Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Album Review - Gotye - Making Mirrors

"Wouter "Wally" De Backer (born 21 May 1980), also known professionally by his stage name Gotye (pronounced /ˈɡɔːti.ɛə/), is a Belgian-Australian[1] multi-instrumental musician and singer-songwriter. The name "Gotye" is derived from "Gauthier", the French equivalent of "Walter" or "Wouter". His voice has been compared to those of Peter Gabriel and Sting.[2][3][4]

Gotye suddenly became a household name a few months ago with the success of the single 'Somebody That I Used to Know' feat. Kimbra. His album 'Making Mirrors', which contains the nigh on viral hit, is actually his third studio album, released last August. It was recorded largely on his parents' farm, according to Wikipedia, and involved very few people to produce (not including samples), so is refreshingly independent.

(Note to self, remember to turn off shuffle before attempting to listen to a CD's tracks in the set order.)

Track One: Making Mirrors

The eponymous track of an album being up first is an uncommon decision, yet I feel that here it's a successful one, as it is a subtle introduction to the first album of his that I, and many others I believe, have bought. Lasting barely over a minute, the beginning flute harmonies are reminiscent of an orchestra tuning before a concert (in the intervals), crossed with the calls of hunting horns, or a reveille, announcing the impending dawn of a musical experience. The fact that the vocals (singing effective yet stiltedly-phrased lyrics) are mixed not to come above the instruments also contributes to the introductory feel of the track - it's almost like a song being played in the distance, either to lure you in or to warn you of what is to come. I do however feel that the last silent seconds of the track are a little futile and should probably be halved.

Track Two: Easy Way Out

Although it is quite possibly my favourite track on the album, this track comes as a bit of a shock to the system after the soothing introduction. It's very 'Supermassive Black Hole', so is in complete contrast to the previous minute. The sudden drop of volume for the verses allow for a Thom Yorke-esque almost spoken vocal line to come through (emanating The Naked and Famous), before bringing back the guitar's motif quietly in the bridge in a build-up to the chorus. A more technological vibe is communicated through layers of well thought-out digital ornamentation - to maintain interest - in the second verse, and the suddenly silenced blast of guitar and percussion before the second chorus at 1:27 is a great moment of variation that you don't often get in modern music. However, the closing moments being like a wind-down is probably unnecessary, though it does evoke nostalgia.
This track contains samples of Echoette by Buddy Merrill, a guitarist, apparently, of which you can listen to a sample here:

Track Three: Somebody That I Used to Know

Sampling is always a risky business in the music industry when it comes to copyright laws, but I'm glad they managed it for this. Part of the beauty of Gotye and his music is the mélange of cultural influences, exemplified in his project's name. The xylophone line is like the melody of a nursery rhyme, hence how catchy it is, but the lilting vocal melody, combined with the sympathetic lyrics, over the top of the instrumental layers is what brought this song to its commercial success.
The return to the gentle introduction before Kimbra's verse is a brief respite from the dejected emotion, before building up to the chorus again. Kimbra performs well on the track (unlike her terribly clichée performance in the video, but what can you do?) - in contrast to her latest album which was recently rated as 0/10 in NME - particularly with the dynamics. There's a distinct lack of obvious autotune and vocal processing present which is always pleasurable to hear in a duet (in contrast to, for example, Jason Mraz and Colbie Collait's 'Lucky'). The harmonies between her warm voice and Wally's in the closing bars work beautifully, implying further harmonics between the lines than the two voices could provide alone.
The conclusion of this track is satisfyingly breathtaking. The cadence, including the xylophone's upward run, is neither clichée nor ugly, and finishes the track off nicely, in keeping with the lyrical theme of love, which is not only unpredictable (check) but never-ending (cliché, I know, but the interrupted cadence reflects this).

Track Four: Eyes Wide Open

The opening of this track is immediately reminiscent of Biffy Clyro's Whorses (from Only Revolutions), but in this track Wally De Becker really lets the Peter Gabriel facet of his voice come out. The return of the 'musical saw'-like strings combine with the tribal drumming to be of the same fabric as the first track, yet demonstrate development too. The epic drumming and clanging in the chorus add drama, but this track seems to be more of an interlude than a song on its own. There's no adrenaline. Whilst the second track could be a single, though probably without the third track's success, this couldn't. It's a team-player of a song, and would work wonderfully as part of a soundtrack but wouldn't really stand on its own, as the ending practically begs for more to complete what it's part of - ironic as the final words are "the end of the story". Though by no means a bad song, it is one you'd be able to concentrate on French homework whilst listening to it.

Track Five: Smoke and Mirrors

This track is, although not sticking out like a sore thumb, refreshingly different, inducing a swaying of bodies (or the body, singular, as I am in fact alone right now, as per) and more empathetic lyrics. Unfortunately, these lyrics aren't up to the same standard as, for example, those of earlier tracks, yet they are satisfyingly honest. There is a different feel to this song, less hard-done-by, more warning-like, and despite the lower quality of the lyrics, they fit very comfortably with the vocal line, which is impervious almost in its inflection, and the lyrics in the verses run parallel to one another which is a reassuring pattern.
Again, layers are built up to maintain interest, yet the 'chorus' section, complete with brass, is something new and climactic, compensating for the later "mother, are you watching?" moments which are rather cringey, however Seal-like they are in arrangement. Making good use of the distant vocals effect, it's a very conscious listen, but a rewarding one, particularly as the processed, sampled and synthesised instruments are incredibly convincing, which is true throughout the album yet particularly noticeable in this song. (Sampling Atlas' "Play It Cool").
N.B. The closing percussion reminds me of the closing bars of Ani Difranco's "32 Flavours", if you like that kind of thing.

Track Six: I Feel Better

Opening like a late 20th Century film, complete with fanfare but unfortunately lacking a lion, this track induces apprehension, particularly when one realises the gospel-like theme in this track. Happy-clappy romance has never struck me as a theme for such an intellectual producer, yet he manages it. He really shows off the flexible tenor in him, and the decent melody and arrangement. It samples Edmundo Ros's "Brazil"
about 2mins in (I believe), which is effective but could've been done without sampling I think (though I'm not overly hot on copyright law, which should probably change). I think it's present throughout, but I can't be sure. It's pretty unnoticeable.

Track Seven: In Your Light

Sampling Atlas for a second time (and, again, something that cannot be found on Youtube, the filthy hipster - try this if you like but it didn't work for me:,,4667767-14388822,00.html ) you have the return of the saw-like harmonics in an *even* happier song, causing head-nodding until the sudden brassy bit (which is perhaps the sampling). Then you have the guitary happy verse which is written demonstrates much better lyrics than those of the preceding track: the lyrics here are both less cliché and more sympathetic.
The repeated cycle of bells  is contagious, and the instrumentation reflects the lyrics, for example with the pause after "only a moment"... A genuinely decent happy song - although slightly jolting between the varying movements (I dunno exactly how to refer to the differently mooded sections), but it works as a building up interlude. I also like the noticeable dissonance near the end to remind you it's still the Gotye we had earlier... Nice job.

Track Eight: State of the Art

Very obvious sampling this time, of Frances Yip's "Green is the Mountain".
The 'soupy' effect on the vox is effective yet gets in the way of what little diction there already would have been. It's a shame because it's a song I'd very much be interested to hear the lyrics of without having to whip out the booklet. However, it's well put together, and the "state, state, state, state of the art" chorus, including the spoken aspects (which remind me of Starfucker's "Death as a Fetish") are pretty awesome.
It's quite technical in its use of sax and bass and digital effects, evoking thoughts of both the future and the eighties (1984 as a concept to be precise, as the title implies design and manipulation to me).
One thing I found interesting was the reference to a 'Cottillion' in the first line, and a/the 'Lowrey Cotillion' in the credits. After a brief Google, I discovered that it's a very old keyboard, essentially (I saw this advert - (p75) - and read this interview: ) which Wally basically wrote this song about. Nice touch, don't you think?

Track Nine: Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching You

Considering the previous track reminded me of Orwell's infamous novel, I didn't find the Hitchhiker's Guide-esque reassurance in this song's title particularly soothing, I have to say. Fortunately, I don't think it's supposed to be, for if one watches the video the vibe is incredibly sinister. I like the ethereal use of post millennial takes on 1980s sound effects, but don't think the vocal line really adds anything. Thankfully, mixer Tetaz does what he's done across earlier songs, such as Making Mirrors, and really dilutes the vocals so the instruments and sounds take precedence over the lyrics. Not catchy, but a decent listen I won't be skipping on shuffle.

Track Ten: Giving Me a Chance

Thankfully, the sound effects (again, the saw-like sound and also the wineglass), the casual snare-line going all the way through and the chord inversions in the keyboard rescue this track from its cheesy combination of theme and chord pattern. The computer-game-like sound effects near the end kind of ruin the fragile result, unfortunately, but complement the video, which seems to tie in with the rest of the album, and the computerised vibe is also in keeping with other tracks. It would be great on its own, but the Sonic the Hedgehog moments demote it to being just an album track.

Track Eleven: Save Me

Almost aboriginal in the call-and-response like opening, this song is very bold. The brash drumming and brazen piano produce a chaos of volume threatening to overtake the vocals, which adds to the tension that is present in the lyrics of the song. Conversely, the inputs from a skittery autoharp embellish it until it seems to be artistic. Again a masterpiece of layers, this piece barely works, but the construction rescues it. It's a shame that the pattern of crescendo to subito piano is a frequent thing in the album, because the novelty of the tactic has worn off by now. However, it does work.

Track Twelve: Bronte

The closing track has a lot to do to conclude this album, and as I press play I'm skeptical after reading that in it Gotye samples The Banana Boat Song (good luck finding the Leo Addeo version online). Also, the lyrics, apparently, are about a dead dog. Continuing the vaguely tribal theme of the previous track, with a plain, flat bass line (I sometimes think it may be being played on a bass flute, like the other sample used - "Mozambique" by Les Baxter - ), I'm still skeptical. And the fist word or so of each line has been multitracked in the vox, so I'm still not sure. There's also no movement forward and rushing between words in an attempt to keep the rhythm from becoming stodgy. However, the introduction of some strings and tuned production make it bearable. And it gradually builds up, as is the norm for these Gotye songs, before falling onto an anticlimactic closing, which leads this song to be a disappointing finish in comparison to the rest of the album. But, then again, maybe the album's meant to fade out, as it faded in.


On the whole this album is definitely a recommendable purchase - and buy the hard copy because the artwork's part of l'œuvre entière. It's all well considered and composed, and is interesting to listen to properly as well as comfortable to zone-out to. The only drawbacks are that the lyrics are often either not too wonderful or not very clear, and that some of the structural techniques (such as the building up and then pausing) are overused beyond being just an aspect of the album's identity. However, that said, that means that the only downside is that the songs develop so... I'd recommend a listen to the songs and if you don't dislike what you hear (it's pretty Marmite a sound, not gonna lie) get the album. It will grow on you even if it's not your favourite thing at first, and it is a veritable treasure chest of being interesting.
Not for the intellectually apathetic.

>> Look at the videos, they're works of art in themselves and set all the songs off.

Music a bit like this:

  • Alt-J because though Gotye beats them on maturity, they're educated, intelligent and odd.
  • Imogen Heap because she too has a massive wardrobe of eclectic instruments and uses them well.

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