Alex Cameron ‘The Comeback’ is a melancholic masterpiece set in 80s soundtracks

Ok, before I start talking about why this album is amazing, I want to talk a little about its context. Alex Cameron (on stage usually together with Roy Molloy) is an Australian musician who released this record in 2013 for free on the internet. So far, so Radiohead. However, eventually he found the perfect label with Secretly Canadian because of course they napped him. The album was re-released last year in August and was only now discovered by me through Spotify’s scary accurate playlist algorithms.

The album itself is sort of a concept album with Alex miming a washed-up entertainer mourning the breakthrough he never had. However, according to Wikipedia, he didn’t just create this character and make up lyrics for it but wrote the lyrics based on his own (and Roy’s) experiences, therefore lending real life to an otherwise already fantastic concept.

He even dressed the part.

Ok, to the album now: since I am not as deep into the numerous album releases as I was maybe 5-6 years ago, I am not the best judge but from my point of view, the darker, melancholic new wave-revival (or newer new wave) of bands like Interpol, the Editors and the like has a bit dried up lately (in favor of awesome female garage punk, it feels like).

Maybe it’s for the best, though, that I haven’t heard that much retro 80s wave in the last years because that way Alex Cameron’s beautiful ode to 80s soundtracks, Jim Kerr/Bruce Springsteen vocals (I will not be told otherwise) and introspective lyrics can fully excite me in its weirdly unique loveliness.

Add Cameron to my list of awesome dancers (joining Father John Misty and Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath)

Cameron hits the 80s synth nails right on the head. There is a clarity to his melodies that really rings true and his vocals keep their control most of the time, only to break emotionally to give this amazing Springsteen impact (that Louis C.K. talked about in a way that is 100% accurate and will be referenced by me forever and forever).

Funnily enough, I nearly instantly thought about the music video for Faith No More’s cover of “I started a joke” and David Hoyle as majestic and sad nightclub musician. Somehow I can imagine Hoyle’s character as the protagonist of Cameron’s album. It feels right.

Anyways, the album itself is not a one note spiel on the 80s nostalgia because even though style and instruments set it in the 80s (which fits to the old artist whose heydays probably have been in the 80s), it’s not just an homage but a truly amazing singer/songwriter album.

If you want 80s pop, get that The Bangles debut ASAP!

I, like everyone else who wasn’t a teen in the 80s, know the Bangles for their chart toppers “Eternal Flame” (all the white girls sing along but not in the right key), “Manic Monday” (which was a gift from Prince, how the hell did I not know that????) and “Walk like an Egyptian” (double the fun since the German punk pop band Die Ärzte covered this in German and I liked it back then as a kid but now really question why they would leech on the Bangles’ success when they would have been ok without this cover).

Also, a fun fact, I have to note: “Manic Monday” was only surpassed by one other song on the charts: Prince with “Kiss”. He basically topped himself. Damn.

BUT today I listened to their debut album (1984) “All over the Place” and I feel like we wronged them so much by only citing the mentioned trifecta of hits. “Going down to Liverpool” is an amazing song and sounds like The Smiths but without the moping (and there’s no way they copied the Smith’s style because both debuts came out the same year). The song was written by Kimberley Rew from Katrina and the Waves, by the way.

Also, the video has a grumpy Leonard Nimoy and one fantastic joke that I won’t spoil now because I love you.

I mean, the music videos alone are so much fun because of all that 80s fashion game going on but the whole album is fantastic and I have no idea why it never pops up in the best albums of the 80s lists because there’s not really any filler song and not every song sounds basically the same (looking at you, The Smiths*).

It’s a bit of a shame that apparently the music industry destroyed this band by featuring mostly Susanna Hoffs because they thought she was, I don’t know, marketable? The music industry can be such a dick. And when the band broke up and Hoffs tried it solo, they dropped her during the recording of her second album. What a dick move, Universal.

I mean, this pre-debut single is fantastic:

It’s also the biggest shame and simply outrageous, that no one gave Michael Steele a record contract for the next 20 years after the band broke up because Steele did not just have the best hair but also a gigantic voice and guitar and bass guitar skills to hold her own (“Walk like an Egyptian” would only be half as good without that bass line). I mean, if you have the whole package right there, why not sign her and make it happen? Universal was a mess in the 80s, I tell you that.

*Look, I like the Smiths but they are the Nirvana of the 80s in that they get way too much credit for being the most popular of a certain zeitgeist sound that was dominated by white dude bands that were moping and kind of a downer.

The last great rock band: Thank god, it’s over

There’s currently a great read on Vulture, an interview collection of people who talk about the Strokes and how they blew up and then petered out. The article is great but the notion is all kinds of wonky. Continue reading

Favourite Song: Angel Olsen ‘Shut up Kiss me’ – blast from the past

I usually don’t do this but in the case of Angel Olsen I feel like I have to slam the music press. I’ve read quite a few reviews of her new album (which, I admit, I haven’t heard fully so far, I always get stuck on this song) and there’s way too many people saying that with her new album she proves that she is super diverse. ‘Xcuse me? How did her previews albums not show that Angel Olsen is diverse like the current season’s Queens of Ru Paul’s Drag Race?

I mean, I listened to the exquisite ode to 70s punk “Shut up kiss me” and I was too things:

– delighted how amazing this song is

– totally not surprised that Angel Olsen could come up with this

The video makes me think that I got the music decade right

What’s lovely is that this is a reference to old school New York punk but it doesn’t sound like a regurgitation of the music of yesteryears (least of all because there have been so few women in that scene). Angel Olsen’s vocals on the line “Even if you walk around as though you think you’re right” is such a throwback to early Cyndi Lauper or Pat Benatar (how does she do it? It’s so gorgeous and then she goes into this full, juicy chorus). But the song itself is so dirty that it automatically reverts you back to a decade earlier, strumming along on the guitar and chewing gum in a hot leather jacket (I guess that’s what the NY punk scene looked like, right?).

In fact, the song coincides with a recent re-discovery of a song by a NY punk band that not exactly sounds the same but not only has the telephone-link (Angel: “I ain’t hanging up tonight”) in its lyrics but also this restless energy with an amazing hook line.

I had to look for this. There’s another video but it has a lot of unnecessarily sexist imagery of pin up models and you know what, I will not have it!

I also want to add that I know of the Blondie-version and it is a hoot but it somehow doesn’t have the desperation of the original. Deborah is simply too cool for school to sing about waiting for anyone to call back. Like, who would leave Debbie Harry hanging on the telephone? No one, that’s who. She rather sounds like she’s mocking the dude who’s told her to not leave him hanging on the telephone …

Favourite Song: Anna Meredith ‘The Vapours’ – whaaa?

Anna Meredith’s debut album “Varmints” is absolutely titillating. Remember, when Dan Deacon came along and it was so weird and colorful what he did and everyone wanted to join his crazy live dane parties?

I feel like Anna Meredith is – although stylistically different – likewise this incredibly fresh air of electronica that’s just weird and beautiful and exciting. Is prog-electro (proglecto?) a thing? Can it be? When I hear “The Vapours” I feel like it should be a thing. And I can’t even describe probably what I am hearing because it’s just this gorgeous layered cake of loopy electronics, electric guitars and violins and everything in this incredibly danceable beat and suddenly you’re in the middle of the musical stage with some wind instruments, it’s bananas!

Laura Marling ‘Semper Femina’ – musings about muses

The muse is an interesting concept in (mainly Greek) mythology. Originally goddesses, the muses turned into beautiful women that gave the spark of inspiration to mainly male artists. Even though one could see the role of the muse from a feminist standpoint – after all, the male artist is and can create nothing without the female input – it still stings as soon as you think of all the creative and scientific achievements of men that were created on women’s backs or even stolen from women.

In her newest album, Laura Marling thinks about these fickle creatures aka women (if you translate “semper femina”, you get this meaning) and those women that inspired her on her way. Laura Marling is not only a great artist. She is also conceptual in a way that goes beyond music. In the least few years she released a charming podcast called “Reversing the Muse” which covers interviews with women in music and especially women behind the music, e.g. sound engineers, producers, etc. Inspired by these women, she dealt with the topic of the muse on her album, finally reverting the male-female-story of the muse and recreating the muse as an equally artistic woman who inspires other artists.

Together with the podcast and the album, we also get a visual in form of three music videos directed by Laura Marling herself. Since I really loved Jesca Hoop’s lovely miniature thriller-drama (thrama, thrima?) for “Memories are now”, I immediately compared the music videos and eventually the albums as well.

Just as with her music, Jesca Hoop draws you in immediately with a powerful story (and her incredibly alluring melodies). It doesn’t take more than 5 seconds to fall in love with Jesca Hoop’s album. It took me a little longer, however, to really dive into the often subtle and highly symbolic nature of Laura Marling’s music. Her music videos are equally mystifying at times and work more with a hard to describe feeling and very strong color-schemes than a storyline or real characters. Laura Marling feels a little more sensual, tender, whereas Jesca Hoop has strong ideas that immediately grip you. And guess what: there’s no need to pit them against each other. For me, the comparison is interesting not to find out “who wore it better” but how different styles and ways and inspirations can still have a strong emotional impact and result in such strong pieces of art.

Btw, this is also the main reason why I don’t do “places” on my best of lists. If I like an album, I like it, I don’t need to make it fight with another album to prove its worth.

Jay Som ‘Everybody works’ – this retro 90s singer songwriting debut is so chill!

Initially, Jay Som thought how much it sucks to have so little money just to keep on making music, hence the title “everybody works”. As all the glorious music hit stories of today, she didn’t have to wait till forever (like some wannabe-authors, *cough cough*) to make it big. With her incredible debut, Jay Som – originally Melina Duterte – encapsulates the Zeitgeist of creating nostalgic sounds that she never really experienced. If that sounded snarky, it’s not. Let me explain but first…the Bus song.

While talking about “Everybody Works” on my radio show I came to an epiphany: the time for detached irony is over. This generation (is it still millenials?) finally got over the “oh, this is so shit/tacky/gross/awful, I love it” and discovered that old, vintage things can actually have an emotional impact and be amazing completely without irony. Even more so, it’s finally cool to watch lovely, touching tv shows like “Steven Universe” or “Adventure Time” without blushing in front of your friends who only watch “Venture Bros” and “Archer” and love to snigger at heartfelt truths and feelings.

I might be totally off with this (I am quite sure I am) but young artists like Jay Som beat the constant irony of the Britwave of ca. 2008 and the irk of neon coloured shirts singing about cool things without ever getting close to what they really thought about when they went off stage and into the sweat-smelly tour bus to drive for hours to the next location.

This is an album that is honest, modest even, and rings true.

The whole thing sounds like it comes from a band but Melina-Superstar did everything on her own in her bed room. For comparison: I do puzzles on long weekends.

The result reminds me at times of the lighter Modest Mouse (with this chill guitar sound) and at times of the fuzzy 90s alternative that in hindsight seemed to be a real rebellion against the grungy moping of too many bands of the time (I re-watched early “Buffy”-seasons in the past weeks and boy, so many drab bands with really bad grunge music AND lyrics).

Jay Som, however, creates light, lovely and fresh songs with fantastic guitar-gniedelei and lyrics that are – quite frankly – humbling the selfish arrogant person that I was at Melina’s age. She talks about how everyone has their burden to bare and how sometimes you have to give up some things to help out others. And all that sounds a lot less like motivational posters when she writes and sings about it:

I know you know

If I leave you alone

When you don’t feel right

I know we’ll sink for sure

I’ll play your game once more

If you don’t feel right

(Baybee)