Making Mirrors

Let me start by saying that if you haven’t watched/heard Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech from SXSW, you absolutely, positively must watch/hear it. Go on, I’ll wait. Done yet? Great! Wasn’t that amazing?!? Using Elvis performing on the Ed Sullivan show as a jumping-off point, the Boss gives a fascinating music history lesson, walking us through his development as a musician, how popular music has evolved over the past 50 or so years, and the fractured yet hopeful nature of today’s musical landscape. And while I could spend all day writing about takeaways from his speech (and probably will at some point), I wanted to share with you one thing he said that rang so true that me and Chris Tucker did this when he said it. After commenting about how heartfelt musical expression can’t be confined by genre or instrumentation, Springsteen let loose the following thesis, set off in its own paragraph for dramatic effect…

“There is no right way, no pure way, of doing it. There’s just doing it. We live in a post-authentic world. Today, authenticity is a house of mirrors.”

Hearing this was like biting into a Reese’s cup for the first time — it just makes so much sense. His words confirm my belief that, with so much variety and technological advancement in recording, the authenticity card has become a bludgeon that ultimately confuses more than it clarifies, and hearing this from someone whose cred is damn near unimpeachable felt totally amazing. And freeing too, like a weight has been lifted off our collective shoulders by one of the few people in music who can hoist that heavy burden.

Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce’s words were still fresh in my mind yesterday when I finally took my first spin through Gotye’s 2011 album, Making Mirrors (given Springsteen’s choice of metaphor above, the album’s name is so eerily appropriate in retrospect that I’m a little freaked out) and heard “State Of The Art.” The first time I listened, the song seemed almost like a skit track on a rap album. I mean, who writes an electro-poppy dub tune that extols the realness of the synth banjo sounds made by a 30-year-old organ? Nevertheless, I kept coming back to the song, as it very well may be the perfect companion to the Springsteen doctrine. “State Of The Art” tears down the fourth wall of authenticity by making the ridiculous claim that cheesy, 1980’s-era synthetic orchestration is “better than the real thing.” Obviously, this is so far from being true that no reasonable person, even if they just stepped out of a time machine from the 80’s, would agree with it.

I think Wouter De Backer is trying to tell us, via absurdity and incongruously pitch-shifted vocals, that using a synthesizer doesn’t automatically mean you prefer fake instruments over real ones, and that the sounds made by the Lowrey Cotillion Model D-575 electronic organ have their own intrinsic value, as kitschy as they may seem today. Much like Springsteen’s comments, the song frees us up to enjoy the other tracks (which are fantastic, by the way) weightlessly, with the understanding that it really doesn’t matter what De Backer used to make them. If we connect with them, they’re real. End of story. Listen to “State Of The Art” below and click here to snag Making Mirrors on iTunes.

Gotye — “State Of The Art

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