There is a scene in The Wedding Singer
when the brokenhearted Adam Sandler is about to play a song for Drew Barrymore. Right before he strikes the first chord he says to her, "I just wanna warn you that when I wrote this song I was listening to The Cure
a lot." He goes on to play a song that is partly sappy, partly hyper-violent, and wholly overdramatic he completely breaks into tears. We all laughed at Sandler's joke then -- that The Cure was overly sensitive, dramatic music. That was in 1998. 15 years or so has eroded the irony of The Wedding Singer
and really rendered it false. In the year 2012, New Wave music of the 1980s isn't a joke, it's a movement.
The New Wave movement of the 1980s, otherwise known as post-punk, was led by bands like Joy Division
, The Church
, The Chameleons
, and of course The Cure (no, it was not a requirement for the bands' names to start with a C). The music was synthesizer-heavy with shimmering lead guitars, gurgling paralleled bass lines, and distanced vocals. It achieved a feeling of etherealness and frank anxiety. Content-wise, the bands dealt extensively with love, heartache, and emotions.
Grunge music and later the popularization of alternative rock contributed to the fading of New Wave music and the cynical joking of The Wedding Singer -- it became something we looked back on and laughed at for being over-serious. Sometimes things come full circle, though.
A new New Wave movement is happening within indie music, led by bands like The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
and being bolstered daily with additions from newer artists like the Brooklyn-based Selebrities
and Jack Tatum's band, Wild Nothing
. It only takes one listen of "Heart In Your Heartbreak" by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart to see the similarities -- Kip Berman's strained, faraway vocals and that bass line that drives the song all on top of an ambient background synthesizer. Beach Fossils'
"Fall Right In" relies heavily on the same bright, glimmering guitars that defined New Wave in the 80s.
But it isn't all the same. Violens, for example, take elements of New Wave and meld them with punk rock. Their most recent album True is a mixture of songs, sometimes bright and romantic, and other times rough and paranoid -- just compare "When To Let Go" and "Unfolding Black Wings" to get an idea of how the movement is also being defined by hybridization. One of Wild Nothing's newer singles, "Nowhere" also displays this amalgamating, as Jack Tatum combines New Wave elements with Americana.
This movement in indie music is using New Wave characteristics as a launching pad for further musical experimentation and compounding. But still, how did a 90s joke become a 21st century trend?
There are a few answers. First, these newer artists have adopted a philosophy in regards to production that's somewhere in between lo-fi and hi-definition which, perhaps not coincidentally, was where the New Wave artists positioned themselves in the 80s. The result is a full sounding record that at the same time doesn't sound overproduced or overly intricate. Speaking about their album True
, Violens lead singer Jorge Elbrecht said, "I wanted to go in a less hi-fi direction after doing a record that was juiced up and pumped full of compression," adding later, "We didn't pull as much out of the sounds as we did on the last record." The New Wave movement in the 80's was attempting to find a comfort zone in the era's musical landscape -- something that rebelled against the glamorous perfection of stadium rock that was also polished enough to not be considered punk. Now, this most recent New Wave movement is positioned against different types of genres, but the posturing and the results are the same.
New Wave music of the 80s also inherently fits well with electronic music, a movement that is much more widespread in indie music today. Twin Shadow
is a perfect example of where electro-indie and New Wave come together. On his 2010 album, Forget
, Twin Shadow has songs like "Shooting Holes" that rely much more on electronic effects and tinkered vocals matched against New Wave replicas like "Slow." Twin Shadow's last two singles "Changes" (2011) and "Five Seconds" (2012) prove that this genre-mixing is going to continue. Because of New Wave's components and electronic music's ascent in the indie community, it was only a matter of time before the two began to influence each other.
The last explanation for this New Wave revival lies in the content of the music that these newer bands are producing. Elbrecht of Violens sings "I want to know that you're true" on "Totally True" while Maria Usbeck of Selebrities continuously repeats "The moonlight tells me to run away from you" on "Moonlight." These bands are hopeless romantics -- they have Robert Smith's "You make me feel like I am whole again" coursing through their veins. The sappy shoegazing of their music reflects their lyrics. So when Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils sings something as stark as "It's easy to lose track when you've lost your cares" he needs something that sounds as transcendently serious to accompany him. The obvious choice for music-making romantics is New Wave.
Movements and trends pop up constantly in music and noting the important ones is a lot like labeling a serial killer -- you need a certain amount of reoccurrences. And with this recent New Wave revival, we've got a full-blown killer on our hands. The heartsick angst that was deemed hokey and dramatic in the late 90s has been reincarnated by a handful of indie artists. And that's okay, because there are worse things than well-written guitar riffs and ethereal synthesizers. So take that, Adam Sandler.