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Paul Nair Headshot

Let Go Of Retro

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I noticed the other day that Pitchfork had awarded the coveted "Best New Music" tag to the After Dark compilation, a shimmery homage to Italian dance music of the late 1970s and early 80s, most of which was created using laptops and modern recording equipment. I took a listen and did a little investigating into the groups represented (Glass Candy and Chromatics, to name a couple). It wasn't long before I closed the browser window in disgust.

Look, it's not that the music or the accompanying artwork is bad or poorly executed -- it's not. It's the frustration of seeing countless people my age (mid-20s) and younger putting so much effort into retro pursuits, into perfectly replicating the look, sound and feel of the past.

(Lest someone think I'm beating up on indie musicians, I'll be quick to point out that The White Stripes' new album Icky Thump is equally contrived and struck me as a pitch-perfect Xerox of dirty-riffed garage rock of the 1970s. But hasn't that been their schtick from the start?)

I see the appeal of the old days. Artsy girls from NYU to UCLA idolize Doisneau and boys coif themselves in the style of greasers to this day. Hipster kids from Brooklyn to Silver Lake find fashion in the bright colors and diagonals that ruled the New Wave era of the late 70s and early 80s. And I don't blame them -- take a look at the old Wet magazine, for example; it was a beautifully cool period in art and fashion! -- but the line must be drawn between apprecation and emulation.

Honestly, a lot of it comes from escapism. I mean, we're not exactly living in salad days, what with our political and societal discontent. And there's always the narcotizing amount of vapid "reality" entertainment clogging the airwaves. It's easy to want to emulate an aesthetic that harkens back to a simpler time, one before cell phones and spyware and the war on terror.

But people tend to forget that those subcultures were born of a similar discontent, a similar desire to escape. The 80s had Reagan and the unease of the future ahead. The 50s were a minefield (figuratively and literally) of reconstruction and repression in the face of uncertainty. Why can't the 00s have their own beautiful aesthetic, one that equally embraces the polished silver and glass of our time while shunning the excess and vacuity?

There are signs of hope: check out Bloc Party's last LP, A Weekend In The City for a depiction of the restless, pensive modern British existence; Feist's wonderful new video for "My Moon, My Man" is about as simple yet cutting-edge as possible; and those darlings of the indie press Klaxons are busy crafting bizarrely temporal modern pop bursts.

The rose colored lenses always come into play about 10 years after the fact, I've found. Sure enough, I find myself pining for the music of 1997 frequently, reminiscing on my first Daft Punk LP and ditching school to buy Dear You. In another decade I'll probably have cobbled together an appropriate look and sound to depict our current times in my mind. But for now, I can't help but implore: appreciate, don't imitate.