In a video that i own of Billy Bragg on tour in Russia, there
is an interview with Russian pop icon Boris Grebenshikov. The
interviewer asks Boris what he thinks of Billy covering a Buzzcocks
tune. Boris lazily drags off his cigarette and then says, in
surprisingly clear English, "I think that everyone remembers
best the music they were listening to when they were 17. For
me, it was The Beatles. For Billy, the Buzzcocks."
And for me it was any number of synth pop new wave bands. I
have a reminiscent soft spot for power chords and lyrics full
of youthful energy and a bored malaise at the same time. Bands
such as The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, Modern English, The
Smiths, New Order, etc. will forever hold a special place in
Apparently, My Favorite were 17 in 1987 just like me, because
their album revels in those same moods. It is a joyous celebration
of youthfulness and also a cry of anger at the frustrating boredom
of life in suburbia. Plus, their musical references are all
familiar touchpoints of the 80's: Peter Hook bass riffs on 17
Berlin, Tommy Tutone guitar riffs on Go Kid Go, Depeche
Mode synths on Let's Stay Alive, Human League dub and
keyboard drone on Modulate. Heck, Between Cafes
sounds like a lost track from Louder Than Bombs
by The Smiths....
So aside from successfully invoking the spirit of the 80's,
My Favorite also make music quite in that same style. But that
is not to say that they sound fully derivative. On the contrary,
they sound fresh , as if they were contemporaies of all of those
bands. As if they took dub and reggae and punk and mod and threw
it all in a blender with some desperation and some isolation
and some frustration at the soulnessness of modern culture and
wound up in the same musical place.
My perception that this is so might have something to do with
the "not too slick but still pretty clean" production
values of the album. It's not overproduced, nor is it underproduced.
But it seems -- amateurish? I can't quite pin it down, but there
is something about the recording value that seems ... innocent,
for lack of a better word.
At any rate, i must admit that it is entirely possible that
i am full of crap here. I often tease Malimus about his love
of The Drive-by Truckers.
I listen to their music and all i hear is recycled 70's power
chord riffs. However, the lyrics speak to Malimus and his upbringing
in the rural south, so the music means something to him.
My Favorite sing songs about the stupidity of growing up in
America's suburbs -- simultaneously both bored out of your mind
from lack of anything to do and frightened of The City and what
parents have said about that nightmarish place. The safety and
isolation of the suburbs may be comforting to adults, but it
bored me. Fear and boredom -- these two emotions mix in memories
of my teenage years, when i listened to music that sounds like
My Favorite. And i get the same feeling listening to this. This
music speaks to me, and to my past.
So maybe it is fully derivative. I cannot tell. I would
ask Malimus to judge it as well, but he dislikes synthpop strongly
and there is no reason to subject him to this music.
All that said, My Favorite can really write a fun little pop
song. I think that songs like Between Cafes and Working
Class Jacket are real pop gems. There is a catchy melody,
a little hook to the guitar riff, and endearing vocals from
Andrea Vaughn. Despite their obvious New Wave references, the
real strength of the band is its ability to write quality tunes.
So there you go. I really really like this album. It is exciting
music that reminds me of being 17. If you too grew up with New
Wave, or if you are really into the retro-80's scene, then this
will probably appeal to you.