Okay, you know I’m a sucker for things that look and sound retro. Call it false nostalgia for things I’m not old enough to remember. Of course I’m going to pick a song that sounds just like something from the sixties. And the Arctic Monkeys exist to capitalize on that. They’re engineered to appeal to people who long for the days when five-piece rock bands with guitars roamed the streets. That’s not an insult. They’re not taking advantage of our collective nostalgia, they’re sharing it. They’re not old enough to remember that shit either. Sometimes sincere enthusiasm for things that came before is a lot more appealing than a calculated attempt to fiddle with the future. That’s how the entire British Invasion came about, just for example.
I’ve long been saying that pop music needs more choirs. Gospel choirs, children’s choirs, Gregorian monk choirs, you name it. There’s just something magical about two dozen people’s voices all coming together into one. There’s no substitute for it. If you need more humanity on your record, hire a choir. So, if you’re compiling a playlist of well-deployed choirs in pop, here’s a candidate by Moby, whose bread-and-vegan-butter-substitute is adding nuggets of vintage humanity to futuristic electronic soundscapes.
Changing gears to an entirely different mood. Ladytron certainly creates a sustained atmosphere, and it’s a long way from chilling at the seaside. It’s sleek, hypnotic, distinctly continental, reminiscent of long nights specked with glitter and cocaine. If dancing and twitching all night in a faded-velvet upholstered nightclub is your happy place, well then, welcome to your happy place. Ladytron takes their cues straight from the source: European glam-rock, of course. It’s music that reflects a precise moment of inspiration. Original story: the dissident art kid who buys a Roxy Music album on the black market in Sofia, Bulgaria.
See, I’m still not done with my run of psychedelic folk music. Devendra Banhart is no substitute for the pleasures of Tyrannosaurus Rex, but then, nothing is, and the psychedelic pool is not easily refilled. I’ve been listening to Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon a lot lately, hence the flood of deep cuts, and it casts a nice spell, not least because it’s frequently not sung in English. A sustained sense of atmosphere is an underrated quality in a record, one that not enough artists shoot for, given that those who do often get called boring. But there’s a difference between consistency and repetition. Consistency means you can put on a record and be confident that your mood will be lifted and sustained for 72-or-however-many minutes.
Get outta here with your songs about seahorses, Devendra Banhart, go back to 1968 where you belong. Banhart very often sounds like he’s channeling the spirit of 60’s psychedelic folk music. Imagine peak Donovan, with more Latin flair. Which is not at all a drag. 60’s psychedelic folk is one movement that yearns for a full revival. We really could use more idealism and gentle fantasy in our pop culture right now. We need more songs about seahorses and wonderful things. We need pop stars who see the world as glittering and full of magic. We need some fucking whimsy over here, please.
It seems like everybody kind of stopped paying attention to Moby after he hit peak saturation with 18 in 2002. Maybe it’s because he allowed to many of his songs to be licensed for too many commercials. Maybe we got tired of hearing about his self-righteous-white-guy vegan lifestyle. Maybe his particular brand of dreamy electronic soundscapes became passe as the console-music scene embraced the convulsive sounds of dubstep and other, more aggressive forms of EDM. Whatever it was, Moby enjoyed his allotted however-many-minutes as a major pop culture figure, and then went back to noodling on his console in relative obscurity. Which is to say, he’s been consistently making music in much the same vein, and it’s been consistently high-quality and rewarding, if not exactly ‘trending’. He’s still delivering those dreamy soundscapes, for those of us who still want them – and with increasing finesse. None of his post-18 albums have been mainstream phenomenons, but they’ve been beautiful and affecting. Moby was never well suited for major stardom, not in personality, lifestyle, looks or musical aesthetic. He’s just a dweeb who wants to compose beautiful melodies, who happened to hit it big through some alchemy of zeitgeist and luck.
I need to become fluent in German so I can understand Nina Hagen songs. Though I suspect that native speakers would tell me “Nah, don’t bother”. Based on her English-language lyrics, it would probably just make me cringe. I love Hagen for her vocals and aesthetic. Her opinions and beliefs are best pushed aside as ‘problematic’. Which is easier to do when the lyrics are in German, I’ll give her that. It’s a little hard to respect someone who believes that UFOs are real and AIDS isn’t. Respect the music, though. Respect this woman’s sheer capacity for weirdness and self-expression. The fact that she’s 63 and still dresses like a gutterpunk ballerina. She’s out there still making a career out of it too. So props to that. But maybe just try to sing about love? Oh, wait, she married a 17 year old when she was like 40, so…