Thursday, July 31, 2008

7/31/08 - Modern Classics vs. Old Classics.

The other day my friend Jen and I had a long discussion over IM about 'modern' classics vs. 'old' classics. With some minimal editing, here's the bulk of the conversation.

Jen: have you seen a streetcar named desire

Jeff: no
i've read it though
way back in the day

Jen: i have similar feelings towards that movie that i do to [The Maltese Falcon]
i realize that its good, and can see some of the ways in which it was really groundbreaking for that time, but only really am enjoying it bc its supposed to be a classic

Jeff: yeah
that was how i felt as well
it's kind of like listening to run-dmc

like, guys you don't have to end every rhyme the exact same way you know
but they don't know
b/c everybody's just feeling out the medium

Jen: yeah
i havent listened to enough run dmc to say i agree but i believe you

Jeff: the "first of its genre" is always kind of strange

Jen: yeah, but streetcar wasn't necessary 1st in genre

Jeff: true
i guess i should say groundbreaking work

Jen: yeah, just classics in general

Jeff: not always
but often

Jen: yeah
not always
i think i can watch some classics and enjoy it just as being good

Jeff: agreed
and sometimes it's hard to reconstruct something where the achievement was something new
that has since been copied

Jen: but some i watch and think, would i have known this was good had someone not told me. Have you seen the apartment?

romantic comedy?

Jen: 1960 best picture with Shirley MacClaine
it was referenced in mad men, and now i want to see it
Billy Wilder

Jeff: hmm
never saw it
a classic that i enjoyed

Jen: example of you can enjoy
i agree

Jeff: pride and prejudice
wuthering heights

Jen: as movies or books?

Jeff: books

Jen: oh there are TONS of books
im talking movies

Jeff: movies i find harder

Jen: yeah

Jeff: esp pre-70s

Jen: yeah

Jeff: but what's considered classic
like is the Godfather considered modern?

Jen: just old i guess

Jeff: or classic?

Jen: haha
its classic but im speaking about old classic

Jeff: you're talking about something that's old enough to where the dominant style was different than what's done today

Jen: yes i think so

Jeff: so like the 70s classics fit
apocalypse now
would those be "classics" or modern movies?

Jen: mm, i dont know
i think they are modern classics
and then there are old classics

Jeff: my theory is that those fit as modern b/c those styles have been appropriated by modern movies
in terms of directorial style
and in terms of looking at the director as the "author" of the movie

Jen: and classics are just critically acclaimed, or ones that everyone thinks you should see

Jeff: so you're drawing a distinction between one set of classics and another
where one "feels" older
and the others are more modern classics
all can be considered classics
because they're widely critically/popularly acclaimed
but there's a distinction between "modern" classics
and "classic" classics
all I'm saying

Jen: yes
im saying for 'classic' classics
or old classics
modern classics i get
usually always
90% of the time
old classics, maybe 45% of the time
ok maybe 60% of the time
by get i mean enjoy and appreciate

Jeff: and my theory behind that is that modern classics are made in the same cinematic style/vocabulary/aesthetic as movies today

Jen: yes

Jeff: i.e. director driven

Jen: you think before they werent director driven?

Jeff: naturalistic acting
directors used to be just kind of hired guns
they weren't really considered the "author" or the movie

Jen: hm, i dont know if i agree

Jeff: example - who directed wizard of oz?

Jen: im thinking more like sunset blvd, citizen kane
very director driven

Jen: i dont know who directed wizard of oz without using wikipedia.

Jeff: gone with the wind?

Jen: but i also don't know who directed shakespeare in love. or chicago.
i dont know directors that well

Jeff: a good point
the theory that the director is the auteur of the movie, that the director's creative vision is the driving force, was first developed in the '50s
which is relatively recently
but think of the way that we discussed christopher nolan
and his body of work the other day
we talk about directors as though they're the authors

Jen: but you dont think that can be done with old directors?

Jeff: whether or not you know who directed one
you can retroactively apply it, but think about what that means from a business/creative standpoint that they weren't thought of that way

Jen: now youre arguing the director is now the 'author' of movies
the main creative force
you dont think its always been that way?

Jeff: well think about the difference between the way movies are made now
and under the studio system from the '20s to the '50s
where studios would produce movies with their stars, writers, and directors tied to long-term contracts
in that case the director is still the main creative force maybe, but the real power lies with the studio and the producers
but obviously movies are highly collaborative
so there's also been evolution of acting
towards more naturalism

Jen: yes
so this is the reason why i like movies more now?

Jeff: i think it's a factor as to why the style of what you're thinking of as "old classics" seem so alien
for me that holds true
like if a movie's made after about 1969 or so, it may feel like a 70s movie, but it feels "modern"
or an 80s movie will feel dated, but still modern
but movies made much before that feel like they're made with a different cinematic/acting/writing aesthetic vocab.
so i'm just speculating that that may be what you could be reacting to also
in your 90/60 % split
Star Wars
totally modern feeling

Jen: 70s though
so you think the cut off ist he 60s

Jeff: it's somewhere in the 70s
i guess
i just know that the 70s was the rise of the American auteurs

Jen: so godfather is 72 (im using wiki now)

Jeff: Spielberg, Altman, Francis Ford Coppola
and my theory is that it's their influence that really marks the modern film vocab.

Jen: one flew over the cuckoos nest is 75
which seems in old classic genre
director influence?

Jeff: yeah director influence
godfather you would say old classic or modern classic?

Jen: modern classic

Jeff: so 72 at least would be the cutoff then
but obviously those styles were new at the time
so you'd expect there to be plenty of "old classics" littered throughout the 70s
i doubt you'd find many (or any) in the 80s that would feel like "old classics"

Jen: hm i see

Jeff: like psycho i still enjoy just as much as a modern movie
but it still feels like it's on the other side of the divide

Jen: what year is that

Jeff: ‘60

Jen: hmmm

Jeff: The Excorcist – ‘73
Carrie – ‘76
i would pinpoint those as the first modern horror movies

Jen: yes

Jeff: also
until 64 all movies had to meet the Hays code
basically the industry censorship agreement put together in the 30s
spelling out what was morally acceptable
so the modern rating system was implemented in '68

Jen: yeah so there are a lot of other factors besides directors

Jeff: totally

Jen: camera technology
sound technology
make up

Jeff: for sure
but i think those are less of a factor
b/c think about the diff in those from a movie made in the early 80s to today
both feel "modern"
but camera, sound, costume, makeup, speech - all different
that's what i think the puzzle is
b/c there's clearly a line in there somewhere
where "modern" shades into "old"
that's more about aesthetics and less about technology/costumes/slang/etc.

Jen: but how much of this is colored by the decade when we were born
our earliest memories of modern movies were in the 80s

Jeff: totally

Jen: so if you asked my dad this, he might not draw the line at the same place

Jeff: very true

Jen: or ask a teenager
whats modern
i dont know if it would make it to the 70s

Jeff: right like a teenager today would probably feel anything without CGI is dated

Jen: yeah, like star wars is probably way too old
i think the 1st harry potter CGI is terrible

Jeff: haha yeah CGI can get horribly abused
BUT pre-CGI will feel dated, but I bet for teenagers now what will feel even more dated are movies without the rapid-fire cutting
think about how long the shots were in the first batman compared to the dark knight

Jen: interesting

Jeff: i wonder though b/c we've all seen lots of movies and then saw CGI come onto the scene
i wonder how a modern teenager would feel about Raiders of the Lost Ark

Jen: classic
and i feel modern

Jeff: a good argument then that style/aesthetic is more important than the technological prowess on display
but we have no way of knowing without access to a teenager

Jen: must get access to teenager

Jeff: haha yes

Jen: for experiments
movie perceptions

Monday, July 28, 2008

7/28/08 - In praise of the lead singer

I don't know when the lead singer sans instrument fell out of favor, but I'm just about ready for a serious comeback. The point I think was made, and made well, and probably first by Bob Dylan: you don't need a classically "good" voice to be a good rock vocalist. But Bob illustrated the other side of that coin, namely: sometimes a "good" singer would really, really improve a song. I think specifically of his croaking work on "Lay Lady Lay", which obscure band the Stands turned into a gorgeous pop song merely by subbing in some competent vocals. I pity the poor lady that Dylan tried to convince to get on his brass bed - had she not been able to see his face, she might have assumed she'd been kidnapped by an asthmatic bear cub.

But taking shots at Dylan's voice is too easy, and I do it out of lazy reflex - the man has proven himself to be for the most part an exceptionally expressive vocalist, even if his limitations do rear themselves every once in a while (ok, often). But not every singer/songwriter is on the level of Bob, able to turn a pretty abrasive instrument into a thrilling, expressive one. Sometimes they're just bad singers.

I think the DIY influence of punk and '80s indie rock caused a whole lot of bands to decide that they didn't need a good singer, that the songwriter behind the band could do just fine with his nasal whine/atrocious croak/etc. Some songwriters/band visionaries have great voices, and this works, but some could have really benefited from having some vocal talent behind the mic. And hey, sure, maybe sometimes a band can use the flawed voice of one of the songwriters, but keep a real singer around (see: the Who).

Bands that really could have used/could use a decent lead singer:

1. Dinosaur Jr.
2. Foo Fighters (love Dave Grohl, but he should be the Pete Townshend of this band's vocal output).
3. The Jesus & Mary Chain
4. Imperial Teen
5. Sebadoh
6. Drive-By Truckers (love Patterson Hood and Cooley, but their ranges are both limits on their songwriting ambitions)
7. Jellyfish (nothing ruins power pop like thin, reedy lead vox)
8. Calexico
9. Meat Puppets
10. Steely Dan (had one, got rid of him)
11. Smashing Pumpkins

Bands that have really benefited from a good lead singer:

1. U2
2. Rage Against the Machine
3. Pearl Jam
4. Magnetic Fields (lead singer farming out singing duties)
5. Van Halen
6. Guns N Roses
7. Blur
8. The Allman Bros.

Incomplete lists, both, but I'm ready to see the comeback of the lead singer in all of the bands just now flowering into being.

The trouble is one of range - the limited vocals of a J. Mascis are fine on one song, but they get wearing on an album length. When you've got an Axl Rose or Eddie Vedder, or even Stephen Merritt's stable of singers, to throw around, the songs are capable of being a lot more versatile.

Friday, July 25, 2008

7/25/08 - How Dark is Too Dark Oh BTW I'm The Dark Knight

This certainly feels like the summer when the superhero movie finally got stretched to the breaking point, like so much taffy. The beauty of the superhero myth is that, like taffy, it's equally flexible and delicious, but still, after seeing The Dark Knight shortly after the rapture that was Iron Man, I am starting to wonder if some sort of saturation point is being reached.

I mean, obviously, it's coming - Hollywood specializes in finding a lucrative formula and grinding away at it, summer after summer, until a succession of jumbo flops slaps back the greedy hand. It's happened to animated musicals, buddy action movies, M. Night Shyamalan movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, Batman movies, etc., etc...

I remember wondering, before the tidal wave of CGI, if there would ever be a good superhero movie that felt like a comic book, that captured the stylized mythology feel of a well-written and well-drawn superhero comic book. My knowledge of comic books is limited, as everything I read in middle school/high school was whatever comics my friend Chris bought, but when reading his X-men or Spiderman comics I had that aha moment that comes with exposure to a medium's inherent and unique strengths. Still, I never thought that movies could pull it off- the special effects were too difficult. I pretty much made my piece with the fact that comic book and fantasy movies would be animated, or not at all.

Then, a trio:

2000 - X-Men dropped, and suddenly it looked like CGI was going to be the key to it all. This was a movie that was close to the comic book I saw, and it looked like maybe it could be done after all.

2001 - Lord of the Rings, to me, was what flung the gates open wide. This was what I had deemed in my head to be the unfilmable fantasy epic; sure, it contained elements that would find fine and epic expression on the widescreen, but the filmmaker would have to pull off things like sorcerer's battles, a giant flaming demon with a whip, walking, talking tree-men, a wizened Gollum, an army of dead men, and battles formed of large armies of orcs. And that's just the beginning, really. So when Peter Jackson pulled it off, really pulled it off, and made the Lord of the Rings movie that I had always dreamed was possible, it was clear that the tools were now there to plunder Marvel and DC's rich stable.

(A quick aside re: Tim Burton's Batman - Batman has always been easier to capture without CGI - he's basically James Bond dressed up as a bat. He's not rocking any supernatural powers - he's got a lot of cool gadgets and operates in the shadows. He's uniquely film-able for that reason. Same with someone like the Punisher - Hollywood can do gunfights).

Sure enough, Spider-Man hit the following year, and it was off to the races. The deluge proceeded, and now pretty much all of DC and Marvel's A-list superheroes have had their moment onscreen, with even some time for the B and C-listers to find themselves in a feature film or two. What all of this has done, though, is to reveal some of the limits of the superhero story format.

One limiting factor is the Manichean nature of so many superhero heroes and (especially) villians. Good is often Ultimate Good and evil is often Ultimate Evil in the superhero universe. It's no surprise, then, that filmmakers gravitate toward the more classically tragic supervillains, representing them as fallen creatures of ruined ideals - they are more recognizably human, this way. Examples - Magneto's scarring from the Holocaust driving him toward genocide, Doc Ock's roots as humble scientist, the Green Goblin's spectral presence of a good man (and poor father) gone mad. But these only go so far - no matter how much you turn Magneto into a real and wounded person played by Sir Ian McKellan, he's still going to wind up wearing a metal helmet and purple suit, raising his hand and throwing metal arond. The Green Goblin is still going to ride around on a metal surfboard throwing bombs that look like pumpkins. The cartoon stylization is endemic to the form - it only stands up to so much psychological realism before seriously challenging suspension of disbelief. There's a little bit of the Uncanny Valley at play - the further we as an audience sense that the superhero universe is actually our own, the more we start to question the logic of what we're presented with - like, why exactly would someone whose m.o. is fast and agile wear really bright blue and red?

One tactic for filmmakers to take is to return comic-book movies to the ragged, pulpy, and charming tone that they often lose when being turned into $200 million tentpole movies. This was the road Jon Favreau took with Iron Man, with (I would argue) great success. By dramatically lowering the stakes, he brought the comic book superhero movie back into the adoescent wish-fulfillment realm that it's always found its most natural home in.

The grim and naturalistic thrust of Nolan's Batman movies come at the opposite end of the spectrum. If Favreau is interested in lowering the stakes, Nolan is interested in ratcheting them up to the highest level possible. The Dark Knight does a lot to take the escapist fun out of the comic book movie - it's much more akin to a dark action drama with political/philosophical overtones.

The trouble is, it's not much fun. It's very intense, and well-made, and well-acted, but, like earlier Nolan movies, is quite grim about the human condition, and makes that quite clear by having the characters periodically talk to each other in essays about the human condition. It's an effort, clearly, to raise the superhero movie to the realm of High Art, but the grimness and joylessness and unremitting intensity just move it sideways into a bizarre high/low hybrid. Like The Prestige (also adapted from other source material), it's chiefly concerned with the human ability to be inhuman, but that's a tricky theme when working with mythic archetypes like Batman and the Joker.

Monday, July 21, 2008

7/21/08 - Feed The Animals

A while back, I wrote a bit on mashups and Girl Talk, and with the recent release of Feed The Animals, Gillis's Night Ripper follow-up, the subject seems worth revisiting. Like a pair of CCR albums that I've been listening to recently (Green River and Willy and the Poorboys), the second album seems like a continuation of the first, as though the artist in question simply took a break after writing an album's worth of songs, got up, got a up of coffee, sat back down, and knocked out another one of similar mood, style, and overall quality. It's successive albums like this (or strings of them) when bands can come to seem like superstar athletes, locking into the realm of the unconscious and sinking shot after shot or hitting homer after homer, making it look identical and uniform. What's amazing is that for an athlete this comes in the span of minutes and hours, while for a band it often comes in spans of months and years.

It can be toxic to artistic development, especially when self-consciousness creeps in and they're no longer knocking it out of the park without even thinking. God forbid it happen at the beginning of the artistic career - then you've got the sad spectacle of chasing after ghosts for an entire articstic lifetime. It seems to me that bands that stumble first or often along the way can then more easily revist the peaks later in their career. So I feel reassured to know that Girl Talk put out two terrible glitch-pop DJ mixes before detonating Night Ripper all over my face.

Quick list of bands that hit multi-album strings of similar quality & style:

The Strokes (Is This It & Room On Fire)
CCR (Green River & Willy and the Poorboys)
Randy Newman (Sail Away & Good Old Boys)
Ben Folds Five (s/t & Whatever & Ever Amen)
Pixies (Surfer Rosa & Doolittle)
Arcade Fire (Funeral & Neon Bible)


Bands that show marked & ragged development

The White Stripes (s/t to De Stijl to White Blood Cells)
Nirvana (Bleach to Nevermind)
Radiohead (Pablo Honey to The Bends)
The Hold Steady (Separation Sunday to Boys and Girls in America)
The Clash (Give 'Em Enough Rope to London Calling)

So Night Ripper is the Leap, but Feed The Animals maintains the spot on the plateau, and creates the beautiful illusion that Gillis could keep putting out 46 minute masterpieces like this until he dies or doesn't feel like doing it anymore. A perilous position to be in, for sure, because where's the escape hatch? But in the meantime it doubles the Night Ripper-quality output for everyone to enjoy.

Previously, I lauded Gillis for ignoring obscurity, which is the guiding principle for many DJs - the recontextualizing of the obscure. Listening to Feed The Animals, what's striking is the almost scientific way that Gillis isolates the hooks of the songs that he features. Every sample comes form a hit (and usually a massive, U.S. or worldwide hit), and for a song to hit like that it has to have at least one (and often several) monster, undeniable hooks. Usually that comes in the chorus, but as Gillis shows in his two monster pop albums, not as often as you might think. He shows an uncanny knack choosing the best or catchiest 10 seconds of each song he samples, and forms his weave out of those 10 second moments threaded together from beginning to end.

So, for example, he shows that most of Eminem's "Shake That Ass" pales next to the opening verse, and that the pop rush of Nirvana's "Lithium" really does come from those descending "Yeah Yeah Yeahs" - which cleverly calls out that Pixies/Nirvana loud-soft-loud move as the pop hook that it is, not the abrasive attack that it seems to position itself as. It's like the way William Goldman claims his Princess Bride is the good parts version, without the unnecessary boring parts - Feed the Animals is all good parts. That can make it somewhat exhausting, like catching a case of contact ADD. But it's the same thing that makes the album/mix/song/set such a rush in the first place.

Friday, July 18, 2008

7/18/08 - Why Writers?

My significant other read "Flight" by Sherman Alexie, and, while impressed, had a complaint that I often share - namely, the main character was obsessed with books. As she put it, it's not really realistic to think that this kid is obsessed with books, but it's eminently believable that the author is obsessed w/books and reading, because, well, he's an author. This is symptomatic of a widespread epidemic - literature obsessed characters in literature.

The truth is that most people are not book-obsessed, and the overt concerns about literature are reserved for a subset of self-selecting individuals. There are eight million stories in the naked city, as the saying goes, and surely 7,999,000 don't involve protagonists carrying around dog-eared copies of the Book That Changed Their Life. Stephen King is a good example of this - his stories are varied and his plots are remarkably diverse (much more so than reputed), but he has an abundance of writers as central characters. It's an insular world in which books are loved so fiercely, but the fact that belonging to this world is practically a requirement for a writer of literature gives the aggregate landscape of novel protagonists a protruding hump in the topographical category of "Writer/Book Lover".

Because writing is what writers do, the vagaries of the activity/profession often bear a greater weight of scrutiny than other professions and art forms. After all, communicating one's ideas through painting requires a specific set of skills involving brush and palette, but it is rare to find a painting that documents or critiques brush selection, or stroke technique, or what have you. In music, phrases are sampled and quoted, and lyrics can be used to critique other bands/artists (see Pavement, "Range Life", re:Smashing Pumpkins). It is not common for a band, in wanting to criticize or critique another band, to use certain chords as criticism. In hip-hop, maybe, when the form of attack is delivered in the form of that which attacks, but that's the closest to the solipsism of the writing profession.

Look no further than the overheated rhetoric accompanying season 5 of "The Wire", in which David Simon extended his critique of the modern city to journalism. All of the sudden, journalistic work on "The Wire" was everywhere, much of it delving into the question of the specific axe that Simon had to grind with his former colleagues at the Baltimore Sun. The consensus among journalists was that Simon's animus towards his former editors led him away from the shades-of-gray approach so evident in the first four seasons of the show, and that season 5's depiction of the newsroom storyline was too simplistic narratively.

Something about a lady and protesting? Oh, what was that quote...

The truth is that "The Wire" featured characters drawn in harder shades of gray approaching black or white in previous seasons (Officer Walker in S3, the Lester Freamon of S1), but where the hell was the impulse to devote the whole journalistic machine to analyzing Simon's treatment of cops (S1), union workers (S2), city government (S3), or schools (S4). Nowhere, because it wasn't their own being scrutinized. Cops, union workers, municipal employees, and teachers all have jobs that don't entail commenting on TV's views of their chosen profession, nor do they have a place to share those thoughts in a way that is looped into the public megaphone. Journalists do. So all of a sudden when Simon's acid vision was turned onto the fourth estate he's got all kinds of hidden biases in his way that hurt his narrative. A little too suspicious, methinks. "The Wire" has an axe to grind, and that's clear from the opening episode of the first season. To cry foul when it trains its harsh gaze on those with the loudest voice seems more than a little off.

Off it may be, but such is the power of written work - it priviledges and empowers the point of view of the person wielding the pen, for good or ill. So it may not be the worst thing in the world that writer's champion reading in the written word, but it does lend a little less credence to attempts at versimilitude, to the representing modern life's vast indifference to most literary endeavors.

Friday, July 11, 2008

7/11/08 - Next Steps

So, sure, Run-DMC's "Walk This Way" was a watershed moment, but it feels like the combination of rap with rock 'n' roll music still hasn't explored any past the front gates. I know that there was a period there where rock radio was filled with the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park and such, but just because something combines rap with rock doesn't mean that the music is any good. Conversely, it doesn't necessarily make it bad either, but the graceless lunkheads sprayed across hit radio after the Fred Durst & Co. hit it big sure would give that impression to the casual observer.

Rage Against the Machine is probably the most critically and commercially successful example of the genre, and I would posit that the Roots crew is the current paradigm of underground indie success. But both represent very specific paths toward the fusion of hip hop and rock, which means, Occam's Razor style, that there are a multitude of paths still left unblazed.

Because of the lack of workable models, Rage stands as the paradigm of the primarily "rock" act working in the hip-hop mode, which is somewhat strange due to the limited nature of their focus. Limit not meant in the pejorative sense, but literally - Rage's music is designed to accomplish a narrow set of aims - namely, make the listener feel just as pissed off and energized bout left-wing politics as Zach De La Rocha. The name of the band is the thesis statement of their sonic and lyric concerns - this is not a band given to experimentation. In this way they operate with the same kind self-limitations delineated by punk - like the buzzsaw pop of early Ramones, Rage's bludgeoning assault operates within a narrow range of tempo, attitude, and sound.

Now, this is not to denigrate the band - just to frame it. Rage has a lot of crucial strengths, and their central (and only) innovation was/is a powerful one. Recognizing that hip-hop's lack of melody and ratatat rhythms allow form of vocalization more assaultive and dramatic than anything sung could be, they proceeded to alloy said vocal style with the similarly amelodic and staccato rhythms of metal. The produced music that was assaultive to the core, but catchy through its rhythm (as opposed to its melodoy). Thus, the perfect message of form and function - when de la Rocha pops off about bulls being on parade, he really does come across as calm like a balm. There's no sing-along chorus to blunt the impact, but it's not deliberately alienating or off-putting like the Cookie Monsters of metal - it's just aggression, flattened down and welded the hip-hop's insistent beat.

So, a triumphant example of an aesthetic realized, but not exactly a viable model for the genre - Rage is pretty much a niche unto themselves (similar to a band like the Violent Femmes, and similarly inextricably linked with the powerful and powerfully peculiar personas of their frotnmen), and as such are more of an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

An actual step toward a successful fusion is the Roots crew, whose live performances are legend and well-known as bringing serious instrumental fire. Like Rage, the Roots musical dynamic is a push and pull from the musically restless ?uestlove and the solidly earnest MC Black Thought. "Here I Come" is the most rock 'n' roll song from the band that I'm familiar with, and it, like Rage, courses with the best of the 4/4 rock beat and aggression, riding ?uestlove's drums and the wah'ed guitar out of the gate all the way to the close.

Still, though, the Roots work solidly in the vernacular of hip-hop - their commitment to live instrumentation sets them apart and gives them a rock sheen, but really their project is to bring live instruments to the hip-hop sound. Thus, their songs are not structured as rock songs; with riffs, verses, choruses, bridges, and dynamic shifts/peaks/valleys. They're structured more as hip-hop songs - with the instrumental there as the bed for lyrical dexterity. It's somewhat of an fallacy to say that the play rock/hip-hop - really, they're almost pure hip-hop with live instruments. "Here I Come" rides the same riff the whole way through - were it taking from the rock vernacular there would at least be a solo - or the guitar part would change during the chorus (like Bulls on Parade).

Still, Black Thought is a more varied MC than de la Rocha, so stacking the 2 bands up next to each other illuminates the yawning gap that is still open for a fusion of genre to fill. Pop acts have taken hip-hop sounds for a while now (see: "Every Morning", Sugar Ray), and vice versa (see: every hip-hop song with an artfully placed female-sung chorus) - rock is a genre that's encrusted with a bit more traditionalism. Still, though, it's 2008 - it's time to get with the program. I'm about ready for Led Zeppelin fronted not by Robert Plant, but by Nas - which means not just hip-hop with live instruments, or aggression-dialed-to-11, but a full range of moods, styles, and instrumental color in the rock style with some rhyming woven through. Too much to ask? I'm keeping the faith.