Come see the city with me
I keep waiting for my Macbook to turn into a Commodore 64. For my bootleg Microsoft Word to morph into the Tick-blue screen of Word Perfect. I'll be rocking my boys-size-small Lion-O T-shirt, collecting Marvel series-one holograms, and recreating Balki Bartokomous' Dance of Joy all over again. Basically, I'm thinking that the world might be hurtling back in time any day now. If 2008's musical climate is any indication, it's probably already happened.
Everywhere I look, the rampant wave of '80s revivalism keeps on getting stronger. Artists like Cut Copy, M83, and Ghosthustler have been gaining new prominence with sincere celebrations of the Me Decade's sound. Synth-driven beats, ornate keyboards, gaudy dance anthems, and highly processed vocals are just some of the features making a particularly notable resurgence. And since both artists and audiences raised in the '80s are experiencing record levels of childhood nostalgia, the hunger for more fun, dance-y, theatrical pop isn't likely to fade anytime soon. (The timing also makes some sense historically. Just as synth-pop originally sprouted from the darker roots of post-punk, this synth-pop revival comes on the heels of '04-'07's post-punk revival.)
One song that perfectly captures the trend is "Vanished" by Crystal Castles. In its normal mode, the duo's songs sound like arcade games having nervous breakdows, and their Atari aesthetic is another prime example of nostalgic-driven music. But "Vanished" is a special case on Crystal Castles' self-titled debut, an asterisk among all the eight-bit mania. For one thing, it's actually a remix of Van She's "Sex City," another song steeped in Reagan-era revelry. Even more unusually, the remix opts to tone down the flamboyancy instead of ramping it up. Still, it's essentially one '80s song becoming another '80s song, an echo chamber of likeminded approaches.
What keeps this from being annoying is that the music they produce is genuinely pretty great. Most of these artists so far have shown a real affinity and talent for what they're doing (minus, say, She Wants Revenge, We Are Scientists, Scissors For Lefty, etc.) which keeps it from devolving into mere money-grabbing pastiche. "Vanished" is an especially encouraging development, with its gorgeously sheened production and glittery electronic flourishes. Compared to the original, the redone rhythm gives the track a very welcome layer of mystery and lust. (And if you want to be a word nerd, you could note that "Vanished" is a matter of putting the "id" in "Van She.") It's proof that Crystal Castles, and '80s-style artists at large, can show a far wider range than people give them credit for. It's also reason to have great hope for the future, even as music today continues mining the past.
* MP3: "Vanished" - Crystal Castles from Crystal Castles [Buy it]
* MP3: "Sex City" - Van She from Van She EP [Buy it]