Throwbackaholics

Tesla Boy's EP, with signature nostalgic artwork typically featured in the Valerie Collective albums.
Tesla Boy's EP, with signature nostalgic artwork typically featured in the Valerie Collective albums.


Modern music is difficult for a lot of people to gnaw on anymore. If anything, it makes many, including myself, want to superglue my ears shut. The problem I have with most music today is not only finding an enjoyable tune, but also meaningful lyrics. It's hard to find a philosophical band these days unless they're independent rock groups like The Decemberists, who I don't particularly like for their sound.


Being a child of the 90s, my parents raised me on The Eagles, Elton John, and other musicians of their time, and even had me hooked on a diet of all-80's kids' films from the local library, with a few 90's thrown in. I attempted to keep up with my generation, but I inevitably found that most of my own generation followed the older artists like me. In third grade I liked the Backstreet Boys when they were fresh beside 'N Sync (you only liked either one or the other), but after several months of listening to their title CD over and over, I began to realize how empty those songs were, and that I didn't really like them after all. In fact, the only reason I really did was because everyone I hung out with did. Now Backstreet Boys were marketed to a younger demographic, but I still arose from the mainstream conformity to musical taste at a young age.


Commercial pop in the 80's really set the mold for today's music, though I actually enjoy the synthesizers pop groups of the time like Bananarama (For one song, I hate to admit I like them at all), The Pet Shop Boys or A-Ha utilized. I have a callous nostalgia when I hear the typical kick drum in 80's pop as well, no matter how cheesy things can get. While much of the popular chart-topping music in the 80's was lyrically vapid, the tunes were not as aggressive as today's, not trying to be as stingy and in-your-face as songs by, say, Lady GaGa (I respect her as a person but I don't like her music). At the same time, also topping the charts in the 80s were songs by the great Michael Jackson from his amazing album Thriller .


Today, the music is all about being catchy, and unlike the 80's and following a painful transition through the 90's, it can be utterly annoying to listen to as well. There isn't better proof of where commercial pop music has deteriorated in integrity than Rebecca Black's “Friday” (even if marketed to a young teen demographic), a song so meaningless and irritating--not only for the repetitive, derivative tune, but for the grating, almost Brooklyn-accented autotune--that it had to have been a secretive cruel joke between all of its producers. But I won't go anymore into Rebecca Black. It's been done enough. Just about the autotune.


Autotune is another thing that's created a lack of integrity in pop music. You hear it all the time today, and the first example (when it was a nice effect) I can think of when it was used was in Cher's “Believe”. Then I enjoyed it in the now-unbearably cheesy Eiffel 65 in the late 90's. Then I enjoyed it even more in Daft Punk's Discovery album, with Romanthony's and Daft Punk's amazing vocals lent to “One More Time”, “Digital Love”, “Something About Us”, “Face To Face” and “Too Long”. Not to mention the wordless anime musical Interstella 5555 went along great with this album and is one of the few films that can actually bring me to tears. And I do believe that Daft Punk paved the way for musical salvation for many of us, much of it with this album. Daft Punk sampled ingeniously from 70's and 80's funk and R&B songs for a majority of their own, and yet they changed enough of the tracks to make their own original sound. They managed to update older music with a new and fresh sound without being too dense. But with autotune being abused by artists like Kanye West and practically every other modern pop group or rapper, anyone can be a singer today through its use.


I miss New Wave bands from the 80's like The Fixx for their deep and intellectual lyrics as well as enjoyable, soothing tunes combining eclectic electric guitar and synth. I miss New Order. I miss Talking Heads and the more obscure Comsat Angels. I miss these bands even when I wasn't even around to hear them at the height of their popularity. I miss Don Henley and “Boys of Summer” before it was butchered by The Ataris and made into a grungy rock anthem (the only lyric they changed was “Wayfarers” to “sunglasses”...).

The "Valerie and Friends" album, downloadable on iTunes. A decent collaboration from many different electronic artists.
The "Valerie and Friends" album, downloadable on iTunes. A decent collaboration from many different electronic artists.

But where smart and poetic lyrics have deteriorated into songs I don't like because of their tunes (a lot of mentally deeper rock groups are simply too grungy and angry for my taste), electronic music has carried on a throwback to the “good ol days” of pop with artists like Alan Braxe, Fred Falke, Lifelike, Justice, Tesla Boy, Anoraak, Jupiter, and a growing number of other musicians in the Valerie Collective. They're part of a musical movement bringing a modern inflection to the old school style of pop music from the Reagan era. Another group of musicians is partaking in something called Chillwave, the name of a subgenre of electronic music that really only lasted for a summer. The music is still being created though, with frontrunners in the musical style being Washed Out and Toro Y Moi, two guys who like to give their songs an airy and hallucinogenic, “washed out” effect like a worn-out cassette. Most electronic musicians today contributing to the nostalgic style of music making are foreigners; many are from France like Daft Punk and Lifelike, while others are from Sweden (Tennishero) or Russia (Tesla Boy). Another foreign 80's-influenced artist I deeply enjoy is Australia's Empire of the Sun, their song “Walking On A Dream” never getting old for me. It's difficult to find an American producing this kind of electronic music; most DJs popular in America (albeit not always American) create techno or trance for ecstasy-ridden club goers with really nothing new, though many of those are enjoyable for me as well, like Paul Van Dyk.


It seems like while the commercial mainstream music is reliant on catchy, boisterous melodies, the independent electronic music community is doing its part to bring back the feelings most music misses these days. Music is a very emotional endeavor and connects with so many on so many different levels, but while the mainstream audiences may be into more sponsored musicians like John Mayer for his mainstream lyrics and love melodies, many listeners want the swooning, euphoric and nostalgic tunes from way back when. This is the way it is for me, as I am all about tune over lyrics in today's music, as I've given up on finding really crucial words to a song and can simply listen to the classics if I want them.

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