As any music fan should, I regularly jam to the songs of many decades. There’s a certain kind of magic and a unique sense of excitement in older recordings that can be very difficult to find in more recent records. Many genres, techniques, and ideas that are often found in modern music can trace their roots to the music of the 20th century. Appreciating older music can enrich the listening and understanding of many of your favorite records of the last 10-20 years. Here are a few comparisons I’ve found with a few of my favorite artists of the past and present.
Joni Mitchell & Tobias Jesso Jr
Joni Mitchell has been named one of the best songwriters of the 20th century. Her album Blue is a standard for raw and revealing arrangements. Any modern songwriter should admire her bare arrangements and her open, unapologetic emotion. Song’s like “Blue” and “River” are heartbreaking portraits of the climate in the early 70’s. Of the many singer-songwriters who were inspired by and followed in Joni Mitchell’s footsteps, one of my favorites is Canadian newcomer Tobias Jesso Jr. On his debut album Goon in 2015, the ex-touring-bass-player showcased his ear for simple arrangements and catchy melodies. The 12 songs on Goon consist mostly of a piano and vocals with minimal overdubs, just like on Blue. Jesso’s songwriting skills are impressive, but what’s more impressive is that the musician only started learning how to play piano 3 years before the making of his debut album. Emotionally, the themes on Goon almost match those on Blue. Songs like “Hollywood” and “How Could You Babe” are sparsely arranged and echo the same sentiments Joni Mitchell recorded 44 years earlier.
Pink Floyd & Animal Collective
Pink Floyd is characterized by their countless influences in music and genre, improvisation, groundbreaking electronic experimentation, and philosophical lyrics. Their first few albums are distinctly late 60’s in sonic qualities alone; not even their record label EMI knew how to classify them. Of course, Pink Floyd went on to create deeply layered concept album epics such as Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. The only 21st century group that strikes me as sharing qualities with Pink Floyd is Animal Collective. The Baltimore group mirrors many of Pink Floyd’s most exciting qualities. Their adaptability to new sounds and techniques is showcased on every album. Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is often cited as the group’s best album, was conceived in much the same way as Dark Side; extensively played live for audiences long before any scheduled release date. The comparisons go on: while Pink Floyd experimented with recording techniques and analog synthesizers, Animal Collective layered samples and effects digitally, exploring how far their medium could take them.