A little while ago I decided to slowly start working my way into the Cure fandom. I can’t say I’m a dedicated, torch-carrying superfan but I did spend a lot of the past year listening to Lovesong. (Yes, the gateway Cure song.) One thing I found out – well known to longtime fans, I am sure – is that despite being somewhat ridiculous in image, they’ve been consistently sincere in their mopey romanticism, and despite a lot of personnel changes consistent in their sound. Obviously, Robert Smith is a little bit of a punch for being the emo kid who staunchly refuses to get a normal hair cut well into middle age, but apparently he and his fans are ok with that, and that’s admirable. A lot of us wish we were still the absurd little freaks we were when we didn’t know any better. As long as those sadboi anthems keep coming.
Do you like chillwave music? Okay, no one ever admits to liking chillwave music, not least because they’d be hard press to define what it is. But if you’re susceptible to those curated playlists with names like “Smooth Jazz for a Rainy Day” or “Music to Study To” you probably like chillwave. It’s basically a musical Instagram filter, and don’t knock it. It’s a proud tradition tracing its heritage all the way back to Brian Eno’s ambient soundscapes. Brian Eno actually didn’t invent the idea of boring music for boring places but he gave it a little gravitas and most-modern irony. Today we’re all in the business of curating the perfect musical ambiance for ourselves, and there’s a rack of composers writing music specifically for that purpose. I’m pretty sure that most of what ends up on those ‘rainy day’ playlists is composed by anonymous hacks, but there are some talents in the atmospheric soundpool who achieve real cultural relevance, at least in their native Scandinavia. Such as Royksopp, whose moody electronic compositions are some of the most acclaimed moody electronic compositions. They also make electronic compositions that are more dance-floor friendly, and they’re frequent collaborators with Robyn, which places them in a very hip echelon. And sometimes you just really need just the perfect music for drinking tea on a chilly fall day.
When it comes to sexually explicit material, few bands have been as gleeful with their shock tactics as Lords of Acid. That may be why they never broke very far out of the underground techno scene. In the late 90’s they saw the internet-porn-fueled future and they thought it was going to be a blast. They also knew that orgasmic female moaning was a surefire party-starter at least as old as Serge Gainsbourgh. No pretentious big ideas about broader social context for them, though. Nuance? Never heard of her! Drinking, dancing and screwing in smoke-filled dungeons is the only life that matters. There’s something liberating in that kind of mindless hedonism.
The tango of all things needs to be brought up to pace with the modern world. Honestly it doesn’t really need a digital update, given that’s it’s still broadly popular. But the French collective Gotan Project updates it anyway, with beats and samples. (Gotan is an anagram for tango, haha clever.) The result sounds amazing. Injecting a little tango or a waltz to a pop song has long been a means of adding some class and sensuality, but I guess that it works both ways too. If the tango has any sort of negative image problem at all – and for the most part it evokes nothing but passionate romance and artfully applied lipstick – it’s the Hollywood trope that learning to ballroom dance is something uptight divorcees do to get their groove back, akin to yoga retreats and going to Italy to eat gelato, aka a bourgeois white lady affectation and not at all hip for the digital generation. And frankly, that’s kind of okay. An ancient and storied culture doesn’t need to be commodified for the hipsters, although it may be fun to try.
But is he though? Lately Jack White hasn’t quite sounded like the Jack we’ve always known and loved. He’s had a crisis of conscience or something. He’s playing on guitars that he bought from a store and editing songs on a laptop like a goddamn normal-person now, apparently. He’s doing all the things that – in his head, at least – make him look like a “sell-out”. “Wait, what, so you didn’t record you new album on all-analog equipment in a basement home studio in a trailer park in Alabama while wearing your great-grand-uncle’s wedding tuxedo? Traitor!” Said no one. It seems that Jack White has come to the realization that at the end of the day, his obsession with authenticity impresses no one but himself. So he broke down and bought a guitar that wasn’t second-hand. Which is fine and I fully support him. No 42-year-old can be expected to be the same weirdo he was at 20-something. Oh, but what a fine weirdo! Let’s take a moment to appreciate just what an impact the early White Stripes records really had. They turned my life around, I kid you not, and I’m not even a musician. They brought a thrift-store sensibility, a well-defined visual and musical aesthetic, and a genuine love for oddity into the forefront of the cultural landscape at at time when lovers of the old and dusty felt most disenfranchised. They made me want to enjoy pop culture again. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
Here for you dose of turn-of-the-century nostalgia, it’s No Doubt. If you remember gluing gaudy plastic “bindis” from Claire’s to your face in honor of Gwen Stefani, congratulations, you’re a 90’s kid. I myself never did that. I didn’t listen to No Doubt in the 90’s, because my adolescent “I hate everything” was really strong, and I could not permit myself, on my honor, to enjoy normal-people shit. That didn’t stop me from having a raging fashion-crush on Gwen, but, you know, in secret. In hindsight, I can admit that No Doubt was a pretty good band. Not a great one, by any means; Gwen Stefani’s style and charisma carried the day far more than her vocal talents. But so what, it was a great image.
Is there anything more Scandinavian than a song about reindeer? I’m not sure how many reindeer pulks you’d find around modern-day Stockholm, but they’re still a fixture in Lapland and adjoining regions. Americans accept Santa’s reindeer as a piece of pop surrealism; in Scandinavia making a caribou carry your shit is just as realistic as having a horse do it. More so, really. Horses don’t do that great in the arctic. Anyway. What I’m saying is, this is a moment of cultural difference right here. The Knife are a Swedish group who are mostly concerned with universal things than know no borders, like love, dancing and lasagna. As it should be, since music is supposed to be cross-cultural and unifying like nothing else. But then you get a song that’s highly specific like this one, and it reminds you that these people live very different lives somewhere quite far across the world, and they get to see and do things that you don’t have access to, like hanging out with reindeer.