[15 October 2009]
When I first popped Expressions from Music Go Music into my stereo, I damn near threw the jewel case across the room out of sheer repulsion.
“What is this crap I roped myself into covering?” I angrily thought to myself upon hearing the sugar-coated sounds of this mysterious Los Angeles-based group who go by silly aliases and shamelessly flaunt their AM transistor pop influences with a detached sense of retro cool. It was literally everything I hated about hipster irony to the umpteenth degree. And worst of all, how could a label as great as Secretly Canadian, who count such purveyors of artistic integrity as Antony and the Johnsons, Jens Lekman, and Jason Molina amongst its roster, sign some kind of crap like this? This must be some kind of a sick joke, right—SC trying to cash in on the whole humor cool thing that made Flight of the Conchords and Tenacious D wealthy men, only channeling those old K-Tel compilations from the ‘70s instead of funky folk and acoustic power metal?
However, a deeper exploration into the story of Music Go Music will unearth the fact that this group is actually comprised of several prominent members of the Los Angeles indie rock circuit, featuring Meredith and David Metcalf of the Tropicalia hybrid rock ensemble Bodies of Water (coincidentally signed to Secretly Canadian) backed by members of such fellow scene stars as Mezzanine Owls, Beachwood Sparks, and the Chapin Sisters moonlighting under a variety of aliases. As for the incredible guitarist featured on Expressions, “TORG”, whom Music Go Music have employed to assist in this Xanadu-meets-ELO grand illusion they have going for them is actually alt-rock journeyman Adam Siegel, best known for his stint in the early ‘90s Suicidal Tendencies offshoot Infectious Grooves, and most recently as the touring guitarist for the Eels. Together, they are a band who means every candy-coated note they deliver across these nine tracks.
And once you take into consideration just how serious these guys are in the creation of this whole façade they have crafted, and let the wash of late ‘70s synth waves splash your face like a tsunami of hot purple and pink neon tubing, any prejudgments one may have initially harbored upon any unmitigated first impressions of Expressions easily fall by the wayside.
Certainly in these times of economic woe, it is doubtful that Secretly Canadian put up even a fraction of the money it cost for Expressions to sound like it took to make. So one can do nothing but salute the producers of this record, who crafted a million-dollar-sounding work on what it must have cost for not even a full night of cocaine-fueled debauchery during the making of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. And though these nine tracks were all previously released as part of three concurrent 12-inches that Music Go Music released over the last two and a half years, these songs all flow into and out of each other so seamlessly you would never know they were three separate singles (for the songs “Light of Love”, “Warm in the Shadows”, and “Reach Out” respectively) and their accompanying b-sides.
Clearly, Music Go Music are unafraid to wear their sonic inspirations on their sleeves like a cluster of sequined rhinestones, either. Though all signs point to ABBA on “Light of Love”, a well-tuned ear can also hear a little Sheena Easton a la “Morning Train” going on as well. The album’s other big single, “Reach Out”, is the fruits of an unlikely hybrid of Eat to the Beat-era Debbie Harry and Queen in their Flash Gordon phase, while “Warm in the Shadows” plays up on the possibility of a secret collaboration in the Casablanca Records studios between Donna Summer and Dynasty-era Kiss. Meanwhile, on a whole other flavor, you have the album’s lush, lovely, and magnanimously gaudy closing number “Goodbye, Everybody”, a testament to the kind of grandiloquent balladry made famous by the likes of Karen Carpenter and Anne Murray that’s so deliciously cheesy you might have to check your cholesterol after it’s over.
As much as you might want to hate Expressions for all its over-the-top posturing and fantastical fetishizing of both karaoke culture and Me Decade pomposity, you will love the beautiful noise Music Go Music bring to the table if you are feeling nostalgic for the days of butterfly collars, wood paneling, and Danny Terrio. Consider me sold.