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THE UNSKIPPABLES #3: 00's Nostalgia Is Not For Millennials
Feat. Magdalena Bay, PinkPantheress, VISUALS, Kevin Morby, Lower Automation
Welcome back to the Unskippables!
Each week this newsletter brings you five brand new songs that are worth a blurb, and one throwback to give you deep cut knowledge to impress/bore your friends and family.
In addition to everything below, I’ve been deep on the late 80’s “Michael Douglas as a sexy leading man in a sweater” Spago rock / bistro vibes. It’s the musical equivalent of putting an ice cube in your white wine. Since when did something so wrong feel so right?
Magdalena Bay - Secrets (Your Fire) / PinkPantheress - Just For Me
I want to remember the 90s and 00s like hyperpop artists do.
It feels somehow fitting that as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, two sets of Gen Z artists lovingly cradle a version of 2001 that’s all Tower Records, huge pants, Web 1.0, and optimism. It’s all incongruous with the lurching dread I felt during the early George W. Bush years when we were careening towards war in the Middle East, these songs pull something bright and joyous out of the Mandy Moore era of pop music, all but erasing the era’s awkward patriotism and “Moral Majority” small-town homophobia gone national.
If this all sounds like a diss, it’s not - I wish I could summon the pure joy of Magdalena Bay’s Spice Girls-aping Moog hook, or the gentle Artful Dodger two step and “Say My Name” acoustic arpeggios that underpin “Just For Me” when I think about 1999. But sometimes nostalgia isn’t for you, even if you were there - the next generation is ready to re-remember it for you, wholesale.
VISUALS ft. Fasano and Dave Harrington - Babylon
I often think about successful pop songs as rollercoasters - how they build into big peaks, how they leverage anticipation. Like a great ride at an amusement park, the pleasures are big, obvious, and paced out to make you want to get back in line and ride again.
But maybe every song isn’t a rollercoaster - maybe a song is just a vibe, a good place to hang out for a while. VISUALS’ “Babylon” is a place like that, with tape loops and Ringo-esque breaks anchoring a mellow AutoTuned hook. There’s no drop, no huge chorus, just synth breaks shifting in and out like low clouds, clattering percussion joining in on the refrain. The song is on the way to Babylon - and sometimes on the way is more than enough.
Kevin Morby - Campfire (four track demo)
One of the best parts of making music is hearing friends’ demos. A quick MP3 export of a fresh idea, barely jotted down, sent in an email heavy with caveats (“OK so the drums are super weird BUT…”).It’s thrilling, even if the song ultimately isn’t.
Kevin Morby is releasing the demos from his 2020 album Sundowner, and the first is a four-track take on that album’s first single “Campfire.” It’s astonishing how much the first half is spot on for the arrangement that made the album, but the softened highs and rounded edges of this demo feel worn-in and welcoming. Sometimes the first thought is the best thought - and this track shows it.
Lower Automation - Dressed In Camo, Hyped To The Teeth
The key to being a great post-hardcore/post-punk/post-whatever band is to not overstay your welcome. Lower Automation are all Midwest aggression and “Relationship of Command” guitar hijinks and trashy snares - and they only once approach the three minute mark in any of their songs.
Every track is a perfect morsel of aggression and mousetrap songwriting, sharp with just-anthemic-enough vocals and breathless playing. If I’m not too old for this, neither are you: Blast the whole record this weekend when you need a dash of brutality in your day.
The Sound - I Can’t Escape Myself
I learned about the Sound during peak COVID, when BrooklynVegan began running write-ups of favorite artists, and did a loving retrospective of this underrated post-punk band.
Their 1980 album Jeopardy, at its best, hits the highs of Joy Division and New Order - especially the creeping “I Can’t Escape Myself” or the anthemic “Heartland.” Whereas current day post-punk can feel prescriptive and Fall-by-numbers, the Sound’s combination of haunting basslines and Adrian Borland’s melodic vocal prowess imbue these songs with a sense of risk and purpose.
Thanks for reading and see you next week!