift in the second movement, from an inevitable, definitive minor to an unhindered, lively major. Beethoven hinted at the possibility of such tonal fulfillment earlier in the movement, but it is not until this stark contrast that the extent of his creative vision is recognized.

SWAN | The Notes that Inspire a Thousand Words

It’s a grand old time. I stand at the edge of the dance floor, that ambiguous event horizon beyond which lies the vociferous, collective rampage of too many young people crowded into too small a square. That’s an alienating sight, especially to the likes of an introverted Pisces such as myself. Besides the massive swarm of individuals and their sick dance moves, perhaps the most antagonizing gesture is the rapid fire of ironic lip-syncing to songs with lyrics to which I have never given thought or bothered to discern. Sometimes a light shines out in the wilderness and a certain song plays, the lowest common denominator, that even the most reserved folks know and love (“SO BABY PULL ME CLOSER IN THE BACKSEAT OF YOUR ROVER…”).

SWAN | Trying to Be Relevant

I was at a party one time and I was introduced to someone through a mutual friend. “This is Nick,” my friend said. “He’s really into music and he plays the piano.”

“Cool, that’s sort of interesting! What do you like to play on the piano?”

“Well, I’m classically trained, and my favorite composers are Bach and Chopin.”

“Wow, you must be really sensitive and have an exquisite taste for the nuances of creating art, like Bach’s subtle suspensions and dissonances in ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ and other works!”

Or, some derivative of that story occurred, sans the closing remark. Being introduced as a musician of the western classical tradition often garners a vague, uninspired response of awe and not much further dialogue.

SWAN | Legitimization or Appropriation?

2016 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Beastie Boys debut album Licensed to Ill, and in commemoration, the work will be reissued on vinyl, which is set for release on October 14. Licensed to Ill was wildly popular when it was initially released in 1986, and has since been certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). A quote by Chuck D of Public Enemy is included in Def Jam’s press release for the reissue: “The breakthrough of Licensed To Ill in 1986 paved the road legitimizing Rap to its USA masses… This record also expanded HipHop diversity allowing Public Enemy’s Takes A Nation to be its antithesis.”

Chuck D’s words here pose an interesting question: what exactly does it mean to “legitimize” an art form to the “masses” of fans in America and the western world? The answer to that questions seems to vary and possess its own degree of complexity. However, the case of Licensed to Ill is relatively simple.

SWAN | Who’s Raging?

The lineup of the newly formed Prophets of Rage is an extraordinary one: Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine, along with Chuck D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill. I have a profound sense of respect for all of these artists and their musical innovations and output. I particularly identify with their political ideology and the unprecedented aplomb with which they conveyed it. My young imagination can only vaguely fathom the sublimity of listening to Fear of a Black Planet as a new release in 1990 or thrashing to RATM and Cypress Hill in concert during their heydays of the same distant era. Despite the considerable length of time between now and then, each group’s body of work still manages to sound relevant and assumes a timeless quality.

TEST SPIN: Frank Ocean — Blonde

I have a difficult time describing Frank Ocean’s music. Perhaps it’s a surreal introspection of the most morose and neurotic reactions to something tragic, like the loss of love and the painful journey that follows it. Maybe it’s a conceptual project of youthful hope and fervor in a world that is far less than ideal. Maybe it’s just sad. Regardless, Ocean’s new album Blonde is brilliant.

SWAN | Archetypes and Artistic Expression

In 1997, the historians William Strauss and Neil Howe published The Fourth Turning, a book that describes and expands upon the generational theory of history for which the two authors are regarded. Strauss and Howe contend that all of a society’s history is divided into saecula, or roughly 88-year periods that span the length of a long human life. Within each saeculum lie four ordered eras, or “turnings,” that include a “high,” “awakening,” “unraveling” and “crisis,” after which point the cycle repeats and a new saeculum begins. A high is comprised by an era of good, or stable feelings and conditions. The awakening occurs when high-era ideals are challenged and replaced.

TEST SPIN: Allen Toussaint — American Tunes, Robert Glasper — Everything’s Beautiful

In late May, Robert Glasper released his Miles Davis tribute album Everything’s Beautiful, and several weeks later Nonesuch Records issued the late Allen Toussaint’s American Tunes. Glasper and Toussaint are both prolific jazz pianists, and the two albums are distinct depictions of their creators’ vastly differing musical styles. Yet, American Tunes and Everything’s Beautiful share a complementary sense of profundity in their thematic questions and inspirations. In American Tunes, Allen Toussaint explores a number of styles that exist within jazz and covers songs by various other influential artists, including Duke Ellington and Bill Evans. The first two tracks of the album, “Delores’ Boyfriend” and “Viper’s Drag,” are jovial, possessing a New Orleans Jazz quality.

SWAN | Woodstock Idealism in Coachella

Last semester, I wrote an essay about American consumer culture as it arose from 1960s New Left activism. It began like this:
In the summer of 1999, Mark Puma, 28, a native of upstate New York, would be able to experience the cultural phenomenon that had occurred three decades prior and only a few short years before his birth. “Woodstock ’99,” as it was referred to, was expected to be a close emulation of “Woodstock ’69,” perhaps the only discrepancy being a different location – Rome, New York, as opposed to Bethel, New York. On the surface, Woodstock ’99′ really did appear to match the characteristics of its predecessor. A mix of contemporary rock music was being played for a large body of nude and enthusiastic fans, all synthesizing under the influence of marijuana and psychedelic substances.

Spinning Singles: Beyoncé, Yoni & Geti, Brian Eno

Yoni & Geti — “Wassup (Uh Huh)”
Every indie geek whose taste has ever skewed eclectic and depressive should consider it a true-blue blessing that Yoni Wolf (WHY?, Clouddead) and David Cohn aka Serengeti transformed their friendship into musical collaboration. True, Serengeti’s 2011 Family & Friends saw Wolf take the production reigns, and his influence could be heard on Serengeti tracks like “Goddamnit” that channel his kitsch-as-loneliness approach. A nagging feeling, however, remained that Serengeti and Wolf still hadn’t truly pushed their collaboration into exciting territory that maximized each wordsmith’s staggering potential. The time has come. The duo has a match-matchy name (Yoni & Geti), an album title (Testarossa) and a release date (May 6).