Monday, March 7, 2011

Thoughts Vaguely Referring to Baroque Pop (or) A Review

    First of all, in order to read this blog, you will need to go to the following link:
   We'll see you back here in about four minutes and sixteen seconds...

    I rarely buy anything off of iTunes, instead preferring to buy hard copy versions of albums I like, and then import them into my iTunes. Why? That's a long story for a different blog.
Suffice to say, I've bought maybe 2 albums off iTunes over the past few years. But yesterday, I bought the new 3-song EP by Foster The People.
    Though I enjoy trying to find old albums, (and even old Blur singles - in order to gather a collection of b-sides), I didn't feel like putting in the time to find a 3-song EP in CD format.
...(besides, this band has a full-length due out in May, of which I can pick up a copy then)...
    Anyway, I bought it because I'd heard the single "Pumped Up Kicks" on the radio, (which is kind of a rarity for me to even listen to the radio). But I happened to catch this song and got hooked on it.
    So let me tell you what I like about this song. First of all, it has a strange baroque-pop feel to it. Case in point, the heavily-reverbed vocals during the chorus and the bassline that drives the song. The tone on the bass guitar part has a definite late-60's sound to it, (i.e. listen to an old Byrds album and hear how the high-end on the bass notes seems to punch through the mix more).
    These traits are really similar to the song "Young Folks" by Peter, Bjorn, and John, and let us not forget the use of whistling notable in both of these songs. ....(As a sidenote, if you're only familiar with the "Young Folks" song from Peter, Bjorn, and John, then you should do a bit more research on them - they've done some truly cool things with simplistic song ideas, sparse arrangements, and straight-forward dance beats. Just goes to show that Sweden is good for other things , not just IKEA, ABBA, and metal bands)....
    Which brings me to my next point: This is basically indie-dance music, as far as I can tell. The other two songs, ("Houdini" and "Helena Beat"), on the EP solidify this sentiment.
    For those of you disappointed by MGMT's last album and hoping for more synth-pop music, you may find something to like in this band, in that their sound has more in common with "Kids" and "Electric Feel" than any of the other songs off of MGMT's "Congratulations"....(although I still stand by the fact that "Congratulations" was one of the best albums of last year)....
    In reality, this EP isn't going to change the world musically. It's not some boundary-pushing sound, it's just good pop music that you can groove to. It's hard to say if their full-length will live up to the EP, but in today's digital environment, it doesn't really matter. Most people buy individual songs rather than whole albums anyway. Which brings me to the idea of singles and their impact on popular music...
    But that too, is for another blog... Maybe next month...


BrianV said...

The hooks certainly draw me in--its got a "stick in your head" chorus that is fun to sing along with. You're right about its being "good pop music you can groove to."

That being said, I still struggle to dispel my annoyance with the '80s pop formula, which I feel like I hear prominently in Pumped Up Kicks: the staccato bass groove (yes, the tone is a bit like The Byrds but the rhythm and melody is in a completely different world), simple but dominant drum line, heavily reverbed vocals, and catchy chorus-hook repeated 1,000 times. I would love to stand on my pedestal and brag that its specifically the era recycling that I have a problem with, but in reality, I love The Shins, who do essentially the same thing with '50s/'60s pop.

But generally, to me, there are are two keys to era recycling: 1) is the era BORROWED FROM in the creation of a new sound, or is it seemingly an EXACT REPLICA to the average listener? And 2) if it is close to an exact replica, does the era that is being recycled resonate with the current culture? When I hear Pumped Up Kicks, I almost feel like it could be dropped in with an '80s radio mix and no one would realize that it was not actually from the '80s. And the essential '80s carbon copy is in danger of losing its ironic and satirical value and instead, becoming simply and emotional reminder of the trite and shallow materialism of the era.

That is my somewhat simplistic reaction to the song--I haven't listened to their other stuff yet. I also acknowledge that you have extensive musical knowledge and listening experience, spanning many musical eras and styles, so there's probably a lot here that I'm missing.

Bryan said...

Well, I would agree with you, actually - Brian.
You have a good point regarding the era-recycling that's going on, (not only with this band, but with almost everyone nowadays)...
So, I would also say that in reality, "Pumped Up Kicks" doesn't really go anywhere. As far as a song goes, there's no lyrical content in there that is in any way saying anything to me.
There is tremendous repetition, and the drumbeat, (while easy to groove to), has little to no variance whatsoever.
Now, that's not to say I don't enjoy the song, but as a work of aural art? It ain't.
BUT....,(and here's where I'll attempt to play devil's advocate...), perhaps the reason this song is aimless, is due to it's vague connections to electronic music. (bear with me here....)
Groups like the Orb make electronic music that is basically devoid of words.... Hell, Moby uses words sometimes, but he sure ain't Bob Dylan. Old Kraftwerk albums aren't especially deep on their vocoder-ized lyrics. And our evolution to trance music, random samples, etc... I think it would be safe to to say that at least 80% of electronic music is aimless.
Back in the 70's, Brian Eno made an album called "Discreet Music" that had a 30 minute "song" that was basically to be played just below the level you would normally play music in your room - so as to become part of the atmosphere of the room, to almost be unnoticeable. The term "muzak", if you will.
What I'm trying to say, is that perhaps this "Pumped Up Kicks" song is not supposed to be scrutinized so closely. Maybe it's supposed to be just background music anyway..
Well, anyway, I'm not sure I'm coming at it at the right angle there with your previous comment... Oh well.. But it was fun to disagree on something with ya! =-)

BrianV said...

I totally see your point, and I've often taken the other side--defending something that may not be exceptionally profound or technically brilliant.

I had a couple of co-workers at a previous job that were both guitarists and were heavily into jazz and blues. They were both fairly technically proficient on the guitar, but with that came an obsession with technique, which drowned out appreciation for other important musical elements. I remember one of them commenting that "Jack Johnson is fluff!" My response was, so? Its chill, laid back music that makes me happy. Why should I care if its not insanely technical?

So my previous comments on Pumped Up Kicks, I'll readily admit that while I made a technical argument, this is formed out of the fact that I felt no connection to the music--it didn't resonate with me. Part of the problem was the video too--I wonder if I'd heard the song without the video, if I wouldn't have felt differently.

I'm essentially admitting that my analysis is more subjective than objective--and I guess that really is part of reviewing music--that's why critics disagree. They form technical arguments to make their feelings on a piece of art sound objective.

Good discussion! We should totally start a radio show and become the Siskel and Ebert of music reviewing!

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