“You want to understand why so many new shows are based on old IP?” mused Toonami co-creator Jason DeMarco at the top of the year. “The market is so fragmented now that it’s incredibly hard for new media to achieve the mindshare old media has. Seems bad!”
He said this while linking to Ted Gioia’s piece in The Atlantic, wherein he noted how “old songs” now represent over 70% of the music consumed via streaming services. With more streaming services than anyone can reasonably name (both for film/TV and music), more shows and more albums are now available than ever before, making it nigh-impossible to keep up with current trends.
A little over two decades ago, an existing label or studio was what you needed to get funding to make a movie or album; nowadays, anyone can sign up for Distrokid and put new music out in the world within seconds. Sorting through so many new releases can be exhausting (trust us critics on this: new media burnout is real), so falling back on the old favorites makes perfect sense. As of this writing, catalog albums by Nirvana, Eminem, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen are in the Billboard Top 40 and show no sign of slowing down.
Yet while a television studio can instantly get some memberships by rebooting Sex and the City or Mystery Science Theater 3000 or who-knows-what-else, music doesn’t get the benefit of reboots. Only re-releases and media syncs. Nirvana’s haunting anthem “Something in the Way” is propelling album sales due to its prominent placement in the soundtrack for Matt Reeves’ new Batman film. So as a new, emerging artist, how do you break through the noise?
There’s no clear solution, but the emergence of concept records centered around a specific subgenre has been a fascinating aberration in the new music landscape. Whether it be Sturgill Simpson dropping any country pretense to make a chugging Southern-rock anime visual album or Canadian producer CFCF crafting a love letter to the late ’90s electronica scene in the form of memoryland (one of PopMatters’ Best Electronic Albums of 2021), the streaming era has allowed artists to experiment openly without worrying too much about sinking their commercial fortunes. If fans want the old hits, it’s a back button away.
Enter Confidence Man. This Australian quartet made waves with their 2018 debut, Confident Music for Confident People, as it was the biggest, dumbest, funnest pop music we’ve heard in years. In this context, “dumb” is absolutely a compliment because writing songs as carefree and goofy as “Boyfriend (Repeat)” requires real pop music smarts, which the group has in technicolor spades.
Singers Janet Planet and Sugar Bones dance on stage while multi-instrumentalists Reggie Goodchild and Clarence McGuffie play music often while obscured by black beekeeper outfits. It’s a unique aesthetic, and as party-starting as songs like “Catch My Breath” and “Bubblegum” are, they are solid, well-constructed songs first and foremost. Confident Music had more replayability than most releases that came out of 2018, so it’s surprising that for all band’s buzzworthy swell of fandom, they went years without a true and proper follow-up.
So what a surprise it is that for TILT, the group’s finally-out sophomore release, they have switched up their sound significantly, embracing the glossy absurdity of ’90s dance-pop in all its glory. Think of shiny plastic synths, Max Martin-style choruses, and the kind of drum machines that are dated in the most beautiful of ways. It’s a logical pivot for a group like Confidence Man to make, but the degree to which they embrace the role is what’s most surprising.
Right off the bat, opener “Woman” pivots directly from a spoken-word monologue into full Crystal Waters-styled house-pop, full of fat bass synths and chopped-up vocal samples. Janet Planet has never been the most technically proficient of singers, but even with her limitations on “Woman”, she still plays the part exceptionally well. Even better is the choir-led “Feels Like a Different Thing”, which uses the most generic lyrics about moving your body to create a grand pop moment that’s more about attitude and release than deep thematic intention. This is TILT in a Tamagotchi shell: perfectly disposable, thrillingly nonsensical dance music.
Yet Confidence Man is nothing without their humor, and thankfully cosplaying as ’90s dance airheads give them plenty of opportunities to show off their goofy side. The call-and-response lyrics of “What I Like” (“All the girls say WOO! / All the boys say AHH!”) are the kind of thing that would be perfect in a live concert setting. The winking nod to Deee-Lite in the “Trumpet Song” production is the kind of insider acknowledgment that only adds to your enjoyment of the song (should you catch the reference). Heck, even “Push It Up” sounds like the group trying to become the world’s first Ace of Base cover band, and the neon-accented effect is palpable.
While TILT can be enjoyed by casual party fans and those with deep-seated knowledge of dance music’s past in equal measure, the record’s only true downside is when Confidence Man can’t lift themselves out of their grooves, letting some songs spin too long without any development or climax. The locked groove of “Toy Boy” fails to grow into anything significant, while the pointed “Angry Girl” provides a different perspective to most average dance floor fodder. Still, its impact fades away like a maligned B-side from The B-52’s Funplex.
It’s a shame that TILT has a few lesser productions because they detract from the bubbly, effervescent thrill that fans have come to expect from Confidence Man. TILT is still a ridiculously fun record with a distinct identity, proving that the group can still get listeners to euphoric carefree highs through different means. It’s a daring pivot to take your sonic and reframe it in the style of one of the most disposable genres of the century. Still, whether you are streaming it online or listening to it in HitClip, Confidence Man is TILT-ing in the right direction.