on the beat

I found my heart quickening in exhilaration today as I listened to the White Stripes’ “Cannon” on the bus, from their first album.  It’s Son House’s rendition of “John the Revelator”, piped through the dark metal of Zep.  These guys totally do it for me.  Creative, deeply traditional, rigorous, and pounding.

What I realized on replay is that my emotional response is largely a function of Meg White’s drums.  They have human texture, they’re driving and primal, yet tight.  Her control of where she lands on the beat is exquisite.  “Cannon” begins rolling off the back of the beat with a muddy bass drum, but then, as the call-and-response gets in the groove, she switches to crisp cymbal and shifts to the center, give or take a millisecond.  Jack White’s whoops and power chords, also still and precise despite their loud, low-fi analog bloom, intensify the effect.  This is the beating heart, the eigenvector of something.

Contrast with Ween’s refractory, stoned-sounding percussion, always riding the back of the groove.  Not that Ween isn’t much loved.  It’s a question of whether the pulse rises or the eyebrow.


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