Soundcheck: Everything Old is New Again
Published April 24, 2009
This week it feels like every band I ever loved in the 90’s is suddenly making a comeback. Or at least two of them are. Depeche Mode released the excellent new Sounds of the Universe (the band’s twelfth studio album!), which is a fitting testament to what an excellent and wildly underrated band Depeche Mode actually is. Few bands this deep into their careers are still writing such catchy and prescient pop songs, while remaining steadfastly weird. Proof is in the video for the new single, “Wrong,” and then heading over to the band’s official website to watch vintage concert clips of the band performing at the Hollywood Rose Bowl while decked out in sassy S&M gear. Some things—great pop songs and leather harnesses—never go out of style.
For those seeking something a little lighter, The Pet Shop Boys also released a new album this week, the affirmatively titled Yes. As one might expect, the album is a pretty seamless piece of work-cool synths floating around Neil Tennant’s unmistakable, erudite vocals—and is also a nice reminder of how pop music can be both fun and smart. Most people think it’s Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface.” It’s not.
Beck’s 1994 masterpiece, One Foot in the Grave, (no, it’s not the one with “Loser” on it) is getting a long overdue reissue this week, complete with a bonus CD of unreleased tracks and rarities. This album is a window to a time when Beck was still a weird folkie more interested in being Woody Guthrie than trying to make the alternative nation shake its collective, generic booty (which, apparently, is the side of Beck that eventually won out). This record is the kind of tossed off gem that is equal parts beautiful, sad, and totally goofy, which is why it’s so great. Beck’s later albums might all be marvels of studio ingenuity, but they can’t touch the simple magic of this one.
In the category of “new music that sounds old but really isn’t” comes the new Blank Dogs album, Under and Under. The band, which is the solo project of some guy in Brooklyn named Mike who wants to remain anonymous, makes a wonderfully off-kilter indie pop that sounds like it might have been dug up from some lost new wave recording studio in the early 80’s. Alas, it’s just weird shit that some guy makes in his bedroom.
Last but not least, I was pleasantly surprised—shocked, even—when I finally got around to listening to the new album by The Horrors. A couple of years ago they were nothing but a weird goth novelty band from the UK with a scary video directed by Chris Cunningham. Back then they seemed the band least likely to disappear for a while and return with a shockingly good sophomore album called Primary Colours (produced by a member of Portishead, no less), but that’s exactly what they’ve gone and done. The album, which will be released stateside May 5, is already on my shortlist for Best of 2009. Seriously, the wonders never cease. You can watch the video for the band’s new single, “Sea Within A Sea,” by checking out their official website. The last time I saw them play in New York, some dude jumped onstage and punched the lead singer in the face because he hated them so much. Hopefully they’ll fare a little better this time. They are playing New York’s Webster Hall on May 2.