Saturday, February 5, 2011

The French Connection: M83 and Phoenix

To animate a recording within my imagination, I often do YouTube searches, read reviews, and read Wikipedia listings.  Although you guys get to see the end results of this rather obsessive practice, I never really know when it will work out, and sometimes the results create abstract connections between unrelated things.  For example, last February I was listening to several new albums during the annual road trip to TMEA in San Antonio.  The hotel room at the La Quinta where I stayed had wifi, and in the evenings as I got ready for bed, I did a little online piddling into some of the bands that were then currently grabbing my attention.  The access was intolerably slow, resulting in a stuttering, halted “streaming video” experience that seemed more like an upload on dial-up.  Despite this, several clips “came to life” and I kept them up in my browser to rewatch during the isolation of this stay.  Two of them stood out as being particularly good, neo-80s retro and, by coincidence, French. 

For those of us that were in the 80s, it is no secret that the music largely sucked.  We don't like to admit it, and there were lots good songs, to be sure (the visibility of which was largely decided by the attendant video), but good “albums” were hard to come by.  When we look back on that era, however, the “rose-colored glasses of nostalgia” allow us to look back fondly.  Apparently, sailors of yore who spent long periods at sea would sometimes suffer from profound homesickness that they called “nostalgia.”  For us, though, it is not so much homesickness, but a longing for an idealized version of the past that may not even be our own.  Today, we live, eat, and breathe the stuff.

Pontificating at length on nostalgia probably deserves its own blog post (possibly one with a warning label).  I’ll spare you for now….

In any case, it’s hard to say exactly how I got into Phoenix – they just kept “coming up.”  I saw their name here and there and put “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” on last year's Christmas list.  I found it to be a pretty compelling and consistent set of mid-80s style synth/power pop.  Although I initially did not crave it, I certainly enjoyed it every time it came up in the player.  Then I found this performance clip of them on David Letterman:

Blam! Oh, yeah – that song.  You probably heard “1901” all over the place last year.  It was even in a car commercial.  Although Phoenix’s work has a studio polish, it seems that they have the capacity to reproduce this polish in a live context is a way that, due to technological differences, was not conceivable in the 80s live setting.  They, in the words of my good friend John, "kill it" on this vid.  For me, the entire album sounded different after I saw this clip and abstracted an idea of how they potentially execute their songs in performance.

With M83, on the other hand, I had slightly different experience.  I first heard them during the closing credits of Horror Remix, and proactively sought them out.  I bought “Saturdays=Youth” simply because it was the most current album by M83 that Waterloo Records had in stock, but it turned out to be a good one.  It’s an explicit tribute to the 80s, and it does a hauntingly compelling job of capturing the standard-issue radio ambience of this timeframe.  It seems to have “instant nostalgia:”  it immediately began to bring back discolored visions of my high school hallways and heartaches, even though none of the songs served as the soundtrack to (or even existed during) that era of my life.  Even weirder, I eschewed mainstream music in high school, leaning towards my own youthful progressive rock elitism.  Regardless, I was quite enamored of “Saturdays=Youth” by the time I found this clip:

While this live clip of "Kim & Jessie" may not have the flawless execution of “1901,” it certainly shows a nostalgic 80s style.  That these bands are both French and spontaneously came to have meaning to me on a solitary trip to San Antonio a year ago connects them in only my imagination and experience.  In any case, both of these examples come from albums that are now consistent favorites, so much so that I have been hesitant to get deeper into their catalogs.  If anyone has feedback on any other albums by M83 or Phoenix, please give me a shout-out.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent videos! A friend got me way into M83, but that's the first video I've watched of a live performance.