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Stereolab – Margerine Eclipse

No, it hadn’t been switched with one of my aunt’s new-age relaxation tapes. No mistake had been made; this was Stereolab.

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An ominous feeling hit my gut as I saw the album title. “That’s not how you spell margarine” I thought. Super. I gave a sigh as I opened the puce-colored case and put the disc into my CD player. “I hope I don’t get hate mail for this one too” I think as I press play.

The sound filled my room; it was the noise of a synthetically-mastered drug binge. I sat in shock for a few seconds before the impact set in, then pulled open the CD player. No, it hadn’t been switched with one of my aunt’s new-age relaxation tapes. No mistake had been made; this was Stereolab.

I looked over the case as I casually listened to the first song. A bizarre combination of puce, dirt brown, and traffic-cone orange, it looked as if Van Gogh had lost his lunch on paper. As I turned my attention back to the music, I realized how incredibly hard it was to do so. I couldn’t concentrate on it; my eyes lost focus and I fell into a stupor. It took me a minute to realize that the song had changed. “That can’t be right,” I thought, “this is the same song.” I skipped ahead- the same song. Again and again, same song, same song, same song. Twelve songs, exactly the same.

Where do you go when the world has handed you a pile of shit and the man in charge of brilliant ideas is out of town? To the people! Headphones and my copy ofMargerine Eclipse in tote, I hopped into the station wagon and made my way to Pizza Hut. An hour and a half later, my inventory now included three large, meaty pizzas, and, complaining under my breath about pathetically slow “fast food” service, I floored it to the mall.

Ah, the mall; where the public convenes – every one from overweight middle-agers to vapid preteens to high college students. I set up on a bench outside of the record store and carefully scribbled across one pizza box top “Listen to some music and get some FREE PIZZA!” And I waited, like a shark baiter who’s just poured blood into the water. They could just smell the mega-processed super-saturated goodness. Americans are so easy to manipulate.

The first person to stop was one of the mall’s many blue-haired power-walkers. She gave me a grandmotherly smile and adjusted her horned rimmed glasses as I turned the music loose on her. For a minute I thought she may have been having a stroke, and then she took off the headphones and handed them to me with a tolerant look of confusion.

“What is it, dear?”

“They’re a European pop group,” I reply, “Mostly computer synthesized…”

“Oh,” an interruption, “And how many strings does that have?”

I made a few notes on my clipboard. So much for that generation.

As she power-walked away with a fresh slice of sauce, cheese, and a part of at least six different animals, I was approached by a couple my own age. It was the guy who took the headphones and fit them carefully around liberty spikes and chains connecting piercings. His girl just stared at me through her cat-slit contacts, looking as though she wanted to drink my blood. I rubbed my neck and turned to watch the man’s response. His expression never changed, he simply passed the headphones over to the countess. They shared a look, then each spat at my feet in turn, muttering something that sounded disturbingly like a Celtic curse in my direction. Uh-oh.

I breathed a sigh of relief as young man came out of Abercrombie & Fitch and crossed over to me. By now I was steadily losing pizza, and hope. He made pleasant small talk and took his turn with the headphones.

“Huh” he said shortly. “Are they, erm … are they speaking English?

“Well,” I replied, “No, this song’s in French. Try this.” I skipped ahead to one of the English songs. 

His expression became even more pained.

“I don’t get it.”

“Hmm?”

“I don’t understand them.”

“Oh. Does it matter? They’re speaking the international language of music.”

He shoved the headphones at me.

“I only speak American.”

Well, there you go. Though he, apparently, could bridge the language gap long enough to speak fast food. By now, my pizza was getting cold, the crowd was thinning, and I was getting desperate for something I could use. I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes.

“Pizza?” a little voice said, and I opened my eyes to see a little boy holding the hand of a man that appeared to just have spent a week lost in the desert. “What the hell,” I thought, and I let the kid listen.

“It sounds like an elevator” the kid said, as his little head swung back and forth with the rhythm of the song. I suddenly became more alert. “Hey… it does. That’s exactly how it should be described,” I thought to myself. He handed the headphones back to me, now covered with something sticky from his dirty little hands.

“Let’s go, Daddy,” he said “I don’t like robots. They make bad music.”

I think I need to give little Billy my job.

(Elektra Records)

Reviews

Hatchie – Keepsake

Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars

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Hatchie Keepsake

Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.

There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.

However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.

The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.

(Heavenly Recordings)

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