Dirty Beaches - “Love Is The Devil”
Taiwanese-born globetrotter Alex Zhang Hungtai has two new records in the works for his retro-focused Dirty Beaches project, following up 2011’s dusty Badlands LP. Released earlier today on his personal YouTube channel, “Love Is The Devil” is the first taste of Dirty Beaches’ forthcoming albums. It’s a brooding, melancholic swath of instrumental ambience, oscillating between hollow synth drones and warm, crackly strings. It evokes a lot of the same feelings that The Caretaker's eerily nostalgic An Empty Bliss Beyond This World procured when it was released back in 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised if James Kirby’s work was a large influence on this track. Fans of Hungtai’s Presleyan moans might miss the absence of his voice, but there will likely be plenty of that on at least one of the upcoming records.
Accompanying the YouTube video in which this song was debuted is a Bukowski quote that might offer some more direct insight into Hungtai’s inspiration:
"Love is a fog that burns with the first daylight of reality."
M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)
Here are the two most recent albums that I’ve rated on my Rateyourmusic page.
The above screenshot should probably speak for itself, but I’ll elaborate for the sake of clarity. The new Coldplay album — the one with the ridiculous made-up name — is better than M83's new record, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Normally I wouldn’t feel motivated to draw attention to this point, but given all of the praise that has been heaped on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, along with all of the hate that will inevitably be directed towards Mylo Xyloto from relevancy-conscious independent music blogs, it seems necessary to do so.
Although I only happened to rate these two records in succession by chance, the albums are more similar than one might initially think. Both come on the heels of significant 2008 releases that brought a potentially risky change in sound to each band’s music. Both rely largely on a combination of electronics and crisp, atmospheric guitars. Both records are quite contrived in concept, and a little ridiculous in execution. They look for meaning in the sounds and styles of a bygone era that has been wrenched from its resting place back into the public eye and has remained there in the pop culture spectrum for at least the past few years: The 1980s. The difference is that Coldplay isn’t a good band. When Coldplay makes a bad album, I don’t really care because most of their music isn’t very good. Mylo Xyloto is simply a welcome and pleasant surprise to me. On the other hand, the idea of M83 making a bad album is genuinely disappointing, but unfortunately that’s exactly what’s happened here.
With his last album, 2008’s Saturdays=Youth, M83’s Anthony Gonzales was really one of the first proponents of the ’80s nostalgia movement. That record’s warm synth-pop sound and heady new wave drums signalled a big change in M83’s style, and made it a career-defining hit for the band. But in today’s musical climate, when artists like Lady Gaga and Coldplay are drawing on that same aesthetic, one would think that a smart artist like Gonzales would know that it’s time to throw in the ’80s nostalgia towel. Instead, on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzales goes all in, amplifying everything that he established on Saturdays and distancing himself even further from his early 2000s electronic shoegaze roots. In the nostalgia-saturated musical climate of 2011, the inspirational font that the 1980s has been for the past four years seems to have run dry. Consequently, the gargantuan Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming seems remarkably hollow. Instead of the "very, very, very epic" double-album masterpiece that he promised last year, the new record is a bloated, unfocused, and ultimately empty mess. Less like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and more like Guns ‘N’ Roses' hilarious shit-fest Use Your Illusion, M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming feels like a pretentious and outdated relic of a musical style that needs to go away.
But it’s not just the fact that he’s still drawing on the ’80s as a source of inpiration that irks me; it’s the way in which he’s doing it. Look at some of the artists who have done the ’80s nostalgia thing well in recent years. Last year, Ariel Pink put out Before Today, which dwelled heavily on nostalgic sounds despite its bizarre lyrical themes. Its saving grace was Pink’s self-awareness — the record almost seemed like a parody of itself and the whole ’80s nostalgia movement. On the other side of the fence is Destroyer, who released their newest record in January. On that album, seasoned singer/songwriter Dan Bejar used the familiar sounds of ’80s soft rock and smooth jazz as a foil for his brilliant and unconventional lyricism. Both artists made records that were unapologetically rooted in the sounds of the ’80s, but they did it for a reason. The style enhanced their creative vision, and their vision was realized expertly.
On Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, that creative vision feels absent. It’s clear that as a child of the ’80s himself, Gonzales is attempting to recapture some of those nostalgic childhood feelings, but he rarely succeeds on this record. It’s most obvious through the album’s lyrics, which read like excerpts from a highschooler’s diary, and through experimental tracks like “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”, which features a cute young girl talking about frogs over playful chiptune-reminiscent instrumentals. For the most part though, it feels like Gonzales just took all of the worst elements of ’80s pop, threw them together in the wash, and indiscriminately picked them out and left them to dry outside for everybody to see. Some of the songs on this ridiculously long 22 track album range from rather good to great, but for every standout track like the single “Midnight City”, the stuttering “Reunion”, or the hook-laden “Steve McQueen”, there are numerous lengthy and unmemorable filler tracks. I could pick out most of the tracks here to justify that point, but some of the worst of the bunch are the incredibly annoying “OK Pal”, which sounds like "Don’t You Forget About Me" and “Claudia Lewis”, which has an awkward sounding Genesis-like synth breakdown towards the end. Between many of these songs are cliche and unnecessary instrumental interludes like “Train To Pluton” and “When Will You Come Home?”, classic staples of poorly-conceived double albums without enough substance.
Even on the best songs on the album, I still can’t get behind the sound that M83 employs. The expansive drums that sounded so fresh back in 2008 on “Kim And Jessie” now sound overdone on “Midnight City”. Gonzales’ vocals, which were hushed and underplayed on Saturdays=Youth and rarely even present on his previous albums, take center stage on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. He yelps, wails, and cries out like an ’80s pop star, and it’s really overbearing to listen to. On “Intro”, he trades vocal duties with the equally overbearing Zola Jesus, and while the song itself is pretty good, the vocals detract from its quality significantly. All in all, It’s just nostalgic for nostalgia’s sake, and I don’t even want to feel nostalgic about Gonzales’ target time period anymore.
Key Tracks: “Midnight City”, “Reunion”
Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is out now on Mute Records.
Nostalgia Mix: Fall 2010
(Taken some time in October by Duncan.)
This time last year was an important time in my life for a number of reasons. I think I developed more as a person over a month long stretch last Fall than I ever had up to that point, and probably more than I ever will again in such a short time period. Through all of those changes, some of which I can look on more fondly than others, I was listening to music that I would continue to associate with that time until now, and probably will continue to forever. Today, a year later, I’ve compiled an 8tracks mix of eleven songs that instantly take me back to Fall 2010, most of which fill me with warm feelings of nostalgia and recall bittersweet memories of mine. Some of these songs were brand new then, and others were much older, but all of them were relevant to me at this point in time.
In short, this was the soundtrack to my life almost exactly one year ago, in a condensed digital form. I hope you enjoy it. If this goes well, I might start making seasonal nostalgia mixes a regular thing on this blog. Stream the mix below. You’ll have to actually view this post by itself in order for the player to work. Just click HERE.
- 1. Bedroom Eyes - “Dancing Under Influence”
In late August of last year I had a girlfriend and we used to swap mix CDs very regularly. I think I must have made her five mix CDs in the span of about a month. At some point in September I made her a mix called Embrace In Stereo, which was a dorky lyrical phrase that appears in this song. Bedroom Eyes is a swedish indie pop band with adorable, incredibly endearing (if corny) lyrics and an upbeat and joyful musical backing to most of their songs. ”Dancing Under Influence” is no exception to either rule. It’s light-hearted and warm sounding, and makes me feel really happy even a year after hearing it for the first time. I still have her mixes. I wonder if she kept mine.
- 2. Defiance, Ohio - “Condition 11:11”
In early September I found out that Defiance, Ohio was playing a show in my town later in the month, and although I had never listened to them at that point, I had heard a lot about them from some friends of mine who were into folk punk. I downloaded their 2006 record The Great Depression and procrastinated listening to it until the week before the show, which was on September 14th — a decision I immediately regretted after hearing it in full. It was some of the most sincere folk music I had ever heard, and it spoke to me personally in a way that few other records have to date. One of the songs that hit me the hardest was the closer “Condition 11:11”, which continues to be one of my favorite songs. They played it at the show and I loved it.
- 3. Sufjan Stevens - “Enchanting Ghost”
In 2010, Sufjan Stevens returned to traditional music-making with his first record since 2005, a 60 minute “EP” called All Delighted People. I remember being amazed when it came out because I was such a big Sufjan Stevens fan and hearing new music from him was something that I never expected to happen any time soon, much less new music like this. Sure, the long songs were amazing, but there was a lot more to this record than 12 minute guitar solos and massive orchestral arrangements.
Sandwiched between the monolithic opuses “All Delighted People (Original Version)” and “Djohariah” were a collection of shorter, much gentler folk songs, some of which were so beautiful in their minimalist style that they could have easily fit on a record like Sufjan’s 2004 album Seven Swans. The more I listened to the EP, the more I began to appreciate these more subdued moments. One of the tracks that has resonated with me the most is “Enchanting Ghost”, a rather melancholic ode to a loved one that appears to have been lost at some point. Although The Age Of Adz would go on to be Sufjan Stevens’ most notable 2010 work, the subtlety of All Delighted People is what hooked me last fall, and what keeps me coming back to it.
- 4. Jenny & Johnny - “Big Wave”
In the summer of 2010 I was interning at WNHU, the radio station where I now have a weekly radio show. One of my jobs was to listen to the promo CDs that were sent to the station by record labels and independent bands, and to choose what was worth adding to the automatic rotation. Seeing that big stack of new CDs every day was pretty daunting, so I would come up with different ways to choose what to listen to first. In early September, I remember seeing Jenny & Johnny’s I’m Having Fun Now 3-song promo sampler (which was sent to radio stations well before the full album came out) and choosing to listen to it solely based on the fact that there were a cute girl’s legs on the cover. As it turned out, the duo is comprised of Jenny Lewis (from Rilo Kiley, who I still haven’t actually listened to) and her boyfriend Jonathan Rice, who is a singer/songwriter. The two were introduced by Conor Oberst. Isn’t that cute? I don’t think I’ve given the full album more than two or three listens, but I’ve always loved this song.
- 5. The Tallest Man On Earth - “The Dreamer”
"The Dreamer" was Kristian Mattson (aka The Tallest Man On Earth)’s brief foray into electric music, appearing on his 2010 EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird, which came out in early September. I remember thinking that although it was initially jarring to hear to the Swedish folk singer play an electric guitar, this style really worked for him. In a way, “The Dreamer” served as a bridge between the gentler sounds of the summer and the colder, distant sounding atmosphere of the fall. The EP went on to become one of my favorite albums of last year.
- 6. Built To Spill - “Reasons”
Sometimes I go through periods of time where I’ll listen to one band so much that their music ends up being the definitive soundtrack to those days/weeks/months. A few months ago it was The Mountain Goats. From March to May it was Low. Last summer/fall, it was Built To Spill. I devoured their catalog so voraciously back then that I just didn’t even have time to listen to anything else. When I found out that they were playing a show in New Haven early in September, I knew I had to go. I can’t remember if they played “Reasons” or not but this was one of my favorite BTS songs at the time regardless. Back then, I tried to trick myself into thinking that I liked Perfect From Now On more, but now I recognize that There’s Nothing Wrong With Love is the superior record.
- 7. Jeff Mangum - “I Love How You Love Me” (Phil Spector cover)
Last fall, my girlfriend at the time put this Jeff Mangum cover of Phil Spector’s “I Love How You Love Me”, which appears on Mangum’s Live At Jittery Joe’s album, on a mix CD for me that I still have and listen to from time to time. I had loved Neutral Milk Hotel for a while, but I was just floored by Mangum’s interpretation of this beautiful old song. Since then I’ve only heard one cover that has moved me as much — John Galm's cover of The Ronettes' “Be My Baby”.
- 8. The Decemberists - “Grace Cathedral Hill”
I’ve never really liked The Decemberists that much, but I listened to Castaways and Cutouts a decent amount in the Summer of 2010, and some of that carried over into the fall. I made my mom a mix CD for her and my dad’s anniversary or something an I put this song on it. She would always listen to it in the car and I grew annoyed of it pretty quickly, but coming back to it now makes me feel safe and good. Maybe it isn’t so bad after all.
"I paid twenty-five cents to light a little white candle."
- 9. Broken Social Scene - “Lover’s Spit”
The other big show that I saw in September was Broken Social Scene at Toad’s place, which was actually a little better than the Built to Spill show in retrospect. I had been listening to their then-new album Forgiveness Rock Record a lot around the time of the show, so I was pretty excited for it. The best moment of the show came towards the end, when frontman Kevin Drew came onstage by himself and began to play You Forgot It In People's “Lover's Spit” alone on a small keyboard in the dark. As the song progressed, the other members of the massive band returned to the stage one by one, adding their respective instruments to the collective sound until the song reached a beautiful, heart-melting climax. Whenever I hear “Lover's Spit” now, I'm brought back to that show. The song strikes an odd balance between sexy and sad, which is actually pretty representative of how I was feeling around this time last year. The whole You Forgot It In People album brings me back to this time.
- 10. The Strokes - “I’ll Try Anything Once” (“You Only Live Once” demo)
It’s too beautiful for words, so I won’t try to describe it here. This demo was used in Sophia Coppola’s Somewhere last September, and it was my favorite use of music in any film since she used My Bloody Valentine's “Sometimes” against shots of Tokyo in Lost In Translation. A girl also put this on a mix CD for me once and I’ll forever appreciate that because I’ve listened to the song itself more times than is probably healthy.
- 11. Cap’n Jazz - “Little League”
The first time I listened to Cap’n Jazz was last fall. Hearing “Little League” for the first time after downloading Analphabetapolothology blew the lid off the container that was holding in all the suppressed anger and frustration that I had accumulated over the past fifteen years. This was all of that, encapsulated in a four minute punk song. Listening to this might have been the most important thing that happened to me that fall. Cap’n Jazz might be the most important band I ever listened to. I got to meet Tim Kinsella at a Joan of Arc show in February, and I thanked him for it. He said he was going to smoke a cigarette and make a phone call.
Listening to this and nostalgia-ing so hard. Definitely a watermark childhood album here. Barenaked Ladies’ first two albums were really clever and wonderful, and filled with catchy, occasionally brilliant songs like Brian Wilson, which is easily my favorite song of theirs.
Just listening and re-listening to Smiley Smile, and wondering if this is some kind of creative drought.
Anybody who namechecks Smiley Smile is okay with me.