by carl wilson

Does Dylan Have Flow?

I can recommend to you Keith Harris's fascinating As Yet Untitled blog, in which he contrasts a current hit album with a not-necessarily-current non-hit album (often linked to it by nice lateral moves, such as the current Kenny Chesney v. Courtney Love thread).

In one recent thread comparing Twista's Kamikaze with the Hold Steady's The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, he gets into a compelling discussion of the anatomy of flow, which Twista of course famously has in spades. [...]

He wisely steers clear of defining it beyond saying that it has something to do with how the metrics of the lyrics are matched to the rhythm of the beats, and makes the apt comparison to the quality of "swing" in jazz: You have to say it has something to do with syncopation, but if you define it too narrowly then you end up following Philip Larkin and saying Coltrane didn't swing.

He also extends flow beyond rap to ask, does Dylan have flow? (He kind of implies no, but then how do you explain Subterranean Homesick Blues?) And of special interest to Zoilus, he uses the Mountain Goats as a best-practices case:

In an upcoming Mountain Goats review ... I flailed around at trying to explain the way John Darnielle fits syllables to a certain meter, and I bet his Classics degree left him with better terminology for that sort of analysis than my English major. I have a sense that when people rave about Darnielle’s words, they’re implicitly acknowledging rhythmic aptness as well as content, which isn‘t necessarily the case with an Elvis Costello or a Dylan.

(Which is enough to send me scrambling back to dictionaries of rhetoric for an expanded critical lexicon of flow, though I can't actually scramble anywhere at the moment as I'm at my desk at work. I'll try to report back on that research.)

I think this accounts for much of the rallying-cry power of Darnielle's music, the reason I often mentally picture him singing through a megaphone with a Varsity t-shirt on, or being carried on the shoulders of "the young thousands" through the streets of ancient Athens. He really does punch into the music-words nexus like a spike of ephedrine into the central-nervous system, especially on the louder faster songs.

And there are smaller things: The way, for instance, that he sings, "I am not going to lose you/ We are going to stay married," first running out of breath on the first short line and then half breaking into a laugh on the final word that also sounds a bit like a fiddle reel over the guitar rhythm on Southwood Plantation Road (Tallahassee) at once says more about the automatically self-mocking situation the characters are in than the lyrics themselves do, and also makes more of the threadbare melody than the melody itself contains, provoking that sense of listening in-between the notes. That's hardcore.

Anyway, thanks to Keith for an entry that will stick with me and affect the way I write about music in the future.

Read More | The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, March 11 at 7:52 PM | Linking Posts

 

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Zoilus by Carl Wilson