From our “Brain Matters” series, a story about how music helps in the development of the human brain.
AS AMERICAN AS DOLLY WITH A TANK should be a new phrase. —Lars
LISTEN: Fuzz-rock mastermind Ty Segall spins a few of his favorite records on All Songs Considered and explains how he changed everything to make his new album Manipulator.
[Taylor] Swift’s critique suggests she wants to have her pop and somehow stay above it, too.
— Ann Powers says that erstwhile country singer Taylor Swift has a new sound and a new goal: to be the world’s biggest pop star, with all the attention and provocation that comes with the job.
Over nearly two hours, WTJU veteran Aaron Margosis and Ian MacKaye spin some tunes and talk dischord history, straight edge, L.A.’s punk scene, Henry Rollins, Nazi skinheads, Fugazi’s record sales, getting courted by major labels and all sorts of subjects that would excite even a casual fan of MacKaye’s now-legendary bands and record label.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: So to expand the scope outside of Flatbush into the New York culture and lifestyle — how does that shape you guys? Because your lyrics are beyond the universe.
ISSA: Yeah, I’m happy you said that, cause that was gonna be my answer to it. I feel like that goes back to what I was saying about New York and Brooklyn and Flatbush being at our root because I don’t really make music to try and revive New York. I find we get thrown into that. And it’s awesome that we get thrown into that, but it’s like, I have a universal perspective. I’m trying to make music for the universe. I mean — that sounded weird.
"Am I Wrong" also recalls a soul classic from the dawn of the 1970s: "O-o-h Child" by the Five Stairsteps. That song is one long journey up the hill toward the sun, a lullaby leading to the morning, its mood of joy established through a swelling melodic build like few others in pop. Currently back in our ears as a fun feature on the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, “O-o-h Child” was never a protest song. Yet it’s found a fascinating place in the culture, as an exhortation to keep going even in times of unrest. Director John Singleton milked it for painful irony in a key scene in Boyz n the Hood, when the child Tre watches two of his friends carted off by police for shoplifting as the song plays on his father’s car radio. Spike Lee used it too, inCrooklyn, during the funeral of the film’s family matriarch. Tupac sampled it in “Keep Ya Head Up,” his ode to inner-city survival. Janet Jackson tapped into it in “Truth,” her ballad about living past a bad romance.
It’s doubtful that “Am I Wrong” will have the deep afterlife of “O-o-h Child” — it doesn’t have that song’s captivating integrity. But like so many hits whose meanings seem to adapt to fit their moment, it’s here now, for the many different listeners who might need it. Protest takes courage and focus. Pop is all about commodification: the soft center of what adapts. But sometimes, when history collides with it, a simple song gains dimension. To paraphrase Nico & Vinz, that’s just how listeners feel.
— Ann Powers on Top 40 music in a summer of discontent