30
May
08

Acceptable in the ’80’s: M83 and Neon Neon


I was born in the early ’80’s, so I tend to have a vague sense of the decade, mainly via Saturday morning cartoons and toys (the fact Care Bears, My Little Ponies and Strawberry Shortcake have crept back into popular culture only confirms that I am now old enough to be considered retro). And perhaps via my older sister’s penchant for heavy metal music like Motley Crue and Van Halen and the odd pop song by Cyndi Lauper or Billy Idol. Somehow I immersed myself in ’80’s culture through re-runs of Family Ties when I was thirteen, and via an admittedly strange obsession with Michael J. Fox (how many can boast and/or hang their heads in shame about the fact that they’ve seen the film High School USA?), and soon I was a rather avid listener of the ’80’s lunch hour on the radio. Granted, this was exposure to the Top 40 fare of the ’80’s, but it was a start. I was dazzled by shiny synths and the outrageous outfits sported by popstars at the time. I was fascinated with the garishness of it all. I wanted there still to be an MTV that played crazy videos no one would dare make anymore with exploding kitchens and lit-up sidewalks and public schoolboys with light shining out of their eyes.

I didn’t see the ultimate John Hughes film The Breakfast Club until I was fourteen and in a ninth grade English class (I’m still not entirely certain what it was supposed to teach us about English literature). Somehow, even though it was set in the prior decade in an American high school, it resonated with me. Perhaps, it was because John Hughes managed to create a highly appealing myth about what it meant to be a teenager – where the losers always triumphed over the popular…or at the very least, joined forces for one Saturday. Eventually, I went on to see the rest of the John Hughes’ Holy Trinity, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, and ended up desperately wanting a friend like Duckie. Instead, I was probably somebody’s Duckie. Once I was already out of high school, I saw Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything, which affected me in a similar way, making me feel nostalgic for something that never existed in the firstplace. I’ll admit that if I manage to catch The Breakfast Club for the umpteenth time on TBS, I’ll watch it (even if it’s the badly dubbed, censored version – the bad dubbing itself is entertainment).

Tapping into the spirit of one of the most celebrated and maligned decades, are two fairly different bands with two fairly different takes on what the 80’s sounded like and meant as a concept. M83, a French electronic act featuring Anthony Gonzalez, and Neon Neon, a collaborative effort between Boom Bip (real name: Bryon Hollon) and Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys, have both attempted to capture the spirit of the 80’s in their albums Saturdays=Youth and Stainless Style, respectively. While Saturdays=Youth hearkens back to the John Hughes sentiments of being an adolescent in 1980’s America, Stainless Style follows the rise and fall of John Delorean (yeah, the inventor of the Delorean, most famously used in its gullwinged glory in the Back to the Future trilogy).


I hadn’t been aware of M83 until this album despite the fact they’ve been around since 2001. Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau created M83, named after the galaxy of the same name, in Antibes, France. Following Gonzalez’s split from Fromageau, the former decided to carry on without the latter, creating both ambient music in Digital Shades Volume 1, and Saturdays=Youth, which was released on April 15 of this year. Gonzalez cites The Breakfast Club as one of the influences for this album (the Molly Ringwaldesque girl on the album cover is already a clue), but the overall effect of the album is a meeting of modern shoegaze and ’80’s synthpop. In addition to his own vocals, Gonzalez also enlisted vocal help from Morgan Kibby, a singer/actress, and the final product is mesmerizing.

Out of all the tracks on the album, Kim & Jessie and Up! are the most likely soundtrack to play behind Molly Ringwald at the prom, and are, thus, the most recognizably associated with the sound of the ’80’s. The former uses New Wave drum machines to back effete male vocals in a New Romantic vein while the latter begins with sparkling synths before tumbling into a wide-eyed, breathless Kate Bush-like tune (if you weren’t already convinced by the sound of Kibby’s vocals and the melody, the phrase “hounds of love” creeps into the lyrics). Lovely album opener, You, Appearing, is Cocteau Twinsesque with its gentle, plaintive piano and synth accents behind the overlapping chants of Kibby and Gonzalez. Both Skin of the Night and Graveyard Girl, though differing in mood (the former being moody and ethereal and the latter being bright and upbeat), each speaks to a melodramatic adolescent urge to live more and be more than you could ever possibly be. In Graveyard Girl, Kibby states “I’m fifteen years old and I feel like it’s already too late to live,” speaking to that naivete of youth, where emotions are intense and time progressively accelerates. At the beginning of Highway of Endless Dreams, Kibby speaks again, stating, “I’m going to drive until it burns my bones,” before the song builds propulsively like a star burning up into supernova. In contrast, Too Late sounds like the stillness of a mossy pool where synth notes are dropped in like stones, sometimes skipping across the surface. Dark Moves of Love, which once again features an interchange of vocals between Kibby and Gonzalez begins with a Neil Tennant-like spoken line before launching into dramatic sweeps of sound, weaving an image of a dialogue taking place between two lovers in a maze of mirrors, chasing and losing each other again and again. The eleven-minute instrumental Midnight Souls Still Remain ends the album, creating a vast soundscape that conjures up images of outer space or underwater, both scenarios being connected to each other in more ways than one. Contrasting with M83’s youthful, idealistic take on the 80’s, Neon Neon’s Stainless Style is a mosaic of a man who came to represent the excesses and eventual collapse of the ’80’s. In the Spring issue of Under the Radar, Gruff Rhys says Stainless Style is an “investigation of the American dream and the American nightmare. It’s a celebration of all things plastic and synthetic.” This oscillation between shiny light and seedy dark infiltrates the fabric of the album as it bounces between different styles, not all of them sounding quite like the ’80’s. Guest duties on the album include Spank Rock, Fab Moretti, Har Mar Superstar, Yo Majesty, and The Magic Numbers, varying the sound of the album even more. The age-old link between fast cars and fast girls holds true for this album as they come to be metaphors for each other.

The album opens with the instrumental Neon Theme, which uses a pumping bassline and laser-like sounds to create a glimpse of the future as imagined by the ’80’s. Like Saturdays=Youth, Stainless Style isn’t always a mirror of the music created in the ’80’s, and the track Dream Cars is more akin to a ’60’s Motown melody than any yuppie’s stereo. Conversely, I Told Her on Alderaan, which references Princess Leia’s home planet, is a song that could have been performed by The Cars (no pun intended) with its synth flourishes on top of driving guitars. Trick for Treat, Sweat Shop and Luxury Pool are all hip-hop tracks, rapping narratives of Delorean’s incredible ambition and talent and his equally as stupendous fall from grace. Trick For Treat deals specifically with Delorean’s cocaine issues, namechecking Back to the Future, the Reagan-era mantra “feed the greed,” and The Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting For the Man. I Lust U, featuring vocals from Cate LeBon, is a cool dialogue between Delorean and a prostitute as they tell each other “I love you if the price is right.” Belfast, which references Delorean’s failed sportscar venture in Northern Ireland, is a mournful synthpop song in which Rhys sings, “I built my empire and threw it all away,” while Michael Douglas, a Bronski Beat-type song with a modern twist, relates to the time Delorean attended pool parties with Douglas in LA. The album ends with title track, Stainless Style, which sounds like a gospel chorus, trailing into an acappella “Oh, how many are my foes/how many rise against me,” perhaps a nod to Delorean’s conversion to Christianity later in life. All in all, the jetsetting highs and tragic lows of Delorean’s life become glossier and hypereal under Boom Bip and Gruff Rhys’s treatment.

And so two very different albums and concepts meet up with their common interest in the ’80’s. A time when you either wanted to be stuck in Saturday detention or flying through time in a Delorean. Both M83 and Neon Neon are brilliant in their reimagining of the decade of my early childhood, and both manage to do it without irony (after all, irony belongs to the ’90’s). Now if only somebody could bring back neon Oreos…

Kim & Jessie – M83

Up! – M83

I Told Her on Alderaan – Neon Neon

Trick For Treat – Neon Neon

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Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

Photobucket

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

Photobucket

Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

Photobucket

Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

Photobucket

You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

Photobucket

I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

Photobucket

You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

Photobucket

You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

Photobucket

No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

Photobucket

Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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