Otis Redding, Kanye West and Jay-Z together at last…

I could start off this post by launching into the very debatable topic of originality — in art, writing, music, film, et. al. — and whether or not anything is ever really a bona fide “first,” but I won’t.  That’s more like a dissertation topic than it is a blog post.  I will only say that, personally, I find some of the most innovative ideas are those that overtly take other concepts and build upon them to create something new. I will also say that some of the best examples of this are found in music, and that I’ve always enjoyed Kanye West and Jay-Z mainly for this reason.

Jay-Z and West are fantastic collaborators, both with each other and with others.  West’s recent “All of the Lights” which featured Rihanna, Elton John, and Kid Cudi comes to mind here, as does his collaboration with Bon Iver on “Lost in the World.”  West is of course following in the footsteps of his mentor Jay-Z, who has collaborated with artists spanning across several genres; some of my favorites include “Lost!” with Coldplay, “Numb/Encore” with Linkin Park, and the summer anthem of 2010, “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys.

Now the masters of collaboration are once again, well, collaborating, and the first single is enough to get me excited for their upcoming LP Watch the Throne.  While I enjoyed their last joint effort, “H*A*M,” their new track “Otis” is more laid back with a nice sampling of Otis Redding on loop in the background.

How can you listen Otis Redding and not want to be at the beach?

I won’t try and pull in anything political here, despite there being some allusions to immigration in “Otis,” I don’t want to ruin a good thing here and read more into the song than is necessary.  To read the lyrics and more about Jay, Ye and Otis you can visit Stereogum.

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Where Lady Gaga and Bon Iver Collide

What do Lady Gaga and Bon Iver have in common?  Well, um, give me a minute…

Okay, they’re both musicians, have released albums in the last month or so, and are both very talented in very different aspects.  And both of them apparently enjoy a nice saxophone solo.

The two artists are on completely opposite ends of the genre spectrum; one wears dresses made of meat, rides into the Grammy’s in a giant silicone egg, and writes lyrics that express her views on immigration reform and LGBT issues, while the other records his albums in a converted swimming pool attached to a veterinarians office in Wisconsin, wears plaid button-ups, polo’s and khaki pants, and surprises his fans by popping up on a Kanye West track.  But on both of their new albums, one can hear striking similarities in heavy saxophone solos and synthetic keyboard instrumentals that would play nicely on a mixed tape between Phil Collins’ “One More Night” and Madonna’s “Open Your Heart.”

Lady Gaga’s Born This Way features several 80’s inspired tomes; the track titled “Black Jesus + Amen Fashion” calls to mind Madonna’s interpretation of the black saint in “Like a Virgin,” while its instrumentals might encourage a cameo by Paula Abdul’s MC Skat Kat.  The single “The Edge of Glory,” features a fantastic saxophone solo by the late Clarence Clemons of the E-Street Band.  The video, which you can watch below, is simple by Lady Gaga’s standards, and seems to be inspired by basically every Michael Jackson video made in the 1980’s.

Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore album is considerably more complex than Born This Way.  The alt-indie group led by Justin Vernon has touches of 80’s noir, blended with the strong folksy sounds we’re accustomed to hearing from the band.  In a surprising mix, Vernon fuses the decidedly 80’s sounds of the keyboard, electric guitar and saxophone with the twang of a country-esque slow jam on the albums closing song “Beth/Rest.”  You can watch the official video for Bon Iver’s first single “Calgary” below.

So this is 2011, what’s with the flashback?

1980’s music rode heavily on the revolution of the industry with the premiere  MTV; heavily digitized and highly visual, the most successful artists of the era left their mark by making loud statements and challenging the mainstream (See: “Like a Virgin”).

Collectively, the US spent much of the 1980’s recovering from a global recession, conservatives idealized American Exceptualism and President Ronald Reagan, technology was rapidly evolving with the creation of portable devices such as the mobile phones and the Sony Walkman, there was ongoing war in Iraq and the US military bombed Libya.

Pop culture is often at its best when it accurately reflects reality, so it’s no surprise that our music, like our history, is repeating itself.  Additionally, many of those who make up pop musics core demographic were born in the 1980’s — like myself — and while obviously well aware of Madonna and Phil Collins, our experience of the decade is limited to second-hand knowledge.  This 80’s sound, the political outcry, the visual/metaphorical messages people once saw only when they tuned into MTV are now disseminated rapidly through the internet.

To many engaged listeners this music isn’t a revival, but revolutionary.