4 AD / Terrible – 2010
There’s a vigorous culture of nostalgia experimenters out there in the wilds of hipsterdom. From H&M and American Apparel’s cigarette pants, to the neo Boho and Blitz accoutrements Soho natives wear on the isle of Manhattan, to the practically encyclopedic knowledge DC hipsters have of David Bowie’s discography (from Low to Scary Monsters). To lovers of the late John Hughes’ Brat Pack filmography. To the oft-imitated, cabaret-coy vocal tones Morrissey, Bowie, Brian Eno and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis practically invented; not to mention the evergreen life that British new wave bands like Depeche Mode and Echo and the Bunnymen have on jukeboxes and digital playlists.
This conspicuously revisited era’s expanse is wide enough to form tributaries into the film and video game industry, as well.
Consider a couple of this decade’s most influential films, which are decidedly set in the ’80s, such as Donnie Darko (2001), or No Country for Old Men (2007), or House of the Devil (2009), or the myriad slasher reprises major film industry studios are cashing in on (from Friday the 13th to Halloween to A Nightmare on Elm Street). Think of the plethoric Chiptune-pumped 8-to-16 bit gaming reboots The Cupertino Company has in its App Store (from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts to Space Invaders: Infinity Gene to Giana Sisters to the Commodore 64 emulator), targeting nerdcore retrophiles the world over.
Whether we like it or not, the 80s are back, and they have been for years.
Lately (against my will to resist this “new-new” wave), I’ve grown increasingly fond of choice indie artists who lovingly embrace such Reaganomical craft as a vehicle to express themselves, sometimes more effectively than if they adopted newfangled attempts at reinventing the paradigm of rock and electronic music altogether (a la Animal Collective, Radiohead [post OK Computer], Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, or The Flaming Lips).
This secret obsession of mine (which is not so secret, of course) began with M83, particularly their 2005 Blade Runner-tastic cocaine-snort, Before the Dawn Heals Us. From there, your bespectacled narrator moved to Broadcast, relishing the bitcrushed suite of tricks inherent to their sound and Trish Keenan’s insouciant vocals (from Haha Sound to Tender Buttons).
(I know I know. This was more of an interstice, of course, not so much an 80’s tryst. But humor me, if you will.)
From there, it was natural to start looping homesick treats like Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms; Wild Nothing’s Gemini; Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s Before Today; choice tracks from LCD Soundsystem’s mega catalog; and (now) Twin Shadow’s Forget (2010), the sparkling subject of this review.
Not that it takes the above mammoth preamble to say this, but, Forget is one of my favorite ’80s revivalist albums yet, even more so than my other cassettebeat darling, the aforesaid Psychic Chasms. The reasoning is simple: stylistically, Forget is a curious amalgam of Bowie, Morrissey and (perhaps) New Order (a triumvirate of lovely objet d’arts, if I may).
I’m no authority on the matter, but, Twin Shadow’s latest feels like the best aesthetic movements of 80s pop music condensed. Then re-bottled as a bitch’n swig of Four Loko.
Still, the execution, the flawless production, the chary palette of instruments utilized manage to respond to our time, to a powerful sense of postmodern reassembly. Hell, retrospective albums of this caliber actually improve on the genre-giants they stand on. Gifted musicians like George Lewis, Jr. (the man behind Twin Shadow) and Alan Palomo (the fellow behind Neon Indian) are given room to pull extra focus on modern aural textures, offbeat vocals (thank you David Byrne and Robert Smith), sincerer lyricism. It’s a bit more wise, now. In a sense, the revivalist craft is persuasive because it adds pertinent layers of irony and post-millennial flourishes. Add in small part the scads of software instrument plug-ins that laptop troubadours have at their disposal, and the sky’s the limit.
Two aspects of this album, however, help propel Forget from a hack genre-exercise to a work of heartfelt sincerity:
1. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor’s guiding hand in the production. Taylor, as some might know, is best known as the bassist for Grizzly Bear — one of my most revisited bands of interest for the past two years (second to Deerhunter) — and much of the aesthetic fingerprints he leaves on Forget seem to have begun with Grizzly Bear’s 2005 remix of their lo-fi album, Horn of Plenty (at least in my twisted little world). For me, Taylor’s idiosyncratic touches are unmistakable in Forget, but alongside Lewis, quite honed and disciplined.
Nary a minute on this album is wasted, my friends.
Each instrument in Lewis’ lean arsenal of tools shimmer. Each layer is rendered crisply (i.e., the danceable bass tracks in “When We’re Dancing,” “I Can’t Wait,” and “At My Heels” are sticky and full-bodied). Conversely, choice elements in the spectrum (such as Lewis’ voice) are occasionally moved to the background, in a silo of reverb, such as with the refrain in track 10, “Slow,” creating a sense of sudden, whooshing movement through an undefined space. Or the “faraway” melody solos in “Tyrant Destroyed.”
2. Lewis endows the 80s throwback suite with earnest, yet romantic glimpses into his childhood, his adolescence, where bittersweet remembrances of past relationships are experienced through a handful of details, such as the sexual ambivalence in a girl he’s dancing with (or trying to dance with) in “I Can’t Wait,” or the coldness he feels in the wake of (perhaps) a dead love affair he’s stored in a mental cryogen through “Castles In The Snow,” or an incantatory fixation on his own heart(beat) in “Tether Beat.” Meanwhile, “Tyrant Destroyed” (the album’s opener) is a seemingly melodic bow to New Order’s “Everytime I See You Falling.” I’m not entirely sure why. Listen to the verse melody and see if you might agree.
Some of it goes into dark crevices, but Lewis manages to counterbalance these heavier, midtempo moods with livelier disco stuff, particularly since it’s a rather short album. Only two songs on this album exceed the four minute mark. The effect it has on the listener is charismatic, debonair, pithy. The result is that it rapidly inspires more excavation.
Suffice it to say that, as grabbing as its catchy “new-new wave” tunes may be, repeated listens of Twin Shadow’s inaugural full-length inevitably draw out the complexities that bring it above the current flock of ’80s revivalists. Through Twin Shadow, these past genres are not so much exploited as they are celebrated. They feel new again. They’re out of the time capsule, dusted, polished, improved. It’s a meticulousness that delivers a more propulsive mood or image that couldn’t have thrived in, say, a lo-fi habitat.