Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two Thousand Eight - 9. Chromeo - Fancy Footwork

Do some people obviously and for some reason sort of wish it was still the 80’s? Obviously that’s a yes. Are some people musicians? Uh huh. Lots of records come out out of this demographic intersection, but Fancy Footwork takes an interesting approach to making it sound like the era of Members Only jackets.

Most bands with an 80s fetish are content to retread hyper trendy ground by packaging dated arrangements in more modern compression envelopes EQed in more bands than Duran Duran could have ever hoped to see in their lifetimes. The resulting listening experience from this sort of approach, a band in 2008 trying to sound like the 80s, isn't the same thing as actually listening to music from the 80s. Talk ‘til you’re blue in the face about how much Cut Copy sounds like New Order or how much the Presets sound like Depeche Mode, you can’t get around the fact that, despite obvious similarities, the records these bands put out this year sound very of their time. Whatever the 80s means in terms of a sound, it comes from a precise meeting of mixing boards, early digital technology, reverb/gate matchups, and other things that are far too specific and far too boring for most bands to care about them.

But Chromeo sidesteps that concern. Forget about the video homage to “Money For Nothing”, Chromeo is on something else even if they don’t know it. Call it reverse engineering. Chromeo seems to start with the feeling you get from a the 80s pop canon recording, or the particular euphoria of geeking out to a blaring freestyle jam, then they somehow remove the essence of the experience from immediate context of production or musical style. Of course, they usually add a lot of that style back, but the point is that they reconstruct the 80s sound largely out of non-musical or non-technological parts. The aim is a faithful recreation of what it feels like to hear 80s music, without actually hearing 80s music being a requirement.

So, you hear vocoders, which ought to trigger some sort of 80s synapse, but if you look a little closer, they use vocoders way more than anyone short of Afrika Bambaataa. It’s awesome because, beyond the fact that it’s goofy, it also makes you think you’re hearing an accurate approximation of what 80s music was like, while it’s actually something totally weird.

Chromeo did this on their first record, too, but to a much more limited degree, and not as skillfully. “Momma’s Boy” is the easiest thing to point to as the turning point. While they were always good at making you dance like you were hearing “Lucky Star” for the first time, Chromeo has also now somehow learned how to do Hall and Oates too! What the hell? And “Bonafide Lovin”? That “oh-uh-oh” bit on the chorus is straight I’m not even sure. It feels like it could be New Edition, but I wouldn’t even compare the two.

Basically, this is a great pop record. The lyrics (I fucking love “what you need is an older guy/With a little bit of life experience/The right clothes and the right appearance”. That’s timeless songcraft in action.) match the music, which matches a certain skin deep, yet very positive and universally applicable emotion. I tend to think 2008 was pretty terrible for pop music, but then I play this record and I’m all: “what am I so worried about?”

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two Thousand Eight - 10. Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna

God's Money was a good record, which I liked, and, unfortunately, never really internalized. It's something of an experimental record, whatever that means: in this case it means that the songs are indistinct - the sense that they serve to create an album, more than they seek to be songs in and of themselves. It is a music album, not a group of songs, and needs to be appreciated in 40 minute bursts. Serious listeners have a chance at really getting this record, and everyone else maybe only catches glimpses of what it's about. I pretty much never listened to it seriously enough, but I could tell that there was some subtle stuff waiting in there for me when I had time for it.

Well, three years later, I still never made time and Gang Gang Dance came out with the perfect follow up record. This one has all the great stuff that made God's Money great and other stuff that makes Saint Dymphna even better. The main thing, though, is that this time around the band manages to create memorable songs within the context of a cohesive album. The off kilter loops, Brooklyn via Africa percussion (not the other way around), and magically not cliched atmospherics from the last album are still there but now there are hooks too.

If I ever pretend that I like listening to experimental music that doesn't have any hooks outside of a live context, you have the right to tell me I'm full of shit. Let's be honest - God's Money didn't have hooks enough to bring me back to it, even though I enjoyed it and knew it was a great record. I couldn't be more thankful that Gang Gang Dance wrote "House Jam" and "First Communion" because now I can like them unreservedly. They're now a band I can enjoy concretely, not in some assumed world of musical validity populated by vision without intent, innovation without soul. I guess this is how some people felt when Animal Collective released Sung Tongs. A band that showed perhaps an excess of enthusiasm and too little conception of their own strengths on their first record, made the sort of record they were meant to make on the second try.


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Friday, December 05, 2008

Link Corral Part VII

Here's some more stuff I've been doing:

Andrew W.K. and the Calder Quartet at Le Poisson Rouge, November 15th
From Tiny Mix Tapes

The Pitchfork 500's Five Most Obscure Songs

From Flavorwire

Japanese Review Roundup
From Flavorwire

Year end stuff to come when I have a minute.

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