Gotye: Like Drawing Blood
WINNER: iTUNES UK ALBUM OF THE YEAR 2008
Gotye is an artist whose music is as singular as his name. The entomology of it is as international as the man himself. Christened Wouter De Backer when he was born in the Flemish-speaking half of Belgium. Wouter means Walter in English, which in the Belge sister-tongue French, is ‘Gaultier’ When exported to Australia, where Gotye now lives, the name morphs once more to the phonetic pronunciation ‘Go – tee -yay’.
In a typically new world fashion; taking something old, looking at it from another perspective and making it new – Gotye’s music aptly reflects the origins of his name. Gotye cuts loops of calypso, reggae bass, Tijuana brass, 50s film score strings and pastes them together to tell his story, like a singer/songwriter DJ Shadow. A detailed task undertaken in his bedroom while working as a librarian and on a break from drumming for bands. Meanwhile opening credits must go to Francois Tétaz, composer, film scorer and producer for the likes of Architecture In Helsinki who mixed and mastered the album to an audio delight.
The resultant brew is an evocative collage of sounds with their own cultural flavours and heartfelt melodic brilliance, good enough to go from his bedroom to winning the Australian equivalent of both the Mercury Music (the AMP) and BRIT Awards (an ARIA in September 2007 for ‘Best Male Artist’).
The album kicks off with the alarm clatter of instrumental track ‘Like Drawing Blood’, setting out the albums more ambient tendencies. Without indulging himself beyond 20 seconds, the songs begin with ‘The Only Way’ a Beck-style bumper with honking organ and languorous sax. Meanwhile drum samples kick and splutter before the outro.
‘Heart’s A Mess’ is the first single to be taken from the album, and its emotive centerpiece. Having received plays and rave reviews from Radio 1’s Zane Lowe, it’s imperceptibly built on a loop from Harry ‘King of Calypso’ Belafonte’s 1956 recording of ‘Banana Boat Song’ (known for its signature ‘Dayyy-O’ lyric). With a balmy tropical feel, the gentle swell of violins and lush beach combing slide guitar it’s a sumptuous piece of work. Go to You-Tube or Vimeo to see the award winning video featuring an array of animated beasties.
‘Coming Back’ exhibits the signature Gotye method of conjuring a kind of filmic atmosphere while weaving in his own tale of heartache. Here, swing trumpets and swirling orchestral samples frame Gotye’s rich, wonderful, plaintive voice.
‘Thanks For Your Time’ starts with sweeping strings before breaking out into an electro jam complete with squelchy synths and ticking percussion. With a breakdown that puts the track ‘on hold’ it’s a swipe at modern life’s automated madness.
‘Learnalilgivinanlovin’ is an insanely catchy hit with its Phil Spector drums and funky baritone sax. This second single factors in the wise feel good lyrics (’If it’s good then you should share it round, what’s the use of keeping all the good things that you’ve found to yourself’) and here you have a masterfully uplifting pop song that broke Gotye in Australia as it received heavy rotation on their Radio 1 equivalent, Triple J.
‘Puzzle With A Piece Missing’ sends the album into a dub-wise space – all echoed snares, rim shots and reggae horns. Only the sampled ambient harmonic noises and Gotye’s soulful voice makes it clear this is a re-imagining of dub in the digital age by a sample-happy singing drummer.
‘Seven Hours With A Backseat Driver’ is a laid-back melodica-topped jam. Plucked string stabs cascade over the groove before more of Gotye’s drumming holds together a tapestry of sampled ethnic percussion.
‘The Only Thing I Know’ is a melody of stadium-sized proportions – Gotye’s opening drum solo conjuring images of a camera’s eye panoramically sweeping into a concert of thousands some sweltering night in the 80s as he sings into a handsfree microphone and drums.
‘Night Drive’ continues the balmy 80s vibe, though in a suitably post-modern twist this homage to street lights and hot tarmac was composed in Melbourne rather than Miami – ‘let the dashboard underscore everything we’ve seen, while the world plays for our pleasure on our windshield silver screen’.
The album’s coda ‘Worn Out Blues’ further recalls a ‘Sea-Change’ era Beck and brings the album to an appropriately elliptical close.
‘Like Drawing Blood’ is an aural notebook filled with images cut from 80s pop compilations and Harry Belafonte records as well as emotional swathes of harmonized vocal colour and bold melodic strokes. Gotye’s bedroom symphonies have connected to a massive audience in Australia and like his continent hopping name to his genre hopping music he makes the experimental sound universal.