Saturday, April 14, 2012

Turn Up the Sound - Gotye Reinvents Pop

Photo: Courtesy of
Reinvent (verb): To create anew. To replace with an entirely new version.

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Gotye, pronounced like Gaultier the French designer, is the professional name of Wally DeBacker, a 31 year-old musician born in Belgium and raised in Australia, whose third album Making Mirrors is dazzling the pop music world and raising the quality bar dramatically.

If you've already heard Gotye's hit single "Somebody That I Used To Know," and chances are you have, you probably initially wondered when Sting reunited with his former bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers to record a new Police song.

Comparisons between Gotye and The Police are fair and accurate, particularly on tracks like "Somebody" when Gotye sings at the top of his vocal register, but happily, the similarity is just a glimmer on the surface of a deep well of inspired and imaginative pop music.

"Somebody" is firmly entrenched in the 80s, but if you give a listen to Making Mirrors in its entirety, you'll quickly find yourself immersed in a sea of diverse styles and sounds. "State of the Art" blends reggae beats and electronica seamlessly, while at several moments on the track "I Feel Better," the only thing needed to round out the 60's Motown sound is a backup vocal loop from Martha and the Vandellas.

Make no mistake though - Gotye isn't mimicking the past, he is reinventing it.

As you make your way through Making Mirrors, you discover tracks that are simultaneously innovative and familiar, a host of songs rife with recognizable threads sewn together in ways you never imagined. Gotye is like a boy genius who has locked himself in his mother's attic for weeks on end, only to eventually emerge with a stunning original work of art fashioned from boxes of old photos and forgotten family heirlooms.

In a fascinating online documentary short, Gotye described his musical process as stumbling upon the "fortuitous meeting of sounds" that were somehow "meant for each other." Making Mirrors is proof that he has mastered the imagination, instruments, and technology needed to marry those sounds together with awe-inspiring artistry.

With songs that are sometimes reminiscent of so much other music, it might seem that Gotye has stolen something from the music that came before him. If that were true, he didn't steal something - he stole everything. I would make the case, instead, that Gotye has stolen nothing. He has absorbed sounds from the past, allowed them to ricochet and resonate inside his mind, and given them back to us - sometimes as musical cousins of pop music we recognize, and sometimes as something strange and beautiful we've never heard before. Regardless, each track on Making Mirrors is unique and worthwhile.

Don't believe me? Try another.

If you're reading this on Saturday April 14, the day I published this post, you can see more Gotye on television tonight, when he appears as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.

You can buy Gotye music everywhere, and you can get addicted, as I have, to a wide array of Gotye songs and videos here on his YouTube page.

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