Magic Omnibus | February 2015

mo2_75This is 1989‘s closest relationship to its eponymous year—it’s a throwback to an inescapable radio song monoculture that no longer truly exists in the current on-demand, thriving yet fragmented musical landscape.


No Monster Club | “I’ve Retired” (Popical Island)

No Monster Club is the lo-fi brainchild of Irishman Bobby Aherne, a project that falls somewhere in between Dan Deacon’s Technicolor hyperactivity, 1960s surf pop, 8-bit video game music, James Kochalka’s frenetic, overdriven cartoon-punk and the Dead Milkmen. “I’ve Retired” is a roiling, filled-to-the-rim saucepan of fuzz bass, careening psych-chorus vocals and effervescent melody—sounding almost as if Guided By Voices got a new drug. Until Aherne gets around to making a proper follow-up LP, you can do a lot worse than going back to full-length Foie Gras.

The Anchoress | One for Sorrow EP (Hiraeth)

Fellow Mansun-philes—if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and check out The Anchoress. Last year, Paul Draper took a handful of songs from his never-released solo album and further developed and recorded them with Welsh singer & multi-instrumentalist Catherine Anne Davies. This self-described “revenge pop” has a distinct Mansun cadence and skewed point of view, with a stylish bite not unlike vintage ABC or a non-synth Human League, sounding like a stiletto wrapped in chiffon. There’s not much out there so far, only the One for Sorrow EP and standalone single “’What Goes Around”, but fingers crossed the highly promising Draper / Davies collaboration bears further fruit.


The Church | Further/Deeper (Unorthodox/+180)

Further/Deeper came out last fall in the Antipodes, and is finally seeing its North American release. With this one, Kilbey & Co. continue their run of quietly but assuredly making some of the most vital music in their 35 (!) year career. I won’t front—I was wary upon hearing that guitarist/songwriter extraordinaire Marty Willson-Piper wouldn’t be a part of this album, but Ian Haug (formerly of Powderfinger, and a longtime Church fan to boot) not only ably fills in but breathes a noticeably fresh perspective into the group’s sound. Heavy, jangling alt rock with a twisting, adventurous prog scope, Further / Deeper is another shifting yet direct, mysterious yet enlightening missive from the Church’s never-ending journey across physical and metaphysical realms.


And now, a short essay on the impervious juggernaut that is Taylor Swift’s 1989

It’s a bit silly for Swift to self-stylize 1989 (Big Machine) as her stab at full-on pop, considering she’s spent several years prior mining sonic veins far more Los Angeles than Nashville. However, it’s also easy to see where she’s coming from.

mo2_250The album is a retro imagining of the hyper-gloss late 1980s and early 1990s from a woman who’s not old enough to have actually used the Polaroids she sings about and decorates her album art with. It’s not a crime to be fascinated with past eras we were too young to experience firsthand (I’m guilty of the same thing, although I don’t have a multizillion dollar recording contract), but that doesn’t make this album any less of an alien archaeologist’s reconstruction of an extinct civilization.

Everything about 1989 feels factory made, the songs written by committee, varnished with a blinding, gleaming, irresistible sheen. So, if it so brazenly welcomes you to the machine, then why the hell can’t I stop freaking listening to it?! “Clean” sounds like the sort of song a new collection from the Gap would write, while “Welcome to New York” exudes the whitewashed glamour of a NYC tourist video brochure crossbred with the earnest, wide-eyed proclamations of a barely twenty-something transplant from the Midwest. “This Love” will effortlessly soundtrack your 1991 junior high school dance.

It’s all quite audacious—existing in a quantum flux, simultaneously calculated yet remarkably sincere, and retro in spirit but markedly modern in its production values. (Album-closing duo “I Know Places” and “Clean” are pro-tooled but oddly affecting, both clearly of 2015, but feel like they could slot into your local Top 40 station’s weekly countdown a quarter century ago.)

Swift’s aloofness is fascinatingly mixed with a benign self-awareness and desire for acceptance. She wants to get close (as evidenced by the ginormous photo and handwritten note strewn liner notes) and dominate the world via monstrous old school capital letter Pop Music. In a way, this is 1989‘s closest relationship to its eponymous year—it’s a throwback to an inescapable radio song monoculture that no longer truly exists in the current on-demand, thriving yet fragmented musical landscape.

1989 is calculated to move units and conquer this and other planets, and does precisely that. But it also does it with a naive honesty buried at its core. Swift is a diary writing, secret-cat-lady-in-training young woman piloting a hulking musical mech. Yes, I spent 12 of my hard-earned American dollars on a legitimate download of this (it is worryingly “Mastered for iTunes”), and yes, I’m unabashedly hooked. These songs will lodge in your cerebellum, you’ll wake up with the melodies in your head. Resistance is futile. Taylor Swift will make a benevolent overlord. | Mike Rengel

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