Monday, May 21, 2012

More Of An Acquired Taste Than An Instant Classic, Gotye’s Making Mirrors (Finally) Wins Me Over! (My 500th Music Review!)

The Good: Great musical and vocal diversity, Some of the lyrics and themes
The Bad: Very short, Not what the initial single suggests.
The Basics: Making Mirrors is more of an experimental album than a tormented one, making for an intriguing release that gets better once it has been spun ten or more times.

My wife is much more hip and cool than I am. I mean, she is light years ahead of me in terms of having her pulse on what is cool or interesting. She has a habit of discovering musical artists who have not yet hit the airwaves and brings them to my attention. Previously, she was enamored with the works of Adele (21 is reviewed here!), long before “Rolling In The Deep” and three other tracks from 21 rocketed up the charts. So, when she showed me the music video for “Somebody That I Used To Know” online, I decided to get in front of the curve and pick her up the Gotye album Making Mirrors before Easter for her.

It was the only thing in her Easter baskets that did not end up grabbing her.

Making Mirrors is not the album one might suspect it is from listening to “Somebody That I Used To Know.” Far more experimental, Gotye’s Making Mirrors is much more analogous to Sophie B. Hawkins’ album Timbre (reviewed here!), which remains one of the most effective blendings of genres and musical themes that I have ever heard. While Gotye does not get nearly as close to perfection with Making Mirrors, it is a rightful breakout album for the artist and well worth listening to.

It does, however, take many listens for the work to grow upon the listener in a way that they are likely to appreciate the depth of the music. My wife, for example, has not listened to the album more than once, because she felt so profoundly disappointed by the initial listen to the album. Unhindered by the assumptions I had going into the first listen, after five spinnings of the disc, I found there were tracks other than “Somebody That I Used To Know” that I was enjoying quite a bit, most notably the experimental “State Of The Art.”

With a dozen tracks clocking out at only 42:25, perhaps the biggest strike against Making Mirrors is that it is short. The album is very much the intellectual work of Gotye, who wrote all of the songs and produced the album. Gotye provides all of the lead vocals, though there is a memorable duet with Kimbra on “Somebody That I Used To Know” and he samples excessively on the album. Gotye plays an impressive array of musical instruments on Making Mirrors, so the album truly is his musical vision and creation.

And Making Mirrors is good. The instrumental accompaniment on Making Mirrors is extensive and diverse. Frequently using the flute, Gotye is unafraid to create a pop album that sounds audacious – “Somebody That I Used To Know,” “State Of The Art” – or completely retro, as “In Your Light” and “Giving Me A Chance” do. No two songs on Making Mirrors sound alike and that gives it a freshness that pop music has, largely, been lacking for the last several years. I cannot recall ever seeing a wineglass credited as a musical instrument in the liner notes, but on Making Mirrors there is even one of those! Musically, the album is all over the map, from the fast, up tempo “Save Me” to the slow, melodic “Bronte.”

Vocally, Making Mirrors illustrates an extensive range for Gotye. While listeners may be prepares for the plaintive wailing of “Somebody That I Used To Know,” which is present on tracks like “Save Me,” the album has Gotye performing both higher and lower. Across “Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You” and “Giving Me A Chance,” Gotye performs in a fairly low and an almost falsetto register! The only time the vocals are even partially obscured is on “State Of The Art” when they are purposely overproduced to sound like an advertisement from a machine. Vocally, Gotye has the range one hopes for when listening to music and is fearless about presenting his lyrics in a way that the listener is actually able to make out what he is saying!

On the lyrical front, Making Mirrors is all over the map, just like the vocals and instrumental accompaniment are. Not just an album about a jaded ex, Making Mirrors explores loss, revitalization, faith and pain. For me, one of the standout tracks, though, is none of those things. The quirky “State Of The Art” resonated with me because it is an almost ridiculous extended advertisement for a complex piece of musical equipment. While the lines “When the Cotillion arrived / We threw out the television / Model D 575 / Has custom flute presets / And Harmony-Plus in addition / Now for an arm and a leg / We get three half-dozen beats to choose from / So now we can pretend / That there's an orchestra in the loungeroom“ (“State Of The Art”) might not seem like much on their own, in context they hold up for, at the very least, their entertainment value.

Not all of the lines on Making Mirrors are emotional or entertainment gold, though. “I Feel Better,” for example, features the stale rhymes of “Life sometimes seems to get the best of you / Like everything just brings you down / Just when you think there's nothing you can do / A friendly face will bring you around.“ While this is the exception to the rule, it does weaken Making Mirrors some.

It is, however, the exception to the rule on Making Mirrors. Already, the masses seem to be discovering the emotional frankness and easy genius of Gotye through lines like “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness / Like resignation to the end, always the end / So when we found that we could not make sense / Well you said that we would still be friends / But I'll admit that I was glad it was over / But you didn't have to cut me off / Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing” (“Somebody That I Used To Know”). Gotye taps into something essential that is uncommon in music, treading a fine line between obsessive and caring, curious and self-loathing and that seems to make “Somebody That I Used To Know” even more popular.

Ultimately, Making Mirrors is good, but it takes far too long to find the genius in it. Instead, it is easy to predict that “Somebody That I Used To Know” will make Gotye a one hit wonder and that, at least in the U.S.,Making Mirrors will rapidly become a forgotten album. For now, though, the ascent of Gotye is something audiophiles should be cheering about. And they should be buying Making Mirrors.

For other independent pop artists, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Jackie’s Strength (single) – Tori Amos
Interpreting The Masters, Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall & John Oates - The Bird And The Bee
Wicked Little High - Bird York


For other music albums, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the music reviews I have written!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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