erasing clouds

The 1980s Revival: Popaganda 1: The Speed of Sound, Carol Masters, Gerty

by Dave heaton

For some the idea that the styles of the 1980s are coming back is frightening, especially when it comes to certain fashion trends. But in the world of indie pop music, there's no doubt that the 80s resurgence has been strong for a while now. There's plenty of evidence of a love for all things new wave, from nearly anything Momus is involved in to the recent tribute album to OMD.

A recent release that showcases much of this 1980s love is Souvenir Records' Popaganda 1: The Speed of Sound compilation. A collection of songs by an assortment of current pop bands from all over the world, its subtitle is "Re:Constructing the Sound of Pop." Nearly every group here is interested in reconstructing the sound of pop…as it was 20 years ago. The names might be unfamiliar to most people--Freezepop, Iberian Spleen, Neverwood, Lifestyle--but the influences definitely are not. There's plenty of Duran Duran, New Order, Depeche Mode and Human League allusions here, not to mention Cyndi Lauper and Dead or Alive covers, and a song expressing love for Kylie Minogue.

Is this 80s obsession a bad thing? Not necessarily. While your taste for an album like this will no doubt depend on what you think of 80s new wave, Popganda 1 is more than just groups trying to imitate the past. For one, these groups have an aura of fun about them that is infectious. It's hard to listen to a song like Goetki's goofy dance track "Fight the Saucerman" or Electrosquad's aforementioned "Kylie" without smiling. What also makes this album enjoyable is the way that some of the groups (I Am the World Trade Center, Goodbye July) integrate 80s sounds with more future-looking electronic sounds.

One of the groups featured on Popaganda 1 is Carol Masters, a synth-pop duuo which recently released their debut album Universal Greeting System. An hourlong trip into the world of synthesizers and drum machines, Universal… has a sleek, bouncy sound well-conditioned for dancing. The group, a collaboration between singer Billy Miller and songwriter/musician Rui Carminha, succeeds on the level of creating enjoyable dance grooves but also has a good grasp of pop melody. What takes their music up another level is their success at infusing their songs with emotion. While their lyrics are direct, not necessarily complex or poetic, that tactic fits their music well. They use dance music to explore feelings of infatuation, need, loneliness and love. While not the most innovative group you'll hear, Carol Masters nonetheless have a vitality about them that's fetching.

Another recent 1980s-influenced release is the third album from the North Carolina duo Gerty, Sweets From the Minibar, released by Eskimo Kiss. While the album has guest appearances by Superchunk's drummer Jon Wurster and 80s power-pop veteran Chris Stamey, its sound lies distinctly with 80s new wave. In particular, Gerty sound a whole lot like the Cars if they were a male-female duo and loved synthesizers even more than they did. I'm not much of a fan of the Cars, which might be where Gerty loses me, I don't know. But even while the songwriting itself seems a little mundane to me, Sweets from the Minibar has an energy and flair to it that's at times easy to get wrapped up in. But that's a lot of what the 80s were about, I suppose: style. What makes some 80s-loving bands work for me, where others don't, is the degree to which that style can be blended with something else of value--whether it's innovation or genuine emotion or something else.


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