Dear Gotye

Melbourne-based singer Wouter “Wallie” De Backer performs under the name Gotye, and released an album in August 2011 (“Making Mirrors”) that has attracted some attention in the U.S., due to his single “Somebody that I Used to Know” and a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

I think I posted that on WITW before, but I won’t go through the trouble of citing myself.

I’m headed to one of his NYC shows in a few weeks, so I finally bought the album (on sale at iTunes for $7, if memory serves), and listened to it off and on today, including the always-opinion-forming walk home. As I walked, I composed a draft of this post and it went something like this:

Dear Gotye: Peter Gabriel + New Order + Apples in Stereo + Fela Kuti + James Bond movie theme song horn section + Doors lyrics + Cee Lo Green + Phoenix + and etc. < Peter Gabriel OR New Order OR Apples in Stereo OR Fela Kuti and so on.

My next thought, having just finished reading Jeffrey Eugenides book The Marriage Plot, was that this album was the soundtrack that the main couple (Leonard and Madeleine) would have listened to in her convertible Volvo as they drove out to spend a year on Cape Cod. Leonard is still recovering from a recent hospitalization for his manic-depression and getting ready for another round of cycling, while Madeleine is beginning to realize that she’s tethered herself to a truly sick man despite herself. The kind of hysterical saccharine feeling of some of the songs seems like exactly the thing they’d choose.

But I finally remembered that this is a musician working from Melbourne, thousands of miles outside of the core of pop music production. The album makes more sense to me, and is actually more enjoyable, if I think about it in comparison to other “global pop.” As I’ve discussed in the past, in reference to an album of Ugandan hip hop:

communities that are emerging into the world marketplace tend to arrive with products that are rough-hewn, slightly out-of-date versions of dominant styles.

Gotye’s album is unquestionably dense with musical references, but largely to dated pop music that mainstream audiences will inevitably first hear as familiar, but perhaps boring without some large group of co-signers. The sound will probably work well for AAC stations and others targeting older, female listeners. And it has already grabbed folks Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and other places where “porn stach” and “sweater vest” are associated with a creative nostalgia. But it is a far, far more interesting album (IMHO) if you put it next to Kampala Flow, or a compilation of Eurovision songs, or Afro Celt Sound System, or even Gabriel’s own work with Sufi singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.


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