Music Notes: Appropriating Arizona

Jason P. WoodburyNovember 2018
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National bands are doing a little Southwestern cultural co-opting.

In case you haven’t heard, our little chunk of the desert is hot – as in trending. Taste-making millennials have taken a strong and unexpected shine to desert imagery, roaming herd-like from succulent-filled Airbnbs to Sonoran vistas for selfie backdrops. From Urban Outfitters’ ad campaigns to the ultra-hyped FORM Festival, which takes place annually at Arcosanti north of Phoenix, bands and artists are more than happy to co-opt our landscape in search of a little desert magic, even if they aren’t from around these parts. A few examples:

New Jersey electro pop trio A R I Z O N A (yes, they spell it like that, with a space between each letter) didn’t form in the desert. Zachary Charles, Nate Esquite and David Labuguen met while studying at Berklee College of Music and Emerson College. Their glitzy 2018 singles “Summer Days” and “Freaking Out” might not scream “Southwest,” but their album art makes liberal use of familiar dusty landscapes and washed-out skies.

Indiana-based band Houndmouth has a knack for blending rootsy motifs with glossy pop. The band’s 2018 album Golden Age leaned more toward synths and electronics, but the group’s biggest song is the bouncy “Sedona,” from 2015’s Little Neon Limelight, perhaps the only streaming hit ever to shout out Sedona Arabella Miller Schnebly, wife of the Arizona town’s first postmaster and its namesake.

The Chainsmokers and Halsey  
“Closer,” the 2016 collaboration between pop duo The Chainsmokers and singer Halsey, was unavoidable on the radio. (Sorry if “We ain’t ever getting older” is now looping in your head at the mere mention of the song.) With its references to a Blink-182 song “beat to death in Tucson,” the song conjured images of young (and doomed) love on the run.

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