Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ACL Explains It All: Andrew Bird/Beastie Boys

August 10, 2009

“What?” you say. “Andrew Bird and the Beastie Boys have nothing in common! Bird makes charming, austere indie-pop ditties with literate lyrics, and the Beastie Boys created the misogynistic ‘Girls’ and are almost obsessively annoying! The only thing they have in common is their whiteness!”

To this, I disagree. In fact, the fact that both Bird and Beastie Boys employ lyrics as their main argument puts them in a boat together much quicker than many other people. It’s true that Andrew Bird writes some good songs. But his lyrics are the bread and butter of the songwriting; they’re clever, witty, literate and well-thought-out. The fact that he’s a great whistler, violinist, vocalist, and guitarist take second place to the fact that he’s a really freaking great lyricist. I mean, anyone who can think up and compose this:

“Tenuous at best was all he had to say
when pressed about the rest of it, the world that is
from proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans
Greek Cypriots and and harbor-sorts who hang around in quotes a lot”

should be receiving praise for that, not for his musical composition (this does imply that one is better than the other, always. I will stick by this statement.). This is not to say that “Tenuousness” is not great; it’s one of his best tracks. But it’s still the song that’s there for the lyrics, and not the other way around.

In this manner, the Beastie Boys are not all that dissimilar. Sure, their lyrics may not always match up with Bird’s:

Girls, all I really want is girls
And in the morning it’s girls
Cause in the evening it’s girls

I like the way that they walk
And it’s chill to hear them talk
And I can always make them smile
From White Castle to the Nile

Okay,  they’re really far from Bird’s. But in the manner that the lyrics take precedence over the music (I mean, “Girls has one xylophone riff as its music), they both have essentially the same motif. Their lyrical quality improved since “Girls,” as well. To the Five Boroughs got five stars in Rolling Stone, but that might be more because they have Elder status in RS’s eyes as opposed to the actual quality of the disc. But that’s another article altogether.

All this to say, some bands that seem to have nothing in common sometimes have more in common than you think. And I’ll be seeing both these bands in two months. Woo!

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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