Semi-New Song Sunday: Aaron Frazer

Even the most faithful recreations of “vintage” music can add something new

The video to Aaron Frazer’s “Bad News” is remarkable: a fascinating dance performance around a section of Brooklyn, set to a song that’s such a faithful recreation of 70s R&B that you’d wonder if the dance was the entire point, not the music. Which I think is a bold move for a singer making his solo debut.

As I understand it, Frazer was drummer and occasional singer with Durand Jones & The Indications, a band that Jones started with three of his classmates. I keep seeing that band’s music, as well as Frazer’s solo album, described as “vintage” and “nostalgic,” which can come across as a tactful way of saying “looking backwards without adding anything new.”

And since I’ve never been a particularly big fan of R&B or soul, it does kind of blend into the background for me — I like it quite a bit, but I need some kind of hook to make me genuinely interested. Here, there’s an undercurrent of activism and social consciousness; it’s not accidental that it calls back to the music of the Civil Rights movement. It’s a reminder that music can be more than just escapist and commercial, but an agent of change.

The bigger hook for me with Frazer’s music, though, is the variety of arrangements. I first heard of him yesterday courtesy of a live performance of five songs for KEXP, which makes every one 10 times more interesting than the album versions I’ve heard so far.

Honestly, as soon as I saw a young man sit down with an acoustic guitar and start singing in a high falsetto, I was reminded of James in one of the greatest scenes in Twin Peaks. But the string quartet, and the earnestness of it, won me over quickly. The second track seems to lean even harder into the Twin Peaks vibe, with a clean-cut guy singing at a mic in what seems to be an annex of the Roadhouse. But with each song, they change up the instrumentation a bit and show a different side of the music.

It all calls back to R&B and soul from around 1960 to 1977 or so — I’m not musically literate enough to pinpoint it better than that — but instead of feeling like just a slavish recreation, it feels more like a celebration. I started out skeptical, but over the course of five songs I became a fan.

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