The Afghan Whigs – Debonair

Year :
Screaming Trees / The National / The Twilight Singers

Dancing is, perhaps, the most innate reaction to music. We bob our heads, tap a foot, swing a leg or an arm. Our body reacts if we get into the flow of a song. It’s a kinetic release for our emotions, a sort of peaceful option instead of taking it out on a punching bag, a personal reaction instead of running or working out. Music and movement are linked in our minds to such a degree that I tend to believe they are somehow naturally, intrinsically linked.

For all the importance behind this link, though, I don’t particularly believe in the worth of “dance music.” The first reason is that very little of it interests me personally. There is a frequent simplistic, repetitive nature to it, it’s often synthetically created, and it tends to be conceptually shallow. Nights I’ve spent in clubs with DJs spinning into the wee hours have been hodgepodges, with songs that are hacked beyond recognition, or else songs which blend so effortlessly as to make them totally indistinguishable to most ears. The scenes tend to be meat markets above and beyond venues for music appreciation. It’s a world of chaos set to throbbing, constant beats… ideal for losing track of the time and money spent, but not for really having an experience with music. This is, of course, my own bias, albeit one which I feel has a lot of merit and is based on pretty undeniable proofs. The second thing I have against the scene, however, is far less opinion-based: simply put, all music can be dance music. Why subject myself to a “great dance song” when I can listen to songs I love anyway which ALSO are great to dance to?

Perhaps as the prime example, allow me to introduce, or re-introduce, the Afghan Whigs.

If one was to list the things that made grunge music grungy, what would come up? Angst, for sure. Squealing, noisy guitars. Raspy, imperfect shouts of voices. Put another way, everything that the Afghan Whigs did best. Listening to Debonair, there is all the torture and conflict of the era’s more popular artists. It crunches through with the same grit, and the same power octaves sliding up and down the neck of the guitars. Lead singer Greg Dulli shouts with the best of them, his lyrics conjuring up images of a constricting snake which has “locked its jaws, and now it’s swallowing.” The picture fits perfectly with the brooding and ominous mood that the music provides.

That snake image, however, also hints at how sinuous the track is. The bassline manages to be funky while also adding to the tension of the song. The drums hit at just the right beats, without ceasing to be a standard rock beat. The single guitar chord is strummed with a syncopation that is very precise, not simply wild. Dulli is known for the sonic attack, sure, and he’s worked with no less a king of brooding rock than Mark Lanegan, but under all of this, there is a very intentional groove. It’s not a one-song fluke, either: outside of their slower work, there is always a groove underneath layers of rock that would have fit in with any number of their musical peers. It can be harsh and angry, the vocals are anything but smooth, the drums are from a standard rock kit. And yet, there is nothing about these songs that wouldn’t make them 100% danceable, if only we realized it.

“Debonair” is one of the most obvious points of departure for this argument, because the rhythm section hammers that groove home. It might not be what you’re listening to the first or the fifth or the tenth time, but when you find it, ask yourself honestly if your body wasn’t bouncing to the music. Ask yourself if you can truly say that there wasn’t a natural, if perhaps slow, desire to move along with it. Once you see it happen when you don’t expect it, you’re open to finding it where you’re told you can’t. The potential in your music collection increases tenfold. More importantly, though, aren’t you tired of rationalizing summer jams and hit singles with the words “yeah, it’s not great, but it’s good for dancing”?

There are good dancers and bad dancers. I will always be in the latter category, and I accept that. Dancing, however, is personal. Whether you could back up Beyonce or clear out a circle pit with your flailing, it’s about the connection to the song. If you’re keeping time quietly by patting your leg, or head-banging with an air guitar, you’re feeling something. And if you’re lucky enough to simply embody rhythm, show everyone how it’s done. One of the big songs this year talked about dancing in terms of “doing it right.” Let’s make next year about realizing that that’s bullshit. There are plenty of ways to dance, and any way you prefer, you can do it to any music you wish.

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Alex Lupica (@Alex_Soundtrack) has been in love with music since he was a toddler, despite its infidelities. (Really, music? Nu-metal? How could you!). Alex is Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Soundtrack.

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