Monday, July 23, 2012


Erika Spring - Erika Spring EP
Cascine, 2012

Let's talk about fashion for minute: as an awkward, bookish, young white male, my understanding and conception of fashion is, to be far too generous, limited. Nonetheless, I do understand--or at least I am able to project--a certain sense of the signifiers of fashion, like glamour. Glamour seems to me to reside somewhere in the 1980s, to be most at home in the postmodern metropolis of global capitalism. The hollowed out subject that exists within this evocation of wealth and leisure (perhaps best exemplified by Christian Bale's performance of the cypher Patrick Bateman in American Psycho--and isn't it Bateman more than any other of his roles that suggests the origins of Bruce Wayne/Batman in his current cinematic form?) looks out from the screens and mirrors of capitalism into yet more screens, reflections reflecting back to (and on) themselves, and glides through the cities whose buildings are a perfect match for their subjects. Thus, glamour becomes a way for consumer capital both to s(t)imulate desire and to enjoin enjoyment. Given this (a big if: as I said, my knowledge and understanding of fashion is beyond limited; this is seen through a glass very darkly, if at all), the endless return to the aesthetics of the 1980s in the current moment makes a great deal of sense: what is the iPhone and its attached oediPodal (to borrow a word from Mark Fisher) operator if not a kind of perfection of this sense of glamour?

Erika Spring's solo debut is nothing if not indebted to the aesthetics of the 1980s, with the drums of its slick pop (she namechecks Bateman-favourite Phil Collins twice in a recent interview), synths that split the difference between banging electro and gauzier, 4AD-style dream pop, and--especially on "Like a Fire" and the Eurythmics cover "When Tomorrow Comes"--some particularly retro touches with the basslines and vocals. All of that doesn't necessarily sink the EP, as Spring is undeniably talented at these kinds of breathy, dreamy songs, but the most overtly retro moments are the weakest. "When Tomorrow Comes" is a well-written pop song, but it's not particularly subtle, and its inclusion here pushes the wrong buttons in terms of authenticity. It might not be intended to act as citation--indeed, in her interview with The Fader, Spring claims that "when I heard 'When Tomorrow Comes' the words just got me. . . . and I just wanted to say them--I just wanted to say the words"--but it feels like it, causing the spectre of pastiche to loom around the edges of the project.

Of course, others have noticed this and see nothing wrong with it. In her review for Pitchfork, Lindsay Zolandz writes that:
Spring gets points for reappropriating 80s synth pop and Kaputt-style soft rock in a context that's utterly devoid of ironic scare quotes . . . [She] displays a genuine interest in replicating the texture and aesthetic of the music she grew up with. The elements of pastiche are woven smoothly into her sound, which dances gracefully on the edges of past and present, of waking life and dreams.
There is, Zolandz seems to be saying, an inherent value to non-ironic replication, and while this isn't incorrect, it feels like a pretty hollow victory (though postmodern irony is certainly beyond tiring at this point). The reference to the critically acclaimed Destroyer's recent album Kaputt is important here--rather than reappropriating sounds and tropes of 80s soft rock, Spring's music reappropriates a reappropriation of those sounds; in the procession of simulacra, we're pretty far down the line at this point.* It's also calculated, though, and speaks to a cultural phenomenon that Mark Richardson discusses in one of the best pieces of music writing I've read in the past year, "the subtle Tumblr-ization of indie; music-making as re-blog." Richardson summarises the appeal of Tumblr as a further step in the purposing of pop culture in the construction of identity, an "intesif[ication]" of the same impulse that lead former generations to draw on binder covers, but now:
allowing us to re-purpose richer media. Not to mention making the whole process so much easier. So instead of scrawling a constellation of bands onto a blank notebook, you can instead host the band's music, post their videos, and present their most compelling photos. You can actually become a broadcaster of the media, rather than just commenting on it, and you can do it all with just a couple clicks of a mouse. The person posting can say, "This is me" with a click or two, and the media itself becomes part of the person's identity, not just the association with it.
 This is why the reference to Kaputt rather than to the actual (or original) sources of those soft rock sounds--even if those earlier sources are the intended references by Spring--makes so much sense. Like a .gif of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that is reblogged, the transaction that Richardson characterises as "Remember David Lynch? I do, too," the cultural analogue in which Spring's statement of musical identity makes sense is Kaputt and its rhetorical "Remember the 1980s? I do, too."**

That late capitalism no longer sells products but lifestyles (in a Tumblr'd and Pinterest'd age, it might be more effective and appropriate to say images) is not a new proposition, but the consumption of these images and the cultivation and purposing of media in the construction of an image via social networking seems part and parcel with the sense of glamour I tried to describe above. The continual "re-blogging" of 80s aesthetics across cultural formats feels like an obvious fit in this context. In his opening monologue in American Psycho, Bale's Bateman details his rigorous, fascistic regimen to control his image, and his constant readings of popular music like Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis and the News turns those objects into further screens and cyphers, marketing slogans and yuppie ideology acting as depth, as subjectivity, the cultural counterpart to his ruthlessly disciplined body. On Spring's EP, "Like a Fire" and "When Tomorrow Comes" are the songs Bateman might like, finding in them mirrors of his anomie, his murderous materialism, his amoral desire for exposure regardless of the absence of those sentiments in the music. Their musical signifiers are trappings of his ideology: the synth bass of "Like a Fire" combines with the glossy keyboards and plastic guitars to perfectly reblog the 1980s as an image as much as a sound (moreso even than her take on the Eurythmics' song), the triumphant upsurge of the song's chorus evoking music videos as much as music. 

Ultimately, what saves the EP are its first two songs and closer "6 More Weeks." Though these tracks work with a similar palette to the rest of the EP, they are more ambiguous, with inside and outside becoming confused. I can't help but be reminded by Kate Bush in some way. "Happy at Your Gate" is all cool glamour, but its seductive, breathy atmosphere is also charged with a nervous momentum, a tension carried over by the harsher keyboards of "Hidden," reminiscent of Broadcast's The Noise Made By People and the gloriously downer pop of "Come On Let's Go." Indeed, the repeating pulses throughout "Hidden" make clear that her mention of Terry Riley and Philip Glass in The Fader is not just attention-grabbing namedropping. If "6 More Weeks" isn't quite to the level of these two songs, it at least feels a more able synthesis of the avant cool chill of the likes of Broadcast and Stereolab and 80s synth rock than either "Like a Fire" and "When Tomorrow Comes." Or, put more simply, if the latter are pastiche, the former feels like a step away into a more personal vision of how to use these styles. Given this, it's doubtful that anyone will label Spring's EP revolutionary, but it is smart and endlessly catchy; on a warm summer night, it can be an ice cube on the back of the neck.

*As Baudrillard writes in that essay in reference to the recreation of the Lascaux caves, "It is possible that the memory of the original grottoes is itself stamped in the minds of future generations, but from now on there is no longer any difference: the duplication suffices to render both artificial."
**Though as something of a tastemaker given his status, isn't Dan Bejar's statement with Kaputt closer to "Remember the 1980s? I do, too, and they sounded like this"? Thus, musical "re-blogs" of that sound confirm Bejar's memory as the true memory of the 1980s, almost retrochronically creating the decade and its aesthetic in Eliotic fashion.

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