Friday, November 14, 2014

Sounds of the Eighties

Ah, the 1980s: a decadent decade of synthesisers, experimental hairstyles, and Malibu. I would have fit right in.

Of course, '80s culture is still pretty darn popular today - you might argue that people are just wearing those neon-coloured tights 'ironically', but our lingering affection for the sound of the eighties seems completely sincere. The meteoric rise of HAIM (I think you're meant to shout it) in 2013 proved that synthpop could still put bums on seats in the 21st century, and this year has seen the release of quite a few albums that are similarly eighties-indebted.

Today, I'm going to focus on two of those albums: 1989 by Taylor Swift, and Age by The Hidden Cameras.

Yes, I'm aware that I've already done one Taylor Swift blog this week. I'm doing another.

On each of these albums, the artist uses the music of the eighties to evoke their childhood. Much has been made of Taylor Swift's decision to leave behind the country 'n' western style on which she cut her teeth - poptastic singles like Shake it Off and Blank Space bear very little resemblance to her earlier hits - but Age feels quite unusual for a Hidden Cameras record, too, swapping the 'gay church folk music' that has long been the band's trademark for something a little more artificial and ominous.

Like pretty much every THC album to date, Age deals with sex and taboo and other such themes, but where songs like The Man That I Am With My Man and In The Union of Wine sounded like the work of a sexually active gent with quite a bit of experience, Joel Gibb's latest songs seem more interested in the early days. Age, in a prequelly sort of way, transports us back to the days of JG's adolescence, when he was presumably just beginning to discover his sexuality. Skin & Leather merely brushes at the edge of the krazy kinkiness with which Gibb usually fills his songs, while Gay Goth Scene ("We don't want no gay goth scene in this house") sounds like the cry of a disapproving parent, mistrustful of both homosexuality and '80s pop music.

1989 is named for the year in which Taylor Swift was born, and while this presumably means that she doesn't remember the decade at all, she's still decided to go for an eighties theme. And it works well, actually, because most of the songs are about looking back, and the instrumentation - all sugary synths and big melodies - does result in a rather nostalgic effect, not unlike a washed-out Instagram filter.

Obviously, there are plenty of artists who just use synthesisers because they like the '80s sound and want to emulate it. It's not always a reflection of the lyrical content, but that's what makes Age and 1989 so good: it actually does seem like the sound was tailored to suit the songs.

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