Aug 31 2012

Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” one year later

It was a year ago this week that Gotye released ‘Making Mirrors in the UK, the album that unleashed upon us one of the catchiest tunes to ever spread its viral wings over the internet: “Somebody that I Used to Know.” In the UK it gained momentum through word of mouth and social media shares, but by the time it hit the US and went to number 1 in April 2012 (thanks Glee), it had already been glorified, parodied, and meme-ified for months over here. Thanks to the intercontinental split in my social media connections, I got hit by the wave of shares twice. While the US was spanking itself over the head with that amazing video, my Facebook wall (sorry, ‘Timeline‘) was already blowing up with “Some Rabbi that I Used to Know.” And that group of people who all wanted to cover Gotye but only had that one guitar.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not totally psyched about all this; I am more than anything amazed that me and popular music have for once agreed upon a great song, probably one of the best of the year. I also might be one of the few remaining humans with ears who can listen to that song without cringing, as I hear from both continents that over-playing has crushed its initial novelty charm. Have over-zealous DJs the world over ruined Gotye for posterity? I (admitted fangirl) have faith that the almost extreme diversity and versatility of his songbook can carry him through the threatening waters of one-hit wonderland, but only time will tell.

I think, at least, that we don’t need to worry that fame and success have gone to Wally de Backer‘s shaggy head. When “Somebody that I Used to Know” became viral, I inwardly worried that it would turn into the next “Sex on Fire,” the song that catapulted Kings of Leon to enormous fame and success, while simultaneously revealing them to be an ungrateful and snobbish pack of backwoods hipsters who distinguish between ‘real‘ fans (pre-‘Only by the Night‘, of course) and ‘mainstream‘ fans, and still find time to scoff dismissively at their own hit song.

But happily Wally seems as down to earth as ever, and you can imagine that the success of this one virally massive tune won’t change much about his recording digs (a barn) and production process (he records and produces primarily by himself). It should also be noted that ‘Making Mirrors‘ was not his first big album if you’re talking about Australia or Belgium, and “Hearts a Mess” was a hit single in those countries (thanks in part to another amazing video) long before stop frame animation body paint was blowing up YouTube.

Gotye himself recently released a YouTube remix called “Somebodies: The YouTube Orchestra.” The act itself is irresistibly apropos; the remix video is assembled from clips of covers, instructional videos, and parodies posted to YouTube by others. The process seems apt because this practice of layering samples and borrowed cuts is how de Backer originally constructed the song. But the video also feels like a nod of notice, appreciation, and perhaps even gratitude to the medium and participants who boosted a small Australian success story into a worldwide musical phenom with the click of a button.


Post by Emily / Twitter: @public_emily




Aug 16 2012

Yeasayer cover Gotye’s “Eyes Wide Open”

After taking an enforced break from posting on Cougar due to horrible internet connections and me being abroad we should return to our regular party schedule. Without further ado here are the mighty Yeasayer dismantling Gotye‘s new single “Eyes Wide Open“.

Mr Wally De Backer had already pulled this number when releasing an EP of “Somebody That I Used To Know” covers/remixes. This “Eyes Wide Open” remix EP is due out on the 21st of August; although it’s going to be hard to better this version.


Mar 20 2012

Gotye live @ Wilton’s Music Hall

When tickets went on sale (very quietly) for Gotye’s gig at the small and gorgeously historic Wilton’s Music Hall, I had a hunch it would be my first and last chance to see Australian wonderboy Wally de Backer. The buzz was building (thanks to that ubiquitous music video) and pretty soon it would mean bigger venues, worse sound, and higher ticket prices. A friend had speculated that it might be a dull show (“just a guy and a laptop of samples”) but I went with high hopes to the worn music hall.

Wilton’s Music Hall is what all old great venues wish they were—unrestored. There are water stains on the vaulted ceiling, little paint left on the carved balcony, exposed brick walls and rough wooden floors. It is the oldest grand music hall in the world, built in 1858, and has since been used as a Methodist missionary, rag warehouse, and shelter during the bombing of London. It now gets occasional grants for restoration and maintenance, but I hope they don’t ever get around to fixing it up too much. That day it had been announced that “Somebody that I Used to Know” had reached #1 in the UK, so I felt pretty lucky to see Gotye with only about 150 other people.

The stage setup seemed a bit strange until I remembered that Wally is first and foremost a drummer, since his time with Melbourne rock trio The Basics. The layout (a nearly-full kit sideways at the front of the stage) allowed him to drum from standing, when not singing or sampling. After charming and adorable opener Gabrielle Aplin’s acoustic set, Gotye kick-started the show with “Eyes Wide Open,” the galloping first single from 2011’s ‘Making Mirrors‘. It was an ideal opening tune because Wally got to do a bit of everything—sing, twiddle with a sampler, and drum viciously. Between that and the fully-involved band, any concerns of the guy-with-a-laptop scenario were quickly dispelled.

The set included a great mix of highs and lows in terms of tempo and energy—slow jams like “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Bronte” (the latter performed with help from The Webb Sisters (Leonard Cohen’s vocalists) punctuated the upbeat romps that give the album its joyful Motown feel. The only real downside was the flow of pushy-shovey photogs nosing in front to get their shot, but I guess that is to be expected the week you go #1.

I was curious to see how the band would tackle “Somebody that I Used to Know” without Kimbra to vocalize the second half; my YouTube trolling had told me that either A) Kimbra would surprise us all and slink out from backstage to great squeals of audience excitement, or B) they would line up her vocal tracks and the band would awkwardly bob along. But when the moment came, Wally introduced a friend from Belgium, none other than Noémie Wolfs of Hooverphonic, to sing the part. She was perfection from the first note to the last wail, and actually looked a fair bit like Kimbra, so the song had all the lively energy and stage chemistry you could ask for.

The energy of the set and the audience seemed to increase throughout, so by the time they left the stage for four minutes to let you wonder about an encore, the hall was buzzing with anticipation. Gotye wisely capitalised on this excitement with an encore performance of three of the brightest, most clap-happy uptempo songs in his repertoire: “In Your Light” and “I Feel Better,” with audience participation hand claps, and finally “Learnalilgivinanlovin.” The last, from his previous album, has a Golden Oldies sound with a driving drum track—the perfect closer for a show that had ranged through the last six decades in terms of inspiration, samples, and feel.

I read a review the next day in the Standard by John Aizlewood that was more than usually bad. Normally I’d chalk that up to the generally poor quality of anything that finds its way onto the pages of that evening-commute shoe-rag, but I’ve seen this review circulated and used by many other sites and papers. The bit that bothered me about this review was that Aizlewood attempted to steer Gotye in the direction of a one-hit wonder, the wide-eyed Aussie startled by commercial success with his one fantastically popular single.

He literally suggested that Gotye would have trouble filling the 70-minute set, since surely the crowd would only know that one song. The problem with his theory is that this show at Wilton’s sold out in less than 2 hours back in November—long before “Somebody That I Used To Know” was charting anywhere but in Australia. His assumption must also seem silly to any who attended the show, since the highlight of the night, the song that really brought down the house, was actually “Hearts a Mess,” the haunting single off Gotye’s equally stunning but more downbeat album ‘Like Drawing Blood‘, released back in 2006.

I also read an idiotic review by someone from the Guardian who referred to “Somebody That I Used To Know” as having “minimal production.” Now, no Gotye song could possibly deserve such praise, since a track crafted entirely through production and post-effects hardly qualifies as ‘minimal’ in the production department. Secondly, Wally willingly admits that the single itself took 9 months to prepare and get exactly right, even before adding Kimbra’s vocals—longer than anything else on the album.

I guess if I had to throw stones at every concert review written by a journalist who knew very little about the band in question, I’d have, well, killer biceps on my throwing arm.


Post by Emily /@public_emily


; Hearts A Mess by Gotye

Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra) – Bibio remix by Gotye


Jan 7 2012

Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011: Gotye – Making Mirrors

 BelgianAustralian Wally De Backer found the winning formula with his 3rd album under the Gotye moniker. ‘Making Mirrors‘ saw the multi-instrumentalist bring his unique Sting-meets-Ceelo sampling appeal to a greater audience no doubt led by the success of lead single ‘Somebody That I Used To Know.

Cougar regular Emily, who also wrote this gushing review, added ‘Making Mirrors’ to her year end list describing it as “an enticing combination of Motown sensibilities, haunting vocals, and upbeat energies, all crafted through samples and warped instrumentation. Definitely my favourite new artist, or at least new to me.


Easy Way Out by Gotye

Making Mirrors - Gotye

Oct 21 2011

‘Making Mirrors’ by Gotye reviewed

 Making Mirrors‘ is the third studio album by Melbourne act Gotye, released in August. Gotye (pronounced gore-ti-yeah) is really one-man wonder Wally De Backer, armed with a sampler and the kind of home studio set up any musician would kill for. When he’s not drumming for indie rock trio The Basics, De Backer builds catchy songs on and around his own recorded samples.

But before you throw him in with Girl Talk (though who doesn’t love Girl Talk), it’s worth mentioning that the hook samples are obscure and generally brief, not the sort of recognisable licks that find their way onto a Kanye West album.  Legend has it that De Backer began sampling after he inherited a hefty collection of old LPs from an elderly neighbour, which explains why most of the samples aren’t immediately identifiable. With this newest album, De Backer relied heavily on live recording drums and acoustic instruments, and then sampling and manipulating them for the desired effect.

The album has already supplied 3 impressive singles—the most recent, “Somebody That I Used To Know” is deliciously simple, with minimal instrumentation and vocals that alternate between bare confessional in the verses, and heavily layered harmonies in the refrain. It’s a formula that also works in the album’s first single; “Hearts a Mess” is catchy and powerful, more uptempo than “Somebody” but more haunting as well.

Every track on ‘Making Mirrors‘ showcases De Backer’s talent for crafting enjoyable and ear-grabbing tunes, but one track stands out above the others lyrically: “Eyes Wide Open,” the second single to be released. Even with a fairly complex instrumentation (including the catchiest gallop beat ever recorded), it’s still the vocals and lyrics that project the most.  The song, which De Backer describes as a “dystopian vision” of the world’s future, is the first that he wrote in what we might consider the ‘traditional’ way—he constructed the song and then worked samples and live recordings into it, as opposed to building the song up from samples.

The rest of the album is a surprising mix of light and dark, with a few heavy songs interspersed between upbeat jams. But the real magic in this album is the pure joy that comes through most of the songs—they have the magnetic delight of motown, that tambourine clap-happy energy that has always made the Golden Oldies so irresistible. “I Feel Better” is the best example of this, since it could probably pass for a Four Tops song, with a twist.

De Backer records, produces, and mixes all the music for Gotye, and recorded ‘Making Mirrors in his parents’ barn. I should probably pretend that it is his ingenious use of original samples, or his knack for production, that makes this album so solid, and the songs so dynamic. But truthfully, the songs stand on their own as well-constructed and memorable tracks, regardless of the recording methods.

As most music snobs, I profess to love analog and sniff at all things digital; but it is a more and more irrelevant point of reference these days, when even ‘live’ recordings are manipulated to fit modern standards of perfection. ‘Making Mirrors‘ is a pleasing combination of both, with layers that blend live and sampled tracks in a way that pop music hasn’t seen yet.

Step aside, Kanye.


Post by Emily



Eyes Wide Open by Gotye

I Feel Better by Gotye

Smoke And Mirrors by Gotye

Making Mirrors - Gotye