Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Inexorable Influences of Fleetwood Mac & Steely Dan

This morning alone I have encountered enough music by myriad artists to fully comprehend the undeniable and inexorable influences of Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan upon modern-day musicians. Though it may have begun with a sense of irony, there exists now an entire sub-genre of indie rock that can trace its roots directly to these two pioneering acts. The resurgence of late in this style of jazzy rock saturated with multiple vocals harmonizing effortlessly is a bit puzzling. My question is whether this is simply a passing trend (shall we call it The Fleetwood Dan Influence? The Steely Mac Influence? No, I've got it...), or if The Steelwood Man Influence is here to stay.

I'm not sure who to hold responsible for originally utilizing the sounds of Fleetwood Mac or Steely Dan. Given their own profound influence in the past decade, however, I'm going with Pharrell Williams and his cohorts in The Neptunes and N.E.R.D. - specifically Chad Hugo. With the latest N.E.R.D. album, Seeing Sounds, dropping yesterday, this seems as good a place as any to start. Even though the vast majority of Neptunes' work in the mainstream is known for its minimalist beats (think Clipse, pre-Timbaland JT), the side project of N.E.R.D. has always incorporated a strong Steelwood Man Influence in addition to soulful Motown sounds. More Steely Dan than Fleetwood Mac, check out 2002's "Run to the Sun":

It's practically a remake of "Ricky Don't Lose My Number". Maybe not exactly, but you get the idea. Seeing Sounds gives us plenty of beat-filled dance-jams, but it also gives us the vibraphonic, "You Know What", another undeniable Steely Dan throwback:

Following along the same lineage are Next Big Thing, Chin Chin. The band's own Myspace page describes their sounds as "Brass Construction doing New Edition covers arranged by Steely Dan for Dick James Enterprises". In case the Dan influence wasn't obvious on "You Can't Hold Her":

Clearly Steely Dan have left their mark. Before moving on to Fleetwood Mac, let's first enjoy this classic from The Royal Scam:

Now, the Fleetwood Mac influence upon modern artists is confounding, as their soft rock sound is so iconic to a very specific time period. Female vocalists have been attempting to mimic Stevie Nicks for years (a couple of them recently - Neko Case & Rose - getting very close). But the artists I've heard this morning alone, as I mentioned at the start, are all young up-and-coming indie acts spanning the country, yet all integrating complex harmonizing into their songs.

From Texas, Midlake:

From Washington state, Next Big Thing Fleet Foxes:

From Brooklyn, mC fave Yeasayer:

What's most interesting is that these are modern bands making new music that sounds new, but The Steelwood Man Influence is unequivocal. As these artists continue to make music, and as they continue to garner press and media attention, their own influence will propagate. As a result, the jazz-infused neo-psychedelic blues-rock of the late 70s is poised to stick around. Let's just hope the accompanying fashion statements of the epoch aren't resurrected as well.


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