For those who read The New Yorker compulsively like myself, you are probably aware of pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones’ unhealthy obsession with the nauseatingly-hyped act Sleigh Bells. Without a debut LP, EP, or hell even a low-level distributable 7”, this Brooklyn based “hard-pop” act has certainly garnered a lot of attention from just four demo tracks released on myspace. With a love ‘em or hate ‘em mentality we haven’t seen since Wavves, there is bound to be ample discussion/arguing about their musical talent. Which brings me to my point…
Their unofficial second most popular track is the song “Ring Ring”. It’s hypnotic to say the least and is definitely more soulful than what you would expect from a white middle-school teacher, however there is a dark side to this otherwise chirpy pop song: the melodic guitar line which serves as the backbone to this sparsely composed track seems to be a direct rip-off of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That” beat (courtesy GvB). Here are the two side-by-side so you can decide for yourself:
Now some would claim that repetition is bound to happen with so much music out there, I mean there are only SO many chords you can play. I think that argument has merit in some instances on seemingly logical chord progressions, but that Funkadelic beat is so unique in my opinion that it is tough to claim that defense. To me, it just seems like blatant artistic theft.
Although this egregious beat hijacking seems incredibly troublesome, it’s unlikely that George Clinton & Co. will be hurt much financially because of this. After all the amount of revenue generated by Sleigh Bells at the moment is not that much (especially since they haven’t released anything for sale yet), so hypothetical royalties would be next to nothing. However, that is not the case with this other example I came across this past week of musical theft by famed producer Timberland:
Needless to say, the Finnish act seems to be out a chunk-of-change considering the song was featured on an album that sold over 10 million copies. I know there are more examples like this (see: Coldplay) and that there is a fine line between infringing and innovation (see: Girl Talk), but there should be some consequences when the infraction is so blatant, am I right?