Posts tagged: ’80s

Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

By , February 4, 2013 12:00 pm


Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

Warner Bros. 2013

Rating: 7/10

At the heart of it all – the cheesy, shimmery synths, dolled up with a glorious major-label sheen, the dance-floor bass wallops, the nostalgic grooves that call to mind bad movies and worse outfits – Heartthrob is still the same old Tegan and Sara fans have always known. The touchstones are now more Breakfast Club and Madonna than power chords and Metric, the production slicker, shinier, the cover a colorful, stylized wallpaper than an ominous tome or a blood-red rose, yet there they are on opener “Closer,” still dreaming of “how to get you underneath me.” There’s no way around it: Heartthrob finds Tegan and Sara finally bowing down at the altar of pop that they had been paying occasional respects to ever since So Jealous, yet those hooky melodies and incandescent synths only serve to cleverly disguise those exposed emotions, sharp lyrics and distinct, powerful voices. Heartthrob still bites as incisively, forgives as breathlessly as the Tegan and Sara of old, and that’s a wonderful realization after the culture shock of hearing the twins translated through producer Greg Kurstin’s (the Bird and the Bee) arena-geared sound. The drums here punch along fearlessly, robotically, while the synths paint things in day-glo colors and with fluorescent clarity, and signposts generally not associated with the sisters’ punk reputation – Pink, Robyn, Cyndi Lauper, et. al. – show up with increasing regularity. Yet where this carefully manicured sound can sometimes come off as prepackaged, Tegan and Sara present an interesting dichotomy between the glossy production Kurstin serves up and the strong emotional content the duo’s lyrics and vocal performances reveal. It makes Heartthrob a fine example of what pop music can accomplish when one doesn’t lose sight of the feelings that led to it.

Not to say that Kurstin’s work here is mere window dressing for Tegan and Sara’s typically adroit observations. “Drove Me Wild” is a vintage new-wave hit that very well may be the finest pop song of 2013, the kind of unassuming hook that burrows around and refuses to leave your head, “Back In Your Head” with those fantastically sleazy synths replacing that insistent keyboard line. “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” pairs a herky-jerky rhythm with a straightforward chorus as plain and simple in its pop ambitions as the venomous lyrics that propel it angrily forward. The best songs are those that combine Kurstin’s direct, anthemic style with Tegan and Sara’s unhinged emotion and insistent vocal melodies, be in it the manic, thrilling chorus of “Closer” or the defiant, bleak synth-pop kiss-off “Shock to Your System,” which closes out Heartthrob in suitably dramatic fashion. Even when the album crosses the line from glamorous to tawdry, as on the big-hair-and-leg-warmers nightmare of “I Was A Fool,” Tegan and Sara never sound like they are running through the motions. Heartthrob doesn’t intend to shack up with the electro-pop fad for a quick cash-in, but instead transforms their sound wholesale into something that sounds like a natural evolution.

Occasionally, the bright lights and mammoth, sparkling sounds detract from the flow of the record, a ceaseless dance party broken up only by tempo shifts. It’s a blueprint that comes off as more than a little uniform, especially in regards to some of the band’s loopier records (2007’s The Con comes to mind). Indeed, Heartthrob nears exhaustion by the time the one-two depressive punch of “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “Shock to Your System” close things up, a regretful hangover to a torrid night of affairs. Yet songs as pristinely produced and playfully constructed as “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “I’m Not A Hero” are not usually this immediate, this visceral; painfully detailed recreations of romantic entanglements gone right and wrong, often as quick one way as the other. For all its narrow musical sensibilities, Heartthrob never marginalizes its heart. “I’ve never walked a party line / doesn’t mean that I was never afraid / I’m not your hero / but that doesn’t mean we’re not one in the same,” the sisters sing, and it’s as telling a line about their musical ethos as it is a satisfying statement about their own identities. As crushing as some of these songs are, Heartthrob never lets you feel the weight, but prefers to revel in emotions good or bad, most often while sweating everything out under a crystalline disco ball. You can’t ask much more from pop music than that.

Heartthrob, the highly anticipated follow-up to Sainthood, gives us Tegan and Sara in their superhero tights and capes, ready to conquer the pop universe, and the new outfits suit them just as well as their old-school jeans and T-shirts.
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Chromatics – The Page

By , April 12, 2012 10:00 am

Fresh off his success with the Drive soundtrack, producer Johnny Jewel recently released the Chromatics fourth studio album (proper U.S. release coming in May) on distinctive label Italians Do It Better, and Kill for Love maintains that nostalgic, ’80s vibe that dominated Drive and takes it to a new, M83-esque level (17 tracks that run for well over an hour). It’s a pretty incredible recreation of a certain time and sound, and similar to M83 last year, it reveres the past but creates something undeniably new and fresh with it. If you liked Drive or Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming or anything that comes out of Jewel’s mixing board, this is a must-have for 2012.

Chromatics – “The Page”

M83 – Wait

By , October 25, 2011 10:00 am

One of the best songs from one of the best albums of the year. Get Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming now if you haven’t had the chance and you love pop music.

M83 – “Wait”

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

By , October 18, 2011 10:00 am

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Mute 2011

Rating: 9/10

There’s a point a little more than a fourth of the way into Anthony Gonzalez’ latest art-pop manifesto where it all starts to make sense. The day-glo synths, the cavalcade of gated drums and chintzy keyboards, the near-slavish devotion to ‘80s pop tropes – it’s not just flattery, not merely a homage meant to evoke the sounds of the past that 2008’s Saturdays=Youth satisfactorily accomplished. It’s fitting that it’s not Gonzalez who lays out Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’s mission, but a young child. “Do you want to play with me? / We can be a whole group of friends,” the child asks on “Raconte – Moi Une Histoire,” and it doesn’t matter whether this kid is male or female, where he is from or what her intentions are. “We would be hundreds, thousands, millions / the biggest group of friends the world has ever seen / jumping and laughing forever / it would be great, right?”  It’s an undoubtedly immature statement, but that’s what makes it so perfect. By stripping away the concerns of adults, of age and background and history, it becomes primal and universal: love and hope. Has there ever been a better argument for music?

A cynic would see this as cheesy, much like Gonzalez’s musical influences, or suggest a clever metaphor for drug use (or a blunt one – “blue becomes red and red becomes blue / and your mommy suddenly becomes your daddy / and everything looks like a giant cupcake.” Kids – aren’t they just the darndest?). Those people are missing the point. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a classic bedroom pop record, but not for its Breakfast Club-inspired musical scenery, nor for its confessional attitude. It’s bedroom pop in the sense that it’s constantly dreaming – of a better time, of a better world, of a better place where that group of a million friends jumping and laughing forever isn’t so ridiculous. It’s a tribute to the music of Gonzalez’ youth that still sounds fresh and vital in ways that its own inspirations never did. It’s a celebration of that same youth and that state of mind, a wide-eyed look at what could be. Most of all, it’s Gonzalez’s imagination run wild, and in that respect, it is a colossal achievement.

Could Gonzalez have trimmed the fat down a little? The double-album conceit is almost never necessary, and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is no exception. The various interludes are some of the most interesting bits of music on the record, but their length is what does them in. Given Gonzalez’s seemingly effortless way of creating a pop hook out of nothing, it would have been fascinating to see the sketches of “Train To Pluton” or “Another Wave From You” develop further. Instead, they’re simply teases: beautiful, gorgeous ones at that, but still unnecessary to the overall arc of the album. The 22-song length is intimidating, and Gonzalez never gives you a chance to catch your breath – pop anthem after pop anthem is the order of the day here, massive multi-tracked walls of sound and spacey synths that stretch on into fields of reverb. Occasionally there is a comedown; the lovely minor-key “Splendor” comes to mind, so oddly placed between “Another Wave From You”’s cascading build-up and the upbeat guitar pop of “Year One, One UFO;” and “Wait,” where an acoustic guitar does more for the song than any of Gonzalez’s surging keyboards. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is, quite frankly, a titanic record, and Gonzalez would have it no other way.

It has to be, of course. If Saturdays=Youth was M83’s take on the ‘80s, all those wonderful spoken word bits recalling the best of ‘80s schlock and the synths the best of that era’s vapidity and material glamor, then Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is the ‘80s. At times here, Gonzalez sounds almost like a relic – his yelp recalls Peter Gabriel, and his penchant for bombastic choruses and bigger, better hooks emphasizes the best of soon-forgotten ‘80s pop music. The sequence that kicks off the album, from “Intro” to “Reunion,” is some of the best pop music ever made, ‘00s or ‘80s or otherwise. The saxophone that closes out epic first single “Midnight City” would have to be considered intentionally ironic if anyone other than M83 had included it – here, it just sounds so damn right. Elsewhere, it’s the little things that pop out at you, even over the walls of sparkling production that Gonzalez has so meticulously crafted – the funky bass that propels “Claudia Lewis;” the effervescent keyboard line that weaves its way over the top of “Steve McQueen”’s noise pop; the way Gonzalez, never the most powerful of vocalists, holds his own on a duet with Zola Jesus on “Intro.”

Yes, for all the gloss and layers of sound thrown onto track after track here, sometimes to excess, M83 have done this before. Saturdays=Youth was just as brilliant in its conceptual execution and in its painstakingly detailed production work. What separates Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming from that record and the rest of M83’s catalog is in its consistency, something that a double album would seem to make impossible. Yet every song here hits close to home, to the record’s goal of celebrating the past by creating music that resonates so perfectly in the present. Few people could so totally ape the sounds of a bygone (not to mention much-maligned) era and come out with something that sounds so pulse-poundingly fresh as Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. In its execution, the record is near flawless, an essential distillation of the sounds of Gonzalez’s youth, nostalgia and melancholy and happiness all mixed up into a sparkling pop stew. In its spirit, it’s incredibly heartening, the musical equivalent of inspiring people to think back on their past, their childhood, that one moment where playing together as one wasn’t such a laughable notion. It’s hopeful and heartbreaking all at once. You don’t have to have lived through the ‘80s to appreciate Gonzalez’s aim – you just have to have lived.

M83 – “Reunion”

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital

By , July 5, 2011 10:00 am

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital

Sub Pop 2011

Rating: 8/10

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Wolf Parade put itself on an innocently innocuous “indefinite hiatus” just as half of its songwriting core prepared to release an album that firmly situated himself as an individual talent separate from that seminal Canadian group. It’s probably just as well; Wolf Parade were beginning to look like the new Broken Social Scene, a musical tree from which other acts and talents could grow and develop under its critically acclaimed shadow. The problem was that those side projects were well on their way to eclipsing Wolf Parade itself. Spencer Krug’s Sunset Rubdown and Swan Lake “supergroup” have each gained a considerable amount of steam, with the former’s 2009 effort Dragonslayer bringing up the awkward question of what happens when one member of a band releases an album arguably superior to anything that band had released as a whole. Dan Boeckner’s collaboration with his wife Alexei Perry never received that kind of hyperbolic acclaim, but with Sound Kapital Handsome Furs finally have found the niche that has excluded them for so long, the chance to be their own band and not just a guitarist’s vanity project.

Paradoxically, Sound Kapital steps out from Wolf Parade’s shadow not with Boeckner’s trademark riffs but with his keyboards. On the surface the record is a shackling of creative energies, the pair’s idea to write an entire album using just synths and unironic dance beats pushing the guitar back to the occasional accent rather than the driving force. If you think this would sound forced, it does, but not in a way that sabotages the record’s aim. Sound Kapital wants to sound industrial, calling to mind dark ‘80s clubs and merciless backbeats while maintaining a fine pop sheen. The space between the clattering drum machine and buzz saw synths in “Damages” combined with Boeckner’s anguished yelps make for a vaguely threatening aura, and it’s in this limbo between Eastern European machinery and Depeche Mode darkness that Sound Kapital comfortably makes its nest. It’s a tense arrangement, one that makes a straightforward hook like the one in “Bury Me Standing” or the caustic guitar riff (the only prominent one on Sound Kapital and all the more ferocious for it) from “Cheap Music” never boring, never repetitive like too much electro pop.

Much of the credit goes to Boeckner’s rebellious lyrics, which stem from his time traveling in third world countries like Burma and the Philippines and color otherwise harmless fare like “When I Get Back.” Boeckner has never been the most subtle of lyricists (“Little Golden Age,” his best effort from Wolf Parade’s last album, was a guileless paean to nostalgia), so when Boeckner barks “diamonds and gold for the idiot sons / all the privileged thieves come and make things run” on album centerpiece “Serve The People,” it sounds much less clichéd with the throbbing synths and booming drums than it would with a typically Boecknerian guitar anthem. Hell, if the Soviet “K” in the title wasn’t a tip-off, one listen to self-evident titles in “Repatriated” or “Damages” or “Memories of the Future” will have you reading Marx and Brockway. What makes Sound Kapital not mere proselytizing is Boeckner’s earnest howl and the way Perry’s synths and drumbeats create a faint atmosphere of oppression in a downtrodden, decaying dance club.

It’s the perfect fit for Handsome Furs, a tack that would have seemed grandstanding with the group’s earlier guitar-oriented sound but now seems like the band’s logical direction. Boeckner has always seemed more at ease singing just what he feels without any of Spencer Krug’s veiled metaphors and storytelling, and Sound Kapital’s anti-establishment bent is as heartfelt and pointed as any punk screed. What makes it special is how those lyrics merge so seamlessly with the rigid drums and retro keyboards and create a product that is as authentic and real as the ideal of the ‘80s is cheesy and fake. A punk record using sounds straight out of the neon lights of underground European clubs, a style reminiscent of bad haircuts and worse clothes? If this is what we’re going to be getting from Boeckner and company, perhaps Wolf Parade can stand to take a break for as many years as it needs to.

Handsome Furs – “Repatriated”

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