20 November 2008

day-glo degenerettes


dragonette first caught my attention over a year ago with their über-ohrwurm "i get around," which made its way onto both ladies love 3 and love is the answer. it's an irresistably hooky ode to shameless one-nite-stands (a far cry from "none of the guys go steady cuz it wouldn't be right" though, naw'mean?) which is actually a pretty perfect calling card for what dragonette are all about, but somehow i didn't really take the trouble to figure out who they were at the time; if i had, i might have realized that love's just about the last thing they have on their minds.

well, maybe. core duo martina sobrara and dan kurtz (pictured above) have been happily married for a buncha years now. the too-perfect backstory: they met at a music festival when sobrara was a singer-songwriter playing (retroactively self-described) "tampon music" and kurtz was... [oh no shhh he's was in the new deal!??! that makes so much sense thanks wikipedia!], he cheated on his girlfriend with her, and, yknow, the rest is history. how sweet. but this ain't no mates of state cutsiefest (who, btw, are even adorable when they're naked...)

dragonette are vile, reprehensible people. their debut record, galore, just came out here (it's been out in the uk and their native canada for a while), and from listening to it i get the sense that they're about the most despicable folks you could hope to meet. sure, they play delicious bubblegum electro powerpunk, just the way i like it, but all those spiky synths and sugar-guitars are just candy-coating as that slatternly minx sobrara coos her disgusting, debauched tales of promiscuity ("i get around"), adultery ("competition"), prostitution ("black limousine"), blasphemy ("jesus doesn't love me"), and just straight-up emotional abuse ("take it like a man.")

that one's a bit tricky actually - it's hard to tell exactly what's happening in the lyrics - "keep it up soldier" and the references to "the cause" suggest that there's some kind of military roleplay/metaphor going on - but it's pretty clear, even just from her disingenuous delivery, that sobrara's one cruel, manipulative drill-sergeant of a ladyfriend, constantly controlling and belittling the heck out of her poor fellow: "i've got to make you understand/you gotta take it like a man." that sounds like what we refer to as male oppression.

oh, did i mention this is one of my favorite songs in recent memory? oh man... it's really good. i got nothing more to say. as i mentioned, you really should watch the video. really well-done retro porn pastiche (i haven't decided if i think that's actually the band yet), and it suggests some novel readings for the lyrics:

[speaking of retro porn pastiche videos, you should really also watch this one, for "toejam" by bpa, which is a new project from norman cook/fatboy slim (yes! big beat return confirmed!), featuring various noteworthy people, in this case our good friend david byrne (!), and also dizzee rascal. how's that for a three-some. the video rates about even with mates of state cute nudity scale - but it's also quite clever to boot. (don't worry it's SFW.)

oh, and while we're on the subject, kinda, this is as good a time as any to mention that the so-so but entertaining-ish zack and miri make a porno, in addition to having some well-deployed '90s nostalgia music in the high school reunion scene (dj kool, marcy playground), has maybe the best-ever use of a pixies song for dramatic underscoring (sorry fight club), in the part where "hey" plays during the emotional crux of the "wrap party" scene (nevermind that having an emotional crux was probably the worst thing the movie decided to do.)]

ok, back to dragonette. so yeah, they get a lot of excellent mileage out of playing up their total shameless sleaziness. it works both as a contrast to the sweetness of their hooks and as a primordial rock'n'roll stylistic move that fits right in with their obvious mtv-era retro-rebelliousness. see also "the boys," their righteous cover of calvin harris' "the girls," available on theirspace, whose even-more-extreme libinous campiness actually makes it more palatable than harris' slightly discomfiting tho still great original (along with the gender-reversal, and better jokes - you feel like they're actually having the fun harris only wanted us to think he was having...)

none of this is especially weird. it is kinda weird, though, how the heinous hedonism of the album's dynamite first three tracks (which are almost definitely its three best songs) plays against the sappy love roles martina assumes in the next several. the verses of "true believer" find her confessing her sins:
"i've had such a wicked time
kissed the boys and made them cry
laughing while I wave goodbye
(they'd still like another try)"
but in the chorus she asserts that all that's changed now that she's met you, you her new magical spell-binding lover who makes her "better" and "sweeter" by giving her "pleasure" and "fever." the slightly worrisome middle 8 asks: "do you feel super?/I'm the new girl curled around your finger." it's basically the flipside to "take it like a man," a complete role-reversal where she is giving herself over to this guy's control - but considering how unreliable and manipulative she's proven to be in the past, it's pretty hard to swallow this newfound sentimentalism and goody-goodyness - there's gotta be a catch in there...

"another day" is a telephone love ballad, pretty enough but slight. and then comes "get lucky," which can be read, pretty straightforwardly, as either lovey-dovey sweetness or a hardly-veiled burlesque come-on (depending on whether you interpret "go all the way" as referring to marriage or sex), an ambiguity that's certainly intentional. musically though, it's a total curveball, a swingin' tin-pan-alley/broadway-styled number, complete with tinny barbershop harmonies, which hearkens back to the '30s instead of the '80s, and sounds like none of their contemporaries so much as the hammy swedeyboppers miss li (whom i kind of detest - does it show?) and amy diamond (q.v. bedbugs' intriguing discussion of the renewed relevance and skewed escapist subtext of amy's depression-era pop revivalism.)

more musical weirdness: "jesus doesn't love" is a kind of anti-gospel song, electro-blues that reminds me a lot of the eurythmics "missionary man." things tame down for a bit after that musically; no 1840s-era antiquarianisms on "gold rush," unfortunately. lyrically, "you please me" returns to familiarly wanton territory, with the post-breakup lament: "i don’t miss your company/i just want those hands on me/t o touch the places underneath."

and for their final act, saving the weirdest for last, they construct their own bollywood mini-opera (complete with boy/girl duet vocals) and/or their own in the zone-era britney eastern-music camp pastiche (no, it's definitely both), entitled "marvelous." a total wtf moment. typically, as far as the lyrics are concerned, no good will come of anyone's actions here. but its melodramatic excesses (and musical adventurousness) have a lot to say about this band's commitment to pop music theatricality - something that very much puts them in the vein of amy diamond, as well as (just off the top of my head) my chemical romance, r. kelly, and alice cooper. which, of course, means that fretting about their dubious personal morality is beside the point (as it always was)... but dissecting it is not. let's just keep an eye on where they go from here.


as another one of my other fave '07-'08 pop-bands-qua-bands put it:

"it's just the way we feel"

or, to go back to the original source (c. 1983):

"passion burning/love so strong...
...looking learning, moving on"


Dave said...

Morality be damned, I should probably listen to this again. Was listening to "I Get Around" that opens (coveted spot!) one of Emily's mixes from '07, and remarked that it's strange that a group capable of that song never made anything else that pricked up my ears. But then I realized I'd never really paid enough attention to their other stuff. Might as well reconsider for '08 since I just stuck Veronicas into my top ten after some deliberation. If the t.A.T.u. album's any good, maybe I'll swap 'em or something. Would only be appropriate.

music-type-writer. said...

yeah... i know the morality is largely irrelevant. but it did seem pretty striking at least when i first listened to the album.

anyway, definitely give it some spins - it scratches a niche.

after raving about hook me up for amg i have largely forgotten about it, except for "this love" (and, sorta, "revenge") but it is still good, isn't it?

hadn't heard about the new t.A.T.u. - anything to report? speaking of them, i was very surprised to go into the co-op recently and hear "dangerous and moving" playing.