Straight from the ’70s, today we’re talking about a genre that’s perhaps been forgotten. It’s called “plastic soul” and was most commonly used by Bowie to describe his output during those years.
The term is used to deride and slap a label of falseness on someone’s musical taste or creations. I’m as defensive of peoples’ music tastes as the next person (see also my posts on guilty pleasures) but in this case…I think it’s right. There’s a feeling of hollowness to the sound. Not only that, the term almost feels fitting since plastic soul is literally packaged for an audience that wouldn’t necessarily seek out soul music themselves (i.e. white suburbia).
My favorite podcast, “You’re Wrong About”, did an episode on Disco Demolition Night that I think dovetails nicely with my argument here. It was a literal rejection of “real” disco because attendees felt like it didn’t speak to them: maybe it was too funky, maybe it was too emotional, maybe it had been created by a marginalized group that they didn’t identify with.
But music has a way of being slippery and adaptable so as much as people tried to turn it down, disco just kept getting louder until it morphed into what we call “house music” today. After all, people still need to dance to something.
Plastic soul, though, isn’t danceable. It lacks that urgency that makes you want to get up and move because the saxophone is just a little too sharp, a little too clean (“Young Americans” is a great example of this). There’s no funk here, nothing rich that’s holding it all together.
I still like listening to it, but I’m not about to boogie.
This one is off their album Committed to the Crime. A dark and ambient album name that fits a dark and ambient song! “Do You Feel It” starts off with a slow piano that has an echoey, empty feel reminiscent of most European club songs. (Or most European music in general, really.)
The piano quickly cuts into a nice electronic beat that provides subtle backing for Asya Saavedra’s strong, even defiant, vocals. She tells her subject that they’re “always talking” but “not playing.”
Today we’re examining the phenomenon of Tame Impala – specifically, their song “The Less I Know The Better.” It’s basically your art student friend’s sound. Spare, electronic beat accompanied by a wavering male voice.
Lyrically, TLIKTB is written from the classic perspective of a man scorned. “Someone said they left together/I ran out the door to get her/She was holding hands with Trevor/Not the greatest feeling ever.” It’s all about college gossip, and trying to get with the girl you like. The whole tone of the song is desperation: “Oh my love, can’t you see yourself by my side/No surprise when you’re on his shoulder like every night.”
That extra “like” in this particular lyric is especially interesting. It emphasizes how much of an exaggerated perspective the narrator has for the whole situation. Yet it also feminizes his tone (like, y’know, like?) and aligns him more closely with the woman he dismisses.
There’s another contrast later in the song. Kevin Parker writes, “So goodbye” as if to cut this woman out of his life. However, almost immediately after this, this woman tells him to “wait 10 years, we’ll be together.” To which he responds, “Better late then never/just don’t make me wait forever.”
The push-pull of their relationship emphasizes its immaturity. He wants her, but when he can’t have her, it’s “so goodbye.” But when she tells him they’ll end up together, he’s all for it.
Who’s really in control here, then? Parker wants to be, by slut-shaming the girl for going out with this “Trevor” guy instead of him. Ultimately, though, the girl of the song is revealed to have power over him: 10 years, for Parker, doesn’t seem that long of a wait.
When my dad was in college, one of the male dorms used to have a “Funk Break” every Thursday night. They’d listen to funk music and hang out. Funk music is a genre that I’ve only scratched the surface of (Sly and the Family Stone, etc.), but one that I definitely want to dive deeper into.
Today’s post is all about “Can You Get to That” by Funkadelic, one of the first funk groups that I ever got into.
Here’s the Wikipedia-style overview, for those of you that are unfamiliar: The group, and its sister group Parliament (both headed by George Clinton), helped pioneer funk music during the 1970s. Picture Soul Train-style outrageous fashion and deep, groovy beats – that’s Funkadelic in a nutshell.
I was first introduced to the group because Sleigh Bells samples them on their song “Rill Rill.” I love how Sleigh Bells reinterprets that groove into a driving, electric sound…while still retaining its funky core.
“Can You Get to That” brings up an essential question for me, every time I hear it. Do I listen to a song more for its lyrics, or its beat? With this song, it’s both. The acoustic-y guitar hook is hypnotic and draws you in from the first few beats. And then you’re hit with powerful lyrics like, “I once had a life – or rather, life had me.” It’s instantly relateable: the whole song is about reflecting on past relationships and how you’ve lived your life. That’s the universality of music that I love: one nation under a groove, indeed.
It seems like this is a recurring theme in indie music: you know, the girl who’s just so skinny and sad and broken that the singer has no choice but to write about it (instead of…helping her?) The Toast wrote about this a few years ago, but seeing as it’s a consistent issue, I felt like writing about it – specifically, as the trope occurs in “A Team” by Ed Sheeran.
“Stumble Back to You” by The Limousines has been on repeat around here lately and I am so excited about it. It has an ’80s-tinged sound with a stadium-sized inflection, especially at the beginning of the song. “Stumble Back to You” has a similar auditory enthusiasm to “Little Secrets” by Passion Pit.
Yet underneath it all you still have Eric Victorino’s rough voice, talking about how “before the night is through/I’ll turn around and stumble back to you.”
This is not new lyrical territory for Victorino. Despite the evolution of the band from “Get Sharp” to “Hush,” he often returns to exploring failing relationships between people that are themselves falling apart.
When you first hear The Limousines, it would be easy to dismiss them as just another flash-in-the-pan electronic band with clever lyrics about masturbation (just look up “Very Busy People.”) However, it’s clear that Victorino and his bandmate Giovanni Giusti have deeper, and perhaps darker, things on their mind.
Their second album, “Hush,” has a more mature sound, both melodically and lyrically. This is particularly evident on the two best songs of the album, “Love is a Dog from Hell” and “The Last Dance.” “The Last Dance” in particular is self-aware: Victorino writes that “we could take a vow believing/temptation’s not around.” Meanwhile, in “Love is a Dog from Hell,” he counters glory-days reminiscences of when his relationship first began with a caution that “we’ve gotta be careful because/love is a dog from hell.”
I think that’s why the Limos have a sound that’s important to my generation. We face that same shakiness, that same desire to relive a past era when things were easy. Victorino knows that this is how relationships are now. He pairs this lyrical sensitivity with killer dance beats that help you forget – or at least imagine a brighter future.