Monday, 17 November 2008

Hipster Douchebag Music Recommendation Of The Week: "Get Better" by Mates of State

Well, it looks like I've left this so long that Masticator has subverted the formula, leaving the douchebags among us out in the cold. So typical of corporate types like him: stealing our ideas and squashing all the soul out of them for mainstream palatability. And since this week's band is slowly leaking hipster cred by the day, much like a tipping can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the slackening hand of a passed-out, cardigan-wearing skinny teenager, it seemed time I got back to the job.

So anyway, this week's month's quarter's entry is yet another band we discovered through The A.V. Club. No, wait -- we actually saw them first on Conan's show, which tends to have the most unusual music of all the late-night talk shows (Okkervil River were on the show awhile ago, and Conan seemed genuinely shocked at how good they were). They were playing the first single from their latest album, and when I went to The A.V. Club to see if they'd reviewed it, I found this. I was a bit surprised and disappointed to see such a negative review when I'd enjoyed the song so much, but I downloaded procured legally purchased the album anyway on the strength of the single. Turns out that the writer was just some freelancer they'd gotten in, who's apparently gone through a bad breakup recently, given his seeming hatred of happily married life. At any rate, the rest of the A.V. Club permanent staff absolutely loves the album, and many of them are planning to put it on their end-of-year best-of lists. Sucks to you, freelance reviewer who probably just wanted a paycheck and may have some lingering problems with his parents' divorce!

The two band members, Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, are indeed married, which gives the band a nice hook for feature writers, but it's not like we're dealing with Raffi-level sentimentality here. Their sound was a little bit spikier on previous albums, but it's still much the same: lots of harmonies, disjointed melodies, and pop songcraft. Take my favorite song off the album, the first single "Get Better":

Yes, there are people dressed as animals, but they're more reminiscent of the bunny from Donnie Darko that freaked me the fuck out than anything boringly suburban (even though the video does have a bit of an Ice Storm vibe). It's not a hard-driving song, but the clarity of the piano, the thump of the drums, and the gorgeous swell of the string section (have I mentioned that I'm a sucker for a string section?) all blend with the counterpointed vocals to create something beautiful, lighthearted, and yet a little bit creepy (maybe I'm just flashing back to Frank here). And yeah, the lyrics "Forget your politics for awhile / Let the color schemes arrive" are a bit hippie-ish, but it feels like a joyful song to me -- not a song cloistered in middle-aged smug, boring contentment but a paean to wary hopefulness ("everything's gonna get lighter, even if it never gets better"). Or at least a very good potential song for an AT&T commercial.

As for my other favorite song off the album, "The Rearranger," it's not available as a video on the intertubes except as a live version, which makes it at least 78% less awesome, because much of its beauty comes from its meticulous, heavily layered production. Thus, I instruct you, loyal reader(s), to go here and listen to the audio alone. The first few seconds should hook you in, as the horns seep in like an aural sunrise (ah yes, I'm a sucker for horns too); after that the harmonies come in, and then come the weird tempo shifts, and then the bursting sun of the chorus, where all the elements come together beautifully, as sunny as a Californian summer day (to drag this dead metaphor a little further).

As usual, the band is starting to get more recognition just after I find out about them -- unfortunate, since I should have written about them months ago when I first heard their albums -- and now they've got a song on an Ugly Betty episode. Is this the end of their hipster coolness? Or was it the AT&T commercial that did them in? Or is it cool to sell out now? The backlash begins. Time to put on my trucker hat and wade in.

And now that I've profiled some good music, it's time for my...

Shameful Non-Hipster Possibly Douchebag Admission of the Week:

This is a new addition in which I admit my not-so-secret, undying love for cheesy pop tunes, thus undermining all the careful hipster-image-building I've done in the previous paragraphs. I'm going to do it quick, like ripping off a Band-Aid ("Right off!").

"Spiralling" by Keane

I'm not proud of it, but come on, it's catchy, right? That retro synthesizer hook, the bizarre football-crowd-witnessing-a-nasty-tackle "Oh!"s in the background, the irresistible chorus, and...the, um, video:

Okay, I don't know what's going on with the aerobicizing "Video Killed the Radio Star" robots, and nothing says high production values like Windows Media Player visualizations, but obviously the director is a very smart man -- namely because he's kept lead singer Tom Chaplin's horrifying visage out of the video as much as possible, and when he's been absolutely forced to show it, he's masked it in so many layers of Photoshop effects and shadows that Chaplin looks more like Mr. Stay Puft than a recognizable human (though actually, this is what he normally looks like -- as brilliant Never Mind the Buzzcocks host Simon Amstell put it, he's a skinny man with the face of a chubby toddler).

But my favorite thing about this song is the lyrics in the chorus:

When we fall in love
We're just falling
In love with ourselves
We're spiralling

Looks like someone's really proud of paying attention in his Intro to Psychology class. Or was this song his end-of-term assignment? I'm really looking forward to the next single, "Cathect My Heart, Mother (Or I Will Project My Neuroses Onto My Lover)."

And with that admission, I take off my trucker hat and slowly back away.


Dawn White said...

I love it all!

sjwoo said...

As you know, I'm still a sucker for "My Only Offer," though "Get Better" is one hell of a track. I can't believe how harsh AV Club was in their review. Good to see many other commentors thought the same.

I couldn't find anything to my liking in the new Keane album. They've really taken a new direction with this one, which I suppose is good, though I miss their Coldplay knockoff efforts...