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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" is my top pick from the 2000s garage revival

The White Stripes' 2001 single showcases their unmistakable sound in my favorite ways.

Looking at the music I've discussed so far in this project, I find I've covered a lot of my bases when it comes to the various styles I've enjoyed throughout my life. From 60s R&B through modern house productions, my listen profile cuts a wide swath that may feel disjunct to some of you, but for me simply represents the range of tastes I have. However, I recently noticed one glaring omission that I seek to begin correcting today: the 2000s garage revival.

I wasn't really raised on rock, but it was always around through the radio and various uses in media. Back in the first decade of my life I didn't respond to older rock nearly as much, but I did really enjoy hearing bands like the White Stripes. With their simple instrumentation, dynamic range, and heavy distortion, their music was generally easy to follow along with as well as easy to (try to) dance to.

Going through the White Stripes' catalog again for the purpose of selecting just one song for this article was a nostalgic experience. I remembered the big hits the most — those being "Fell in Love with a Girl," "Seven Nation Army," and "Icky Thump" — but the song that stuck with me these past few days was "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground." I really feel that song represent the best Jack and Meg White had to offer together. (Additionally, Michel Gondry's music video is his typical excellence — enjoy while you listen.)

I'm continually amazed by the sheer music force Jack and Meg achieved with just an electric guitar, a drum kit, and a softly mixed tambourine. It's a testament to the duo's sonic vision, as well as Jack's production that allowed the instruments to fill up space that may otherwise be left to a keyboard or a bass. Jack strikes a beautiful balance between distortion and clarity while also emphasizing the guitar's low end in the chorus to provide that extra dirt that compels you to move your head to the beat in conjunction with Meg's straight-ahead drum beat. When contrasted with the softer, cleaner guitar from the verses, the distortion and its effects become all the more impactful.

The other element of the song that really captures my attention is the flexibility in its tempo. Especially with technological advances in music production in the past few decades, it's become exceedingly common for tracks to have one consistent tempo all the way through, with the drumbeat and other elements locked to the grid. "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" couldn't be more the opposite — each verse's first line is significantly slower than the rest, accented by an even further slowdown on the final couple beats as Jack finishes his vocal phrase before the regular tempo returns. It's a flourish most acts either a) wouldn't be willing to take, or b) wouldn't have the chemistry to nail lack Jack and Meg did (I truly believe they got it right in studio). It's also a testament to the intimacy of a duo, which can maximize their musical codependency in a way larger ensembles cannot.

Combine the qualities I've described above with Jack White channeling his appreciation for the blues through his vocal delivery and lyrics on the highs and lows of love in a partner's presence and absence, and "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" encapsulates my favorite attributes of the White Stripes' style. The garage revival blossomed around them (and somewhat in their wake), but through it all, the Stripes' unique attributes kept them instantly identifiable in ways that draw me back to their sound all these years later.

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