Pop Melodies, Catchy Tunes
As a compulsive hoarder of music, I have a confession to make. I often acquire albums and songs that I don’t get down to listening to. Not even once. Not even cursorily. Yes, it’s true and it does make me feel a bit silly. I mean I don’t display my music on racks and shelves as some hoarders of books do, ostensibly to impress visitors although they may not have read even a page of most of them. I can’t really do that, unless I offer people my iPods, hard drives and pen drives or a peek into the virtual cloud—places where most of the music I hoard are stored—but the fact is I do have countless albums and songs that I’ve never heard. I’ve downloaded them with all good intentions of listening to them but never got around to doing so.
The downside of this habit is that it places undue pressure on the need to keep adding to storage capacity—more hard drives, more disk space and so on—but there is an upside. Every so often, while scanning the files that I have in various places, I stumble upon undiscovered gems. So it was, last week, when I picked out something that I’d acquired in 2011 but never ever played. The album is called Making Mirrors by a musician who goes by the name of Gotye. Gotye is actually the name adopted by Wally De Backer, a Belgian-Australian musician who plays many instruments and is a singer and songwriter. Gotye makes music that you could call art-pop, a genre that draws influence from classical and avant-garde music but also strives for popular appeal. Think Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush or even Jethro Tull—artists who have pushed the limits of rock and roll and unabashedly embraced from non-rock, non-pop musical genres such as jazz, classical or even opera.
I know what you must be thinking. Yes, it is true that art-rock or art-pop can sometimes be a bit pretentious—I don’t care for Peter Gabriel’s music, for instance, although I think Tull’s Thick As Brick is a super album—but that is not the case with Gotye’s music. Making Mirrors is a refreshing blend of art and pop and the reason why it is so is perhaps because of the generous quotient of pop in the blend. Gotye is not ashamed of using large helpings of pop melodies and catchy tunes in his music. He shouldn’t be too—he has a rather good voice and sings engagingly. His lyrics aren’t obscure and esoteric but neither are they low-brow and trite as what is dished out by today’s crop of best-selling pop musicians.
On Making Mirrors, De Backer or Gotye sings and samples but he is aided by a group of musicians that range from whale cello players and bass guitarists to pedal steel guitarists and trumpeteers. There are keyboards and saxophones and synths and dubbing (that last thing refers, of course, to remixing of samples in a manner that originates in reggae music).
Gotye is wildly promiscuous when it comes to the kind of musical genres he dips into—there is ambient space music on his album, psychedelic rock influences, electronica and even songs that sound as if they’re a modern day version of good old folksy ballads. It helps, as I said, that he has a great voice. On the dozen songs that make up Making Mirrors, there’s never a moment that made me bored or want to skip a tune. The music on every one of those songs is well wrought and, okay, ‘arty’ too but never self-indulgent as art-pop can often painfully become. That’s probably because Gotye is not shy about the pop part of art-pop. But pop that even the most snobbish of music aficionados won’t turn their noses up at. On Making Mirrors, Gotye has a song with a title that I found apt as a comment for his music. It’s called Don’t Worry We’ll Be Watching You. I certainly will be watching him.
By the time you read this, this year’s two-day Newport Folk Festival would have been over. This year it marks the 100th birth anniversary of Woody Guthrie, the American legend who has influenced countless musicians. But every year, the Newport Folk Fest pushes the limits of the folk music genre (remember, Dylan went infamously electric at a Newport Folk Fest gig). This year, besides great music from bands such as Wilco and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, look out for Charles Bradley, the veteran R&B singer, and tUnE-yArDs. That quirkily cased last band is a project by a talented musician named Merill Garbus. Her music has R&B roots but has been classified by some as Wonky Pop.