Archive for February, 2012
- LEGO Architecture’s Fallingwater model
- Framed embroidery featuring one of Kanye West’s wise tweets
- A Squishable Rooster (or—wait—is the Squishable Buffalo better?)
- A steer’s head made from recycled farm machinery
- Some Mark Nason loafers that are either killer or are totally the first step toward a career as a full-time shuffleboard player
I came of age—in just about every meaningful sense of that term—in the 1980s. My interests, my worldview, and my aesthetic will, I guess, always have an 80s vibe. In fact, God willing, I’ll still be rocking out to Guadalcanal Diary when I’m in the nursing home.
Apparently, I won’t be alone.
Gotye is the project of Wouter De Backer, a Belgian-Australian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist musician. Making Mirrors is his third album, but—thanks to my album club—it’s the first that comes to my attention. And though De Backer was himself born in the 1980s (gulp!), it’s obvious that he’s wallowing in the sound and feel of that decade as much as I still am. In fact, nearly every review seems to compare his sound to Peter Gabriel, early-solo Sting, or, for gosh sakes, Hall & Oates. It’s easy to see why.
Yes, nearly every track on Making Mirrors sounds like something you might’ve heard on the radio in, oh, 1985. Is that a good thing? For me, of course, the answer is yes. Is that the sign of a mature artist—or, for that matter, a mature listener? You tell me.
The first couple of tracks on Making Mirrors (a wee title track and “Easy Way Out”) certainly had me thinking of a certain breed of 80s-era “experimental” rock. Oh, hell, I just say it: The songs had me thinking Peter Gabriel-esque thoughts. From there, though, the album moves into other terrains. Other 80s-style terrains, anyway. “I Feel Better” evokes late Motown. “Eyes Wide Open” is a little INXS-ish. “State of the Art” is early techno—if one can still produce “early” techno in the 21st century. I’m thinking Gotye can.
Gotye has some real range here. Making Mirrors is a tour of the 80s. And that’s a tour I’ll always sign up for.
“Somebody That I Used to Know” is the standout on the album. De Backer’s vocals on the track—about lost love, naturally—will probably have you thinking of Sting. De Backer usefully pairs his vocals with those of Kimbra, a New Zealander who, I swear, sort of reminds me of a cross between Kate Bush and Bonnie Tyler. I just can’t stop with the 80s references! Whatever—”Somebody” has a great sound. It’s the song that’s going on my iPod.
On a scale of one to 10, Making Mirrors gets a seven.
Somehow or other, my friend Jenny convinced me to join her album club. This is really a tribute to her, and my fondness for her, because I’ve had some bad experiences with clubs. The office book club, for instance, has had me on a steady diet of Thackeray, way-too-serious nonfiction, and Thomas Pynchon for, oh, about 10 years now. I yearn for a little light reading, you know? Would it really hurt the group to—hey, just once in awhile—pick a little mystery novel? Or to read something about love? Apparently so.
I’ve actually been threatening to leave the book club. And when the Pynchon-lovers ask why, I just say something about being middle-aged. About time being short. About wanting to spend my limited free time reading what I want to read.
So, erm, maybe it’s not a good sign that I’m just not too wild about the album club’s initial selection, Over the Rhine‘s The Trumpet Child. The band—centered around a husband and wife—is from southern Ohio, and it’s apparently even named after a Cincinnati neighborhood. I took that as a good sign. After all, I’m drawn to music that’s rootsy, to music that’s marked by regionalism of some sort or other. Indeed, Americana music is one of my favorite genres. And my friends in the club were toying with the Americana label as a possible way of describing Over the Rhine’s music.
To my ear, though, this is not an Americana band. And I don’t mean that as criticism. Not really, anyway. There is just very little about this band that draws from or speaks to any sort of American roots music. Karin Bergquist’s vocals, for instance, are completely untraceable to any region. She could be from Cincinnati or Chicago or Tacoma or San Mateo. For that matter, she could be from Brussels or Munich. She has a sort of bland, mildly jazz-y vocal delivery—something on the order of what you’d expect from a contemporary Christian artist who’d suddenly forsaken Jesus for Ella. Likewise, the vibe provided by pianist/guitarist Linford Detweiler is more Suburban Strip Mall™ than Dusty Honky Tonk™.
Again, that Over the Rhine isn’t an Americana band is not criticism. But this is. Even on its own terms, the music just isn’t very compelling. The songs are banal, and Bergquist adds almost nothing in the way of interpretation. She sings well but not interestingly. If you were at a jazz club or a hotel bar, with a gin-and-tonic in one hand and your beau in the other, you’d have a pleasant enough time listening to songs like “Trouble,” “Entertaining Thoughts,” and the title track. But you wouldn’t remember the songs later. Later, you’d remember the times when (as on “I’m on a Roll,” “Who’ I Kiddin’ but Me,” and “If a Song Could Be President”) Bergquist’s delivery became too precious—almost downright twee.
For me—and know this: I’m a sucker for songs about love and desperation—what’s most unforgivable is to sing a song called “Desperate for Love” in a way that suggests neither love nor desperation. And that’s true whether the singer works in jazz, Americana, or Hotel Bar Generic™.
My favorite song on the album is actually “Don’t Wait for Tom,” a song featuring Detweiler’s mildly quirky vocals. The song is insubstantial, but Detweiler—a poor man’s Tom Waits—at least tried to have fun with it.
On a scale of 10, I’d give The Trumpet Child a three.
P.S. Despite this review, I’m looking forward to the album club’s February selection. But wait—is there a musical equivalent of a Thomas Pynchon novel?