Thursday, October 6, 2016

2000 - De Stijl

2000 was all about Kid A. No way around it, Radiohead had once again created the standout album of the year. Had someone proposed in 1824 that there would only be one piece of music but that piece was Beethoven's 9th, everyone would have gone, OK, I'm cool. (Well, actually, they'd say, "Das ist super geil!") Kid A's not Beethoven, but it's by far the best album of the new millennium, and if it was the only album of the year, hardly anyone would notice. What Kid A was not was evolutionary, instead perfecting what Radiohead had already accomplished on OK Computer in the same way that Sgt. Pepper built upon Revolver

In terms of evolution, though, It was the White Strips’ De Stijl that was instrumental in things to come. Jack White, nĂ© Gillis, grew up in the Motor City, the youngest in a bevy of Catholic siblings. He bounded between garage bands early in the 90s before marrying Meg White, taking her name, and forming The White Stripes. The couple divorced under murky secrecy less than a year later, but in true Sonny and Cher dedication, Jack and Meg kept at it, promoting the stage myth of a brother-sister act as they released De Stijl not three months after their split. Taped on an 8-track recorder in Jack's living room, De Stijl at once codified The White Stripes' sonic and artistic modus operandi, while laying the groundwork for future experimentation.

De Stijl as an aesthetic movement began in 1917 in Amsterdam, combining cubism with neoplatonic mathematical theory to create hyperminimalist artwork and architecture. Piet Mondrian was its most prolific artist. Jack White took the short-lived school of thought to heart, and the band's tricolor palate was evident from the beginning—never would their clothing, instruments, and cover art deviate from red, black, and white. 

"In my mind, both the country blues and the De Stijl movement represented a new beginning of music and art, perhaps for the rest of eternity. Both broke down their respective arts to its very core. You couldn't get much more simple and pure than the De Stijl school."

"Simple and pure" seems an apt description of De Stijl at first, but it glosses over the LP's underlying transgressive musical complexity. De Stijl is first and foremost a pop rock album, but like the parenthetical title of its introductory track, "You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)," there are a number of qualifiers to that statement. Suffice it to say that De Stijl somehow manages to take completely anachronistic sounds and make them sound fresh. Those oddly rustic guitars, the boyish vocals, the simple drumming all sound out of place in our era, as if Jack and Meg crawled under a rock for a quarter century and then came out and started making music. The Stripes don't sound like anybody else (no matter how hard we all try to draw parallels). Legions of other bands will be compared to them, not the other way around. Stripes make you realize how The Stones must have sounded at the Crawdaddy Club in '64; nothing less than the 3rd age of rock 'n' roll. Glory Hallelujah.